What Arthur Brooks's "Who Really Cares" is About.--

I have been working through Arthur Brooks’ new book, Who Really Cares: America’s Charity Divide; Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters. Some parts I’ve read carefully, while some parts I’ve merely skimmed.

On balance, I think it is a good book, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have some problems with the argument. In this post I will briefly describe some of the book's main contentions.

The book argues, among other things:

(Ch. 1) Conservatives give more money to charities than liberals.
(Ch. 2) Religion is involved, even accounting for more giving to secular institutions.
(Ch. 3) Redistributionists are less generous personally than anti-redistributionists.
(Ch. 4) Government intervention (including welfare) suppresses giving.
(Ch. 5) Families with children are more generous and that patterns of giving are taught to children.
(Ch. 6) Generally, Americans are more generous than people in other countries, in donating both money and time.
(Ch.7) Charity has great benefits for the giver (or as the chapter is extravagantly titled: “Charity Makes You Healthy, Happy, and Rich”).
(Ch.8) Charity can be encouraged, and should be encouraged, by better laws, policies, and practices.
(Appendix)The book ends with a 24 page appendix summarizing the main databases used and providing tables showing some of Brooks’ regression and probit analyses.

Written for a general educated audience, the book is quite accessible. Even to someone like me who had discovered some of the patterns that Brooks identifies, I found much that I hadn’t seen or thought about. He is much more sanguine about the good that charitable giving does than I would even dream of being. And I hadn’t considered the benefits to the giver (including developing social capital) that Brooks so enthusiastically endorses. But then, my research focuses more on attitudes, than on self-reported behavior.

I liked the maps comparing the states that voted for Kerry in 2004 with the states that are below average in charitable giving (p. 23). The correlation is very close.

The comparison that starts off Chapter 2 is quite stark as well: Families in San Francisco give about the same amount to charity as families in South Dakota: $1,300. Yet the SF families have average incomes of about $80,000, compared to only about $45,000 in South Dakota.

I discuss some problems with Who Really Cares is the post immediately above this one.