Why Non-Profit Workers Lean Left

Saturday, February 6, AD 2010

The recent series of posts expressing indignation that many people who work for the USCCB lean left reminds me of a pet theory of mine: All other things being equal, people working for non-profits will tend to lean farther left than the general population.

This fits pretty well with my experience, both seeing most of my more progressive friends seek work at non-profits (in the cases of religious ones, often parish or diocesan work.) But I think there are some general reasons why we’d see this be the case.

1) Selection bias: It’s one of the major themes of modern progressivism to be suspicious of the profit motive in general and of for-profit corporations in particular. If you see an organization making a profit as being particularly corrupting, it makes sense you’d gravitate towards organizations which are committed to provide a service to society without making a profit. You can see a reflection of this attitude in President Obama’s proposal to forgive college debt for people who go into non-profit or government work — behind which lies an implicit assumption that people working for non-profits and for the government are participating in work that is more virtuous or more valuable to society than people who work for mere businesses. (My impression is that conservatives tend more towards a “job is a job” attitude, seeing non-profit jobs as not being all that different from business jobs.)

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4 Responses to Why Non-Profit Workers Lean Left

  • I’m not trying to be unpleasant, but there’s another way it may be inherent to the work:

    For-profit groups have to be self supporting; they feel entitled, in the course of Right and Good, to being paid by those who ask for services to be rendered.

    Non-profit groups depend on the support of others; they feel entitled, in the course of Right and Good, to being paid so that services can be rendered.

    This division wouldn’t be there, or wouldn’t be there so much, if they were small enough that you’re dealing with people instead of supply and demand….

    Like you pointed out, NFPs tend to compare themselves against FP business… I imagine looking at the gross income to a business would really trigger something in one’s gut, especially if you ignore that the net is so much smaller.

  • In my limited experience, philanthropic concerns are typically deficient in operational measures of competence and in well-defined goals. Division of labor, wages and salaries, and promotions are thus based on marks of status, intramural politics, and (perhaps) seniority. There are some sorts of people who put up with this more readily than others, and that sort views their social world through a different prism than the rest of the population, hence different voting preferences, &c.

  • Interesting. I work for a nonprofit, but it is a professional association, and the professionals we serve are extremely practical people who have to meet budgets and make payroll. There are some dolts, particularly in upper levels, but overall it’s the best place I’ve ever worked.

  • I would add that in the five years I have been working for a for-profit company, I have observed the ways in which corporate taxes and government regulations shape business decisions, often for the worse. It has made me more skeptical of government-driven solutions.