The Corner

Why Do Those Who Give the Most to the Poor Support Big Government the Least?

A minor hobby of mine has been debunking the myth that conservative Christians are simply obsessed with gays and abortion while the Left cares for the poor (given the defensive nature of the Christian struggle against the sexual revolution, the reality is in fact the opposite). The reality, of course, is that religious conservatives — those who voted by the most lopsided margins against President Obama — are America’s most charitable citizens, and we give far more of our charitable dollars to help the poor than to fight the culture war. 

As we enter the year-end charitable giving season, many of us are carefully thinking about the best allocation of our charitable dollars. Where can our gift have the most impact? How is the charity measuring its results? What’s its track record of financial responsibility? Considering charity in those terms, it’s little wonder that conservatives — especially religious conservatives — are skeptical (to say the least) of the government safety net.

Imagine development officers from two relief agencies visit your house — one is from a large Christian agency, the other from the government. The Christian development officer will tell you (truthfully) that more than 80 percent (often close to 90 percent) of your donation dollar will go directly to their core programs, that their programs are not only designed to empower people and lift them out of poverty, but they have a track record of doing so, and the organization itself is run ethically, is financially sound, and rarely, if ever, goes into debt to finance its expansion. In other words, when you spend $75 to get a poor kid a goat, that kid is getting a goat.

After hearing the pitch from the Christian agency, Mr. Government tells you a very different story. He can’t really tell you how much of your money will reach the end-user, and his anti-poverty program is not only riddled with fraud but hasn’t budged the poverty rate in spite of literally trillions of dollars of expenditures. In addition, his programs run ever-increasing, gigantic deficits, and they are so poorly designed and executed that they’ve have helped destroy families and indeed entire communities.

Who should get your money? Unfortunately, Mr. Government forces you to give to him, while the truly effective agencies must make do with what’s left.

It is simply a fact that conservatives (especially religious conservatives) give more and even volunteer more than their big-government liberal friends, and that up-close experience with the poor tells us that big government not only isn’t the answer, it’s a big part of the problem. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The uncharitable, self-congratulatory liberal elite has pulled off one of the greatest P.R. con jobs of all time. They’ve successfully sold to millions of Americans the idea that religious conservatives — those most likely to volunteer their time and give their money to help those less fortunate — are uncaring, greedy, haters.

Moral superiority without sacrifice: It’s a seductive lifestyle.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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