At the opening plenary of the Council on Foundation’s Family Philanthropy Conference, Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute presented some compelling research that proves that giving and volunteerism contribute to both individual and communal wealth creation and in turn, happiness. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the research is that it shows that the connection between giving and wealth are not merely correlative, but causal. Brooks started out trying to de-bunk the theory that many new entrepreneurs apply to their companies that intrinsically link charitable giving to their operations from the very beginning. Brooks assumed that the wealth needed to be created first before it could be shared. The research showed that the sharing actually contributed to the wealth creation. This effect was proven to at a micro level: a family that gives $100 more than an equivalent family earns more money the subsequent year. And it was true at a macro level: periods of increases in charitable giving have preceded periods of economic growth. Part of it is the impact of altruism on our emotional state. In brief, giving releases opiates and makes you happier. Additionally and perhaps more importantly, those who give their resources and time to others are perceived as leaders, and leaders attract success.
As someone who believes strongly in communitarian values, the implications of this research are powerful. Even a conservative think tank believes, no, has proven, that helping your neighbor and giving to the causes you care about is not only good for those you help, it ultimately is good for you. Caring for others is simultaneously unselfish and selfish. “Me second” is ultimately “me first.” Community matters. It’s the ultimate argument for progressive tax rates and policies that encourage charitable giving, like the inheritance tax. In the context of the Family Philanthropy Conference, it’s a compelling case for this group of wealth inheritors to step up their giving and start moving some real money for social change.
Or, alternatively, if your Arthur Brooks, it’s an argument for why we need to get government out of the business of providing services for their needy and leave that work up to private philanthropy.
Have my progressive blinders grown too thick or is Brooks exercising a kind of intellectual jujitsu where any data, any fact can be twisted to reinforce a fundamental tenet like “less government.” Giving leads to personal wealth and success, therefore we should…lower corporate tax rates…stop regulating industry…deny climate change…
I don’t think so.
Let me try on a different conclusion: Giving leads to personal wealth and success, therefore we should…stop fighting and fretting over crumbs and shift to a spirit of collective generosity and abundance.