Sowell on 'giving back'

by Russ Roberts on November 6, 2007

in Charity

I really dislike the phrase "giving back." So does Thomas Sowell:

“Giving back” is a similarly mindless mantra.
I have
donated money, books, and blood for people I have never seen and to
whom I owe nothing. Nor is that unusual among Americans, who do more of
this than anyone else.
But we are not “giving back” anything to those people because we never took anything from them in the first place.
If we are giving back to society at large, in exchange for all that
society has made possible for us, then that is a very different
Giving back in that sense means acknowledging an
obligation to those who went before us and for the institutions and
values that enable us to prosper today. But there is very little of
this spirit of gratitude and loyalty in many of those who urge us to
“give back.”

The first part of the essay is also excellent, about the knowledge necessary to make sure that doing something for others actually makes the world a better place. Read the whole thing.

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Dr. Troy Camplin November 6, 2007 at 2:42 pm

I do find it amazing how those who are always encouraing people to "give back" themselves are the least giving of all people, and show the least gratitude toward anybody.

Gil November 6, 2007 at 6:42 pm

I agree. I've seen plenty of celebrities do some sort of concert or something similar asking average-earning schmoes to donate money to some sort of cause, yet I hardly ever see the same celebrities actually put any of their own money in. Afterwards those celebrities talk of how wonderfully charitable they were and probably haven't a clue how much (if any) money actually ends up going to those causes (I keep thinking Krusty the Clown's "Hey these limousines aren't cheap"). At least, I think, Leonardo DiCaprio was one who actually asked other celebrities to put their money where the mouths were as he did.

Methinks November 6, 2007 at 11:25 pm

Gil, you reminded me of Bob Geldof's BandAid in 1984. The food got to Ethiopia and then rotted on the docks or was stolen by the dictator to feed his army. In other words, it was a giant waste. But I'm sure Bob feels like he really "gave something back". I'm sure he thinks he really did something.

Simon Clark November 7, 2007 at 9:10 am

Even to society, you can only give back if you have taken. I may benefit from society but I don't take from it – not without paying anyway.

wintercow20 November 7, 2007 at 10:37 am

Of course we have all taken. Corporations exploit their workers, so CEOs and even consumers of their products should give back. Americans exploit poor foreigners, so we should all give back to make up for this. All of us have scarred the earth and we should give back to gaia to make up for this.

When your worldview is colored entirely by an exploiter-exploited zero-sum relationship, use of the term "giving back" is a euphemistic way of requiring redistribution in a world that is increasing skepitical of the horrors of formal socialistic redistributive policies.

Methinks November 7, 2007 at 11:11 am

exploiter-exploited zero-sum relationship

Thank you, Karl Marx. No matter how discredited that theory is, it's still embraced warmly by the left.

vidyohs November 7, 2007 at 8:25 pm

Very good wintercow20, nicely done.

vidyohs November 7, 2007 at 8:32 pm

It is interesting that just today I heard a report on news that good ole Leonard did a commercial for a Japanese Construction company that was working to over come opposition to its building condos in an area considered "environmentally delicate to Dolphins(I believe)". In this commercial Sir leonard said, "It is our duty to choose comfort over unproven environmental issues when it is our money we are spending."
That is admitedly a paraphrase because I did not pause to write it down as precisely as I could.

Ah the hypocrisy that money will buy, especially if the results of the actions bought will not be known in the persons region of highest popularity.

How many people will ever see or hear a Japanese commercial? The above was brought to you by someone who happened to be in Japan on a business mission when he saw and heard it on the Japanese TV.

Yes, Leonard may have been willing publicly in the USA to put his money where his mouth was, but how did he get the money?

Azim January 22, 2008 at 7:16 pm

Yes I know. I am so tired of the celebrities trying to raise money for their foundations not because they care, but because they want to become more popular. Also, they never spend their own money for charity. Sometimes I wish they would switch places with the unfortunate so that they would realize how wrong it is to use these people for their own selfish reasons. The celebrities are who they are because of society. It is time for them to really "give back".

Haimout January 22, 2008 at 8:05 pm

"Giving back" should be called "giving from the kindess of your heart" because you didn't take anything from the less fortunate that you have to give back. Instead you are giving chairty because it's nice and it's the right thing to do. However, I don't agree that "giving back" really means giving back to the society as a whole because you have to pay for the things society provides you. Society provides us with necessities like food, water, and shelter but we have to pay for these things. So even if we give society things like food and water this is not "giving back" because we had to pay for these things in the first place.

Nashita M. January 22, 2008 at 10:35 pm

People give millions of dollars a year to help aid in global tragedies. I agree with Russell Roberts, there aren’t really poor countries, just poor people. A lot of the charity money doesn’t even go to the victims of the tragedy, it goes to straight to the government and other already-rich-people. After the 9/11 attack, Red Cross raised over $564 million for the victims and damages, but people were questioning where the money is being spent. I found this comment on CNN:

The Red Cross kept HALF of the 9/11 donation money they received after the attack. They are a Globalist front at the top of the chain and any donations to them are worse than useless; you are funding the very people that sponsored terrorism, and deliberately downplayed the probability of an imminent tsunami. We encourage people to donate to the smaller charities that are infinitely more trustworthy.

It is very startling to me to hear that such a named non-profit organization could be so corrupt. People (per se me) are really gullible to as where they donate their money. I guess it’s just a matter of trust of how the organization is going to divide the money. Some people don’t even trust organizations, such as Oprah Winfrey. She goes to Africa, to hand the money to the poor herself, to make sure that her donated money is in the right hands. But then again, not all of us can just go to Africa whenever we want. So what should we do? Like the above comment states, donate to smaller trusted charities that are less likely to become corrupt.

Mark Murrell April 22, 2008 at 11:16 am
contradiction July 30, 2008 at 11:37 pm

I agree with every posted comment, because in every comment there is a seed of truth…..

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