Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Tea Partiers & the Spirit of Giving

A friend sent this recent editorial, ‘Tea Partiers and the Spirit of Giving’ from the Wall Street Journal (see below) and I think it could make for some interesting dialogue on Community Matters. Do you support government providing for less fortunate, making charitable contributions, etc. or should those decisions be left to the individual?

Holiday season and end-of-the-year giving . . . how does charity factor in to decisions. Some suggest that the government giving funds that are collected from one group of people (taxpayers) and giving to another group to buy their votes is not charity and should be called it for what it is – politics. Conversely, if an individual (vs. the government) willingly gives funds to another individual or group of people, does that create the true essence of charity? Do you think we should go a step further and suggest to Washington officials that the money we earn is ours and that as Americans we should be in the driver’s seat as to how, why and to whom money is spent.

Locally, we could look at our volunteer fire departments. Some residents suggest that it is the resident’s responsibility to write personal checks and help fund the firefighters. Other residents would suggest that our tax dollars should fully fund the fire company needs and that our taxes should be adjusted accordingly. Two distinctly different ways to look at funding.

Do you support this saying, “Give a man a fish and he can eat for that day . . . but teach a man ‘how’ to fish and he can eat for a lifetime.” Please read the WSJ article and offer your comments . . . I would be interested in hearing on which side Community Matters reader fall.

Tea Partiers and the Spirit of Giving –
Charitable gifts are a cheerful protest vote against the growing state.
By Arthur C. Brooks, president of American Enterprise Institute
Wall Street Journal, 24 December 2010

By now everyone knows that the dramatic November election was not an endorsement of Republicanism, but rather a rebellion against expansionist government and an attempt to re-establish America’s culture of free enterprise.

The tea party activists behind the wave—and more importantly, the nearly one-third of Americans who classify themselves as “supporters” of the movement, according to Gallup—endure endless abuse from the politicians they have dethroned and the pundits they have challenged. One particular line of attack focuses on their supposed selfishness.

It is common to hear that the popular uprising against the growth of the welfare state, with rising taxes and deficits, is based on a lack of caring toward those who are suffering the most in the current crisis. As soon-to-be ex-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi puts it, the tea party is working “for the rich instead of for the great middle class.” Others have asserted that the backlash against the growth of government is nothing more than an attack on the poor.

Few would disagree that free enterprise is grounded in one’s self-interest. But self-interest is not the same thing as selfishness in the sense of unbounded consumption or disregard for the less fortunate. In fact, the millions of Americans who advocate for private entrepreneurship and limited government—whether they are rich or poor—may be stingy when it comes to giving away other people’s money through state redistribution, but they are surprisingly generous when it comes to giving away their own money privately.

Americans in general are very charitable, by international standards. Study after study shows that we privately give multiples of what our Social Democratic friends in Europe donate, per capita. But not all Americans are equally generous. One characteristic of givers is especially important in the current debate: the opinion that the government should not redistribute income to achieve greater economic equality.

Consider the answer to the question, “Do you believe the government has a responsibility to reduce income differences between rich and poor?” Many surveys have asked this over the years. In 2006, the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) found that Americans were almost equally divided on this question (52% in favor, 48% against). This is in stark contrast to the Europeans. For example, 94% of the Portuguese in the 2006 ISSP survey were in favor of redistribution; only 6% were against.

When it comes to voluntarily spreading their own wealth around, a distinct “charity gap” opens up between Americans who are for and against government income leveling. Your intuition might tell you that people who favor government redistribution care most about the less fortunate and would give more to charity. Initially, this was my own assumption. But the data tell a different story.

The most recent year that a large, nonpartisan survey asked people about both redistributive beliefs and charitable giving was 1996. That year, the General Social Survey (GSS) found that those who were against higher levels of government redistribution privately gave four times as much money, on average, as people who were in favor of redistribution. This is not all church-related giving; they also gave about 3.5 times as much to nonreligious causes. Anti-redistributionists gave more even after correcting for differences in income, age, religion and education.

Of course, there are other ways to give than with money. Here again the results may be different from what you might expect. The GSS in 2002 showed that those who said the government was “spending too much money on welfare” were more likely to donate blood than those who said the government was “spending too little money on welfare.” The anti-redistributionists were also more likely to give someone directions on the street, return change mistakenly handed them by a cashier, and give food (or money) to a homeless person.

So what does all this tell us? Contrary to the liberal stereotype of the hard-hearted right-winger, opposition to income-leveling is not evidence that one does not care about others. Quite the contrary. The millions of Americans who believe in limited government give disproportionately to others. This is in addition to—not instead of—their defense of our free-enterprise system, which gives the most people the most opportunities to earn their own success.

Obviously, not all charity has ideological connotations—nor should it. But for many, especially at this time of year, giving is a cheerful, productive protest vote against the growing state. It is America’s quiet tea party.

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  1. Thank you for posting this, Pattye. In my view, within this article, the tea party is a distraction. More broadly, the article articulates people’s views, and more importantly, their actions, related to the role of government, and citizens, in supporting those less fortunate.

  2. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a tea partier, but I love when some criticizing faction brings up the whole “drinking the Kool-Aid” critique. I’m sorry, but if you hold a registration card of any party, you’re drinking the Kool-Aid as well, it’s just a different flavor.

    1. Most tea partiers I know aren’t “getting played” by anyone. They’re just neophytes to the politics of our country and they aren’t necessarily well-read on economics or history. They are basically the effect to the equally as brain-dead “Hope and Change” cause.

  3. Well read? Like whom? C’mon. Now we have a debt crisis and we have to ring our hangs to figure out why? Let’s start with ObamaCare, and continue with bailouts… back to my liberal college classroom… Give me a break.

    1. Actually, bailouts have been occurring forever. Bush/Obama did not invent them.

      As for the definition of liberal, the historical nature of the word has no bearing in today’s discussion. Kind of like how the Democratic Party when founded stood for State’s rights, adherence to the Constitution, and a decentralized monetary policy.

  4. Here’s the gist of my point – and don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking any political belief system, I’m criticizing how most people have gotten there. There are a lot of extremely intelligent people who are extremely lazy when it comes to intelligent political thought (including independents). For example, many limited government tea party folks seem to have no problem with the United States’ vast military industrial complex that reaches all parts of the globe. Let’s call it the Sean Hannity view of the world. In matters of consistency, you cannot be for limited government but for unlimited military intervention, because, guess what, a dollar is a dollar. Republicans have the same issues with gay rights, wire-tapping, etc (“Government is bad unless it’s for something that we believe in!”). Democrats want to advance society with feel-good programs, yet they seem to always shirk critical evaluation of the effectiveness of their societal experiments. I guess what I’m trying to say is that too many people have too many opinions that are not their own. So, maybe you’re right, by regurgitating talking points, I guess they’re “being played,” but that’s not a problem limited to the tea-partiers. Anyone who limits their knowledge exploration to the nightly news, blogs, partisan websites, and talking heads is in your words, “being played.”

  5. There’s some real kool-aid drinking going on here. But it’s not among the “hope and change”set. They’ve tempered their idealism after two years of hard-fought compromises. The road ahead looks to be even more challenging, but many Obama supporters are prepared to stand and fight for needed change.

    Arthur Brooks’ Christmas Eve op-ed in the WSJ (reprinted above) is a piece of sefl-serving propaganda. From his first sentence, he tells you so. “Everyone knows……” No, Mr. Brooks, you believe……In his second paragraph, he claims “neearlty one third of Americans…classify themselves as supporters…”. Wrong. Try 19%.

    See this link for the facts:

    Brooks is the president of a right-wing, pro-business think tank. He has written several books on the fight between free enterprise and big government. One book, WHO REALLY CARES, makes the case that conservatives who believe in limited government, give more to charity.

    What a surprise! His research shows that church-affiliated conservatives give more to charity than liberals – a “fact” being echoed by the Fox News machine and the ever-smarmy Ann Coulter.

    This “fact” apparently is significant to Mike of Berwyn because these generous conservatives “put their money where their mouth is” i.e. they believe in limiting government entitlements while promoting the option of giving charitably to organizations and causes deemed worthy. Conservatives of all stripes -including “political neophytes” like Tea Partiers abhor the so-called “redistribution of income to achieve greater economic equality.”

    First, Brooks’ numbers are questionable. The truth? When religious giving is taken out of the picture – much of which is in the form of tuition to private religious schools – the gap is largely eliminated. His thesis – seen as based on serious research by many on the right, has been widely criticized beyond the world of Fox News. There simply is no causal relationship between adhering to a political belief about the role of government and one’s personal generosity.

    The American Enterprise Institue, of which Brooks is president, is founded on a belief in individual opportunity and free enterprise. But what AEI views as overly generous government support for the poor, unemployed, disabled and elderly – i.e. the ” redistribution of wealth” – millions of Americans, myself included, believe is the responsibility of a decent society.

    I call the $ billions of lost revenue from subsidies – to large corporations, tax loopholes from which the rich benefit, uncollected gas and oil royalties, and overspending for no-bid contracts to contributors of political candidates and parties – to be an undeserved redistribution of wealth – to the wealthy!

    BTW, current and past resident scholars at the American Enterprise Institute include Newt Gingrich, Liz Cheney, John Bolton and the late neocon, Irving Kristol..Over the years they and others have :

    – pushed for regime change through war in raq,
    – defended the tobacco industry by refuting the social cost of smoking,
    – argued that markets are essential in providing the people of the world with water, (Privatizing the sale of water!!)
    – cast doubt on global warming and offered to pay scientists who would undermine climate change research.

    Consider the source of this article. Let common sense and decency prevail.

  6. So I read his article, and I read your opinion piece about his article. Right wing zealotry? Left wing loonies? It is all old, my fellow American. We have had a referendum in November. Those big bad pro business conservative church going loonies starting to poke their noses, i dare say back in the pew. We shall see. The voters will decide, and of course if they decide against your and John Petersen’s wishes then they will be idiots. But you guys are always the smart ones, the all knowing, the thought and behavior police who will guide us through the malaise. Yea right. PS Democrats were in total control of the government for the last 2 years, and Congress for 4. Why didn’t they render tobacco illegal? Maybe the lobbyists got to them? Maybe even a socialist won’t cut the gravey train of taxes? I will consider the source of who wrote the criticism of the article. Thanks for reminding me to be cynical. Couldn’t have done it with out you.

  7. John, I am not sure why you discount the Tea Party because Libertarians said it first. That is just plain silly. Let me share with you what I have learned from personal experience and doing my homework. Both believe in a free market economy, and constitutionally limited govt, and personal responsibility. The libertarians oppose government bureaucracy and taxation. Tea Partiers favor low taxes and fiscal responsibility. – somewhat similar. Both favor civil liberties. Libertarians’ foreign policy is – non-intervention militarily. Tea Partiers strongly support the military and protecting our national security interests. The Tea Party includes democrats, republicans, libertarians, and independents. They include all religious affiliations including agnostics, atheists and those unsure. It is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic -like libertarians, democrats, republicans and independents. Views on social issues tend to be conservative but also include more liberal viewpoints. So you can see Tea Partiers are a diverse group.

    I believe most rational Americans have these values in common: love of country; personal freedom; fiscal responsibility; respect for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; protecting our national security; and, helping our less fortunate.
    We differ however in how we realize and approach these values.

    Instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, take the best from all parties and perhaps then we have half a chance of making this country the best it can be.

    1. Interesting. I may not agree with many of the conservatives connected to the tea party movement, but I respect your remarks. From reading your comments, are we to assume that you consider yourself one of the tea partiers?

      1. In reply to Barbara Ellis

        ** When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me….now where have I heard that before? **

        Excuse me! wow. My assumption was based on your words —

        ** We differ however in how we realize and approach these values. **

        I was simply asking a question, my assumption based on your use of ‘We’ in your comment — your response was completely unnecessary.

    2. Let’s talk about what Liberals think and what Democrats think. Time for comparisons and mention of the aforementioned groups instead of incessant flagellation of the tea party and republicans.,
      Anyone want to start the conversation?

  8. I have always believed that for baby boomers, the party they “claim” can be attributed to whether your parents voted for Kennedy or Nixon in 1960. Most claim the same except those who went awol and shunned things their parents pledged (or in that rare case in the 50s where an R married a D….but mostly that was about how your family before felt about Roosevelt…)

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