Why Charity Isn’t Charitable: Stop Trying to Get All the Ladies!

November 2, 2007

The phenomenon of “charity work” also reveals how generosity is used as an inefficient fitness display rather than an efficient resource-transfer device. If the wealthy really wanted to help people, they should make as much money as they can doing what they are trained to do, and hand it over to a lower income group who are trained to help people. The division of labor is economically efficient, in charity as in business. Instead, in most modern cities of the world, we can observe highly trained lawyers, doctors, and their husbands and wives giving up their time to work in soup kitchens for the homeless or to deliver meals to the elderly. Their time may be wroth a hundred times the standard hourly rates for kitchen workers or delivery drivers. For every hour they spend serving soup, they could have donated an hour’s salary to pay for somebody else to serve soup for two weeks. The same argument apples not only to lawyers, but to everyone with an above-average wage who donates time instead of money. So why do they donate their time? Here again the handicap principle applies. For most working people, their most limited resource is time, not money. By donating time, they help the needy much less efficiently, but show their generosity and kindness much more credibly.

– From The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller

That must be why capitalism works so well. It runs against our ‘nature.’ Do what you do well, and do it to get paid. And then redistribute your wealth and other jobs accordingly.

Wow, that sounds a little Republican. Maybe more so libertarian. I hope it’s libertarian, because I don’t mind being one of those…

Amazing book, by the way. The thesis that runs throughout this work is that a great deal of evolution was guided not by natural selection, but by sexual selection. It would take an entire blog post just to scratch the surface of the theory behind this book. And I might get to that someday. But in the meantime, enjoy that little nugget. And if evolutionary psychology peeks your interest, check the book out.


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