On charitable giving

Well:

And so to a question that vexes every vicar addressing a congregation under a leaky church roof, all community groups peering into a long dark tunnel of grant cuts: how do you get the sods to give? To reach into those bulging pockets and hand over their shrapnel?

There\’s more to this problem than the loneliness of the long-distance fete-organiser. For one thing, it lies behind those gripes about the west\’s tight-fisted response to the floods in Pakistan. And the answer is also directly relevant to David Cameron and his ministers.

One way of characterising Cameron\’s grand plan for plugging the hole left by its spending cuts, and for improving schools and other public services is this: just add compassion. In those areas where the state is being cut back, the new government is gambling, fellow-feeling will fill the gap. Or, as now-culture secretary Jeremy Hunt put it to this paper before the election: \”We want to persuade people that giving is not just a duty, but one of life\’s pleasures. It chimes with David Cameron\’s ideas on social responsibility: if you have been successful, you should give something back.\”

When Tory ministers sing such lines, they don\’t just mean endowing a museum with a swanky extra wing, but also setting up a new school or helping to run local amenities. You might call this the Cameron compassion strategy – and a lot is riding on its success.

It depends what you mean by \”success\” really.

Let\’s assume that we really do want those things which people want to be funded to be funded….and we don\’t want those things which people do not want to be funded to be funded. At the one end we\’ve got the yes, of course, absolutely, we want the starving child to be fed, at the other perhaps there\’s not quite so much support for the outreach diversity advisor for one legged lesbian dancers (please do insert your own jocular prejudices here).

So, how would we define \”success\”?

We could say that because even only some people want the ODAfoLLD to be funded, then it is only successful if all of these desires, the entire spectrum are funded.

Another way would be to try and use some system of allowing people to decide what they would fund. Instead of handing over a wodge of cash for the insiders to allocate, people decide upon and allocate their own cash.

If sufficient people decide to fund the starving children, all well and good, just as if sufficient people decide to fund the ODAfoLLD. Excellent, we have revealed preferences, en masse, the population wishes both the kiddies and the advisor to be funded.

However, it might be that we\’re all entirely selfish bastards and that neither get funded….or more likely, that the babbies get fed and the ODAfoLLD is sent hopping.

But any and all of these results can be defined as a \”success\”. Our desire is to find out what people will willingly pay for: being willing to pay for it being the sign that it increases your utility, increases your happiness, by paying for it. So a system which allows people, by allocating their own money, to express what does maximise their personal utility will maximise said utility, make us as a population as happy as we can be.

Which, if we\’re honest about it, is really a rather successful outcome, isn\’t it?

Meaning that the failure of someone\’s pet scheme to get funding is just as much a success as the success of someone else\’s at getting funding: both the failure and the success increase human happiness in aggregate.

5 thoughts on “On charitable giving”

  1. “fellow-feeling will fill the gap”: I dare say it would be illegal to speculate frankly on why people might have a limited supply of “fellow-feeling” for Pakistan but, since everyone could write a list of possible reasons, it would also be redundant. In light of the generous response to the Boxing Day Tsunami, the explanations that won’t hold water are the racist and Islamophobic ones, but no doubt both will be widely deployed as purported explanations.

  2. For one thing, it lies behind those gripes about the west’s tight-fisted response to the floods in Pakistan.

    So a country where the population hate us, burn our flags, consider us infidels, and whose government sponsors the very people who are killing our soldiers over the border think we’re not giving them enough money on top of the billions we already give them in the form of aid? They can go fuck themselves, frankly. Where is this great Muslim brotherhood we are always hearing about whenever Israel does something to a Muslim?

  3. The Man with many Chins

    Tim Newman said:
    “So a country where the population hate us, burn our flags, consider us infidels, and whose government sponsors the very people who are killing our soldiers over the border think we’re not giving them enough money on top of the billions we already give them in the form of aid? They can go fuck themselves, frankly. Where is this great Muslim brotherhood we are always hearing about whenever Israel does something to a Muslim?”

    Plus the fact that they are a nuclear armed country, they spend 2.6% of their GDP on their military, and have a far bigger standing army than us……yep, you guessed it, they can fuck right off.

  4. “We want to persuade people that giving is not just a duty, but one of life’s pleasures. It chimes with David Cameron’s ideas on social responsibility: if you have been successful, you should give something back.”

    I can agree with that. In a completely free economy I’d probably be happy to give some of my earnings to help others. I’d feel better for knowing that I was helping others, and I could use it as a conversation point, plus my wife would no doubt approve.

    Thing is though, I’m currently paying vastly more than I want to. As long as the government take so much of my money, I’m gonna keep a tight hold of the rest of it. The thieving gits don’t give me any sort of value for money, and I resent that I have no say in the matter.

    You might say that some of the things that my tax money is spent on are of benefit to me. You’re probably right – I’ll certainly agree that the police provide some level of benefit, and the firefighters, and ambulance staff. Courts, the legal system in general – although they could do with some improvement… National defense if of course a good thing.

    Healthcare? No good – I have private cover, which costs me a damn sight less than the NHS does each year. Welfare? I’ve always worked, even while at university – I don’t like to depend on others, and would rather others didn’t depend on me. That said, I can see the value of a safety net – at considerably below the level it currently is. Public transport? Not worth the money. Because they’re forced to run trains and buses even when they would be empty and there’s no customers, the cost is a lot higher than it should be. I looked into getting a train to a friend’s wedding, and it works out cheaper to hire a car for the weekend (including petrol costs). That tells you all you really need to know about public transport.

    The faceless armies of bureaucrats that sit in the council offices and do things that are of course absolutely vital? I reckon we could live without at least 95% of them, easy.

    So it’s simple really. If the government gives me back some of the money it’s stealing, I’ll consider giving some of it to other people…

  5. Many a concrete-layer has been given a job by a despot on the strength of an advert put in the papers featuring a starving child.

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