Myth buster: Greedy Americans

June 26, 2007


Americans are known for their ability to make money.  Some people think this is good, some not so much (you know, that whole “capitalist pig” thing ).  We get accused of being obsessed by money.  You’ve heard the rhetoric (if you haven’t, just Google “greedy Americans”).

It turns out that we are not so greedy after all.  According to a recent report by Giving USA (from this article at

Americans gave nearly $300 billion to charitable causes last year, setting a new record and besting the 2005 total that had been boosted by a surge in aid to victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and the Asian tsunami.

And the people giving are not necessarily all Warren Buffet types:

About 65 percent of households with incomes less than $100,000 give to charity

Americans compared to other countries:

“It tells you something about American culture that is unlike any other country,” said Claire Gaudiani, a professor at NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and author of “The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism.” Gaudiani said the willingness of Americans to give cuts across income levels, and their investments go to developing ideas, inventions and people to the benefit of the overall economy.

Gaudiani said Americans give twice as much as the next most charitable country, according to a November 2006 comparison done by the Charities Aid Foundation. In philanthropic giving as a percentage of gross domestic product, the U.S. ranked first at 1.7 percent. No. 2 Britain gave 0.73 percent, while France, with a 0.14 percent rate, trailed such countries as South Africa, Singapore, Turkey and Germany.

Unfortunately, the New York Times is not as happy about this as I am.  Their headline: “Absence of Major Disaster in ’06 Affected Giving“.  Apparently, the lack of disasters is a bad thing.


9 Responses to “Myth buster: Greedy Americans”

  1. QuakerJono Says:

    While I was killing time in Seattle waiting for our plane after disembarking from the cruise ship, I took a boat tour of the Seattle…er, sound area? The wet part.

    Anyway, one of the highlights of the tour was a drive by…float by…whatever by of the Bill Gates mansion. Apparently, not only was our tour guide a semi-adorable red-headed bear (at least I think that’s what you would call him, I’m so unsure about what labels go where anymore), but he had a very pronounced metaphorical chubby for Gates.

    He went on at length about The House That Microsoft Built and how a man as rich as Gates could buy so much more mansion but didn’t so this proves how wonderful a person he is and how eco-friendly the mansion is because it was built into the side of the mountain out of planks from an old mill house that used to be somewhere on the Washington coast.

    Exactly how eco-friendly the superhuman computer intelligence that apparently runs every tiny aspect of hermetically sealed life in the Gates Estate like some sort of love child of HAL 9000 and Julius Caesar is remains to be seen. But TourBear was more than willing to be totally crushed out by it.

    While I was digesting the sketchy logic that elevates a billionaire to demi-god status because they only bought a modest mansion, TourBear offered another interesting tidbit. Apparently, the “new wealth” is only considered “wealthy” when you give large sums of it away. That having money is no longer the goal or the status symbol it once was and now that type of recognition can only be achieved by giving away a statistically significant portion of that wealth.

    My first cynical thought was, “Well, sure, because the wealthiest in this country are so unbelievably wealthy that they can comfortably give away half of their money, shelter themselves from taxes and still not have it impact their standard of living in the slightest. It only makes sense that when you have more money than your children’s children’s children can possibly spend in their lifetimes and so do all your social set, the only thing left to do is play a sort of chicken game with charitable giving: who can give away the most without it actually hurting.” The religious part of me just kept repeating Mark 10:25 over and over again while jumping up and down and pointing a disbelieving finger at the hillside mansion of Bill Gates.

    Still, as someone who works with charities and nonprofits, as long as the money is getting to the people who need it and is doing some good, it is perhaps slightly ungrateful of me to be so cynical. I’m still going to, but I’ll feel a little bit bad about it from here on out.

  2. John in IL Says:

    It makes me happy that you feel bad about it.

    (and “semi-adorable” works for me; hell, I’ve done “only good in dim lights”.)

  3. John in IL Says:

    And I’ve noticed that it is really hard to say “myth buster” outloud. Try saying it three times fast.

  4. QuakerJono Says:

    My God! It’s the stereotypical lisp I’ve always dreaded developing! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME!!?!?!?!?!

  5. (and “semi-adorable” works for me; hell, I’ve done “only good in dim lights”.)

    Oddly enough, I was thinking about that on Saturday night when I noticed that the bar I was in was using incandescent bulbs in its lovely red light fixtures.

    First thought: “Gosh, they could save money and the environment by switching to compact fluorescents”

    Second thought: “What good is saving money and the environment to a business when it drives customers away?”

    Meanwhile, I tend to get philosophical about these things after volunteering as a fundraiser for nonprofits; you see people out there who push past the door without making their $5 donation only to drive off in their new Mercedes fifteen minutes later, and you see people for whom you lower the price because you know they’ll give more than they can afford.

    Takes all kinds — but as long as the money goes where it needs to go, that’s what counts.

  6. John in IL Says:

    QJ, so sorry; I still hope I see you on the seesaw sometime.

    (h/t Cindy Brady)

  7. John in IL Says:

    Thanks for stopping by ND30.

    That’s what I liked about the article; the fact that so many Americans, who don’t make a lot of money, still find it in their hearts(and wallets)to give.

  8. Pierrette Renaud Says:

    I can’t believe what I’m reading… Today is March 17, 2009 and today’s scandal that’s on everybody’s lips AROUND THE WORLD is how greedy, selfish and shamefull Americains are. The economic scandal that we are facing right now all started… in your country and you know it. Not only are the greedy americain investors asking for some taxpayers money (AIG $175 billion) to pull them out of the hole they dug themselves in, they give themselves millions and millions of bonus money taken from that bail out therefore they are taking money from taxpayers so how can you flatter yourselves and not admit for once:

    “…It turns out that we are not so greedy after all. According to a recent report by Giving USA (from this article at

    Americans gave nearly $300 billion to charitable causes last year, setting a new record and besting the 2005 total that had been boosted by a surge in aid to victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and the Asian tsunami…”

    You make me want to puke…

  9. John in IL Says:

    Here’s a bucket because I love you. I didn’t know that trolling two year old posts on a rarely read blog was something that people do. You may want to spend your time more wisely. You only live so long, bitch. You ain’t getting that time back. I’m charitable too. I’m giving you this advice for free!

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