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November 15, 2013


While there's certainly a certain amount of inefficiency inherent in these arrangements, they make perfect sense when dealing with homo sapiens, instead of homo economicus.

I have been on both sides of this arrangement, and here's why it made sense to me.

(a) I have a friend with a son who has Leigh's syndrome. This is a rare but horrible mitochondrial disease that will almost certainly cause the death of this sweet little boy before his eighth birthday. There is no cure, although research is ongoing.

When other friends organized an opportunity to eat barbecue for $100, with all proceeds going to the UT Mitochondrial Center of Excellence at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital, my wife and I jumped at the chance to buy tickets. Why didn't I donate to hundreds of other diseases? Obviously, I didn't do a cost-benefit analysis of where my charitable dollars could have the most impact. Rather, I didn't know anyone with those diseases, or if I did, I hadn't been invited to donate to them by someone I knew.

(b) Years ago, I was a fundraiser and rider in the Heartland AIDSRide. I had to generate a few thousand dollars (I think) in donations to participate, and I did. It wasn't too hard to find donations when I reached out personally to people. In theory, if these people were open to donating to AIDS charities, why did they wait until I asked them? Well, it answers itself, doesn't it? My personal relationship led them to donate.

And if I was willing to fundraise in order to participate in the ride, why didn't I fundraise for AIDS every year, and save the cost of ride support? Well, honestly, I wanted to participate in the ride itself- it was a physical adventure, I met great people, I got in great shape, and so on. Take out the ride, and I have not been able to motivate myself to go begging to friends for charitable donations.

So yes, it's odd, but you take out the Bozo part, and you take out the thousands of participants, and their ability to draw upon tens or hundreds of thousands of personal contacts to fundraise. Not so hard to understand.

P.S. "Like" or follow Bounce Energy during November and they'll donate 50 cents to mitochondrial research. https://www.facebook.com/bounceenergy/app_210925899026496

Well, having been that bozo...I think it's the human touch. There's lots of charities to give to. Most of us, if we had more money, would give to more charities. So how do charities trigger you to give to them rather than some other charity that might interest you? Well you friend is walking laps, or someone famous that you like is featured speaker at a dinner, or...and so on. I gave to a charity a friend was walking in even though it was not a charity I'd normally support because I wanted to support my friend.

My bozo act? Walking my dog in a Mutt Strut.

Clambone makes sense, but they're alien enough to me that I find myself reckoning up the treats vs. overhead vs. charity, and sometimes the last is pretty small. Also, anti-cancer runs that use enormous amounts of PVC signage for one-time uses make me sad.

LJ, I was given to understand that Jeff Bezos was a bit stingy so I'm not understanding this ABC business.

Small change, but what I dislike is when the clerk at the grocery asks me, as I slide my card through the reader, whether I would like to donate an extra dollar "FOR cancer", or "FOR diabetes".

No, I'd prefer my money be directed "AGAINST" both, thank you.

And come to think of it, maybe the hard slog into the wind against both diseases has occurred because there are charities out there, to whom we unknowingly give that are IN FAVOR of these diseases, and fighting tooth and nail to keep both as scourges of mankind.

It's a little like a Republican House member telling a guy that they are FOR health insurance for everyone.

As far as the Bozo theory of charitable giving, American knows no end of beclowning ourselves for causes -- good or ill.

It's like the Old West -- yeah, you can have a drink, but first I want you to dance for me and let me help it along a little by shooting at your feet.

After all, we send innocent people onto city sidewalks in 90 degree heat thermally dressed as burritos, the Statue of Liberty, cheeseburgers, teeth, and various furred and woolen mascots to drum up business.

Under a strictly free market health care system, I expect hospitals and clinics to have mascots doing the Watusi with a hula hoop outside the emergency room .... like Tommy and Tina the Tumor Twins, Stan the Stent, Melanoma Mary, Dr. Colin Oscopy, Freddie Fleshwound, and Billy the Kidneystone.

For the drive-by impulse shopper.

For the running races and cycling events, this is a way of turning things people were going to do anyway into a fundraiser, and vastly expanding your amount of small donor solicitors, while making the solicitors feel their recreation is more than healthy exercise.

Frankly, because while I may be indifferent to a particular charity, it is enough for me that my FRIEND is not indifferent to that charity, and as I support her, I will support them.

Plus my friends who do this sort of thing do their research, and I don't have to worry about me supporting a charity that is mostly fundraising and advertisement organization *cough* Komen, Wounded Warriors *cough* versus one that does some actual good.

You're looking at it from the wrong perspective: It's inefficient from the perspective of the recipient of the charity. It's inefficient from the perspective of the source of the charity.

But it's very efficient for "Bozo", who manages to indirectly give a large sum to charity for some comparatively minor exertion.

@Brett Bellmore:

It's not even obvious that it's a lot less efficient for the charity. They have to spend some money on putting on an event, but there are very few charities that can raise money without some kind of advertising budget, so it's not clear how big a difference that makes in practice. In exchange, they get people like Bozo to act as volunteer fundraisers and bundlers. It's basically a three way trade where everyone can come out ahead:

A) the charity gets free assistance from volunteer fundraisers. The obvious volunteer status of the fund raisers may even give them added credibility and the ability to reach people who wouldn't otherwise donate.

B) the Bozos get to help a charity they feel strongly about. They also get social status, both among their peers as a somebody who's visibly helping charity and among the charity's beneficiaries as somebody who helps to raise a lot of money.

c) the donors get the normal benefits of donating to charity (helping a worthy cause, tax write-off, feeling good about themselves) and also get the entertainment value of whatever it is that Bozo has done and the pleasure of participating vicariously.

I honestly don't think this kind of fundraising would continue as vigorously as it has unless all three participants thought they were getting something they weren't getting from ordinary fund drives.

While not being quite as grumpy as the good doctor on this one (I can acknowledge the argument that these events serve as a more sociable proxy for advertising), I do tend to the Matthew 6.3 line.

What I find fascinating is how this particular form of charitable giving frames that giving as a sort of indirect capitalism. As dr ngo says:

"We in the modern West tend to have difficulty both with begging and dealing with beggars, but in this arrangement B says to C, 'I'm not begging, but rather offering some exertion as a token, a kind of reciprocity, for your generosity to A.' So face is saved on both sides."

B is not able to give as much as B might like financially, but instead contracts to do 'labor' or undergo some form of symbolic hardship in return for a wage which is donated to A.

It's almost like money laundering for charity.

I understand your puzzlement, but the answer is pretty obvious: people don't rationally allocate resources based on the optimal marginal increase in utility to the rest of the world. They do things that make them feel good (or make them feel less bad) and that get brought to their attention. Bozo brings a charity to A's attention and makes it socially awkward for A to decline.

What I find more frustrating is the rise of charities as rent-takers. Huge salaries, tons of money spent on lavish parties celebrating all the do-gooders who came to the party, etc. etc., with some puny fraction of the money eventually vanishing into the pockets of a bureaucrat in a third-world country.

They do things that make them feel good (or make them feel less bad) and that get brought to their attention. Bozo brings a charity to A's attention and makes it socially awkward for A to decline.

This is all to the good if the charity is a good one. I try to support not-for-profits that I believe in, and that seem competent, but sometimes it's really, really hard to reach for my wallet. (Ouch!) Someone asking me to support their sporting event, or whatever, helps me do it. I doubt I'm alone.

Someone asking me to support their sporting event, or whatever, helps me do it. I doubt I'm alone.

You're assuredly not.
On the other hand, it does led to giving to charities without any thought or analysis of their effectiveness.
I prefer to give to things I either know, or have looked in to, and I do dislike the social obligation to give to something of which I might not entirely approve.

The idea is to motivate folks to volunteer to solicit funds while engaging in an interesting group activity they find enjoyable. People really love to volunteer.
I think the inefficiency that is bothering you is the wasted energy required to build and run organizations to provide needed services that should be funded by the government. But we all know that TAXES are the devil's handmaiden so...
p.s. My experience running a small 501(c)3 taught me that working people are generous and rich people are stingy jerks. Also working people keep their promises and rich people are lying stingy jerks.

I tend to forge my thought around the lines of... B gets his payoff in the form of attention. We all have a WIFM whether we like to admit it consciously or unconsciously through how we spend the currency of our life.

This Guardian article seems to be related.

First, along the lines others have mentioned, B's willingness to do whatever trick is involved, particularly if it actually involves some effort, serves as a reference for the charity.

"If Susan is really willing to run a 10K to raise money she must think it's a very worthwhile cause."

This is no different than Susan simply approaching you, explaining that she is fund-raising, and aking for a contribution.

Second, this may serve Susan as a commitment device. She wants to train and run the 10K, but fears that resolve will weaken. So she creates a situation where she will be extremely embarrassed if she does not finish the job. I knew a guy who trained for and ran an anti-leukemia marathon for precisely this reason.

My experience running a small 501(c)3 taught me that working people are generous and rich people are stingy jerks. Also working people keep their promises and rich people are lying stingy jerks.

Interesting. My wife has been on the board of Zina Garrison's youth tennis operation for at least a decade. To raise money, we do an annual golf tournament and an annual gala type event. Last Saturday was the 20th Anniversary of the organization. Billie Jean King, Pam Shriver and many others participated. It was a lot of fun. About half the attendees were comp'd, i.e. they did not buy a table or make a donation, most likely due to lack of funds. Who donated/underwrote that event? Those rich, stingy jerks.

My wife is a do-gooder. Last month, she and my best friend's wife put on a golf tournament for an organization called The Rose that raised over 100K toward the purchase and operation of a mammography van that will service women in South Texas who do not currently have access to these services. You don't raise that kind of money with a golf tournament unless you can get a lot of rich, stingy jerks to show up.

In neither case, Zina Garrison or the Rose, did any of the major players or attendees get anything other than a night or a day out and the chance to put some money into a worthwhile endeavor.

Final note: I've been on the Board of Director's since the inception of a local research foundation called Tony's Prostate Cancer Research. It's a long story, involving a lot of time, effort and money. We are funding research at MD Anderson. We are making solid progress. TPCR has raised 3mm so far. We are ready for human trials--that will be another 2mm at least. If the trend line holds, 75% of that will come from rich, stingy jerks, who continue to give, even as their tax rates go up and their deductions are limited.

If the research pans out, prostate cancer will be cured, period. No radiation, surgery or what have you. Just flat cured. Our scientists have isolated a protein that has repeatedly destroyed prostate cancer tumors in rats with no apparent toxicity.

None of the above are services even local gov't is capable of identifying and responding to with any flexibility, creativity or timeliness.

I think we hear about "rich, stingy jerks" for one reason: it you are poor and stingy, people can assume that you are not giving because you simply cannot afford to. And do. But if you are rich and stingy, you don't get that pass. Similarly, if you are rich and open-handed, your credit is discounted because, after all, you can afford it without any particular pain. But if you are poor and open-handed, you get credit for accepting the pain that it requires of you.

So what it comes down to is that, while there are probably equal portions of stingy and open-handed among the rich and the poor, the stingy rich are the ones who get wide-spread notice. The open-handed rich are noticed only by those, like McKinney, who are actually involved in raising money from them. It may be unfair, but it isn't likely to change.

I'd like to hear more from Fred. I'd hazard a guess that what he was involved with didn't represent the mode of giving prefered by richer people, though that wouldn't explain the lying he described.

It's easier to understand McKinney's story with the specifics he offered.

Either way, generalizations are tricky, with "all" being inferred, even if not implied.

Myself, I'm one of those poor stingy jerks (my own doing much to my regret, but when I attend a gala charity event, I head straight for the table holding the largest bowl of shrimp; I kid about the shrimp), but I applaud McKT' and his wife's charitable efforts, though I don't know why McTX doesn't count himself as a do-gooder as well.

Thank you both.

MD Anderson (originally set up as a charitable foundation attached to the partially State-funded University of Texas is the top cancer research center and hospital in the country.

The prostate cancer research McTX references sounds promising and I guess I wonder if commercialization of this cure is envisioned via private (and then later public offerings) startup ventures or through partnership with larger pharmaceutical companies, which I'm interested in knowing as part of my investment effort toward becoming a rich, stingy jerk.

McTX stated:

"None of the above are services even local gov't is capable of identifying and responding to with any flexibility, creativity or timeliness."

I can see why local government is incapable of these tasks, but in case the "even" in that sentence was a shot across the bow of any or all government involvement in MDAnderson's mission, I'd like to note that in addition to McTX's good works, MD Anderson was one of three cancer centers designated and funded with Federal taxpayer money by the liberal do-gooder Nixon Administration in 1971 via the National Cancer Institutes, and as the center's website itself displays, they are the largest recipient of taxpayer-funded grants for cancer research from the NCI in the country.

The Federal Government set out to pick winners and they did:


Additionally, to their credit the Center provides cancer care and therapy to the indigent, much of it un-reimbursed, including the uninsured and Medicaid population in Texas, which the Center was hoping (see the wording at the bottom of the webpage) would be ameliorated somewhat by enlarging the Medicaid funding via the ACA, but because of local and State pressures, this, alas, will not happen.

Here are the areas in which MDAnderson performs cancer research, a portion of each which (not broken down that I can see) is funded by Federal grants:


It takes all kinds to do this stuff, as in the area of education, but the "kinds" end up having a fist fight and accusing the other of doing nothing or doing it without effect, and then demanding exclusivity, all of which is rubbish from both sides.

Private and public money is thrown and some of it hits the target.

As in everything.

If prostate cancer doesn't get me, jumping out a window over this stuff will.

Charity begins at home -- if you can bypass the rich stingy jerks and convince the poor stingy jerks to give up some canned pumpkin to the poorer stingy jerks:


Now gimme that can and get back to work.

Whoa, hold on, partner, is that a union brochure in your back pocket or are you happy to be fired? Report to the manager's office to be placed on report. It's right back there near the food drive bin.

This is the internet. Where I must report that we are fNcked up beyond all earthly fytcking.

Meanwhile, it's just plain jerks, elected by rich and poor stingy jerks, that we need to watch out for:

The Walmart employees upended in the charitable food bin might have a cellphone and, by God, be receiving heating subsidies this Thanksgiving as well.

They need more stringent work requirements, apparently, but don't let me see you looking for that second job while on yer break eying the canned cranberry sauce in the bin for the kids while your working on WalMart's stringent work requirements.

Tighten your belts.

I saw a belt in the charity bin. Last one there obviously doesn't know the meaning of stringent.

The prostate cancer research McTX references sounds promising and I guess I wonder if commercialization of this cure is envisioned via private (and then later public offerings) startup ventures or through partnership with larger pharmaceutical companies, which I'm interested in knowing as part of my investment effort toward becoming a rich, stingy jerk.

Good question. TPCR has a contract with Baylor College of Medicine and MD Anderson that gives TPCR a large, controlling share of the IP associated with our protein. If, as we all hope, the protein is the real deal and not just another promising lead that failed to make the rats-to-humans transition, we have a Canadian pharma company to produce and distribute. Because we don't have any real investment costs to recover, we anticipate a relatively low, affordable cost of treatment. The hope IS to make a profit, which will be reinvested in other promising cancer treatments.

The intent is to make the treatment accessible and affordable to anyone with prostate cancer. We have to cover the cost of manufacturing/distribution. That is a given. Beyond that, the intent is to charge no more than will let us reinvest effectively. No one owns stock in TPCR--it's a self-perpetuating charitable corporation.

Well, at least these stingy poors weren't asked to wear pink ribbons or do a 10k run to get their TURKEE.

I'm not trying to pick a fight here, (especially in dr ngo's thread) but the name MD Anderson sounds familiar and I realize I read the name at the end of this article here. This isn't to dismiss McT's good works, just to note the synchronicity. The article has this

But UTMB is no longer the state-subsidized charity hospital it used to be. The changes began before Hurricane Ike in 2008. But after the storm, UTMB administrators drastically cut charity care and moved clinics to the mainland, where there are more paying patients. The old motto “Here for the Health of Texas” was replaced by “Working together to work wonders.” Among those wonders are a new surgical tower and a plan to capitalize on Galveston’s semi-tropical charm by attracting wealthy healthcare tourists from abroad. Medical care for the poor is not, apparently, among the wonders. Whereas UTMB accepted 77 percent of charity referrals in 2005, it was only taking 9 percent in 2011.

I think it would be kind of fun to find out what charities we of the ObWi commentariat support. McT and Mrs. McT seem to be into medical charities. I give thirty dollars a month to SoiDog, an outfit in Thailand that helps the street dogs of that country. They have a kennel style rescue and do adoptions. They have also spayed an neutered thousands of dogs. And they have helped build facilities for the four thousand plus dog rescued from the illegal dog meat trade.

I also give, when I can, to Puppy Rescue, to bring home from Afghanistan the pets of service people there. And, when I can, I give to Stray Rescue of St Louis, a wonderful outfit that built from scratch an inspiring adoption facility, spay and neuter program, anti-cruelty program, and provides food and shelter on the streets for dogs that they can't rescue yet.

My charitable giving for the forseeable future is spending three or four months per year and 1300 miles away from my life seeing to my Alzheimer's-stricken mother.

After that, I plan to rent out my prostate to wealthy healthcare tourists on a concierge first come/first serve basis (with 20 minutes intervals between) to take up some of the slack for the beleaguered Texas-State Government and its fiscal depression.

I may offer my prostate on a pro-bono (the puns, they metastasize) basis (weekends only) for some of the poor turned away from medical care in Texas, but they'll have to run a 20K race first and give up their cellphones and home heating subsidies because we don't want them to get any ideas about plush.

They may have to sing like Ethel Merman while standing on their good leg for a period of time as well.

I see Perry and Cruz weighed in (see lj's link) on the joys of the emergency room as the first line of defense in not letting the poor get their cooties all over Harvard grads.

On topic, I saw an article, linked at Balloon Juice that libertarian/conservatives types have an auction pool going on virtual currency org Bitcoin offering to pay for the assassinations of Barack Obama, Ben Bernacke and other leading lights.

No mention of liberals getting together for something similar for Perry, Cruz and that sort, which goes to show how out of balance medical care and the choice of assassination targets has become in this country.

More balance is what we need or the ship is going down.

lj's link is very depressing.

I think it would be kind of fun to find out what charities we of the ObWi commentariat support.

My tendency is to support two types of organizations:

1. More or less local groups who provide immediate assistance to those in need. Food banks, shelters, etc.

2. International refugee aid groups like IRC.

I suppose my focus, now that I think of it, is help provided in the short term to people facing serious problems.

Being in Japan, I tend to give to charities that are Asia related and I prefer things that I can also do something else with rather than just give money. Japan doesn't have a lot of domestic charities, though particular incidents will occur that have us donate. I'm sure things would be different if I were living in the US, but I'm not really sure how.

I give Republicans a hard time, but just to show that my heart is in a bipartisan place, this Democrat from Hawaii is now on by Bitcoin assassination auction list:


I may start a charity in which the homeless folks this guy is terrorizing are presented with free handguns/clips to protect themselves if this precious genius even looks at them the wrong way.

Should he survive that, the gala event will be him running a 10K race with his pants down around his ankles as I chase him with a sledgehammer of my own with which gerrymander his facial features.

Desert Bus, players drive a bus at a maximum speed of 45 miles per hour from Tucson, Ariz., to Las Vegas in actual, real time down a straight, featureless highway. That’s it. That’s the game. The trip takes eight hours. The game cannot be paused and the bus’s alignment is just a touch off, so the player must sit there and keep the bus straight or it will run off the road.
[L]oadingReadyRun got their hands on
Desert Bus and came up with an idea—why not use the horribleness of the game to raise money for charity? In 2007 they began Desert Bus for Charity. Participants drove the bus back and forth from Tucson to Las Vegas for donations. The more donations they received, the longer they’d drive the bus.

For the first year, they reported $22,805 in donations. Their haul has increased every year since then...

Video Games for Good Causes: Philanthropy is just a joystick away

My off hand generalization was perhaps a bit unfair. My own experience was in a rural mid-atlantic area with new wealth from a tourist boom. The newly land wealthy folks are descended from old farming families with roots going back to land grants from the King of England. Tight fisted lot who don't much care where the poor sleep so long as it ain't in their barn.
Our average donation was in the under $50 range and yes we saw plenty of big pledges from wealthy movers and shakers evaporate when it came time to write the check.
In spite of that the org is still alive and doing great work 20+ years after we founded it. Just sayin' I'm not really sure all the energy and time spent writing grant propsals is worth the effort. Regular folks are the ones who care and donate for other reasons than needing a tax write off this year.

Regular folks are the ones who care and donate for other reasons than needing a tax write off this year.

I ask in all sincerity: what does it mean to need a tax write-off?

I mean, I can imagine a person whose main ambition is to pay less income tax and is therefore willing to give $1000 to charity merely in order to reduce his tax bill by $396 or so. But I'm asking why a sane person would think that way.


Tony, someone who is philosophically opposed to letting the government get any money from him? The more he gives to charity, the less the government gets -- and if that is an end in itself, then getting to give money to some cause he cares about is gravy.

TP--a tax break can make a big difference when it reduces the effective cost of a purchase. For example, if the home loan interest deduction lets a family buy a home for less than they pay in rent, the deduction is needed.

Back in 2004, for some stupid reason, the feds let taxpayers expense, and not capitalize, vehicles weighing more than, IIRC, 5000 lbs. I had an unusually good year that year, so I bought a 60K vehicle for an effective cost of 36K. I still drive that vehicle today.

The tax break may allow you to make a purchase you otherwise wouldn't be able to afford, but that's not the same thing as buying something simply to pay less in taxes, which would be more analogous to making a donation you wouldn't otherwise make just to pay less in taxes. The point being that you actually wanted to buy the truck.

I think Tony P. understands that people will make donations to causes they care about while also taking advantage of the deduction - perhaps even larger donations than they would without the tax deduction. What he's questioning is the idea that people make donations just (or at least mainly) so they can pay less in taxes, even though they will be left with less money afterward ... cutting your tax bill's nose to spite your bank account's face.

cutting your tax bill's nose to spite your bank account's face

That's a keeper!


I think I'd look at that the opposite way: cutting off you bank account's nose to spite you tax bill's face. The spite, after all, is for the tax bill.

You know, wj, I had the same thought, but I just liked having the phrase "cutting your tax bill" as the start of the whole thing. Let's call it poetic license.

i imagine the person who makes those kinds of donations is the same person who refuses to work an extra hour lest he bump himself into the next tax bracket.

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