COLUMN JOHN HOOD: Generosity and freedom go hand in hand – The Stanly News & Press
In places where governments are smaller, taxes are lower, regulations are lighter and property rights are more secure, people tend to be more generous, confident and tolerant. While progressives may find this proposition difficult to accept, there is a growing pile of empirical evidence to support it.
Consider a recent study published in The Independent Review. Comparing the scores of 145 countries on the Fraser Institute’s World Economic Freedom Index to an index of private giving and volunteering, authors Lawrence McQuillan and Hayeon Carol Park found a strongly positive relationship. The Freedom Index alone explained 20% of the variance in charitable giving. Other studies by Swedish economists Niclas Berggren and Therese Nilsson show strong links between economic freedom and measures of social trust, mutual respect and tolerance.
Finding a correlation, however, doesn’t necessarily mean determining which direction the causal arrows are pointing. For example, there is already an abundant literature showing that freer economies tend to grow faster. Maybe free market policies help places get richer, their residents become more charitable. Or maybe when places get richer for other reasons, such as achieving high levels of education and innovation, they both become more charitable and more likely to adopt policies that promote freedom. .
Yet another possibility is that in places where civil society is already ‘thick’, where healthy families and other private institutions help their residents build character and find meaning, citizens tend to be. both more economically productive and more resistant to an expansive government.
It’s an interesting social science puzzle. But for my colleagues and I at the John William Pope Foundation, this does not require any ultimate solution. For us, it is enough to know that freedom, human development, compassion and other important values are associated with each other. They form a virtuous circle. And over the past 35 years, the Pope Foundation has donated over $ 200 million to nonprofits present at every point of this circle, from humanitarian aid to civic vitality to groups. think tank and educational institutions.
Our donations reflect the philosophy of our co-founder, retail pioneer John Pope. “Autonomy, self-confidence and integrity are the keys to success,” he said. “Endurance is also essential and the responsibility for success rests on the shoulders of the individual. Our approach to virtuous circle philanthropy also reflects the wisdom of America’s founders, whose relentless defense of freedom came not only from classical learning and Enlightenment principles, but also from practical experience.
As George Washington puts it, “the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the fate of the Republican model of government are rightly regarded as deeply, perhaps as ultimately at stake, over the experience entrusted to the hands of the American people.” . But neither Washington nor his colleagues believed that freedom was a universal good. They recognized – as the cautious conservatives of the American Classical-Liberal Revolution have done ever since – that it will always prove to be fleeting unless it is associated with the complementary good of virtue.
Of course, the two values can also be in tension. When the government respects our freedom to seek virtue, we can instead practice vice. Human beings are inherently imperfect creatures, vulnerable to temptation. Giving in to them can create very negative consequences for ourselves and for others – addiction, corruption, violence, abuse and neglect of children – which so often lead to demands for more government.
This is why building and maintaining strong social institutions is so important. When we exercise our personal freedom within dense networks of families and other associations, we make better choices. We are pushed in the right direction by loving or stern words, by approving or disapproving looks, by inspiring or cautious examples.
When the Pope Foundation invests in life-changing programs to fight poverty, illiteracy, drug addiction and homelessness, we help create the conditions most likely to preserve freedom. And when we invest in thinkers, communicators, and institutions that strengthen the intellectual and moral arguments for freedom, we empower more people to pursue their passions, live their best lives, and build virtue – y including, in this case, the virtue of charity itself.
John Hood is chairman of the John William Pope Foundation and author.