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The Facts Don't Support the Conclusions!

 
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dwmtractor



Joined: 09 Jan 2008
Posts: 2

PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 4:54 am    Post subject: The Facts Don't Support the Conclusions! Reply with quote

Both some posters on this forum, and reviewers in other places, have weighed in on the factuality (or not) and the validity (or not) of Brooks’ statistics, but I’m surprised that they have missed a several other vitally important points that cause me great concern with the book.

First of all, Brooks states on several occasions that his goal with the book is (if I may paraphrase) to get liberals off their high horse about conservative greed and selfishness, and to motivate them (the liberals) to give more. However, he has so completely intermixed conservative political opinion with his statistics and arguments, that the only ones who are going to be around to hear him are either masochists like me or the already-converted conservatives. If one REALLY wishes to motivate liberals to greater charity, spending a large portion of the book talking about how deluded, misguided, and selfish they are is probably not the most effective strategy. The book as written is far more likely to reinforce conservative Americans in their smug, self-satisfied opinion of their goodness, than it is to spur any liberals to good works.

Secondly, although I suspect that a number of the statistical claims Brooks makes may be true, they are compromised by other places where he frankly plays fast and loose with the numbers. One of the most egregious examples is his discussion of the estate tax on page 102. He cites as proof that taxation hurts charitable giving, the statistic that someone who inherits $20,000 will give an additional $82 to charity; someone who earns that same $20k in the stock market will give $48, and someone who just gets a $20k salary increase will only give another $18. He lets us digest those figures for a few pages, and then on page 113 announces “Even if the estate tax’s demise did redirect donations toward heirs, these would be especially likely to give much of it away.” (emphasis mine).

Now, I don’t know about your math, but in my calculations $82 is not MUCH of $20,000. Even if the estate tax were only 10% (and it’s much higher than that), the tax revenue (admittedly not the same as charity) would be $2,000. If “generosity” is defined as giving less than 1% of anything, God preserve us from the stingy folks!

Additionally, it has been noted by at least one reviewer I read elsewhere, but it merits repeating, that a good deal of the giving behavior of religious-vs-nonreligious folks comes from a survey of self-reported behavior, not observational studies (which are admittedly harder to do). I doubt that it would fully explain the difference, but I know that religious folks (and I am one) tend to answer survey questions according to what they “know they ought to do” in at least some cases—that is, when self-reported “good” behaviors are compared to observable criteria, there is almost always an over-reporting of the “goodness.” Since non-religious people are (I am assuming, as is Brooks) less likely to feel a moral compulsion to give, they may also be less likely to over-report their giving. I doubt this could explain away the entire difference, but it is a potential source of bias that is worth examining.

But the most wrongheaded elements of the book occur when Brooks leaps from statistics to policy. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt, that every statistical claim he makes is correct, valid, and supported by the data, his conclusions don’t follow. I am one of his “rare bird” religious liberals. . .actually I’m an even rarer bird, as I’m a morally-conservative but politically-liberal Protestant/Evangelical Christian (yes, we do exist!). Brooks concedes that we “religious liberals” give nearly as much as the religious conservatives (I actually give more than a lot of conservative friends of similar age and income in my own church), and that both give a great deal more than the nonreligious of either stripe. He makes it abundantly clear that religion trumps every other indicator, and then uses his numbers on the generosity of conservatives to justify and advance a conservative political agenda that is at odds on nearly every point, with the perspective of us “religious liberals.”

He also makes the fallacious implication, when arguing taxation-vs-charity, that taxes are primarily (both in intent and effect) directed at the redistribution of income, and secondly that these taxes are spent in largely the same spheres as charity, such that one would supplant the other. Both implications ignore the fact that the U.S. federal budget includes vast sums—all paid for by taxes—that can’t be classified as charitable causes under the most expansive of definitions. Defense, debt service, agricultural subsidy, commerce, public health (disease control, not medical aid) and even the basic operations of government itself are items that together add up to vastly larger sums than anything that can be construed as being in the same competitive space with charity. These things still require funding, and that funding comes from taxes. Much of the debate over taxes, therefore, is not a question of taxation vs charity, but rather: “Given these public expenses, how are we going to distribute the burden of paying for them?” This is an ethical question, and compassion can and does play into some people’s answer to that question, but it is not necessarily correlated with the compassion of charitable giving. It is not for this reason any less-valid a concern from a compassionate point of view.

In the final analysis I, too, would like to see charitable giving increase. I do think that Brooks makes a valid point that anybody who’s crowing about compassion should put his/her own money where their mouth is and pony up real donations of time and cash. But particularly if charity is to fill the gap of that minority portion of government spending that IS in the same space, EVERYONE—conservatives, liberals, religious, nonreligious—will have to give a LOT more than they give today to make the slightest dent in the problem. Far from soothing complacency for the “compassionate conservatives,” Brooks should call his own people (a majority, he says) to greater good works and not merely heap scorn on those outside his fold whom he deems hypocritical.
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esselleaitch



Joined: 15 May 2007
Posts: 5

PostPosted: Sun Feb 10, 2008 10:13 am    Post subject: The Facts Don't Support the Conclusions! Reply with quote

Thank you for this well-written, well-supported critique of this book. It matches my own thoughts about the matter exactly, especially since direct funding of the Pentagon and its activities is over 50% of the total budget and no end of growth in sight.

I too am a moral conservative and political progressive. We exist and I suspe ct our numbers are far greater than Dr. Brooks could imagine.

Again, thank you for this post.
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minneapolisguy



Joined: 26 Aug 2008
Posts: 1

PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2008 9:45 pm    Post subject: Re: The Facts Don't Support the Conclusions! Reply with quote

esselleaitch wrote:
especially since direct funding of the Pentagon and its activities is over 50% of the total budget and no end of growth in sight.


That's a myth based on skewed numbers.
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esselleaitch



Joined: 15 May 2007
Posts: 5

PostPosted: Wed Aug 27, 2008 1:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"That's a myth based on skewed numbers." says Minneapolisguy. So let's see these skewed numbers and an explanation of how they would look should they be unskewed. Otherwise, a myth ith ath good ath a mile. 'Very Happy'
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pennyeppler



Joined: 20 Dec 2008
Posts: 3

PostPosted: Sat Dec 20, 2008 9:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I learned what a liberal is from my brother in law - who used to be Jewish - when he was 13 years old.

He says, and I quote:

I pay my taxes - happy to pay my taxes - let the government take care of the poor - I have made my "contribution" - I have done good to poor people by paying my taxes!!!

There you have it!!!!!!

The man has never lifted a finger for another human being - in fact, he even slips sometimes - and you can just see him "ooze" with disdain for the lower classes - the poor - those he would never be in the same room with or if he found an unfortunate lying on the street in need of help.

Why bother??? His taxes will take care of everything - right????

I never understood Atheists before - now I do.
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dwmtractor



Joined: 09 Jan 2008
Posts: 2

PostPosted: Wed Dec 24, 2008 8:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

pennyeppler wrote:
I never understood Atheists before - now I do.

But in this comment you prove the point. Brooks demonstrated that the religious/nonreligious factor was far more predictive in terms of charity than the conservative/liberal one. Your secular ("used to be Jewish" implies now-secular, yes?) liberal brother-in-law is part of the second-most-stingy group in Brooks' four categories, second only to the secular conservatives.

So you didn't really learn what a liberal was, you learned what an atheist liberal was. Please be sure you are drawing the appropriate conclusions from your inputs. . .
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pennyeppler



Joined: 20 Dec 2008
Posts: 3

PostPosted: Wed Dec 24, 2008 10:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just got a Holiday Letter from some friends who have a Foundation.
In it - are photos of themselves and their large family in Guatamala - installing over 5,000 ONIL "stoves". (Google has tons of info).

I am just going to leave it that my brother in law is a snob - period.

I might go down and spend the summer in Guatamala and help with the "stoves". This family I reference are their "own Peace Corps". No one asked them to do it - they just love helping their fellow man.

They are, by the way, Mormons - they live to help others!!!! I am so impressed with their love of others and their generosity!

They could care less about politics - they just talk the talk and walk the walk.

My brother in law - talks - talks - talks - about how everyone should help the poor - yet - well - you get my drift.

What made me mad is he hates people who go to Church - I am thinking the movie Scrooge has real meaning after all.
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