Friday, December 24, 2010


"I gave at the office," was the punchline to many old jokes. It alluded to a quick way to respond to all of the "asks" that come our way, especially at holiday time.

But Arthur Brooks' research suggests that it may have a new meaning. Surveys show that the most outspoken redistributionists tend to be the stingiest when it comes to their own charitable giving. They do their "giving" via the taxes that they work hard to levy on the general population.

Brooks mentions all this in an op-ed in today's WSJ:
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.
There are surely generous and well-meaning people among all political and philosophical persuasions, but if you had to make a random draw you would get a more giving person from the group that is less likely to compel others to do the giving.

Arnold Kling has suggested using public moneys to prompt matches. There would be less "giving" via coercion and a greater opportunity for those with strong preferences for various causes to put their money where their mouth is. I can think of a few government programs that I would love to contribute less to.