John Stossel’s 20/20 show last Wednesday night, “Cheap in America,” asked the tough questions about American generosity. It was an intriguing piece, weaving contrasting arguments for two key conclusions: Bureaucracies, government ones and even big charity ones (national or international), just don’t do as good a job as private, local donors and charities; and (2) Americans are truly more generous than any other people on the planet–no matter their means. Rich and poor alike give generously.
So the “Cheap Americans” slogans making their way around the globe are simply wrong. The well-intended persuaders, even personally generous high-profile Americans, who argue that poverty and disaster relief solutions rest with a bigger portion of the US GNP, demonstrate incomplete information at best, inaccurate at worst.
Stossel interviewed Arthur Brooks, someone I’ve had the pleasure of recently talking with at different charity award events. His new book Who Really Cares, rooted in extensive research of American charity, has made him a high profile voice at a most opportune time of year. He says, “When you look at the data, it turns out the conservatives give about 30% more. And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money.” Stereotypes that liberals care more and give more, and that a higher income means increased generosity simply aren’t supported.
So one point is clear, defensible, and should motivate that worthy end-of-year giving: Charity does it better. Private donations are more substantial and yield more positive effects on the givers and receivers than any government effort. Volunteerism, direct involvement with those in need, is extremely powerful and productive.
There’s a second, equally critical point, interestingly not in the sites of the “more government money to fight world poverty” campaigns: effective giving. Give to organizations that transform people’s lives and communities.
Jesus told a parable that emphasized stewardship (Luke 19). Don’t “just give,” with no discernment. Marvin Olasky put practical guidelines on such giving with his 7 Principles of Effective Compassion. Maclellan Foundation’s Marketplace encourages givers to be both intentional and proactive. There are multiple charity evaluation tools, albeit with different emphais and valuation paradigms. Due diligence results in good stewardship.
That’s a good reason to include investigation of local needs; the credibility of the appeals and the organizations are more easily verified. Don’t overlook such community needs amid the high gloss, professionally prepared stack of appeals that have already arrived in your mailbox.
Today’s online Philanthropy News Digest carries a story about high hopes among some charity hospital fundraisers based on current stock market performance. And hospitals that include significant charity services do have valid need. But what about little charities? Linda Czipo, executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Corporations in New Brunswick, adds “Not all organizations are going to benefit equally. For small organizations, the impact won’t be as large.”
Individual good stewards can change that proclamation. Giving that is direct, personal, and accountable is the best to give or to receive. Oprah gave her October 30 show audience a chance to prove that. Every member of Oprah’s audience went home with $1,000 and a Sony DVD Handycam with the challenge to “Pay it Forward” to others.…but there was a catch. Oprah challenged more than 300 audience members to donate their money to a charitable cause. Sisters Kristy O’Conner and Kasey Osborne Lumpp were in that audience.
After making some calls, the sisters came upon Atlanta Union Mission and its women and children’s center, My Sister’s House. Once they decided to help the Mission, they took Oprah’s challenge and worked to multiply the effects of their gift. The sisters did not stop with their respective $1,000 contributions. Instead, they asked Q100 for help in getting word out to the community about the needs of Atlanta Union Mission’s My Sisters House. Q100 jumped on board and asked Kroger to be a collection site for donations. In addition, the Mission has been featured every morning on Q100 this week with live interviews with staff, clients, and Kristy and Kasey. They also went to every retailer they could find soliciting donations for the Mission.
And Christmas came early to the women and children at Atlanta Union Mission’s My Sister’s House on November 3 when Kristy and Kasey presented nearly $130,000 worth of gifts and monetary donations they had collected during the previous week.
The president of Atlanta’s Rescue Mission reports that close to a quarter million dollars of inkind and cash gifts have been received as a direct result of the good stewardship of Kristy and Kasey.
One thing that President Bush’s formation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives did was lead the way for the formation of similar offices at various other levels of government.
For example, in Michigan, Gov. Granholm formed the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives by means of an executive order in March, 2005. And the city government in Lansing also has such an office, formed in August of this year, and has recently announced the agenda for the effort (HT: Religion Clause).
If David Kuo wants to portray the president’s faith-based initiative as nothing more than a political ploy with no substance, he’s going to have to account for all the work that is potentially being done at all these other levels of government. (I say potentially because there are of course questions about how these efforts have been implemented and what sort of work they are actually doing.)
Perhaps the formation of such community and faith-based offices at other levels were unintended by the Bush campaign, but even so they now mean that the work of governmental faith-based initiatives is no longer simply identical and coextensive with that of the White House office.
This section from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics strikes me as quite true:
The coercive factors, in distinction to the more purely moral and rational factors, in political relations can never be sharply differentiated and defined. It is not possible to estimate exactly how much a party to a social conflict is influenced by a rational argument or by the threat of force. It is impossible, for instance, to know what proportion of a privileged class accepts higher inheritance taxes because it believes that such taxes are good social policy and what proportion submits merely because the power of the state supports the taxation policy. Since political conflict, at least in times when controversies have not reached the point of crisis, is carried on by the threat, rather than the actual use, of force, it is always easy for the casual or superficial observer to overestimate the moral and rational factors, and to remain oblivious to the covert types of coercion and force which are used in the conflict.
This obfuscation of motives is part of what differentiates charity from taxation. True charity cannot be coerced.
See also: Reinhold Niebuhr Today, ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).
Two Acton scholars, Andrew Yuengert and Fr. Paul Hartmann, were interviewed on “The World Over” (EWTN Studios) last Friday, April 28, about the Catholic response to immigration rights. Yuengert, author of the Acton monograph “Inhabiting the Land,” emphasizes the dignity of the human person as a foundation for looking at the issues surrounding immigration. Yuengert says that the “right to migrate” is not an absolute right, but to prevent people from assisting immigrants in need is immoral. Immigrants come because they want to work. They generally find positions as low-wage laborers, and tend to send large amounts of money home to poorer nations. The economic burdens that immigrant workers place on the United States are relatively small, although those burdens tend to fall heavily on specific regions, most noticeably on southern California. Yuengert says that the burdens themselves do not justify new restrictions on immigration although, viewed from an economic perspective, the nation could probably adjust to a massive loss of immigrant labor.
Fr. Hartmann reiterates the necessity of being allowed to provide charity to those in need. It becomes a major problem, however, if laws exist which make it a crime to extend a helping hand to immigrants and their families. The Church should oppose such laws, he says. What’s more, Christians have a moral obligation to “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked,” without prejudice.
Here’s an article in the Washington Post recently that I want to pass along, “Tithing Rewards Both Spiritual and Financial,” by Avis Thomas-Lester.
Among the highlights are the Rev. Jonathan Weaver of Greater Mount Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church, who says, “Some people have a sense that pastors are heavy-handed . . . in the use of the Scripture to insist that people tithe. But we are not encouraging people to give 10 percent. We want them to be effective managers of the other 90 percent. God wants us to be effective managers of what He has entrusted us with.”
The story also points out the critical function that churches serve in the relief of the poor: “Long before government programs were put in place to help the poor and the needy, black churches were responsible for assisting their congregations with everything from food and shelter during Reconstruction to legal help during the civil rights movement. Money dropped into the offering plate wasn’t just for the building fund. Black churches paid to help poor and disenfranchised citizens at a time when no other help was available, experts said.”
The article goes on to observe some of the potential pitfalls of tithing, namely giving only “under the belief that the members will prosper financially in return.” This is part of a larger “prosperity gospel” movement, and as this piece illustrates, is not restricted to churches in the US.
For more about how the principle of the tithe can function in helping the poor and those who need it the most, see my “The North American Church and Global Stewardship,” and “Building on the Tithe.”
Although I am a year behind here, I have just started reading Jeffrey Sachs’s The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, paperback just released by Penguin (with a foreword by Bono!). I’ll avoid the urge to comment on everything that strikes me this or that way in the book–and I most certainly am not going to try to go head to head with Sachs on economic matters. But, being a student of language, I would like to point out a subtlety some might consider benign, but I suspect is of relevance. It exists in the following passage from the Preface to the Paperback Edition: (more…)
I was watching my favorite rerun on TV Land the other day, Bonanza. If you don’t know Bonanza, you should. It’s perhaps the classic TV western, and I was watching episode #68 from Season Three, “Springtime.”
One of Ben Cartwright’s friends, Jedidiah Milbank is injured during a roughousing mud-wrestling match between Adam, Hoss and Little Joe. As reparation Ben volunteers the three boys to take care of Milbank’s business for him. It just so happens that there are three tasks, so each of the boys gets one.
Adam Cartwright gets the final task and it is to evict a family from a ranch for non-payment. It seems that Milbank had set up an arrangement for the family to pay for half of the ranch up front, and the rest in monthly installments. Well, the family was a number of months behind, and Milbank was eager to foreclose.
The eldest Cartwright brother dutifully rides off to the ranch, and happens upon a pleasant but beleaguered clan. It seems that the family had tied up most of their capital in a prize bull, who had been mauled by a bear before it could sire more than a few calves. And all but a handful of those calves were drowned in spring floods. When the water pump broke so they could no longer irrigate their crops, the family was left without any source of revenue.
That’s the situation when Adam arrives. The pieces of the pump need to be repaired, but one necessary part must be purchased new and costs $200. The family just doesn’t have it. Instead of foreclosing on the home, Adam, who shares his father’s “strong moral code,” decides to help out the down-and-out family. They aren’t poor because of the lack of effort or work, but simply because of circumstances and poor decisions such as tying up capital in the risky move to buy the stud bull.
So what does Adam do? He helps the father fix the pieces of the well that can be repaired and comes up with a plan to use the pump to double the land that can be irrigated. This will potentially double the family’s crop, helping them to get their heads above water again. The family will need to sell the few remaining calves from the stud stock to pay for the expensive replacement part for the water pump. In the meantime, Adam loans the family the money to get current on their debt to Milbank, averting the disaster of eviction.
Why am I talking about this episode?
I believe it is a great example of how compassion can work within the capital market system. Certainly Milbank filled the role of the archetypal greedy capitalist, but the Cartwrights themselves own a 1,000 acre ranch and are incredibly wealthy by the standards of the day. The difference between Milbank and the Cartwrights is in how they used their wealth and power. By the letter of the law and justice, Milbank had a right to foreclose. By contrast, it was compassion that motivated Adam.
The Heidelberg Catechism, a traditional symbol of Reformed Christianity, notes that one of the reasons we work is so that we can be good stewards of our wealth. It reads, “I faithfully labour, so that I may be able to relieve the needy” (Q&A 111). That’s exactly what Adam Cartwright was doing with his wealth.
And he did it in such a way that it was oriented toward the family regaining their own financial independence. He loaned them part of the money, as a sort of nineteenth-century version of a micro-capital investment, but also made sure they had to invest what they had in their own future by selling the remaining calves.
There’s a lesson to be learned in all this. The United States is in an analogous situation with respect to the developing world as the Ponderosa and the Cartwrights were to that struggling family. We can choose to embody the “cowboy compassion” of the Cartwrights or the craven greed of Jedidiah Milbank.
A great way to invest in the future economic development in poorer nations is through micro-loan investment. Very often it is difficult to get reasonable long-term or even short-term capital loans in these countries, because of the volatility of the currency and government corruption (for more on banking and corruption, see these two issues of the Christian Social Thought Series: Banking, Justice and the Common Good and A Theory of Corruption).
I was reminded recently that Jesus repeatedly underscored the high value of seemingly very small things. The signficant results of small mustard seeds and lost coins made his parable points well but, as a mom, the story of one lost sheep made me quickly leap to the incalculable value of one lost person. On a planet of billions, many of whom live and die with scarcely any notice, Jesus says God notices … and cares. And He calls us to care.
Acton’s 2005 Samaritan Award Winner Profiles (PDF), now available online, demonstrate that large or small, effective compassion greatly values even one lost or needy person. As helpful as “best practices” from such charity programs can be, each evidences more important best principles.
Principles transcend practices, because practices are simply activities, albeit some times ones linked to impressive results. But could they be as effective in Memphis as they are in Seattle as they are in tiny Seminole, Oklahoma? That is why Acton’s Samaritan Award entry survey is based on Marvin Olasky’s 7 Principles of Effective Compassion. The manner in which an effective charity may encourage reconnecting a homeless person to family and community may look very different among programs in those three cities — quite different in demographics and culture. But any homeless program in any of those cities should operationalize this “affiliation” principle.
Dr. Olasky asks: “Does the program work through families, neighbors, and religious or community organizations, or does it supersede them?” For example, studies show that many homeless alcoholics have families, but they do not want to be with them. When homeless shelters provide food, clothing, and housing without asking hard questions, aren’t they subsidizing disaffiliation and enabling addiction? Instead of giving aid directly to homeless men, why not work on reuniting them with brothers, sisters, parents, wives, or children?
The 2005 Samaritan Award Winners represent a wide variety of social services and budgets. Some programs serve a large number of ‘lost sheep’ and some serve only a few. Yet each has demonstrated a sharp understanding and commitment to effective compassion principles. An extensive report of each may also be found at Acton’s online Samaritan Guide.
We commend them to you.
Jay Richards’ previous post on Richard Rahn’s article “Not Rocket Science” illustrates Huxley’s famous statement about a fact destroying a theory.
Jay quotes Rahn’s lists of the politicians and development experts who support increased foreign aid.
It’s no longer just politicians and economists. Bono’s One Campaign is designed to get the developed nations to contribute 1 percent of their GDP to foreign aid for the poorest countries. No doubt Bono and many other supporters have good intentions. But good intentions don’t fight poverty. Economic opportunity, entrepreneurship, and free trade do.
Using the Heritage Foundation/WSJ “Index of Economic Freedom” Rahn lists example after example of the success of countries who liberalized their economies, and failures of those that haven’t.
The economically freest societies are the most prosperous, and the most economically repressive societies are the poorest.
Ireland 30 years ago was among the poorest countries in Europe. It then made a major shift toward freeing up its economy — e.g., its maximum corporate tax rate is only 12 1/2 percent (it ranks No. 3 out of 157 countries in the index). As a result, it now has the second-highest per capita income in Europe and is far ahead of the old leaders like Germany (No. 19) and France (No. 44). (Note, when I refer to per capita income, I do so using the Purchasing Power Parity measure which accounts for local price differences.)
In Eastern Europe, Estonia is economically the freest (No. 7), and Romania the least free (No. 92), though the latter is now making progress. Both countries started out at roughly the same level 16 years ago, but now Estonia has almost twice the per capita income of Romania. Much of the credit for Estonia being the most successful transition country goes to its brilliant and able free-market former prime minister, Mart Laar.
On the other hand, the biggest recipients of development aid over the last quarter-century, for the most part, have gone nowhere economically. Egypt (No. 129), the biggest recipient of development aid in the last quarter-century, is a prime example, with a per capita income about 5 percent of Ireland’s.
Despite the evidence you will continue to hear Kofi Annan and the others clamoring for more aid and more generosity. Instead of aid, they should start asking to reduce tariffs and subsidies and encourage and assist developing countries to set up market economies guided by the rule of law.
Hernando de Soto’s book The Mystery of Capital illustrates that what is needed is not more aid, but the ability to turn assets into capital and less government regulation and interference in the economy.
The One Campaign is right to care about the poor in Africa and elswhere. Perhaps if we could get Bono’s good intentions and passion behind sound economics we might see some real change.