OPINION: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
America: the most generous nation on earth
, May 15, 2010
Which is the most generous nation on earth? A hint. Who is the world's richest man? If you said Bill Gates, you are wrong. The richest man on earth is Carlos Slim Helu, a Mexican telecommunications tycoon of Lebanese extraction. He is worth $59 billion.
Coming in second is Bill Gates. He would be the wealthiest man on earth, as he had been for 14 out of the last 15 years, if he hadn't given away so much. Even so, he is "just" half a billion dollars behind the Mexican phone king. Bill Gates gave away more than $26 billion in the last 10 years.
Why does Bill Gates give away such staggering sums? To make a difference, to feed the poor, to rid the earth of millennia-old scourges such as malaria. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it's because each life is of equal value. The life of a poor African child should be worth the same as a middle-class American child; but by almost every measurable criterion, it's not.
Unfortunately, the same Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports these worthy causes, is also a large donor to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the US's leading provider of surgical abortions.
So, even though Mr Gates gives away much of his wealth, that part of it that he earmarks for killing the unborn most certainly does not constitute generosity.
However, leaving aside Gates's dubious "philanthropy", it is nonetheless true that the world's most generous nation is the United States. The American people donate $300 billion annually. In terms of value and in proportion of income, Americans are far and way the most generous people on earth.
A visitor to New York, for example, the spiritual centre of world capitalism, finds it is blessed with such generous donors that it is almost staggering.
Take art for example. The Museum of Modern Art has the finest collection of modern art in the world. Floor after floor is a treasure trove of masterpieces. If you want to know why Vincent van Gogh was such a brilliant painter, take a look at his "Starry Night". The stars literally sparkle.
And if you want to prove you've seen it, have your picture taken. Unlike the Australian galleries with their miserly acquisitions budgets and their jealously guarded images, New York's Museum of Modern Art lets you have your picture taken in front of any work of art - for nothing! And it's all due to private donations.
Why is this so? According to Albert Einstein, it's because of the nature of American capitalism. Einstein was not only a scientist; he was also an acute social observer and refugee in America from Hitler's murderous regime. He also raised from generous American donors most of the money to establish the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, even before the establishment of the state of Israel.
He once observed: "The social conscience of the [American] rich man is much more highly developed than in Europe. He considers himself obliged as a matter of course to place a large portion of his wealth, and often his own energies too, at the disposal of the community, and public opinion, that all powerful force imperiously demands it of him. Hence the most important cultural functions can be left to private enterprise, and the part played by the state is, comparatively, a restricted one." (Einstein, The World As I See It
, New York: Citadel Press, 2006, p.43).
One prime reason often overlooked when explaining Americans' generosity is that they have more to give because government takes less from them. Although a high-flying New York City corporate lawyer might lose half his or her income in federal, state and city taxes, this is about the highest taxing jurisdiction in the United States, and we are talking about starting salaries of $200,000 for a junior lawyer. So there is a lot of money left in hand.
When it comes to charitable giving, who gives most? Some $100 billion each year goes to religion. To the surprise of most liberals (the American term for left-wingers), conservatives are far more generous than liberals, as even the liberals acknowledge.
"Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates," wrote Nicholas D. Kristof in an article, "Bleeding heart tightwads", in the left-leaning New York Times
(December 20, 2008).
Arthur C. Brooks, who investigated charitable giving in America, found that the most generous donors have strong families, attend church regularly, earn their own income (in other words, are not on welfare) and believe that individuals, not government, hold the key to resolving social ills.
Brookes revealed this pattern in his study, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism
(New York: Basic Books, 2006).
He recalled: "When I started doing research on charity, I expected to find that political liberals - who, I believed, genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did - would turn out to be he most privately charitable people. So when my early finding led me to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views." (NYT
, op. cit.).