America’s “Brag-osphere” and “Beg-osphere”

The lack of a comprehensive, government-provided safety net in America means that non-profits have to resort to bragging and begging to provide many basic services. The political season crystallizes this issue better than anything, but in a society with as much capitalism as America, it’s apparent almost everywhere.

You might think that bragging and begging are opposites, but they have a symbiotic relationship. Just look at the pitch from virtually any politician. First they tell you how great they are; then they want your money. Some are so brazen that they forget to brag; they just beg for the money.

The United States leans much more towards capitalism on the socialist – capitalist spectrum.

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Non-profit organizations play a very large role in trying to fill the gaps in what government does not provide, everything from feeding the hungry to making available basic health care services for women. Because non-profits do not have the power of taxation, they are forced to raise most of their money through donations. Very few contributions come unsolicited, so this means that by default, non-profits need to ask.

The world of soliciting donations among non-profits is extremely competitive. Citizens who have the means to contribute must ask themselves questions such as, “Should I give to the food pantry or to the art museum or the symphony? Should I give to a local hospital or to a national organization seeking a cure to cancer?” Where political questions are involved, one might ask, “should I give to an organization that supports my views on reproductive choice, or should I give to a candidate of my choice?”

In some countries, most or all of these goods and services are paid by the government. For instance, in Norway, two-thirds of revenues of political parties comes from the government. In the United States, the fabric of the safety net is woven so loosely that individuals would be left to starve to death if it were not for the work of food pantries. In times of economic hardship, donations to food banks diminish, and they cannot meet the demand. This happens despite the best efforts of food pantries to appeal to the kindness, the generosity, and the concern of the American people.

Food banks or shelters for the homeless can go wanting while colleges and universities with endowments in the billions are hauling in more largesse from citizens than ever.

This is where the bragging is most apparent. Colleges and universities as well as other large charitable organizations such as hospitals or the American Red Cross spend tens of millions of dollars to shout out the message of their accomplishments. Whether their successes are real or imagined does not matter, they have a story to tell and the better they tell it, the more money they will take in.

It’s a two-step process. As the non-profits are touting their accomplishments, they are actively engaged in seeking more money for their coffers. We have to ask why, in a country that spends far more on health care than any other country, hospitals are constantly asking for more money. Before they can come begging, they have to arm themselves with the fanciest of brochures, television advertisements, and invitations to galas where they rake in money like a political candidate.

Not only does the United States provide less in necessary social services to citizens than most other industrialized nations, but we have what must be the largest Venn Diagram of the brag-osphere and beg-osphere. What does it say about the pleasantness of our society when we are saturated with so much bragging and begging? While it’s unfair to expect that an individual or organization will never engage in bragging or begging, we clearly have it in excess.

It is the currency of so much of our realm. It would be inappropriate for me to ask organizations to unilaterally “cease and desist.” However, it’s important that we are aware of how our culture is so tainted by the phenomenon.

If we look on the political spectrum, we find that once again it is Republicans who bear the greatest measure of responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves. If the federal government was empowered to cover the basic needs of all individual citizens in the country, there would be far less bragging and begging. All of this is just one more reason why our society requires fundamental and structural change. We are fortunate that progressives are trying to move us in a direction of more justice and less blathering.