The Right Coast

November 23, 2005
Red States More Generous than Blue, Part 2
By Gail Heriot

Tom links to Tax Prof Blog below, which talks about a new study that ranks the 50 states in terms of the charitable giving of their residents (adjusted for income). The results are pretty stark: Red States tend to be much more generous than Blue States.

I suspect that two things are going on here--one of which may support the notion of a real Red/Blue generosity gap and the other of which may not.

First of all, the Red States (at least the Southern Red States and possibily others) tend to have significantly higher church attendance than Blue States. Church membership can become a focal point of family life. Sunday services are something the family can go to each week as a family. Church activities help fill their calendar.

Otherwise similarly situated families end up giving less because their charitable interests are less likely to have weekly meetings. Those weekly church offerings add up. Moreover, many family activities that might be substituted for Sunday church attendance--Sunday brunch, Saturday night at the movies--are not charitable activities.

Second, the study does not adjust for cost of living. A family of four with an income of $150,000 in Massachusetts is doing fine, but they certainly aren't swimming in cash. A similar family living in Mississippi would have a lot more discretionary income. I may not be quite fair to call the Mississippi family more generous than the Massachusetts family. I'd be curious to see the rankings after some effort to adjust for cost of living is made.

Of course, taxes are part of cost of living. And that opens a whole new can of worms. High-tax states in theory are delivering services that low-tax states do not. Perhaps Blue-Staters are less generous, because their state governments already provide the social services that must be provided by charitable activity in Red States. Or perhaps Blue State governments provide these services only because they've learned that their own residents are too stingy to provide them through charitable giving....

There's a lot to untangle here.