Thursday, February 03, 2005

Stupid generosity

I don't want to beat this Wall Street Journal thing into the ground, but today's front page had something on it that demands comment. You're probably thinking I'll refering to something from the president's State of the Union address, which featured a plan to overhaul the government's entire relationship to pensioning and seemed to promise more international military intervention in the future. You might assume such matters would take up all the space the front page has to offer. But you'd be wrong. I'm talking about this critical breaking story: "Sri Lanka Is Grateful, But What to Do With the Ski Parkas." The subheading reads "Well-meaning donors send heaps of useless stuff; pajama tops, no bottoms." What is this doing on the front page? It seems like the intention is to send that all-important and highly reassuring message to regular WSJ readers that charity, while well-intended, is really a waste of time and a mess and a muddle. Really, aren't people who donate and give things away hopeless meddlers? Aren't they kind of silly? In fact, their actions are a bit harmful, as they make things much harder for those who are suffering, as the "mountain of unusable stuff" makes it harder to keep track of useful cargo, like medicines. The lesson? If you want to help in a situation, do nothing, let the market sort things out, because after all it is the only thing that can guarantee efficient distribution.

Never forget: when you give something away, you are announcing its worthlessness, which makes it a stick in the mud impeding and diverting the flow of legitimate goods and services. So stop trying to selfishly make yourself feel like a better person than you are by giving things away that you clearly don't want and that have no value to you in the first place. (But all you Pioneers out there, don't forget to make your PAC contributions!)

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