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« Crooked Timber | Main | Studying History »

December 10, 2004

Fact Attack

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A few amazin' fact-nuggets from recent issues of The Economist:

  • In rural Peru, 24% of young women say they lost their virginity to a rapist. In rural Uttar Pradesh (in India), 83% of married women surveyed said that before they moved in with their husbands, they didn't know how women become pregnant.

  • Average life expectency in Zimbabwe has plunged from 61 years in 1990 to 34 years today. AIDS is the most important cause of this decline.

  • Jamaica has laws on the books that punish gay sex with up to ten years in prison. At political rallies two years ago, Jamaica Labour party supporters played a recording of "Chi Chi Man," a song about killing and setting fire to gay men.

  • "The 4.9% of families in America with net worth of $1 million or more accounted for 42% of all donations to charitable organizations ... As the size of the estates rises, the proportion going to heirs shrinks and the share left to charity increases ... The estates of $20 million and more left an average of 49% of their value to charity and 21% to heirs, the rest going in taxes."

The Economist's website is here.



posted by Michael at December 10, 2004


And America is the bad guy on the world stage? These factoids are really quite nauseating.

I'm not blanket-defending America, BTW, but...sheesh...but we're the subversive bad guys for requiring just a teensy bit of sexual control and education as part of our values? It's the point at which anybody could become a fascist hawk in the world. Sigh.

Posted by: annette on December 11, 2004 11:13 AM

The genuinely rich in America bequeath significantly more than twice as much to charity as they do to their own heirs. This is really extraordinary when you come to think about it.

I know a lefty would immediately belittle this generosity as a combination of tax dodge and attempt to assuage a bad conscience, but I don't buy it. Generous is generous and Americans - especially those that make it big - are a generous expansive people.

There, I've said something square. May I never show my face at Crooked Timber.

Posted by: ricpic on December 11, 2004 04:38 PM

I've never been rich, so I don't know what causes rich people to donate so generously. Also, I would assume there are interindividual variations in reasons for giving, among the wealthy. Gee, just like with regular people.

That said, I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt and assume they are being at least partially generous. And even if they aren't, the charities are still getting the dough, so who's to complain? I wouldn't.

I don't think it's right to assume America is so much worse than other countries in respect to civil liberties and world aid. I think what many people complain about is that perhaps America doesn't always live up to its vast potential in those areas.

Posted by: Michelle Murphy on December 12, 2004 08:55 AM

I have to wonder if the 49% to 21% statistic is a purely an artifact of the measurement being taken. One very good way to avoid estate tax issues is to set up a trust before one dies. The inter-generational wealth transfer--which may or may not dwarf the charitable contribution--never gets reflected in the numerator or denominator of the estate. It's not a meaningful statistic, except as a comparison of trends over time.

Posted by: Ted on December 12, 2004 10:04 AM

to the first bullet: why exactly are we ONLY funding abstinence programs again?!
By not giving money to sexual education programs we ARE actively making the GDP per capita in the third world less than it should be.

as to charities I really don't find that surprising... after a certain point in income what the hell else are you going to do with your money? buy ANOTHER 50 ft yacht? that money going to charity means a whole lot more to other people than it would sitting in your bank account.

It would be much more interesting to see the breakdown: what % of charities came from families with networths of 100k-300k etc 1-5 million, and so on...

do the bill gates' with uber money outweigh your mcmansion resident?

Posted by: azad on December 12, 2004 12:12 PM

Annette -- It's one reason I love leafing thru the Economist, at least every couple of issues or so: they're so full of horrifying facts from around the world that it's a stinging reminder of how lucky and well-off we are here. Puts life in a bit of perspective, and banishes a little of the usual self-pity and self-absorption.

Ricpic -- I think we are too, and I'll join you in avoiding Crooked Timber.

Michelle -- I'm like you: prone to give people the benefit of the doubt and then to say, oh what the hell, the charities got the money in any case. I think people can over-do the search for motives. Arguments in NYC, alas, often quickly turn into assault on each other's motives, as though what it's all really about is who has the highest and deepest ideals. 99% of the time, I just don't care. So shoot me: actions strike me as more important. As far as I'm concerned, people can spend the day lasciviously fantasizing about murder and screwing the poor so long as they behave well.

Ted -- What a good question, I'd love to know the answer. I'd tend to assume that the Economist and the authors of the study they were citing would have tried to factor that element into their conclusions. but you never know. I wish the piece were online so you could examine it. I'd love to know what you think of it. 'Way beyond my competentce, in any case.

Azad -- More good quetions! FWIW, and I'm on a slow connection so can't do the Googling right now, but ... I feel pretty sure I've read studies showing that the American rich donate a ton more to charity than the Euro-rich do. I'm pretty sure that the Euro-rich generally view donating to charity as something only fools do, come to think of it. We take it for granted that many of our colleges and hospitals, for instance, are going to get a lot of their funding from generous rich people; the Euros take it for granted that all that will be taken care of by the State. I think the gist of one of the pieces I read about this was that Euro and American spending on social services are essentially equal; it's just that in Euro-land it all comes from taxes, where in America a lot is chipped in voluntarily. Happy to be corrected of course: memory often fails these days...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 12, 2004 01:36 PM

Uttar Pradesh ::

Why don't I believe that stat?? the mothers don't talk to their daughters??
Nonsense the mothers probably tell their daughters "dont admit you know anything"

Posted by: e m butler on December 13, 2004 03:16 AM

I don't trust the reasoning behind the Zimbabwe statistic. The violent political situation and resulting economic disaster would be more than enough to drop the life expectancy numbers like a brick. I'm sure Aids is a factor, but I doubt that plays largest part.

Posted by: Karl on December 14, 2004 01:55 AM

Regarding charitable giving in the US:

The fact that the top 5% of families account for over 42% of charitable giving is not particularly generous when you also consider that they represent close to 60% of the wealth in the country...It seems rich people really ARE stingy.

Also, one major reason that the extremely wealthy spend more on 'charity' instead of heirs is because they like to put their names on things. Endowing a chair or fellowship at a major university is expensive...much less 'donating' a building or other major work. Please don't fool yourself into thinking that most of this money is feeding the poor or housing the homeless.


Posted by: Patrick on December 14, 2004 12:28 PM

Rich (or poor, for that matter) have no obligation whatsoever to give anything away. Whatever charitable causes person favors, it goes out of his/her pocket into public use - be it University, museum, or a bench in the park where a homeless can seat and enjoy the afternoon. Don't you think putting at least a "thank you" plaque on that bench is just a matter of good manners?

Of course, if you're of socialist breed you'd like to expropriate 99% of people' wealth - but fortunately this country seems to be rejecting this direction.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 14, 2004 03:31 PM

I don't trust the reasoning behind the Zimbabwe statistic.

I do. There's been a similar catastrophic fall in life expectency in Botswana, which is rich (by African standards at least), and manages to be reasonably well governed, democratic, peaceful, and with an appalling rate of HIV infection.

Posted by: Jeffrey Boulier on December 19, 2004 04:56 AM

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