Monday, April 21, 2008

Genorisity and OPM 

A local DFL activist and Wellstone! award winner writes about the Democrats she knows as being charitable:

The Democrats I know live and promote the value of personal responsibility. They believe in hard work, honesty, persistence and self-reliance.

But the Democrats I know also understand the value of social responsibility.

They know that there are many areas such as transportation, public education and police and fire protection where responding as a community for the common good is more effective and efficient than only responding individually.

I can't remember who said this last week, but it bears repeating: Do you ever notice that when liberals want to justify government spending they always go to transportation and police and fire? At least Pat includes public education, for which there are private substitutes. K-12 education in MN consumes 39.9% of a $34.5 billion state budget; public safety only 5.4%. Transportation comes out of a different fund. Tell you way, Pat, let's make a deal. You restrict us to police, fire and transportation and even K-12. How about that part called "health and human services"? Ready to privatize that?

But I digress. What does it mean for her to be socially responsible?

These Democrats also know that for many in our society, the playing field is not level, and that if we believe in our democratic principles, we must live the value of social responsibility.

The failure of a market-driven health care system is one example where all of this comes together.

Personal responsibility alone will not solve that mess.

When you hear "level playing field", what you should translate that to is "egalitarianism", and often we are talking about ex post egalitarianism. I have more than you, so that's not right. And there's plenty to that the person alone could do. Bob Collins notes that 87% of people in a survey by the Northwest Area Foundation said they agreed that "I would like to do more to help people struggling in my community", to which Bob wonders, well, what's stopping you?
It would seem that if the 87% who would like to do more, actually did more, then not quite as many people would be struggling. Armed with only anecdotal evidence, I'm going to theorize that 87% of the people are not going to do more and a sizeable number aren't doing that much now.

...A closer look at the survey shows that a large percentage said they would be willing to get together to talk about ways to help. Others said they would be willing to talk to an elected official. Seventy-eight percent said they would take part in a church project to help someone. A somewhat smaller group said they would adopt a family temporarily if they were struggling. About the same number said they would pay another $50 in taxes.

Times are tough for a lot of people, of course, but could it be different if we did as we say? As individuals, what's stopping us, aside from our belief it won't make a difference? And what do you consider to be a definition of doing something?
I suspect for most of them it's the opportunity to get together and talk about someone else doing something. Learned Foot makes the point well:
...why on earth would someone volunteer time, money and / or effort when they can just vote for [someone] who will make them feel as altruistic. The only effort required is 5 minutes at a polling station, a pull of the lever for your local machine Democrat, and then you can go forth and proclaim to the world how compassionate you are. Giving feels good. To the feeble minded and selfish, feeling like you gave while doing nothing feels just as good.

And let's face it: in most cases that compassion is going to be extracted forcibly from someone other than yourself.

The takeaway from all this, I think, is that people are well-meaning, but lazy.
We refer to this as "self-interest", Foot. And the statements like those of Mrs. Welter are simply "cheap signaling". Anyone can be generous with OPM: Other People's Money.

Mrs. W then doubles down by assaulting the church-goers while reviewing the evidence of Arthur Brooks' study Who Really Cares?:
Conservative people are a percentage point or two more likely to give money each year than liberal people, but a percentage point or less likely to volunteer. And while conservative people do give more to charities and churches, when religion is factored out, charitable giving between liberals and conservatives is not distinguishable.
This shows only the most shallow reading of Brooks' work. He notes that religious people are more charitable towards non-religious charities than the secularist population. "A religious person is 57% more likely than a secularist to help a homeless person," he writes. And the last sentence seems to suggest that the only thing a religious person gives to is a church, and thus for reasons involving his or her own salvation, not to help the poor. There's nothing about conservatism or religiousness that would necessarily encourage one to go to the Red Cross, but according to Brooks' estimates, the amount of blood banked in America would rise 45% if liberals gave blood as much as conservatives do.

If they ever figure out how to tax blood, Heaven help us!

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