In Response to: The Giving Plea

Good article, with several cogent explanations for the decline of alumni participating in annual giving since those six straight years of highest participation in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

In Robert Putnam’s terrific 2020 book The Upswing: How America Came Together and How We Can Do It Again, he describes those very years as when the U.S. was the most cohesive during the past century, on multiple measures. Even the use of “we” compared with “I” peaked then, according to Google Ngram. Americans were much less divided by political ideology. In Putnam’s vivid image, we’ve become solitary cowboys rather than a wagon train of interdependent pioneers (yes, their exploitation of Native Americans spoils that image).

Americans have also become less active in religious communities. Those who attend religious services regularly give more than do others to non-religious charities such as their alma maters; are more than twice as likely to volunteer for non-religious organizations and to be active in civic life.

Studies have shown that wealth is inversely correlated with empathy, which helps explain why the entitled wealthy often rationalize wanting to lower (or evade) their taxes at the expense of those in dire need. Research even shows that drivers of luxury cars are far less likely to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks than are drivers of the cheapest cars.

I’m more and more grateful to Princeton as I age. Most of my wife’s and my charitable giving is to organizations that serve the poor. One of the many reasons I donate to annual giving is to support what Princeton has increasingly done for students from families of limited means. Such programs are vital to live up to our national ideal of equal opportunity for all.

Richard M. Waugaman ’70
Potomac, Md.