Jonah Goldberg
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Americans are better people than Europeans. Hold on, it gets better. Religious Americans are better than non-religious Americans. And religious Americans tend to be politically conservative.

This admittedly tendentious rendering of reality is how some on the right are interpreting "Who Really Cares?" by Arthur Brooks, a professor of public administration at Syracuse University. Brooks doesn't really deal with what makes one person "better" or "worse" than any other. But it's fair to say that how much a person gives - of either his money or time - is usually considered an important indicator of character. It turns out that by this yardstick alone, my little talk-radio-ready summary is basically correct.

The further to the left you are - particularly to the secular left - the less likely you are to donate your time or money to charity. Imagine two demographically identical people, except that Joe goes to church regularly and rejects the idea that the government should redistribute wealth to lessen inequality, while Sam never goes to church and favors state-driven income redistribution. Brooks says the data indicate that not only is Joe Churchgoer nearly twice as likely as Sam Secularist to give money to charities in a given year, he will also give 100 times more money per year to charities (and 50 times more to non-religious ones).

Because Brooks is using vast pools of data, and because he's talking about averages rather than individuals, there is no end of exceptions to prove the rule. No doubt there are pious Scrooges and Santa-like atheists. But, basically, if you are religiously observant, a married parent and skeptical toward the role of government, you are much more likely to be generous with your time and money.

You're also more likely to be a political conservative, but it's a mistake to find causation in that correlation. Certain types of people are likely to be conservative and to be charitable. But being a conservative doesn't make you charitable.

Still, the partisan ammo is what has interested the Bill O'Reilly types the most - and it is interesting, since it so directly contradicts the generations-old propaganda of the left, which depicts the rich right as stingy, unfeeling and selfish. "Blue state" America spends a lot of time talking about how much more caring and enlightened it is. But that's with somebody else's money. When it's their own money, that's a different story.

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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