Stephen Dubner on the selfish act of altruism

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tragedies like Hurricane Katrina, the Asian tsunami and the Sept. 11 attacks prompted billions of dollars in donations. But following an earthquake in Pakistan that killed 80,000... not so much. How much do Americans give to charitable causes? And why? Stephen Dubner, author of "Freakonomics," has numbers and answers. More: Dubner's Freakonomics blog
Takeaway facts: Americans give away the equivalent of 2 percent of the gross domestic product, but when Pakistan's earthquake struck (a few months after Katrina), Americans donated little: 5 cents a person in aid. And, new trends show Americans favoring environmental funding while shunning the arts.


Collin Campbell

Comments [2]

E. Pierre-Louis

There is a very simple reason why I give, in the hope of improving conditions for someone else. That does make me feel good-- I don't itemize.

I like to give in a way that really makes a difference. If tragedy strikes in a country where the gov't is stealing from the population, I try very hard to give to groups that can get the money where it's needed or avoid giving altogether.

May. 14 2008 08:55 AM
Don Tongue

Enjoy the show - nice change for the morning commute.

As for giving, I live in NH which has the highest per-capita number of millionaires than any other state, but ranks last in charitable giving. We also have no state income tax and we are the only state not to have statewide funded kindergarten. Though I have no data to support my theory of why people in NH are such scrooges, I think it has to do with the mindset of people who move to a state to avoid paying income tax makes them less likely to feel they should give to other causes. In other words, they don't think the state or anyone else should touch "their" money.

May. 14 2008 07:40 AM

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