Anti-Americanism is silly. But it is not unusual around the world. Visit Europe or South America for a week or more, and your American accent will likely meet with at least one snide remark. And while your go-to response should be “You’re not American, so it doesn’t matter what you think about American politics” (I guarantee this infuriates Europeans!), anti-Americanism reflects a disparity between America and our perception abroad. We are a very decent people, but much of the world thinks we are fundamentally flawed.
But hold that thought. Because the Giving Institute’s 2016 “Giving USA” report was released this week. And offering hundreds of pages in statistics and analysis, it leads to an unassailable conclusion” Americas aren’t just decent; we are exceptionally so.
For a start, the report notes that Americans and our charitable organizations gave $373.25 billion to charity in 2015. Adjusted for inflation, that represents a 4 percent increase over our 2014 giving. But that’s not coincidence. Americans are becoming more generous each year. Between 1980 and 1995, average giving as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) was 1.6 percent. But between 2000 and 2015, that average rose to 2.1 percent of GDP. And with U.S. GDP rising from $6.5 trillion in 1980 (in 2009 dollars) to $16.47 trillion in 2015, even marginal increases in giving have a profound impact.
These statistics require our skeptical assessment of the rising liberal sentiment that economic growth is not necessarily good for society. It is. In fact, healthy financial markets have fueled the growth in giving. The report notes recent strong returns on S&P 500 investments link to greater giving by households that itemize their charitable giving on tax returns. These households increased their giving by 6.5 percent in 2014 and 4.1 percent in 2015.
Correspondingly, though we must build an economy with far greater social mobility, wealth is no net-negative in and of itself. On the contrary, it is a good thing. Oh, and illustrating American concern for social mobility at home, it’s worth noting that the second greatest sector recipient for increased donations was education — wherein donations increased by an inflation adjusted 8.8 percent to $57.5 billion.
Americans and our charitable organizations gave over $373 billion to charity in 2015, and Americans are becoming more generous each year
The report also indicates the degree to which individuals form the bedrock of American charitable giving. For example, of the $373.25 billion total giving in 2015, 71 percent, or $265 billion, came from individuals. That represents a 3.8 percent rise in individual giving from 2014. And it speaks to the fact that even amidst economic doubt and political dissatisfaction, we continue to care for those who are in need.
With that in mind, let’s return to the subject of anti-Americanism. After all, a key tenet of anti-Americanism is the belief that Americans are insular and selfish. But to go further, consider what “Giving USA” shows us about U.S. citizens and the world. The sector of 2015 charitable giving that received the greatest increase in donations? International affairs. In 2015, driven by American concerns over suffering in Syria and in response to global natural disasters, U.S. donations increased by a whopping inflation adjusted 17.4 percent. topping $15.8 billion. And this number does not include the hundreds of billions of dollars U.S. taxpayers spend via U.S. government’s aid and security efforts globally each year.
Still, “Giving USA” does not attempt to hide areas of concern. For one, it notes that “U.S. residents volunteered at a rate of 32.1 hours per capita in 2014. This annual volunteering rate has been steadily declining from the 37.9 hours of volunteered time per person in the year 2005.” The report also notes the challenge that many charities find in retaining donors. “Between 50 and 60% of donors only give once to an organization, making donor retention a serious problem for organizational sustainability. It is estimated that acquiring one new donor is five times as costly as retaining a current donor.” A national effort to increase volunteering — and to encourage long term commitment by donors (even if at smaller levels) would thus be positive.
Yet assessing contemporary morality, this report offers grand proof of continuing American exceptionalism. As the Charities Aid Foundation notes in its annual “World Giving Index,” the United States is far and above the world’s most charitable western nation. Only Myanmar is more charitable. (Don’t ask me!) And that should give Americans confidence. For all our doubts, our national spirit remains truly exceptional.
Never has one nation, so powerful, given so much to so many with so unconditional moral motives.
Tom Rogan is a Senior Contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.