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Concerns About Arthur Brooks's "Who Really Cares."--

In the post immediately below, I describe some of the arguments in Arthur Brooks's, Who Really Cares: America's Charity Divide; Who Gives, Who Doesn't, and Why It Matters.

There were, however, some things that troubled me.

Although the liberal v. conservative split is the hook for the book, the data are not nearly as stark as the hype surrounding the book might indicate.

Consider this passage (pp. 21-22):

When it comes to giving or not giving, conservatives and liberals look a lot alike. Conservative people are a percentage point or two more likely to give money each year than liberal people, but a percentage point or so less likely to volunteer [citing the 2002 General Social Survey (GSS) and the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey (SCCBS)].

But this similarity fades away when we consider average dollar amounts donated. In 2000 [citing 2000 SCCBS data], households headed by a conservative gave, on average, 30 percent more money to charity than households headed by a liberal ($1,600 to $1,227). This discrepancy is not simply an artifact of income differences; on the contrary, liberal families earned an average of 6 percent more per year than conservative families, and conservative families gave more than liberal families within every income class, from poor to middle class to rich.

I am skeptical of basing so much on the SCCBS, in large part because it reports that liberal families make more money than conservatives (it is not clear from Brooks's book whether the survey is of a representative national sample). In the 2000, 2002, and 2004 General Social Surveys, which are representative samples of the US, conservative families make $2,500 to $5,600 a year more than liberal families in each one. Although I don't have the ANES data handy, my recollection is that the economic differences between conservatives and liberals are usually in the same direction and even larger in the ANES than in the GSS. Further, in each of these 3 GSSs, the lowest income families were the political moderates, who usually made substantially less than either liberals or conservatives.

This raises another problem with Brooks' analysis: the contrast in Who Really Cares is frequently made between liberals (about 30% of the population) and conservatives (about 40% of the population), but I find that often the group that contrasts most strongly with conservatives is not liberals (who share with conservatives higher than average educations), but political moderates (about 30% of the population).

This problem comes to a head in Brooks's probit and regression models analyzing SCCBS data (pp. 192-193). After controlling for a lot of things that you might not want to control for (i.e., being religious or secular), Brooks concludes that "liberals and conservatives are not distinguishable" in whether they have made any donation in the last year. This is literally true, but he fails to note that in the model liberals give significantly more than moderates, if a traditional .05 significance level is used, while conservatives do not differ significantly from moderates. Yet in Table 6, the significance level used as a threshold for identification with an asterisk is .01, not .05, as he uses in some of the other tables. In one table (p. 197), Brooks even reports significance at the .10 level, as well as at the .05 and .01 levels.

I can't rule out the possibility that Brooks changed his reporting of the significance level so he wouldn't have to explain why, after lots and lots of controls, liberals were more likely to have made a donation than moderates, while conservatives did not differ significantly from either liberals or moderates.

Brooks's somewhat misleading reporting continues when he presents the results of the model predicting the dollar amount of donations. Brooks says that in the continuous dollar model, "conservatives are slightly (but distinguishably) more generous than liberals." (p. 192) Again, this appears to be literally true. But what the model actually shows is that liberals give significantly more money than moderates, while conservatives give significantly more than both moderates and liberals. Moderates would seem to be the ungenerous ones, not liberals.

This problem of treating liberals and conservatives (who share similar levels of education) as the outliers — when moderates often are the outliers — is a common one in conservatism research, whether that research is done by liberal or conservative researchers. Here it can make liberals look as if they are at the opposite end of the spectrum in donations from conservatives, but from the data that are presented by Brooks, it's often hard to tell whether moderates (not liberals) really are the outliers.

My first post related to Brooks's book concerned, not liberals, moderates, and conservatives, but those who favor income redistribution v. those who don't. Here the answer is more consistent: those who oppose income redistribution tend to be less racist, more tolerant of unpopular groups, happier, less vengeful, and more likely to report generous charitable donations. In most years of the GSS (but not 2004), political moderates tend to be nearly as redistributionist as liberals, so it's important not to see redistribution as a simple issue of liberals v. conservatives.

On the whole, I think that Who Really Cares is a valuable book with much sound analysis, but it appears that some of its main conclusions are based on the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, some of whose demographics don't appear to match national representative samples such as the GSS and ANES. And in Brooks's book, sometimes liberals are accused of being ungenerous when it appears that they may be more generous than political moderates. Generally, his otherwise strong analysis is weakened by focusing too little on what I have called the forgotten middle: moderates

johnt (mail):
But if the point of Brooks book is to contrast two groups why include a third, moderates? There have been other studies comparing liberals and conservatives, religion, social attitudes, even psychology. The point would seem to be an analysis of private action vs public advocacy, how you vote against what you do. So it would seem that omitting moderates is appropriate. Although I confess not to having data on this it may be a fair assumption that moderates are less committed, by and large, to politics. In any case the comparison remains valid for the two groups that are the focus of the study.
11.20.2006 9:25am
Roy Stogner (mail):
Curious: for the purposes of the statistics herein, how are donations to churches counted? The books on the only church I've donated to run around 50% salaries and expenses, around 50% giving to the underprivileged. If conservatives give more to churches than liberals give, for example, then counting those donations as charitable contributions could be overstating the conservatives' generosity but not counting them would be understating it.

As I've implied above, I think the fairest thing to do would be to take off the "overhead" from donations to charitable organizations (not just churches), to separate how much is being given to the underprivileged from how much is being given to the organization. That may not be possible, however; most non-profits are required to publish such data, but religious organizations aren't and not all do so voluntarily.
11.20.2006 11:00am
Roy Stogner (mail):
Oops, never mind - I didn't see Sunday's discussion. It's easy to forget that while blogs are meant to be read top to bottom within each entry, you need to go bottom to top for the page as a whole...
11.20.2006 11:04am
msmith (mail):
...the data are not nearly as stark as the hype surrounding the book might indicate....

Something Mr. Brooks seems happy to admit. From a review in Beliefnet.com:

...To make his point forcefully, Brooks admits he cut out a lot of qualifying information.

"I know I'm going to get yelled at a lot with this book," he said. "But when you say something big and new, you're going to get yelled at."...


It seems that when you are saying something Big(?) and New(?) careful attention to facts, all the facts, becomes less important.

Think Mr. Brooks' point is undeniable. The religious conservatives have been amazingly generous--to themselves. Repeated wartime tax cuts with 50% more federal wartime spending. How can you get more generous than that--to yourself--with other people's money? Mostly money the kids will have to pay because of the incredible Christian conservative Bush White House wartime spending and freeloading binge. Or generosity, depending on your POV. Will the kids think these self-proclaimed Christian conservatives so generous when they are servicing that debt with their paychecks? History will judge.

In more serious news, I see AG Gonzales has a new defense of his and the Bush administration's record on civil liberties and the "war on terror". A most remarkable collection of misrepresentations of facts and law. Mr. Ashcroft, who now has his official portrait, could not have done any better.
11.20.2006 11:25am
Bryan DB:
You note in your other post that the "gives less" correlates well with the "voted for Kerry." Does "gives less" also correlate with "lives in a high-COLA area"? I am wondering if the "gives less" is a result of "has less to give." If the difference in giving is 30%, but the COLA where liberals generally live (see: Seattle, NYC, and other cities of their ilk) is 40% higher, then the giving trend is the reverse of what's argued.
11.20.2006 11:30am
te:

I can't answer your question, but I can say that the question itself makes you out to be someone who knows absolutely nothing about government procurement and federal contracting.

You're right that I am inexpert in Federal contracting, but I was chief of staff for chair of the appropriations committee in the 3rd largest state for 6 years, so I think I have an idea how government contracting, in general works.

And I can tell you from personal experience that there is plenty of money to be made (or I should say income to be redistributed) to government contractors.
11.20.2006 12:31pm
Stryker:
Bryan,

Acording to HomeFair.com (first free site from google), it's %220 from Fargo to SanFran. But if an average person in Fargo gives 10%, then 10% of the San Fran number is far higher. In actuality, I expect that some of the functions of the church in Fargo (feeding poor, etc.) are done by the gov't in SF. Also, if someone in SF makes 144k, he (or she) has the decision to spend like "average" or not. In actuality, a 440k bay area condo is probably much nicer than a 200k Fargo house, if only because of the weather.
11.20.2006 12:54pm
Bryan DB:
Stryker,
Thanks for the info, but you may have misread my point (or I'm misreading your reading :-)). It's not that 10% of the SF is higher or lower. It's that, if the income of the person in SF isn't 220% greater than the income of the person in Fargo, then 10% of the SF income is worth more than 10% of the Fargo income, so the giving is actually greater
11.20.2006 1:32pm
Alan P (mail):
There is an interesting discussion in an article in Slate.com from November 10 called

The 19th-century critique of big philanthropy.

I particularly liked the last line

William Jewett Tucker, a reverend and future president of Dartmouth College, put it this way in 1891: Critiquing Carnegie's "Gospel of Wealth" he declared that a society could make no greater mistake than asking charity to do the work of social justice
11.20.2006 1:36pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Think Mr. Brooks' point is undeniable. The religious conservatives have been amazingly generous--to themselves. Repeated wartime tax cuts with 50% more federal wartime spending. How can you get more generous than that--to yourself--with other people's money?
1. The major beneficiaries of those tax cuts are going to be people who live in high COLA areas of the country--thus, mostly Democrats.

2. I'm easily the wealthiest conservative that I have ever met. I know that there are wealthy conservatives, but I've never met one. I know lots of multimillionaire liberals and leftists--people that blather on about Chomsky and racing their vintage Ferraris in the same conversation.

3. While I'm not keen on running deficits, as long as they are used as Keynesian pump-priming to create jobs--and then the surpluses during the boom times pay down the debt--they are not objectionable. Certainly the tax cuts have been remarkably successful at creating enormous numbers of jobs these last few years, as well as the dramatic increase in incomes reported in the last few weeks.
11.21.2006 2:06pm