What is altruism? Warren Buffett recently proposed a surtax on the very wealthiest Americans, including himself to help reduce the federal deficit. (This is a mild version of Obama’s perfectly reasonable proposal to tax family incomes above $250,000, i.e., fewer than 2% of families.) Buffett is being altruistic—the tax will reduce his net income. I always thought altruism was desirable, yet I’ve seen Buffett lampooned in the press.
I suppose one can argue that he’s really doing this to preserve the value of Berkshire Hathaway stock. (The same argument might apply when I donate blood—perhaps I do it because it makes me feel good, not to help others.) But: it’s a pretty sorry state of the world when someone offers to reduce his circumstances in order to help his country and is mocked.
A few years ago there was a story in the N.Y. Post about a boy who had been locked in a closet almost from the time he was born until he was about fifteen years old. I might not have the exact details right. His parents fed him food but never let him out of the closet. So he never grew properly and he was only about 80 pounds or maybe less. The authorities took him away and put him in some sort of home for abused kids. His parents were arrested and are presumably now in jail. Read More »
This past weekend, Microsoft tried to do a little good (donate $100,000) and use that good to market Bing. Read More »
In the wake of Japan’s tragic earthquake and tsunami, Felix Salmon argues against donating to the cause. Salmon cites concerns about the hobbling effects of earmarked funds, uncoordinated NGOs, and Japan’s wealth. Read More »
It pays to be the dictator, but not as much when you have to explain yourself. Read More »
Christian churches and Jewish synagogues rely on very different financing models, yet both “appear to raise about the same amount per member,” according to a survey conducted by the Jewish newspaper The Forward (article by Josh Nathan-Kazis). While synagogue members pay annual dues, churches rely primarily on voluntary donations from members. Read More »
A reader named Linda Cass asks an interesting question that pokes into the self-interest/fairness/altruism area we’ve been writing about lately: Why do 99% of people dim their headlights for oncoming vehicles? Read More »
Altruism is a regular topic on this blog, and had its own chapter in SuperFreakonomics. New research (earlier, ungated version here) looks at one factor that may affect altruism in the real world: communication. Read More »