Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Is it rational to give to charity? Yes!

Giving can be its own reward? Yes!

Being leader of BonaResponds (coolest volunteer group in the world! Ok, maybe I am slightly biased) has led me into some interesting discussions on charitable giving. Some strict classic economists have argued that charity and other selfless acts do not make economic sense. To that argument I always remind them that people (and I guess monkeys too!) maximize utility and not money. Here are some recent articles that give further credence to the charitable giving can be economically justified and what at first glance appears irrational may be just the would-be economist looking at the wrong metric.

Neural Responses to Taxation and Voluntary Giving Reveal Motives for Charitable Donations
" consistent with warm glow, neural activity further increases when people make transfers voluntarily. Both pure altruism and warm-glow motives appear to determine the hedonic consequences of financial transfers"
Monkeys Enjoy Giving To Others, Study Finds:
"Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, have shown capuchin monkeys, just like humans, find giving to be a satisfying experience. This finding comes on the coattails of a recent imaging study in humans that documented activity in reward centers of the brain after humans gave to charity."
NowWeAreTalking offers still more evidence of the benefits of giving.
"...researchers at the University of British Columbia and the Harvard Business School found that individuals report significantly greater happiness if they make charitable donations or give gifts to others rather than spending on themselves (March 21 edition, Science)."
Which is really just to say that some of the things that appear irrational, are actually rational when utility and not just risk and return are considered. Need other examples? Excess trading, buying high flying stocks to be able to brack about them, even lottery tickets if they allow you to dream of winning big.

BTW if all of this talk about giving makes you want to be happier, BonaResponds is always ready to accept any and all donations of money, food, tools, just about anything. As the leader, I will guarantee it gets put to good use!


Cpl said...

but it doesn't appear irrational in the first place! are you working with some technical non-standard notion of rationality that equates acting rationally with acting from self-interest?

what do you make of Chappel's thoughts here? -

Anonymous said...

You seem to be confusing utility with happiness. An actor could rationally pursue ends that doesn't make it happy.

On the other hand, what makes someone happy may not be rational. For instance, I may be irrational if a lottery ticket makes be happy by letting me "dream big". (If you accept this explanation then any behavior whatsoever might be open to similar ad hoc explanations.)