Are Americans "selfish"?

Saturday, November 1, 2008 Comments

Today on the campaign trail, Obama criticized those who oppose his "spread the wealth" philosophy as being "selfish."

So according to Obama, unless we are in favor of the GOVERNMENT confiscating our hard-earned dollars to dole out as THEY see fit, we are selfish. He seems to think that Americans are by nature miserly people who refuse to give unless compelled to do so. He seems to think that the only hope for poor Americans is the U.S. government, rather than local communities or private charities.



Not only that, he believes that Americans haven't done enough to help those in other countries, as evidenced in his Berlin speech when he said, "This is the moment when we must build on the wealth that open markets have created, and share its benefits more equitably." To that end, he supports a global tax, which essentially would redistribute wealth not only among Americans but from America to other nations.

Let's set the record straight. Americans are NOT selfish, far from it in fact.

According to the 2008 Index of Global Philanthropy, Americans contributed privately and voluntarily $34.8 billion to individuals and organizations in developing countries in 2006 (the latest data available). That's $11.3 billion or 48% more than the $23.5 billion the U.S. government gave.

Add in private remittances (funds sent directly from one private individual to another) and the total of American giving to developing nations is $129.8 billion. That's more than any other country. The UK comes in second in total giving at $20.7 billion.

In addition to the $129.8 billion of American giving, Americans sent another $62.3 billion of private capital flows, which is investment and lending, to developing countries.

And that's just what we as Americans sent to developing nations and doesn't include giving within our own country. What about charitable giving as a whole? According to an article in the March/April 2008 edition of The American magazine, Americans gave about $295 billion to charities in 2006. Some of that came from foundations, bequests, and corporations, but the vast majority, $223 billion, came from individuals. They estimate that 70 to 80 percent of American households give to charities each year. According to the article, no other nation comes close to the level of giving in America.

This is not to say that we're perfect or that there aren't still unmet needs at home and abroad. But IMO it's grossly inaccurate and unfair to claim that Americans are "selfish," and I think the notion that somehow raising taxes will make things better is misguided at best. And before someone jumps in to claim that Obama only intends to raise taxes for 5% of the population, I don't believe that for a minute. A year ago, he defined "rich" as those making over $1 million a year. More recently, he said he'd only raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year, yet in his infomercial the other day it was $200,000. Biden recently said $150,000 and Bill Richardson said $120,000. Obama has voted in the past to raise taxes on those making $42,000 a year, so how long do you think it will be before he's back to that level, or lower?

I think it's worth considering that perhaps our nation's generosity is possible BECAUSE OF, rather than in spite of, our capitalist economic structure, and that imposing a socialist structure would likely lead to an overall reduction of charitible giving from Americans. We can't give unless we have something to give. "Spread the wealth" tax policies will leave little disposable income for individuals to take care of their own families, much less give to others. And don't think that there will be a one-for-one tradeoff between private giving and government giving, the government is hardly efficient enough to accomplish what private organizations and individuals can.

I believe that we as a nation will be in a better position to rise to the challenge and meet the needs of "the least of these" if we continue to have the freedom to earn money, grow the economy to create more opportunities for everyone, and give of our own free will. We don't need the government to mandate "compassion." We the people are already compassionate, and to claim otherwise is an insult to the millions of hard-working Americans who give of their time and money.


Sources:
The Index of Global Philantrophy 2008, The Center for Global Prosperity
America's Generosity is Unmatched, Real Clear Politics
A Nation of Givers, The American

Links to this post