Are Conservatives Selfish People?

A Facebook friend of mine, who is a proud member of the East coast liberal elite and works at a New York publishing house, made this comment as he commiserated with his progressive friends:

“We [progressives] like institutions that help others (and if we get any fringe benefits–great). [Conservatives] like institutions that help themselves (and hurt the rest).”

That’s a bald and self-serving analysis of the political spectrum, refreshing in its honesty yet a sobering glimpse of philosophical delusion.

We should be clear-headed about a fundamental truth concerning all people: we are all primarily self-focused. There is no one—liberal or conservative–who is naturally good; no, not one. The desire to put others above yourself is a regeneration of the natural condition; a conversion.

My FB friend says progressives like institutions that help others. Primarily, progressives want to build government institutions to provide social services and to redistribute wealth. They want to help others—not with their own money, but with the money taken forcibly from those people whom the progressives believe have too much money (most of them conservatives).

Conservatives do not believe that’s the way to help people. First, because redistributive policies weaken the economy and create more poverty than they alleviate. Second, government giveaways beyond emergency assistance create dependence that does not help struggling people to take steps toward stability and independence. Third, to force people to help others is a basic denial of personal freedom.

So do conservative like institutions that help themselves? (What would those be?) Let’s take a closer look at those supposedly selfish conservatives, in comparison to the supposedly generous liberals.

Conservative generosity is well-documented:

Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University, published “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism.” The surprise is that liberals are markedly less charitable than conservatives.

If many conservatives are liberals who have been mugged by reality, Brooks, a registered independent, is, as a reviewer of his book said, a social scientist who has been mugged by data. They include these findings:

— Although liberal families’ incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).

— Conservatives also donate more time and give more blood.

 Charity Navigator also provides revealing information about giving by Americans and people of faith:

Religious vs. Secular  Americans

Q. We often hear that religious people give more to charity than secularists. Is this true?
A. In the year 2000, “religious” people (the 33 percent of the population who attend their houses of worship at least once per week) were 25 percentage points more likely to give charitably than “secularists” (the 27 percent who attend less than a few times per year, or have no religion). They were also 23 percentage points more likely to volunteer. When considering the average dollar amounts of money donated and time volunteered, the gap between the groups increases even further: religious people gave nearly four times more dollars per year, on average, than secularists ($2,210 versus $642). They also volunteered more than twice as often (12 times per year, versus 5.8 times).

Very little of this gap is due to personal differences between religious and secular people with respect to income, age, family, or anything else. For instance, imagine two people who are identical in income, education, age, race, and marital status. The one difference between them is that, while one goes to church every week, the other never does. Knowing this, we can predict that the churchgoer will be 21 percentage points more likely to make a charitable gift of money during the year than the nonchurchgoer, and will also be 26 points more likely to volunteer.

Americans vs. the “enlightened” Europeans

Q. Are Americans more or less charitable than citizens of other countries?
A. No developed country approaches American giving. For example, in 1995 (the most recent year for which data are available), Americans gave, per capita, three and a half times as much to causes and charities as the French, seven times as much as the Germans, and 14 times as much as the Italians. Similarly, in 1998, Americans were 15 percent more likely to volunteer their time than the Dutch, 21 percent more likely than the Swiss, and 32 percent more likely than the Germans. These differences are not attributable to demographic characteristics such as education, income, age, sex, or marital status. On the contrary, if we look at two people who are identical in all these ways except that one is European and the other American, the probability is still far lower that the European will volunteer than the American.

What does this say about conservative, religious Americans? Are they better people than others? Well, like I said earlier, there is no one good without God’s transformation. But I do think my FB friend should take a new look at stereotyping selfishness.

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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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4 Responses to Are Conservatives Selfish People?

  1. jonolan says:

    I think you have part of this wrong, specifically the part about the Liberals’ motives for their wanting government institutions to provide social services and to redistribute wealth.

    I don’t think that it is, in most cases, that they want to take money away from the wealthy as much as it is that they want everyone to have to give up money so that they, themselves wouldn’t be personally “disadvantaged” by doing so on their own.

  2. John says:

    Firstly Liberals want to see poverty reduced.

    A christian ought not see government taxes for the poor as force, but should seeit as a good thing, only those who are unchristian would object to giving tax to help the poor.

    • Jim Jewell says:

      Certainly it is unChristian to resist helping the poor. That said, the question is how to best help them, and to generalize: liberals believe that government is best suited to provide aid and conservatives believe private organizations, churches, and community organizations are best suited. Statistically, people of Christain faith give more to charity than any other group. They act on the above question by opening their wallets to help others.

      • Snake says:

        Ah, but as Mark Twain once quotes there are “Lies, damn lies, and statistics”.

        You see, the claim that “statistically, people of Christian faith give more to charity than any other group” needs to be proven when you factor out the monies given during their church mass attendance which can be claimed as “charity”.

        When an individual deposits $5 into the church collection bucket to support said church, this is most undoubtedly claimed in the gross “charity” column. But we must be able to differentiate how much of said $5 goes to “charity actions” (such as feeding the poor) versus “church benefit” in order to actually compute TRUE “charity” benefits compared to liberal donations. When a liberal donates to a cause it is to THAT specific cause – a conscious action. If $5 is deposited in a church collection there is a question as to exactly where said donation is going – to charity benefits or church support, which to a liberal is NOT the same.

        If said church DOES have individual collections for “church costs” – which is strictly non-secular – versus “charity and poor benefits” then I feel that “church costs” should be subtracted from the yearly “charity” figure.

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