Several months ago I got into a discussion (borderline argument) with a neighbor about Republican/Democrat perspectives on the role of government in caring for America's needy.
"That's the responsibility of private citizens, not the government," she asserted.
"Nice in theory," I responded (somewhat defensively, I'll admit), "but in reality, I think too often self-interest trumps altruism."
So, I was somewhat taken aback when I recently read a Chronicle of Philanthropy claim that "People who live in red states are more likely to give generously to charities than those in blue states."
The claim was based on the Chronicle's recently released report, "How America Gives." The report is interesting. It's a bit dated, of course - based on 2008 tax records - but it's still fun to compare states' generosity, both in terms of discretionary income and households that volunteer. (Missouri is 26th, Kansas 16th).
Unfortunately, it didn't really probe the red/blue question that initially pulled me up short.
A headline in today's New York Times also caught my attention: "Bulk of Charitable Giving is Not Earmarked for the Poor,"
Ginia Bellafante notes, "Need, of course, has been escalating in recent years, and liberals fear that it would soar far more aggressively under a Republican leadership likely to make significant cuts to federal programs that benefit the poor."
She goes on to ask, "Could charitable inclination, further aroused by new tax breaks, really assume the burdens relinquished by government?"
There's no conclusive answer, but she does point out that 32% of 2011 giving went to religious institutions and 13% to cultural organizations, compared to only 12% to social services.
Individual philanthropy is a uniquely American trait. It plays an essential role in our society ... a role I hope to see continue and grow.
But social responsibility is not limited to private citizens. I believe it also applies to organizations, private and public.
So it's really not a question of whether meeting the needs of our citizens is up to individuals or the government.
The real question: "How can we work together to eradicate the needs?"