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Are the Rich Less Charitable?

A look at the perhaps surprising relationship between prosperity and community.

A homeless man living in the West Valley. Photo by Mayra Flores de Marcotte. Los Gatos Patch
A homeless man living in the West Valley. Photo by Mayra Flores de Marcotte. Los Gatos Patch
As President Obama enters the twilight of his presidency, he has vowed to concentrate on the swelling problem of income inequality in the United States.

The chasm between the rich and poor in this country is a topic of frequent debate—and ire. This is in part why the antics of a wealthy midwest businessman last month were so interesting.

Jonnie Wright, CEO of a consulting firm in Iowa, traded in his suit and tie for some mangy duds in an effort to appear homeless on Christmas Eve. Then he hit the streets begging for money.

To those who took pity and showed charity, Wright handed back an envelope containing either a $10 or $100 bill, as well as a letter that explained what he was doing—giving back to those who give. In all, Wright gave out $1,000 that day, and he pledged to match each donation he received, dollar for dollar, to hand over to a local homeless shelter.

My first reaction to this feel-good story was that, although it’s a nice gesture, Wright’s $1,000 would have been better used if he’d donated it to the needy, not people who can afford to hand out money on the streets.

As it turns out, however, Wright’s unusual stunt likely found the very people who needed a boost in their holiday budgets. Research indicates that it’s the poor and those with lower incomes who tend to give more, and as wealth grows, generosity shrivels.

Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, experienced this firsthand: “Somehow, when I am thinking hard about making more money and rising in wealth and enjoying materialistic benefits, I do feel personally that I am not as responsive to the needs of others."

Keltner’s impression was confirmed by his work on income and charity. He discovered that "in just about every way you can study it, our lower-class individuals volunteer more, they give more of their resources—they're more generous.”

Given the current gulf in the United States between the relative few haves and the many have-nots, this is particularly thought-provoking.

Do you think that as people become more affluent, they are less charitable? Tell us in the comments or in a blog post.

MAC January 22, 2014 at 12:21 AM
No, Catherine. As people become more worldly and less spiritual, they are "less charitable."........................................................ Those wealthy enough to give a lot to charity, if Dems like Biden, are very stingy, as are those who don't believe in God....................................................................................... Catherine ought to read from more enlightened sources, such as the brilliant Thomas Sowell. Here is his latest, and the beginning of the column: "Someone summarized Barack Obama in three words -- 'educated,' 'smart' and 'ignorant.' Unfortunately, those same three words would describe all too many of the people who come out of our most prestigious colleges and universities today. President Obama seems completely unaware of how many of the policies he is trying to impose have been tried before, in many times and places around the world, and have failed time and again. Economic equality? That was tried in the 19th century, in communities set up by Robert Owen, the man who coined the term "socialism." Those communities all collapsed."... ................ http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2014/01/21/factfree-liberals-n1781568?
OpportunistWatch January 22, 2014 at 11:06 AM
Its not our fault Jews know how to make more money! As the great late PM of Israel stated ” We, the Jewish People, Control America, and The Americans Know it”. I am not rich and I don't believe in Zionism but I do know that we hold the most control over the wealth in the USA.
RMK January 22, 2014 at 12:03 PM
Biden is a strange example for MAC to offer, given the man doesn't own stock (so as not to be beholden to Wall Street interests) and takes the train home to Delaware rather than hiring a limo or flying. In other words, you're making your point based on a decided rightwing bias (and citing Thomas Sowell doesn't help to discourage that notion). A new study shows that middle-class Americans give a larger share of their income to charity than the wealthy. The red states are shown to give more by demographic, but that would tend to be because they are religious states and the religious patrons give to their churches as charitable organizations. (How that money is used by the church is open to discussion and scrutiny). What is hard to understand is the fact that the rightwing community (anyone who cites Townhall.com and Thomas Sowell, for example) continue to prop up the very wealthy as though they aren't behind the worst aspects of our country's economic issues. Think the Bush family and their tax cuts to the wealthiest. Think the big banks and Wall Street bringing our economy to its knees while being subsidized by the taxpayers. Think of the Koch bros. and the 1-percenters now spending millions to push their agenda (via the GOP and, sadly their low-info rightwing voters) that would further hamstring American workers, the working poor, the elderly, poor children and the middle class. The wealthiest contribute NOTHING, let alone anything remotely charitable to our society, except turning us all into their money-making dupes.
RMK January 22, 2014 at 12:04 PM
Here's the study, by the way: http://philanthropy.com/section/How-America-Gives/621/
MAC January 22, 2014 at 02:35 PM
Under Obama, waging his WAR FOR POVERTY and DEPENDENCY, "In the United States, 95 percent of the wealth generated since 2009 has flowed into the bank accounts of the wealthiest 1 percent."............................................................................... www.moneynews.com/newswidget/Oxfam-wealth-rich-poor/2014/01/22/id/548309?
RMK January 22, 2014 at 10:18 PM
"Under Obama"? More like under the grip of a recalcitrant Republican-controlled Congress. Those are the well-heeled guys clearing the way for the billionaires who want to continue hiding their loot off-shore while protecting the wealthiest's tax loopholes and keeping Wall Street investors and bankers out of jail. Something MAC's link to the far rightwing NewsMax doesn't include in their Swiss cheese reporting: "Wealthy elites have co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and creating a world where the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world's population," Oxfam claimed. No need to guess which party has a direct line to the Koch brothers' lobby - follow the $$ to Darryl Issa, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and all the GOP obstructionists who have killed, buried and filibustered every reform attempt to rein in the greedy 1 percent.
OpportunistWatch January 23, 2014 at 08:18 AM
Wolves of Wall Street should sum it up. How much did Madoff get away with? Wonder how Rosa Delauro GREENBURG make in the time she has been in power? Over 100 million! I think its laughable people think I am against Jews because I pointed out her married last name which 90% of Ct residents are NOT AWARE of. 100 million and you think she cares about the poor?What a joke. Thats like saying Joe Lieberman holds only an AMERICAN CITIZENSHIP.
RMK January 23, 2014 at 09:29 AM
I think you're talking to yourself, OpportunistWatch.
OpportunistWatch January 24, 2014 at 07:17 AM
RMK, based on your lengthy rants, it looks like your the one who is spouting upon deaf ears. Instead of the rhetoric against good Republicans you should cite facts to back up your conspiracy theories of wealth. The late great PM of Israel Areil Sharon stated it best when speaking of control over the US economy & power in the USA: "WE, THE JEWISH PEOPLE, CONTROL AMERICA. AND THE AMERICANS KNOW IT."
D V January 26, 2014 at 10:00 PM
The wealthy, like the secular-minded, get an undeserved bad rap for being uncharitable. If his donations are measured as a percentage of income, the average man may be perceived as being more generous than the millionaire, but is this the only measure, or indeed a fair measure, of altruism? Personal inclination to feel compassion as a motivator for acts of charity, while more difficult to quantify, is perhaps a more reliable indicator of generosity. Is the CEO who gives the change out of his pocket to that same homeless guy he passes on the street daily a less-generous person at heart than her secretary who makes an annual donation to the office United Way drive? Expressed as a percentage of earnings, the assistant's donation may make her seem more giving than her boss, but whereas the CEO is giving out of heartfelt compassion, that nonexempt employee is most likely responding to her desire to conform and her fear of being perceived as less generous than her peers. Who, then, is the more-giving person in spirit? Although as a group, the religious may give more in dollars-and-cents than the nonreligious, the impulse to donate is incited in them by a need to preserve or enhance their reputation and standing in their community, rather than a sense of genuine compassion as is the case among nonbelievers. And when the super-rich do give - as they do almost without exception - they give BIG! Have you ever heard of The Robin Hood Foundation? It's a famous charitable organization founded by a group of billionaire hedge-fund managers, which evaluates potential grant-recipient charities as a venture-fund capitalist would a potential investment, using measures of efficiency such as the ratio of an organization's administrative expenses to expenditures to further its actual charitable goals. Similarly, the selectively altruistic atheist would be more likely to give to one of the many humanistic charities that do good works without any religious overtones, as opposed to lining the coffers of some discriminatory Army that turns away needy persons that don't meet its criteria for Salvation, and a leader of which was recently publicly heard to advocate for their genocide. So don't be deceived by the prevailing bias: The wealthy and the secular humanists among us are far more generous, and for all the right reasons, than common knowledge - also known as ignorance - would lead you to believe.
RMK January 26, 2014 at 11:43 PM
DV, no doubt the wealthy are generous, but the point is that the study proves they are less so than those who make less, and in many different ways. Not sure why you folks are so married to the notion that the wealthiest among us are to be protected from criticism.
Common Sense Moderate January 27, 2014 at 08:21 PM
WTH is OpportunistWatch talking about here? The article says nothing about Jewish people, nor does the comment that appears before your completely irrelevant rant about Jews making more money - and then your comments get worse and worse, each of them having nothing to do with the question being asked. I thought Jewish people were supposed to be good writers? So, I guess OWatch does not live up to the stereotypes of Jewish people in that he/she is not rich AND you're not even a good writer... you control nothing you little chauvinist twit.
Tmc January 27, 2014 at 09:16 PM
@CSM; OW has turned out to be a troll, plain and simple. He's prolly a 15 year old nerd with no friends and nothing better to do than to try and elicit responses to his idiotic posts, posing as an older Jewish person. It would explain the poor syntax and witless rants, no? Ignore him/her.
Common Sense Moderate January 27, 2014 at 09:21 PM
Hard to ignore, but I suppose you're right. He/she is on the watch for Opportunists? - I'm on the watch for lunatics... and I found one.
Tmc January 27, 2014 at 09:39 PM
I have no proof of course, but look at all his other posts; no one is THIS stupid. Has to be a troll, and a weak one at that. (http://stratford.patch.com/users/opportunistwatch)
D V January 27, 2014 at 09:41 PM
RMK, I don't know who you mean by "you folks;" I'm just me, and I most certainly did not imply that the rich are beyond reproach (I might quibble here about sweeping generalizations, but I will desist for now). I simply don't believe they're deserving of the negative inferences that a careless interpretation of this survey might easily evoke. For instance, the same study reported that the percentage of households that donate to charity correlates with average income (i.e., as income decreases, so does the percentage of households that give to charity). Also, donations to religious charities (e.g., churches) figure head-and-shoulders above all other types. Just those two findings alone leave plenty of room for interpretation of the meaning of the results as a wholw, and therefore absolutely nothing can be said to be proven. Which leads to my main point: that there are different ways to approach such surveys depending upon your bias or lack thereof, and whereas you, RMK, were open-minded enough to allow that the wealthy are indeed generous, someone less intellectually disciplined could (and did) readily attempt to lead others to the overly-simplistic, and wrongheaded, notion that "the rich are stingy." There are certain inferences that one may reasonably draw from surveys - otherwise of what worth are they? - but relying on a single one to paint an entire class of people with the broad brush of miserliness is entirely unfair.
D V January 28, 2014 at 07:09 AM
Would you care to qualify this statement?: "The wealthiest contribute NOTHING, let alone anything remotely charitable to our society, except turning us all into their money-making dupes." You better take it back, or I'll make you say "uncle!"
OpportunistWatch February 02, 2014 at 11:35 AM
Typical anti-semitic attacks from "Not so common sense moderate". Typical opportunists have limited schooling like CSM and they usually end with common 3rd grade name calling. Textbook racist anti-semite.
Common Sense Moderate February 02, 2014 at 02:52 PM
wow - you really ARE a lunatic. Here is an individual who sabotages Ms. Crawford's post with his/her pro-jewish, irrelevant rant, and then attacks us as anti-semites. We're not attacking you cuz of your religion or ethnicity - you fool - we're attacking you cuz you're a lunatic. You're not giving Jewish people a bad name - nor am I - they have nothing to do with it - this is about you - YOU are a lunatic. Clearly. You're giving lunatics a bad name. They're closing down Patch cuz of crazy people like you. Hope you're happy, you confused little person.
Tmc February 02, 2014 at 08:15 PM
^^Weaksauce
OpportunistWatch February 06, 2014 at 08:33 AM
Two typical opportunists who use name calling when exposed. CSM, you really fit the bill. LMAO

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