Update on the ‘Just Giving’ Challenge

Did you know that if everyone in America took our Just Giving Challenge this Christmas, we could collectively end extreme poverty for three years?  That’s right, Americans spend approximately 450 billion dollars each year on Christmas presents and celebrations for their friends and family.  If we would just match that amount with intelligent, intentional giving, we could eliminate all extreme poverty in the entire world (at least according to Jeffrey Sachs’ renowned  The End of Poverty, chapter 15).

So how’s it going? On Black Friday we issued the following Just Giving Challenge: for the first 100 people who give as much to the poor this Christmas as to their family and  friends, we’ll donate $100 to a worthy cause.

So far 21 people have taken the challenge.

21.

That’s not going to end world poverty any time soon.

And yet, I sincerely sense that together we are doing something deeply significant.  We may not change the entire world, but we will definitely be a part of changing the world for a whole lot of people.  So far the 21 of us will make our Christmas matching gifts, plus this blog’s contribution of $2,100.  Even at a conservative estimate, that’s enough money to drill clean water wells for hundreds of people, to prevent thousands of people from getting malaria this year, or to vaccinate tens of thousands of kids from deadly diseases.

Do I hope a lot more people sign up for the Just Giving Challenge? Of course I do. If you haven’t, you could sign up right now.  But even if it’s just us 21, I think it’s a powerful testament to the change that just a few people, making medium-level sacrifices, can bring to God’s world.  Thanks to everyone who’s making a difference this Christmas, whether with us or in some other way!

And for another shot of hopefulness, check out this very inspiring video from the good folks at Advent Conspiracy.

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8 thoughts on “Update on the ‘Just Giving’ Challenge

  1. I don’t mean to discourage giving at all, but I also want to point out that Jeffrey Sachs’ estimates about ending extreme poverty are not taken very seriously among the economics community. They depend on a lot of assumptions that may or may not be true. (A nice counterpoint to Jeffrey Sachs view of the world is William Easterly’s White Man’s Burden. )

    My intuition, informed by various case studies, empirical work, and personal experience, is that it matters not only how much money is given towards aiding the poor , but *how* it is given. I think the important question is not “How much money do I give to the “poor” (however you define “poor”) but rather “How do I give to the poor?”

    While Jeffrey Sachs’ estimates might be correct in some alternative universe where all agents behave as they should and there are no incentive problems related to moral hazard, asymmetric information, or adverse selection problems, people should recognize his estimates as they are; estimates with pretty strong assumptions using limited data that have not been proven and likely cannot generalize to future situations.

    Now I’m not trying to discourage people from giving, but I challenge the notion that Jeffrey Sachs’ implicit or explicit policy recommendations are good ones.

    • Yep, I knew my cavalier use of Sachs wouldn’t pass muster with you Christina. 🙂 And I appreciate your critique, so thanks! I do fully agree that how I give is absolutely essential, and that finding Easterly-styled Searchers is much more effective than Sachs’ approach.

      But if there are still lots of under-funded Searchers in the world (and I think that’s true), then the issue of how much I choose to give still remains an extremely important ethical question. Would you agree?

  2. As a follow-up, I am also cautious about rhetoric that suggests that humans will ever be close to ending world poverty, or even extreme poverty, before Jesus comes again… especially if it is used in the context of urging Christians to give. Of course that does not mean we are not called to give to the poor since I interpret as unambiguous the biblical message to give to the poor as an expression of our faith in God’s Lordship over lives. But I think we should be wary of the hubris (perhaps even blasphemy?) associated with the notion that we can “save the world” i.e. end poverty/extreme poverty simply by giving away our money….we are certainly called to alleviate suffering but we should not think we can end it with our own resources. If we could, why would we need God?

    • This I’m not so sure about. It is certainly true that because of structural and personal sin, there will always be pervasive injustice, evil, and poverty. Nevertheless the degree to which those evils has held sway has varied a lot throughout human history, depending on how societies have chosen to structure themselves.

      People have also been able to make advances like eliminating smallpox–something that might have seemed like hubris even fifty years ago. And certainly some countries in the world have already basically eliminated “extreme poverty” as defined by living on less than $1 a day, no access to clean water, etc.

      I definitely agree that equating the elimination of the most egregious forms of human poverty with “saving the world” is blasphemous. Salvation is much deeper and wider than that. And of course, even if extreme poverty were to be temporarily eliminated in most/all countries, it would likely reoccur. But I’m not so sure that as a goal, if motivated by love, it is a bad thing.

  3. Here’s a vid that’s starting to go viral. What do you think of this perspective on health and poverty, one which recognizes that current extreme inequalities have arisen only through a history of differences in growth rates?

  4. Re: the consequences of different rate of growth between countries– I like the research strategy of this paper comparing two ostensibly similar cities in the 1800’s, Buenos Aires and Chicago. (http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/glaeser/files/Argentina_Campante_Glaeser.pdf)

    As this study, the Rosling graphs and other studies show, different rates of growth compounded over time result in huge inequality mechanically, which begs the question, what causes different growth rates?

    This paper argues that the pre-existing stock of human capital (i.e. education level) was different between the two cities, which led to differences in economic growth through two mechanisms– greater earning power and better political institutions through the mechanism of a more educated populace.

    Similarly, a lot of research on individual earnings inequality has shown that huge inequality can simply be traced back to different rates of human capital accumulation (i.e. accumulating health and education) way back in the beginning of a person’s life. There are now large fields of research dedicated to studying how the womb environment, post natal environment and early childhood evnrionment contribute to the inequality of earnings/health/other outcomes in an individual’s life. The results have been so compelling that the battle cry against poverty for many policymakers and economists (esp within the U.S.) is not relief programs for the already poor/disadvantaged but rather investment in early childhood education. Nobel prize-winning economist Jim Heckman has devoted his research agenda to modeling and analyzing the influence of early childhood influences, especially education.

    See http://www.heckmanequation.org/.

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