Charity does not equal charity

This will be my last column of the semester, and, hence, my last column before Christmas. With that in mind, I feel compelled to delve into a subject that is prominently on display during the holiday season: charity.

Recently, the Catalogue for Philanthropy released its 2004 Generosity Index. The index, if you haven’t heard of it, ranks the charitable donations given by people in the individual states in relation to the average income of the residents in the state.

Conventional wisdom would tell us that the more liberal states, those shaded blue on this year’s electoral map, would also be the ones that have given the most to charity in relation to their average income level. But, as in several cases, conventional wisdom can be misleading.

According to the index, the top 25 states (half) that gave the most in relation to their average incomes all went to President George W. Bush in this year’s election, those shaded red on the electoral map. Number 26 was a blue state — New York. In fact, 19 of the bottom 25 went for Sen. John Kerry in the election. Kerry’s own home state of Massachusetts ranked No. 49. That — for those who may be too busy prepping for finals to stay with me on this — means, except for one other state, Massachusetts natives gave the least from their own pockets.

You might say, “Well, that just doesn’t make sense. Aren’t liberals always calling for more aid to the poor and disadvantaged?” You’re right — at least in one sense. Liberals are always calling for more aid to the poor and disadvantaged, but they’re calling for it to be given by government. And we all know that when government gives aid, someone has to end up paying for it.

The old saying is that liberals are all too happy to spend other people’s money on other people, and, unfortunately, it’s true. It’s easy to find tons of examples of politicians willing to spend every last bit of taxpayer money they can get their power-hungry hands on, while remaining stingy with their own wallets. And that’s where a significant difference between conservatives and liberals comes to light.

I know, here I go again with more differences between the groups. Sorry, I know I should probably be in a more harmonious and loving mood given that the holiday season is upon us. But this difference is too important for me to have to wait and explain next semester.

Liberals believe government should hand out charity. Essentially, they find it Okay to forcibly extract money from one citizen’s wallet and give to another. If it wasn’t government doing it, we’d call it stealing.

Conservatives, on the other hand, don’t favor such coercive seizure of private property — in more flowery terms, known as “income redistribution.” Rather, those on the right, for the most part (it should be noted that there are those conservatives who favor income redistribution when it comes to things such as farm and business subsidies), believe it is better and more moral for individuals to perform acts of charity than for government to force money from people. In fact, they believe that government-forced income redistribution is not just immoral, but also goes against the U.S. Constitution.

James Madison, ever the defender of private property rights, once stood on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and said, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” He also told the House, “Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.” And he, as a key architect of that very document, should know a thing or two about what powers it granted to the federal government.

Adam Fowler is a senior majoring in political science.