- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 2, 2006

More frightening than any particular beliefs or policies is an utter lack of any sense of a need to test those beliefs and policies against hard evidence. Mistakes can be corrected by those who pay attention to facts, but dogmatism will not be corrected by those who are wedded to a vision.

One of today’s most pervasive political visions is that liberals are compassionate and conservatives are less caring. Liberals advocate “forgiveness” of loans to Third World countries, a “living wage” for the poor and a “safety net” for all. But these are all government policies — not individual acts of compassion. The actual empirical consequences of such policies are of remarkably little interest to their advocates. Depending on those consequences, there may be good reasons to oppose them. Being for or against these policies may not tell us who is compassionate or caring and who is not.

A new book, titled “Who Really Cares” by Arthur C. Brooks examines the actual behavior of liberals and conservatives in donating their own time, money or blood for the benefit of others. It is remarkable that beliefs on this subject should have become conventional, if not set in concrete, for decades before anyone bothered to check these beliefs against facts.

What are the facts? People who identify themselves as conservatives donate money to charity more often than self-identified liberals. Conservatives donate more money and a higher percentage of their incomes. And it is not that conservatives have more money. Liberal families average 6 percent higher incomes than conservative families.

You may recall a flap during the 2000 election campaign when the fact came out that Al Gore donated a smaller percentage of his income to charity than the national average. That was perfectly consistent with his liberalism. So is the fact that most of the states that voted for John Kerry during the 2004 election donated a lower percentage of their incomes to charity than the states that voted for George W. Bush.

Conservatives not only donate more money to charity than liberals, conservatives also volunteer more time. More conservatives than liberals donate blood.

According to Mr. Brooks: “If liberals and moderates gave blood at the same rate as conservatives, the blood supply of the United States would jump about 45 percent.”

Mr. Brooks admits the facts he uncovered were the opposite of what he expected — so much so he rechecked the facts, to make sure there was no mistake.

Why are some people liberals and others conservatives, if liberals are not more compassionate? Fundamental differences in ideology go back to fundamental assumptions about human nature. Based on one set of assumptions, it makes perfect sense to be a liberal. Based on different assumptions, it makes perfect sense to be a conservative.

The two visions are not completely symmetrical. For at least two centuries, the vision of those on the left has included a belief they are morally superior, more caring and more compassionate.

While both sides argue that their opponents are mistaken, those on the left have declared their opponents not merely in error but morally flawed too. So the idea that liberals are more caring and compassionate goes with the territory, whether or not it fits the facts.

Those on the left proclaimed their moral superiority in the 18th century and they continue to proclaim it in the 21st century. What is remarkable is how long it took for anyone to put that belief to the test — and how completely it failed the test.

The two visions differ another way. The vision of the left exalts the young especially as idealists while the more conservative vision warns against the narrowness and shallowness of the inexperienced. This study found young liberals make the least charitable contributions of all — in money, time or blood. Idealism in words is not idealism in deeds.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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