Whatever You May Think of Republicans, Don't Call Them 'Stingy'

Whatever You May Think of Republicans, Don't Call Them 'Stingy'
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Republicans are greedy. They’re “out for themselves” as evidenced by their reflexive support of “tax cuts for the rich.” According to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, the GOP is the party of “hate.”

Conversely, it’s safe to say that the Democrats are rather charity minded. Figure that their voting habits are invariably informed by compassion for the have nots. Democrats feel, and their intense emotions are deep when it comes to correcting what they see as societal injustices of the economic variety. It wouldn’t be surprising if Krugman were to describe them collectively as the political party of love.

No doubt most readers are familiar with at least one of the previous narratives, while many are likely familiar with all of them. Based on what’s accepted wisdom, it’s not unreasonable to extrapolate from generalized perceptions that Democrats are rather charity minded. As for Republicans, they’re likely quite miserly.

Except that such an impression about charity and charitable giving would be incorrect. My source? The New York Times. (Editor’s Note: I’m a registered Independent who has not voted Republican since 2000 mostly based on disappointment in the presidency of George W. Bush, but also disappointment with the party leadership's disawoval of small federal government principles. Call me a small l libertarian when it comes to philosophy). This charitable divide between Democrats and Republicans rates attention on election day from an economic perspective. Please read on.

According to Times columnist Paul Sullivan, “Red counties, which are overwhelmingly Republican, tend to report higher charitable contributions than Democrat-dominated blue counties.” Sullivan was referencing a study published last month in the academic journal, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. The study was a creation of four research professors “who set out to explore how political differences affect charitable giving.” As Sullivan noted in his analysis of the report, the “more Republican a county is, the more its residents report charitable contributions.”

Further about the study, it should be said up front how the researchers acknowledged that in analyzing itemized tax returns in over 3,000 counties, “they were looking at a more affluent slice of donors.” This rates mention given the presumed desire among some to suggest an economic slant to the study’s findings. More realistically, any study of charitable giving is going to have an affluent slant to it when it’s understood how charitable the rich are. As Arthur Brooks showed in his 2006 book Who Really Cares, U.S. households in the top 10 percent of income accounted for at least a quarter of all money donated, while U.S. households with net worths of over a million dollars were the source of over half of all charitable gifts. Brooks’s study also confirmed what the more recent one did: Republicans give more than Democrats do to charity, and do so at all levels of income.

Taken together, the two studies mentioned exist as inconvenient truths for those who equate wealth with a lack of charity and/or overall stinginess. America’s rich are plainly quite generous, and then America’s Republican rich are statistically quite a bit more generous than are Democrats. The latter is particularly inconvenient for a left desperate to paint a picture of “rich” and “Republican” as something that’s indicative of haughty disdain for the poor and unwell.

More importantly, it speaks to a crucial difference in philosophy that should have economic implications. Up front, it’s a known quantity that Republicans tend to vote for politicians expressing a desire to reduce tax rates. Democrats on the other hand vote for politicians promising to raise tax rates. At least in the past, these voting patterns were used by some to create the narrative that the Democrats are more giving in light of their desire to pay more in taxes. Such a viewpoint fails in two ways, and realistically many more.

For one, it’s now a known quantity that red counties are much more charitable than blue counties. What this reminds us is that Republicans aren’t not compassionate as much as they think giving should be a personal choice, as opposed to something coerced through taxation. Republicans are clearly big givers, but think they can more expertly give sans governmental oversight.

Second, readers need only consider the entertainment industry. It’s arguably the most monolithically Democratic sector in the U.S., but also one of the most skillful when it comes to avoiding taxes. If anyone doubts this, they need only Google “movies made in Georgia.” Needless to say, voluminous production in the Peach State isn’t an effect of better scenery than California. It’s a tax thing. Those still in doubt should then buy Michael Ovitz’s excellent new book, Who Is Michael Ovitz, only to read about why good agents secure for their clients a percentage of “gross” over “net profits.” Without going into detail, skillful entertainment-industry accountants can make seemingly any film unprofitable….

Third, it's never been explained what's at all compassionate about arrogating precious resources to Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi over Jeff Bezos and Fred Smith (FedEx). Government wastes, while private actors relentlessly make our lives better when matched with capital.  

Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach once quipped that he liked women every bit as much as noted ladies’ man Joe Namath, but chose to stick with one woman. Applied to charity, Republicans are every bit as giving (and as the stats show, more giving) as Democrats are; the huge difference between Republicans and Democrats being about choice. Republicans would apparently prefer freedom to give away more of their disposable income than Democrats do, but would like to do so without politicians and others choosing whom they give to.

Looked at through an economic lens, though there are extremes in both parties, and though politicians in both parties arguably do an awful job of representing their voters, the view of the average Republican is the liberal one. As evidenced by their empirically-proven tendency to give in concert with a desire for reduced taxation, Republicans are expressing a desire for individual choice. On the other hand, and if the film industry is at all indicative of Democrats, then it’s apparent that the Democrats would broadly prefer higher taxes that can be avoided through skilled accounting maneuvers combined with government-enforced giving of the money of others.

To be clear, none of this is to say that Republican or Democrat politicians care much about choice. Politicians in each party tend to act as though the limiting document that is the Constitution doesn’t exist. Still, imagine how much healthier the U.S. economy would be if frequently wasteful politicians reflected the liberal (in the freedom sense) views of GOP voters whereby individual choice and small government trumped coercion and large government. Prosperity would make today’s seem small by comparison. As for Krugman and his assertion that the GOP is the party of hate, one can only hope that he soon addresses empirical realities about charitable giving based on party affiliation. 

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Director of the Center for Economic Freedom at FreedomWorks, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading (www.trtadvisors.com). His new book is titled They're Both Wrong: A Policy Guide for America's Frustrated Independent Thinkers. Other books by Tamny include The End of Work, about the exciting growth of jobs more and more of us love, Who Needs the Fed? and Popular Economics. He can be reached at jtamny@realclearmarkets.com.  

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