The Common Good – two roads, one goal /English

Volunteering is very much part of Canadian culture. About half of all Canadians donate their time to charity. In Germany it is just a quarter. Volunteers support nurses in hospitals, practice reading with students, and clean parks. They give advice to lost tourists at the airport, show theater-visitors their seats, organize fundraisers for cancer research, and make sandwiches for the homeless. They sacrifice hundreds of hours of their free-time to turn home into a better place. In many ways, volunteers drive Canadian society. Without them, Canada would be a different place; less art, less social services, fewer inviting public spaces, and more poverty.

But where does the motivation come from, to contribute to one’s city, one’s neighbourhood? Is the average Canadian more of a do-gooder than the average German? Probably not. Instead, the reason lies within the Canadian structure of society. While Canadians and Germans have a comparable income, Canadians only pay 30% of it in taxes and social security. Compare this to Germany where citizens give almost 50% of their income to the state. This disparity is reflected in the government’s provision of social services. Many things that are arranged by the government in Germany are private matters in Canada. Therefore, ‘topping up’ is a basic principle for Canadians. You add a benefits plan to your public health care to cover dental, physiotherapy and medication. A supplementary pension plan is not an option, it is a necessity. And public welfare is topped up with charity.

This lower level of government services drives private citizens to build the type of solidarity in Canada which in Germany is imposed by the state. The proportion of government regulations to individual freedoms has a strong influence on public wellbeing. A good example is the United States: although the average income is significantly higher than in Germany or Canada, disproportionately more people are impacted by poverty, and social fairness is less prevalent. Canada has found a good balance. Common wellbeing here is similar to that in Germany. This works so well because solidarity is cultivated from an early age. For instance, students have to accumulate 25-30 hours of volunteering, depending on region, in order to get their high-school diploma.

As a German, it can easily feel like the German welfare state offers more security. However, in practice, one is just as well off in Canada. All you need is trust in your neighbour. The Canadian culture of volunteering shows that societies can potentially self-regulate some degree of social services. Where the state imposes a high level of self-responsibility on the individual, citizens can advocate the common good. This gives hope in uncertain times.


The facts:

  • according to OECD, average income tax was at 49.4 % in Germany and at 31.4 % in Canada in 2014

  • the average gross income per person in 2015 according to Statistischen Bundesamt (Statistics Germany) was USD 45,790 in Germany, USD 47,500 in Canada and USD 54,960 in the USA

  • according to the OECD, 9.1 % of the population in Germany and 12.6 % of the Canadian population was affected by relative poverty in 2014. The United States surpasses those numbers with 17.5 %

  • income inequality was slightly higher in Canada than in Germany in 2014, according to the OECD; Canada has a gini-coefficient of 0.322 while it is 0.292 in Germany. Comparatively, the USA sits at 0.394

  • according to the World Giving Index 2016 of the Charity Aid Foundation, Canada is in 6th place in the international charity ranking, Germany only makes it to 21st. In the subcategory volunteering Canada is in 14th place, whereas Germany places 39th. Finally, when in comes to donating, Canada is ranked 11th whereas Germany only makes 20th place

Sources: CBC News Canada: High school volunteering: As some struggle to secure hours, others raise bar (08.07.2017) / Charity Aid Foundation: World Giving Index 2016 (07.07.2017) / OECD: Compare your Country (07.07.2017) / Statistics Canada: Volunteering in Canada (08.07.2017) / Statistisches Bundesamt: Bruttonationaleinkommen je Einwohner (08.07.2017)

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