Jackie Gingrich Cushman

The economy is struggling. Some people cannot pay their bills. Others can pay their bills, but are concerned about prospects . Many are looking for the government to get involved – to bail out those in need.

Traditional political labels associate liberals with helping others, because liberals tend to favor government-transfer payment plans, while conservatives are often portrayed as selfish and mean, similar to the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, because they normally oppose government-transfer payment plans. Who’s right?

What is the best way to help those in need? There are several options: ignore the need (not helpful); have the government bail out the needy (using taxpayer money – remember the government has no money of its own), encourage private donors/foundations and non-profits to do more.

The purpose of the book “Who Really Cares,” (Basic Books, New York, 2006 ) is to “make the point that charity matters,” according to Arthur Brooks, the author. Brooks notes “charity is important to our personal prosperity, happiness, health, and the ability to express ourselves humanely.” While some might consider government social services part of charity, Brooks does not.. “Charity is different than government spending. Let us be clear: Government spending is not charity. It is not a voluntary sacrifice by individuals. No matter how necessary it is for providing public services, it is still the obligatory redistribution of tax revenues.”

So what makes personal giving different than government-transfer payments if both result in needs being met? Government payments are the result of anonymous people determining who should receive the benefit, while charitable acts involve interaction with the community and decisions regarding whom to give to. “Charitable acts, such as giving and volunteering, tend to strengthen social networks between people. These networks stimulate economic success,” according to Brooks.

In addition, charitable giving moves the focus from our selves to others. It’s not just the amount of money that we can give, it’s also the ability to care and focus on someone other than ourselves. Brooks cited a study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School “in which a group of 132 multiple sclerosis patients was split into two groups; one group was assigned to act charitably towards members of the other. The researchers found that the givers experienced a ‘dramatic change in their lives,’ in confidence, self awareness, and depression, they enjoyed between three and seven times more improvement than the receivers of help.”

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.