The mainstream media and liberals would have us believe that conservatives, and Republicans in particular, are heartless, uncaring, and parsimonious. Yet new IRS data, as reported this past week in a major study, clearly provides empirical data to the contrary.
States with the least religious residents are the stingiest when it comes to charitable contributions; red states give more than blue states, and middle income households give more as a percentage of their disposable income than the wealthy do. Such were the results of a study released this week by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Based on data gathered from Internal Revenue Service records, many stereotypical assumptions were validated by the study. Drawing from 2008 tax return information, the most recent year such statistical data are available, the Chronicle broke down charitable contributions as a percentage of discretionary income and by zip code. Researchers adjusted for variables including cost of living differences from region to region, according to Peter Panepento, the Chronicle’s assistant managing editor.
The research clearly shows that people living in states where religious participation is higher are more magnanimous with a larger percentage of their disposable income going to charitable organizations, including churches. In general geographic terms, those in the south and some western states give much more than those who live in the northeast.
The top states for magnanimity are: 1. Utah at 10.6% of discretionary spending donated to charity; 2. Mississippi at 7.2%; 3. Alabama at 7.1%; 4. Tennessee at 6.6%; 5. South Carolina at 6.4%; and 6. Idaho, at 6.4%. Not surprising as well is that those states comprised mostly of conservative Christians led the nation in volunteering time as well. Over 45% of Utah residents volunteer time to non-profit/charitable organizations, and 32% of Idahoans likewise volunteer their time in service.
The most stingy states were: Connecticut, 3.3%; Rhode Island, 3.1%; Massachusetts, 2.8%; Vermont 2.8%; Maine, 2.8%; and New Hampshire, 2.5%.
The political aspect of this analysis is compelling. Of the 10 least generous states, according to the study, nine voted for Barack Obama in the last presidential election, while eight of the ten most generous states voted for John McCain. Panepento indicated that is more a statement of the religiosity of the state, which colors political orientation more than anything else. “I don’t know if I could go out and say it’s a complete Republican-Democrat difference as much as it is different religious attitudes and culture in these states,” he said.
The study indicated that when religious giving is excluded, those blue states that were most penurious actually fared much better. The top charities in those states appear to be environment- oriented.
Understandably, there are some who are critical of the research. Alan Wolfe, a political science professor at Boston College, said that “It’s wrong to link a state’s religious makeup with its generosity. People in less religious states are giving in a different way by being more willing to pay higher taxes so the government can equitably distribute superior benefits… I think people here believe that when they pay their taxes, they’re being altruistic.”
It’s obvious that Dr. Wolfe, as well as some of our fellow citizens, subscribe to the Ebenezer Scrooge notion of charity. When asked for a donation at Christmastime to help the poor and destitute, Scrooge responded: “Are there no prisons? And the union workhouses, are they still in operation?” And in explanation as to why he would not give to help the poor, he stated firmly that “I help to support the establishments I have named.”
In other words, since they’ve paid taxes, they’ve already done their “charitable” part. Their rationalized version of “charity” is coerced “altruism” mandated by the IRS code.
That must be why Mitt Romney this past week lumped the two together in his explanation of how much he gives of his means. Declaring that he’s not paid less than 13% of his income in taxes over the past ten years, he followed up with the comment “If you add in, in addition, the amount that goes to charity, why the number gets well above 20 percent.” It’s actually closer to 26% when the math is done. He really covered both the liberal and conservative perspectives on charity, listing what he’s forced to pay through taxes and what he freely gives in charitable contributions. It was a brilliant concatenation.
There are some among the uber-wealthy who seem to have the ethical perspective on charity. Garrett Gruener, the founder of Ask.com, recently said that “Democracy is not a charity. It’s an enterprise of all Americans to accomplish things that we democratically decide are important…Charity is something I do on my own, and I don’t expect others to have the same priorities I do.”
For those who consider themselves religious, yet are convinced they’re being “charitable” by paying their taxes, a primer on the biblical word “agape” is in order since the same word is translated as charity and love. I don’t know anyone who pays their taxes out of love.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: DonkeyHotey (Creative Commons)