Freakonomics & Philanthropy

I just sent the following email to Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the authors of Freakonomics:

"For a while now, I have been thinking about asking the two of you to consider commenting on or researching charitable giving from a Freakonomics standpoint. Today, you posted regarding Arthur Brooks’ new book about the giving patterns of various political groups. I would like to urge you to think about doing some of your own research on charitable giving. Having read Freakonomics, I know the powerful analysis skills you possess and the unorthodox conclusions you often come to. I think the field of philanthropy would benefit greatly from your analysis.

In September, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article titled, “State’s rich are cheap, study says. First in the number of wealthy – but 21st in charitable giving”. The article examined a NewTithing Group study that looked at giving as a percentage of assets (not income, the more traditional measure). This sparked me to wondering what is the best way to measure charitable giving. As a percentage of income? Assets? Income in excess of a state’s poverty line? “Excess assets”?

I think that your methods are ideally suited to looking at this issue as well as examining additional areas. For instance, the Center on Philanthropy recently published a study claiming, “Wealthy donors report that tax considerations are far less important to them than is commonly assumed. For example, more than half the respondents (56.1%) said their giving would stay the same even if the estate tax were repealed. Similarly, 51.7% said their giving would stay the same even if there were zero income tax deductions for gifts to charity.” What people actually do is often different from what they say they will do. It seems to me that, as you did in Freakonomics, you may be able to find some appropriate data that would help reveal how various tax rates actually affect giving patterns.

I realize you are both busy. I’m going to post this email as an “open letter” to you on my blog I am going to ask my readers to email you to encourage you to consider my request. If you do not find such a study to fit into your current priorities, I certainly understand. I greatly enjoyed your book and read your blog regularly. Keep up the good work.

If you’ve read Freakonomics you know how insightful these guys are. I highly encourage you to email them at to tell them how much you would like to see them follow up on my suggestion. Give your email the subject line “Freakonomics & Philanthropy”.

Happy Thanksgiving!

One Comment

  1. Phil says:

    I wish you luck in enlarging the pool of talent in this giving conversation.