Sunday, November 16, 2003

Where do the generous people live?

I almost spent a day producing a list of states by generosity, and which candidate they supported in the 2000 presidential election. Someone saved me the trouble.. States that supported Bush are listed with a red background, states that voted Gore have a blue background. (To reduce the risk of Repetitive Stress Syndrome, be sure to address your computer according to latest ergonomic studies before attempting to scroll in search of blue states.)

It's worth noting that the two most generous states (Wyoming and Utah) were the two states with the greatest percentage of Bush votes in the country (60% in both cases).

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for saving me several hours of work.

UPDATE: Internet penpal Kaimi Wenger takes issue with two points.

First, Kaimi argues that the rankings wrongly treat tax-deductible contributions as being synonymous with generosity. I acknowledge that it's an imprecise proxy, but there's no reason to believe that people who don't make tax-deductible contributions are more generous in non-measurable ways than are those who do make tax deductible contributions. Most likely, people who give generously with their checkbooks disproportionately donate their time and pocket change, too.

Second, Kaimi surmises that Utah's second-place ranking (first place when calculated as a percentage of income) is due to the large number of Mormons who pay tithes. He goes on to say that because Mormons are socially pressured, and can be found unworthy to enter Mormon temples if they fail to tithe, that they aren't donating out of generosity but to placate social concerns. I agree that most plausible reason Utah leads the world in charitable contributions is due to the number of tithe-paying Mormons.

But this observation doesn't lead anywhere; it overlooks the fact that people associate with voluntary organizations that reflect their beliefs, and that the Mormon church is a voluntary organization. It makes no sense, for example, to dismiss someone's commitment to conservation by noting that they're a member of the Sierra Club, and that Sierra Clubbers pressure one another to conserve, and stigmatize those who don't. People choose to associate with groups that preach conservation, like the Sierra Club, precisely because the person is sympathetic to conservation. If they weren't, they'd rub elbows elsewhere.

Denying that Utahns are generous, because too many of them voluntarily associate with people who expect them to be generous, is like denying that Oregonians are environmentally-minded because too many of them belong to the Sierra Club. People who dislike conservation are unlikely to join the Sierra Club, and people who are unwilling to donate 10% of their money to charity are unlikely to join the Mormon church.

I suspect Kaimi probably came to his conclusion because he viewed generosity as a state of mind, not an objective behavior. I don't deny that generosity entails elements of Christian love ("though I give everything to the poor, and have not love, I am nothing") that are beyond the behavior, but a more fitting analogy is James 2:17-18, "faith, if it hath not works, is dead . . . shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works."

While I'm on the subject, I'll again mention Al Gore, a leading figure in the Generosity is a State of Mind school. Even when he earned $197,000 a year, lived in a government mansion staffed with servants paid from public coffers, was chauffered around the world in public-financed limousines and jets, and consumed 5000 taxpayer-funded calories daily, his excuse for why he only gave $353 to charity, half of the US average for families making a fraction of his salary -- families that had to pay rent, car, insurance, and groceries on $35,000 -- was that he gives in years "when the resources were there." His charitable donations as a percentage of income: 0.0018% -- and that figure's rounded up. What a louse.


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