Arnold Kling  

More Thoughts on Philanthropy

The Case for Fiscal Expansion... Consumer Surplus from the Inte...

From Gara Lamarche:

it is values that move people to enthusiasm and action, not more sterile concepts of metrics and results.

Read the whole thing. Rarely do I encounter a piece that I disagree with so broadly and so deeply.

Yesterday, I posted on Dan Pallotta's book. He wants people to focus on results, not means, when it comes to charity. He sees the focus on means as deriving from Puritanism.

I am more inclined to believe that the focus on means has a broader basis. In political science, there is a phrase "expressive voting," which I take to mean that people vote not because they rationally expect results but because they feel good about expressing themselves in the ballot box.

By analogy, I would suggest that there is a lot of "expressive giving," in which people donate to charity not because they expect results but because they feel good about expressing themselves through their donations.

It is understandable why an "expressive giver" would be offended by a charity that pays high salaries. The expressive giver does not observe results (and is not particularly focused on results to begin with), but salaries are observable.

Among other things, LaMarche strikes me as praising expressive giving.

Comments and Sharing

CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy

COMMENTS (4 to date)
AMW writes:

You're getting closer to spelling the author's name correctly. But it has two t's in it: Pallotta.

Phil writes:

Some of what you consider expressive behavior may be more a matter of *signalling*, a la Robin Hanson. Expression is a sort of *signalling to oneself*, but ordinary signalling--i.e., to other people--seems practically more important than self-signalling.

ThomasL writes:

Fun quotes from antiquity:

"We can see, also, that a large number of persons, less from a liberal nature than for the reputation of generosity, do many things that evidently proceed from ostentation rather than from good will." - Cicero

“Good done amiss I count as evil done.” - Ennius

"Therefore private property should neither be so shut up that kindness cannot open it, nor so thrown wide as to lie open to all. Let a limit be observed, and let this be determined by our means." - Cicero

Jacob AG writes:

I work at a charity myself, and in my experience you are overwhelmingly correct to say that there is a lot of 'expressive giving' going on. I don't think LaMarche is (entirely) wrong to praise it, but I will say about expressive giving that:

1) it's not necessary to praise it, because

a) as you said, a lot of people give expressively already (intuitively), and
b) as LaMarche said, "sterile concepts like metrics and results" don't "move people to enthusiasm and action anyway


2) expressive giving is too often mindless, wasteful, and even counterproductive, *especially* when it isn't informed by solid M&E. I personally welcome the more results-oriented style of giving that has come into fashion over the last decade or so, and hope that more of what's funded by expressive giving can be measured, evaluated, and improved (or abandoned) accordingly.

On the other hand, on metrics and results:

1) Metrics and results increasingly DO "move people to action and enthusiasm." Witness the rise of Esther Duflo, J-PAL, and RCTs of social programs, for example. Watch this TED talk and tell me if you don't find it inspiring:

2) And anyway, the purpose of metrics and results is NOT primarily to rouse givers to action, but to inform their passion where it already exists, so that it does the most good possible per unit of currency/good will. The inspiration that comes with discovering a highly effective program like deworming or free vaccines is just an added bonus.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top