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Interestingly, in the Gospels, Jesus makes a point of noting the difference:

Then Jesus said to his host [a prominent Pharisee], "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." (Luke 14:12-14, NIV)

Similar to the culture of first-century Israel, reciprocity is embedded in the cultures of much of the poor world today. James Scott at Yale and other anthropologists have demonstrated how the poor in developing countries use reciprocal acts of generosity as survival mechanisms, providing, for example, informal insurance. A family bringing food to another who is temporarily unable to work due to illness is not only regarded as kind; the act represents an investment in a reciprocal claim when the situation may be reversed.

The Independent Rich

While poverty fosters interdependence, wealth fosters independence. Virtually everyone in the world has some form of insurance. And as the poor in developing countries partially insure themselves through reciprocating relationships, the rich in America insure with Allstate and Blue Cross. We prefer our impersonal system. The lack of interdependence with others, however, not only results in widespread feelings of isolation and loneliness, but also tightfistedness.

Jesus calls his followers to acts of giving that war with our psychology of personal safety, that violate social norms, that extend beyond self-interest.

Those of us among the world's wealthy tend to believe that our good economic standing is largely due to our own cleverness, resourcefulness, and hard work. If we are unaware of the myriad factors outside of our control that play critical roles to our success, this self-narrative can play repeatedly in our minds like a bad 8-track tape. To the extent that we listen to it, this self-narrative helps us to justify the disproportionate time and money that we spend on our own comforts and entertainment relative to what we give to others who have more important needs than ourselves. It can also powerfully influence our political and economic views about our societal responsibility to the poor.

Effort and aspirations matter. But it is interesting to see the contrast between this deceptive self-narrative and recent academic research. Studies show that adult outcomes are influenced most significantly by factors outside one's control, factors such as the nutritional intake of one's mother during gestation (cognition/IQ), the type and quality of diet during early childhood (cognition/IQ), maternal attachment (persistence), the education and economic status of parents (education, opportunity), and the quality of the economic institutions of the country in which one is born (without which significant wealth creation is all but impossible). Collectively these factors far outside of our control exert an influence over our adult economic outcomes that is many times greater than any disproportionate effort of our own. A lack of awareness and acknowledgement of the role that these factors have exerted in shaping our economic well-being can lead us to give sparingly to those less fortunate, our parsimony based on an internal justification that we deserve it for ourselves due to our remarkable brains and hard work.

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Why We Give (or Don't)