THERE ARE 366 major metropolitan areas in the United States, and a comprehensive new study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy ranks them on the basis of generosity — the percentage of income the median household in each city gives to charity. According to the Chronicle, the most generous city in America is Provo, Utah, where residents typically give away 13.9 percent of their discretionary income. Boston, by contrast, ranks No. 358: In New England’s leading city, the median household donates just 2.9 percent of its income to charity.
Provo’s generosity is typical for its region. Of the 10 most generous cities in America, according to the Chronicle’s calculations, six are in Utah and Idaho. Boston’s tight-fistedness is typical too: Of the 10 stingy cities at the bottom of the list, eight are in New England — including Springfield (No. 363) and Worcester (No. 364).
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What’s the matter with Massachusetts? How can residents of the bluest state, whose political and cultural leaders make much of their compassion and frequently remind the affluent that we’re all in this together, be so lacking in personal generosity? And why would charitable giving be so outstanding in places as conservative as Utah and Idaho?
The question is built on a fallacy.
Liberals, popular stereotypes notwithstanding, are not more generous and compassionate than conservatives. To an outsider it might seem plausible that Americans whose political rhetoric emphasizes “fairness” and “social justice” would be more charitably inclined than those who stress economic liberty and individual autonomy. But reams of evidence contradict that presumption, as Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks demonstrated in his landmark 2006 book, Who Really Cares.
Read More By Jeff Jacoby. The Boston Globe.