Your Help Is Hurting: How Church Foreign Aid Programs Make Things Worse

When you try to help, you try to give things, you start to have the consequences. There’s an author Bob Lupton, who really nails it when he says that when he gave something the first time, there was gratitude; and when he gave something a second time to that same community, there was anticipation; the third time, there was expectation; the fourth time, there was entitlement; and the fifth time, there was dependency. That is what we’ve all experienced when we’ve wanted to do good. Something changes the more we just give hand-out after hand-out. Something that is designed to be a help actually causes harm.

via Your Help Is Hurting: How Church Foreign Aid Programs Make Things Worse – Forbes.

Canadian relief for Moore tornado victims denied at border

A Canadian shipment of relief goods bound for storm-ravaged Oklahoma has been stopped at the Canada-U.S. border in Windsor, Ont.

American officials will not allow the 20,000 kilograms of food, blankets and diapers into the country until every item on board is itemized in alphabetical order and has the country of origin of every product noted.

Dennis Sauve, the volunteer co-ordinator for Windsor Lifeline Outreach and the food bank co-ordinator at the Windsor Christian Fellowship, the two organizations that gathered the goods, said it’s a “physical impossibility” to do the paperwork required in time to get the perishable food to Oklahoma before it spoils.

Because U.S. President Barack Obama hasn’t declared Moore, Okla., tornado a disaster area, the 52-foot trailer of goods is considered a commercial shipment rather than humanitarian aid.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Via Canadian relief for Moore tornado victims denied at border – Windsor – CBC News.

Your Charitable Giving Is Irrational: You Care More About “Looking Good” Than “Doing Good”

Then Robin Hanson of Overcoming Bias got up and just started Robin Hansonning at everybody. First he gave a long list of things that people could do to improve the effectiveness of their charitable donations. Then he declared that since almost no one does any of these, people don’t really care about charity, they’re just trying to look good. …

I have never seen a group of distinguished Berkeley faculty gain so sudden and intuitive an appreciation for the Athenians who decided to put Socrates to death. …

One of his claims that generated the most controversy was that instead of donating money to charity, you should invest the money at compound interest, then donate it to charity later after your investment has paid off – preferably just before you die, since donating money after death is legally complicated. His argument, nice and simple, was that the real rate of return on investment has been higher than the growth rate for 3000 years and this pattern shows no signs of changing. If you donate the money today, your donation grows with the growth rate, but if you invest it, it grows with the interest rate. He gave his classic example of Benjamin Franklin, who put his relatively meager earnings into a trust fund to be paid out two hundred years later; when they did, the money had grown to $7 million. He said that the reason people didn’t do this was that they wanted the social benefits of having given money away, which are unavailable if you wait until just before you die to do so.

And darn it, he was totally right. Not about the math – there are severe complications which I’ll bring up later – but about the psychology. On even the most cursory self-examination, my mind totally recoils at the thought of donating everything I’m going to donate to charity in a single lump sum just before I die. It just gibbers “But…but…you need to be a good person before then!” I’m not saying you can’t tear down Robin’s substantive argument in a bunch of good mathematical ways. I’m saying his ad hominem argument about my motivations seems to be true regardless.

Then he started talking about how you should only ever donate to one charity – the most effective. I’d heard this one before and even written essays speaking in favor of it, but it’s always been very hard for me and I’ve always chickened out. What Robin added was, once again, a psychological argument – that the reason this is so hard is that if charity is showing that you care, you want to show that you care about a lot of different things. Only donating to one charity robs you of opportunities to feel good when the many targets of your largesse come up and burdens you with scope insensitivity (my guess is that most people would feel more positive affect about someone who saved a thousand dogs and one cat than someone who saved two thousand dogs. The first person saved two things, the second person only saved one.) In retrospect this is absolutely true and my gibbering recoil at this problem isn’t just Yet Another Cognitive Bias but just good old self-interest.

via Investment and Inefficient Charity | Slate Star Codex.

Homeless Man Behind Viral NYPD Photo Now Shoeless Again, Demanding ‘Piece of the Pie’

The New York City homeless man – whose gift of boots from an NYPD police officer became an online sensation last week  – is back on the streets with no shoes.

The New York Times found him Sunday night wandering barefoot in Manhattan. The paper identified him as Jeffrey Hillman, formerly of South Plainfield, N.J.

Asked about the $100 all-weather boots Officer Larry DePrimo gave him on Nov. 14, Hillman says he’s hidden them because “they are worth a lot of money.”

He says he’s grateful for the gift, but he wants “a piece of the pie” because the photo was posted online “without permission.”

“I was put on YouTube, I was put on everything without permission,” he added. “What do I get?”

When you give people free stuff, they usually don’t value it as much as when they earn it themselves. Via Homeless Man Behind Viral NYPD Photo Now Shoeless Again, Demanding ‘Piece of the Pie’ |

UPDATE: We also need to realize that the NYPD guy did not actually help the homeless man here. He doesn’t appear to be better off. But the NYPD guy feels better about himself for having “done something,” and *you* feel like a good person for approving of it. That’s what a lot of charity ends up being: a way to make you feel better about yourself, not a way to do actual good in the world. If you want to feel better about yourself, fine, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re doing real good — *unless* you follow up with individual persons you helped, afterwards, and see how they’re doing. Real life-changing charity work is difficult to do.

Finally, Some Sensible Health Care Reform Ideas

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, posts The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare at the WSJ.

The 8 things he lists are:

  1. Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs).
  2. Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits.
  3. Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines.
  4. Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover.
  5. Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
  6. Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost.
  7. Enact Medicare reform.
  8. Finally, revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren’t covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Go read the whole thing; below, I have some notes of my own.

Point 1 (HSAs) is near and dear to me; I have an HSA and it’s great. I get to keep all the money I don’t spend; it’s mine all mine. That makes me very cost-conscious, and I could be even more cost-conscious if point 6 (cost transparency) was available.

Points 2 (federal tax law), 3 (state law), and 4 (mandated coverage) should be educational to anyone who thinks we already have a free market in health care. We don’t. These point out only a few of the kinds of federal and state regulation that reduce the effectiveness of markets.

Not sure how I feel about point 5 (tort reform). I’m definitely in favor of the reform that says “loser pays” but I’m betting that’s not what most of the tort reform crowd has in mind.

Point 7 (Medicare reform) is a little vague.

Point 8 (donations to those without insurance) makes for actual *charity*, with all the moral and emotional benefits that confers upon the charitable giver, and not merely confiscation by the government.

What Is Poverty?

When every benefit is received as a right, there is no place for good manners, let alone gratitude.

In the welfare state, mere survival is not the achievement that it is, say, in the cities of Africa, and therefore it cannot confer the self-respect that is the precondition of self-improvement.

…a system of welfare that makes no moral judgments in allocating economic rewards promotes antisocial egotism.

via Theodore Dalrymple:
What is Poverty?