Steve’s Book Review: “Who Really Cares?”

Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism

by Arthur Brooks and James Wilson.

Data provided some good points, but the methodology and interpretation was biased to the private enterprise ideology.

This started off very interesting, but descended into a chance for the authors to rant. In the end it was not an incentive for non givers to change their behavior. In fact, that was not the purpose at all. It was to simply support a political point of view which in itself should be non political–giving to less fortunate. What is equally puzzling is to why bother with facts based on scientific methodology when the audience who would agree with this book is clearly anti academic. Why bother with footnotes?

But I digress. I read “Who Really Cares” with great interest. It was recommended by the “Millionaire Next Door” author, Thomas J. Stanley, of whom my husband and I met at a financial conference. The Millionaire Next Door is one of my favorite personal finance books and if Dr. Stanley recommended this book, I am going to read it. Mr. Stanley said that the book shows that giving people are happier than none givers. One of our Buddhist teaching’s central themes for reducing suffering is to help others, so I was intrigued and eagerly bought this book.

I would have not read this book had I known it was politically and culturally polarizing. However, I am happy I read it and offer my observations.

This book shows with data from several sources who gives to charities and summarizes the obvious that people who give and volunteer time to the less fortunate are happier than people who don’t.

Sampling issues:

One thing they didn’t count as volunteering was the Armed Forces. Perhaps it’s not really volunteering as it was in my day when I enlisted in the Marines and got shot up in Nam. Today, it’s a paying job and a career for some. Still, joining the military is 100% volunteer.

Equally puzzling is that the authors included blood donations as data throughout the book, when an entire community, the gay community, is forbidden to give blood. They should have included volunteer activities that are accessible for all, not matter who you are. It may have skewed the results towards what the authors wanted.
Unequal comparisons:

They found that poor people and the religious, give more of their income to charities than higher income and non religious. The religious person’s contributions were broken up into two primary areas:
1. 30% of what they gave went to their church, and
2. 70% went to secular charities.

The authors said they were surprised by this finding, however, they omitted what exactly is a secular charity. For example, at my church there was a call to help local public school low income students by asking us to purchase backpacks, pencils and paper and to assist our local gay and lesbian community service center. Would my examples be giving to a secular cause when our religious leader carries great influence over the congregation? We would not have known about these good causes otherwise.
It is puzzling why the authors insisted that religious people are not pressured to give by their churches or for tax reasons, but 1/3 DO give to their church. If the authors are going to make the argument that religious people give more to secular needs than non religious people, the authors need to separate the data to compare religious people giving to only secular charities and not count the 1/3 of religious people who give to their churches. The religious people’s donations of 70% of their money going to secular causes may not be as independent of their religious institutions as the authors claim.

Many low income workers don’t make enough to pay federal income taxes anyway. To rationalize this away because 2/3 gives to secular charities was another omission. Interesting, the authors never said that giving non religious showed compassion, but that giving religious conservatives did. The authors were trying to make the case that religious conservatives are compassionate when in the public view they are not afraid to express their anti-government, anti taxes, anti politicians, anti public workers and view the government as a threat to their freedoms (fox “news” reports this 24/7).

Even with the author’s data, their case would still be hard pressed to change this national image that liberals are compassionate and conservatives are not. The book was written during a time in the early 2000s when the religious right, the Republican Party with social conservatives and Wall Street had everything going for them (Republican Congress, Alan Greenspan, Wall Street deregulated and the social conservative in the White House).

That “party” ended in 2008, when everything changed and the book had just been published in 2007. Not only did Wall Street created the biggest financial disaster since the Great Depression, but the voters were not happy with our government’s reaction to the horrific Hurricane Katrina victims while congress and the White House voted to save one individual for political reasons.
I am confident that these otherwise good hard working folks don’t care who throws them a rope, whether it’s somebody who had an affair, identify as an atheist, politically liberal or conservative, from the government or a private religious organization. When disaster or a disease hits, people really don’t care who helps them. When one is vulnerable, they will be grateful for anybody’s help.

The authors take too many liberties with this narrow data and speculate on what might happen to our country if we evolve into a less compassionate country. Their data did not take into account that there are many factors that identify America as a compassionate and giving country and its historical contributions to government, law and private enterprise: rule of law, free speech, freedom of the press, religious freedom, separation of church and state, due process, private property, personal responsibility, free markets, getting rid of personal titles and the Bill of Rights, are second to none. The primary purpose of this book is to make the case that corporate, private sector institutions are superior and moral over governmental programs.
Charity of $250 billion a year is wonderful, but making charity as the key factor that is going to make or break our country’s consciousness and morality is a political statement which pits groups against one another. Americans and our system are much more than that! In my opinion, the authors cleverly wanted to isolate some groups of American who favor government assistance as not being true Americans and immoral, and concluding that we are tearing the moral fabric of America apart (there are many books about this, unfortunately). The authors have taken huge liberties with that $250 billion, when our country has given so much more to the world of science, arts, foreign aid as well as a democratic form of government, but much of that is publically financed.
Our way of life is not threatened with or without the $250 billion in donations. We have always been a resourceful. We have a 16 trillion dollar economy. We will continue to give and the authors saying otherwise is just a tactic to pit one group against another and the publisher can make a profit. Conflict draws attention.
Other points:
1. Stereotypes of conservatives as uncaring are incorrect. The author didn’t say that liberals were uncaring, though, he said that they gave less than conservatives by relying on the government to help the less fortunate.

3. Throughout the book, the author took liberties beyond the data presented. They carefully showed their biases and took every opportunity to show the positive side of conservative religious communities. Liberals and conservatives have different world views, it’s not only political, but in the consciousness/perception too. The problem is that they presented this as a casual mention that liberals and conservative world views are different. I’ll say! Huge differences! It should have been the central idea for explaining the data. Liberals view that the job of the government is to help people when they are in need, such as natural disaster relief and rebuilding, provide public education (ignorance is expensive), health care from the cradle to the grave (as almost all developed countries do, people are dying or going bankrupt because of lack of health insurance) and public transportation (again many countries are ahead of us). Our constitution says to “Promote the General Welfare,” nothing wrong with the federal government helping people in disaster areas. What’s the alternative? Individuals helping widespread disasters? I don’t think so. How can individuals help the victims on Hurricane Sandy or Katrina, tornadoes in the Midwest or the flooding of the Mississippi? Or help anyone learn to read, or TX their cancer, or take them to work because they cannot afford a car? Natural disasters are well beyond the range of individual or local communities’ resources or human power can help in the short term. Communities do recover, but it’s not without assistance from the government over time. The 2008 financial disaster needed the government to bail out those banks. Like it or not, our great nation has people who are in need. Life happens whether is a disease, accident, national or human-made financial disaster. We are all in this together.

5. The authors report that about $250 billion is contributed to the economy through charities. But what’s interesting is that the authors wrote “quarter of a trillion dollars,” which sounds a lot more! This is an example of the authors using language to inflate the data for partisan politics. The authors clearly have a political POV to defend. In the discussion section of any research paper, the authors are free to express their opinions. It’s up to us readers to point out the biases and begin a discussion on why the authors wrote “quarter of a trillion dollars,” instead of what it really is, $250 billion.

6. The authors discussed that the government should encourage entrepreneurs, charity or adoption by reducing regulations and points out some good things that the government has done to promote and encourage. But their view of the positive side of government didn’t last long and it turned into another talking point that really has little to do with giving. Those regulations didn’t come out of the woodwork and they didn’t stop the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the world who last I heard had the same regulations to deal with as anybody else. Those bureaucrats did not wake up one day and decide to create difficulties for potential parents who want to adopt or future business owners. People sue and that’s a fact of life. Those regs that require having trained people with the right credentials decrease liability and help people. We live in a complex world. But one thing has not changed—if people really want something bad enough and are willing to sacrifice to get it, whether it’s adopting a child or starting a business, the success and potential loving parent or visionary entrepreneur will never allow anybody or any regulation to stop them! People are still adopting children and opening businesses. Life goes on, no matter what.

7. Summary. Wow! What a change in writing style, focus and mood. Every paragraph, word and syllable were biased towards religious conservatives. It was so strident I am convinced that the publisher’s editors wrote the summary to get a boost in sales. It brings up the question that other reviewers have asked. Did the publisher and the authors have the religious conservatives as their audience? Because they will love this book. Nothing wrong with profits and that’s the primary reason publishers are in business. The other “price” we all pay is in the exploitation of an already divided country by featuring one of the most polarizing figures in history, Fox “News” Bill O‘Reilly as a positive reviewer of this book.

After the book was published, the first author has become the President of one of the most strident right-ring institutions in the history of this country, The American Enterprise Institute. So his ideology pulled his data into a right ring rant, which is any author’s right. It’s up to us readers to point out biases: for example, the nation’s welfare program. The authors quote everybody he could find that chronic welfare is bad for people (We all can agree) as it breeds dependency. But then he presents data that the vast majority of people are off the welfare rolls in two years. Study after study says exactly that—most welfare recipients use the program to get through short-term tough times.

While this was beyond the book, I think it’s that food stamps have evolved into an issue totally unexpected: helping some of the most profitable and largest corporations on the planet (Wal-Mart, MacDonald’s, etc.) to keep paying the national minimum wage instead of creating gainful employment with medical benefits for their low income workers. We agree that long-term food stamps are not good for people. However, are food stamps for low income workers good for some of the most profitable corporations in our country?

I recommend the book, but ignore the summary and the political and cultural opinions pitting one group against another.
Americans are a decent, law-obeying people who care about one another, no matter what the national media or this book says about those differences—public or private.

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