08 Feb 2010

The Race Against Government

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In this article I was trying to go for a saucy new take on things we all take for granted, but I suppose it’s possible it would convince many people that economists are jerks:

I have similar misgivings about the way my school got us kids to raise money when I was growing up. I went to a Catholic grammar school that had annual marathons. So I was a little kid going door-to-door in my neighborhood and asking people to pledge a certain amount of money for each lap I walked around the school. (Some donors would be tough guys about it, asking me how long the laps were and sizing me up like I was a racehorse.)

In my high school, we had candy and magazine drives, where we again went door-to-door and guilt-tripped people into buying stuff they didn’t want. We didn’t get to keep a cut of the proceeds, of course, but the school would give out prizes to motivate us. It was always ridiculous because this one kid would get his parents to get orders at their jobs, so you never had a chance of beating him. I bet Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine owed half its subscriptions to that kid.

Of course, there are adult analogs of these things. For example people raise money for cancer research by “Walking for a Cure” and so forth. Please note, I am not criticizing the people who participate in these activities. I understand that they are social events, and you raise more money than if you simply went around to your coworkers with a hat. But my point is, isn’t there a way we could tap into people’s philanthropic side without doing something intrinsically useless, like having a bunch of fourth graders walk around the school parking lot eight times, or asking people to spend money on candy or magazines they don’t really want?

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