Nicholas Kristof’s column Bleeding Heart Tightwads purports to reveal that political conservatives are more charitable than political liberals, and that Americans are more charitable than Europeans. These are familiar neocon morsels, and Kristof’s willingness to swallow and regurgitate them casts doubt on his claim to be a liberal–not to mention his claim to be a journalist who analyzes and thinks before he writes.
Self-described conservatives donate more money to charity than self-described liberals ONLY if “charity” is taken to include donations to churches. As many more conservatives than liberals are regular churchgoers–and the most regular and charitable of all are the ultra-conservative Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Days Saints, whose members tithe 10 per cent of their income–any count of charitable contributions which includes church donations will unfairly portray liberals as cheapskates. The Nonprofiteer doesn’t give a dime to her church because she doesn’t belong to or participate in one, but she’ll measure her actual contributions to charity–social services, education, health care and the arts–against the actual contributions to charity of any registered Republican, any time.
Similarly, Europeans give less money to charity than Americans not because they refuse to put their money where their social-justice mouths are but because they’ve already done so in the fields of health care and education to an extent as yet undreamed of by the United States. Of course Europeans, Canadians and Japanese give fewer charitable dollars to health care: most medical care is paid for out of their taxes. Of course they donate less to institutions of higher learning: tuition to those institutions is paid by the state.
The relationship between politics and charity is a complex one, and there are serious people who believe, for instance, that donations to food banks interfere with achieving long-term food security for all Americans because they keep the hunger problem just below the national radar. (And there are certainly serious people who believe that columnists who try to buy young Asian prostitutes to liberate them are merely increasing the profitability of Asian prostitutes and thus the risk to young Asian girls.) These difficult policy analyses are not made simpler or likelier of resolution by facile comparisons and repititions of nonsense on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times.