Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Doing Good

For anyone who has felt the twinges of guilt about not being giving and generous enough here are some radical thoughts on philanthrophy to feel vindicated by. One paragraph forms the kernel of the author's argument:

Undoubtedly, most philanthropists mean to make the world a cleaner and more equitable place. Yet it’s like trying to reduce your sugar intake by eating 125 chocolate bars every day and then swearing off the occasional Pop-Tart. It’s as if the right hand has never met the left. But here is the punch line for this argument: We can all be good citizens much, much more effectively in the course of making money than in the course of giving money away.

It seems that philanthropy is ultimately bad in proportion to the grandness of its scale and design. The Gates foundation has ambitious, world-changing goals and without the right hand having met the left, the good is outweighed by the bad as Price describes. An average person giving away used clothes to a thrift store is helping no more than one poor family. The footprint of their charity is small and so is any associated harm done. At the very worst, this person is a conspicuous consumer and has more clothes than they need.

The summary is excellent :

A small part of the solution, and a huge part of the problem: that’s philanthropy in 2007. And yet giving away money cannot possibly be an irredeemable action. First, make sure you do no harm. Pay workers fairly for the wealth they help you accumulate, and don’t create and contribute to enormous environmental messes. Only then, think about handouts. Right hand, meet the left hand.

1 comment:

ggop said...

This was great HC. The commenters were also bringing good points to the discussion. I couldn't find stats on the Gates foundation on charitynavigator so it was good reading them in this article. Thanks for posting this.