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Underselling Donation

November 23rd, 2012
giving

I just read Esther Katcoff's article on her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay. After her iPod broke she was hit with a wave a guilt over the prospect of buying a new one when there were people who had so little. While she decided not to buy one:

I couldn't just donate the money saved. I was an Urban Studies major. I knew about the complications of development work, the band-aid solutions, the causes that just sound good, the charity that unmotivates the beneficiaries, the money that doesn't always reach the ground. The only way, I told myself, the only way is to understand completely what the people need to fish themselves out of their lake.

I tell people I joined the Peace Corps to understand what it means to be poor, but that's just part of the story. I joined the Peace Corps to figure out how to escape the guilt of having so much while other people have so little.

The rest of the article is her struggling with the guilt of having more than the people around her while in Paraguay. Reading this makes me sad in the same way as the story of Charles Gray: in both cases they worked hard and sacrificed a lot along an approach that offered a poor tradeoff between self-sacrifice and others-benefit.

While the donation complications she brings up ("band-aid solutions", "causes that just sound good", ...) are real, you can avoid them by choosing good charities. This lets your money have an effect that is, on balance, strongly positive.

How can we get earning to give to be more widely considered as an option?

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