Giving Money vs. Getting Involved


I have been thinking about good causes a lot lately, and I think I have found an oversimplification in conventional wisdom (hereby defined as "things I hear said a lot").

The conventional wisdom is that just giving money to people trying to solve a problem in the world (normally called "throwing money at the problem") isn't enough to fix it. Instead people should go out and do ... something. Exactly what is rarely clear, but whatever-it-is presumably takes a time and effort. Somehow, it also doesn't seem to ever actually get done. That is a bit besides my point, however.

The thing I disagree with is that giving people money is never a good way to help. The people who are already trying to solve the problem already know more than I do about. I suppose I could do a lot of research, but that would take a long time (time is a limited resource) and I still would lack their experience. If I tried to work out the best thing to do myself, I run the risk of actually making the problem worse. The workers in the evil capitalist West somehow wound up an awful lot better off than the ones in the Worker's Paradise of the USSR. Also, I could end up doing the exact same thing as someone else, which is rather inefficient.

As an example, suppose I examine the problems in the world and decide that I am going to focus on improving the working conditions of the Indonesians who harvest the lava for lava lamps. If I tried to address the issue myself, I could make a study of the process, design some sort of long tongs the workers could use to work while standing safely back, and then try to convince the lava lamp companies to use them. I would probably need to study geology, engineering, economics, and business, and maybe make enough money to start a lava tongs manufacturing company. An even then, it might not help much.

Alternately, I could go looking for a group already dedicated to addressing the problem. Imagine I find there is already an organization named TILWAG (The Indonesian Lava Worker's Activist Group) with the same concerns. I should start by doing a few checks beforehand to make sure they actually help the cause, but lets assume they they are honest. I can just give the money to TILWAG and they will work out the details. Then, I will have the time to work on other things. If I feel strongly about the poor lava workers, those other things could be earning more money for TILWAG. I can't help but think this will work out better in the long run.

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