Monday, June 18, 2007

Miserliness vs. Charity

Over on the Freakanomics blog, there's a post of a Q & A with Steven Landsburg, author of More Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics.

One of the most interesting pieces was this Q & A:

"Q: You argue that miserliness is equitable to charitable contributions in the net use of resources, while giving more to one single charity is better than giving less to different charities. What is your personal approach to charitable contributions ( i.e., how much do you give, and to whom)?"

Landsburg responds by writing (snippet only. See blog for full response):

"Miserliness is equivalent to charity in the sense that both the miser and the philanthropist forego consumption, which makes more goods available to others. If you give your money away, someone else gets to eat better. If, instead, you squirrel your money under your mattress, it’s still true that someone else gets to eat better, because whatever you’re not eating is available to someone else."

"So if you want to be charitable, all you have to do is hoard your money, or for that matter burn it. But that’s not the best way to be charitable, because you can’t control who gets the benefits. Miserliness is like a random act of kindness; effective philanthropy is about directed acts of kindness."

Not sure what I think about this except to say that it's intriguing. Wondering how it fits with the book of James in the Christian New Testament? James 1:5 says to ask God for wisdom if anyone is lacking, because God "gives to all, generously and ungrudgingly. The implication here is that God gives to all because there is enough (unlike our current economic system that implies scarcity).

Later in 1:17 the writer says: "Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights..." (NRSV translation).

This seems to be saying that we're to model our giving after God, who gives generously. So, this falls on the giving side, and not on the miserliness side). Landsburg's books sounds like an interesting one, for that matter Freakonomics was also interesting.