ALS Topic 17 - What is the best way to give stuff away?

Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, 16 September 2018
Venue: · Adelaide
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Note: The questions below are not supposed to suggest biased answers. You really can adopt any point of view your can suggest evidence for. Do be prepared for others suggesting counter-evidence! Note: clearly not all of these questions can be properly covered in a meetup, but they give us a conscious choice about what to talk about while making the background context clearer. It is up to the people who come on the day to choose what aspects they would like to deal with.

Focus questions -

1. So you have a billion dollars, or several billion dollars to give away. How will you go about doing that - specifically and seriously?

2. The love of money has been cited for centuries as 'the root of all evil'. Well, maybe. The flip side of that money has been the most successful invention ever in inducing people to get off their backsides, strive for some achievement, and have them cooperate with people they don't even like towards mutually beneficial goals. The hard question: how can philanthropy be used to enhance the good effects of money and diminish the bad effects?

3. The favourite way for the very rich to give money away is to donate it for 'medical research'. Why do you think they do that? Is it a good choice? What are the upsides and downsides of giving money for medical research?

4. Another big way for the very rich to give money away is to offer it to a university for a research chair or a building (usually named after them). What are the upsides and downsides of this approach?

5. The very rich are complaining that they can't give money away fast enough. Their wealth just keeps increasing. On the other hand there are officially 65 million displaced people in the world, refugees, and heaven knows how many unofficially displaced. How could the philanthropy of the very rich be most productively used to diminish the wasted lives of refugees?

6. Regardless of your monetary fortune, you have something even more valuable than money to give away: time. Time is irreplaceable. How much time are you prepared to 'give away', and for what? What will you trade time for when there is no monetary reward?

7. Religions have traditionally tithed their congregations as a sort of 'charity tax' to help the poor. What has been the actual history of tithing? What has been its effect on the givers and receivers of charity? Are those who give in this way really blessed? How often have tithes been misused?

8. How are social security payments, tax stamps, medicare benefits etc understood by those who receive them and those who benefit? Are they seen as a charity giveaway, or a fair resdistribution of wealth, or an emergency stopgap, or a way of buying off violent resistance from those less privileged? How can opposing views on this be reconciled?

9. From the time of British settlement in Australia, most of Australia was 'given away' free or for a nominal charge to people from England. Labour was to come from slaves, a.k.a. British convicts. The richest and most influential were given the biggest land grants without embarrassment because that was the class system England's most powerful thought was moral. Of course, the first dwellers of Australia, Aborigines, were not asked. How well did this grand giveaway work? What modified it over time? [Adelaide, only, was different and seen from the outset as a sub-division real estate project for bringing 'respectable' middle class citizens to Australia and makeing some London brokers rich. Has the Adelaide outcome been substantially different from the rest of Australia?]

10. There is an idiom, 'you can't take it with you (when you die)'. Cultures vary in their enthusiasm for the meaning behind that idiom. In China when I lived there, there were shops selling printed images of iPads for the dead to take on their journey to the underground, along with large denominations of fake money. In some other cultures you are thought morally reprehensible if your possessions and savings are not shared without restriction amongst members of you family or social group. In your view, when ought we give stuff away, and when should we keep it for personal benefit? On the larger canvas of whole cultures, what is the best balance between personal hoarding and common sharing?

Extra Reading


Lindy Alexander (May 2 2017) "Meet the 'effective altruists' who earn to give" Sydney Morning Herald @

Tom Metcalf (31 August 2018) "The world's richest people can't give away their money fast enough". Brisbane Times @

Jon Henley (Fri 9 Feb 2018) "George Soros: financier, philanthropist – and hate figure for the far right - The Jewish billionaire’s backing for a pro-EU group has breathed new life into populist conspiracy theories". The Guardian @

Samuel Hammond (March 31 2017) "Social insurance is not the same thing as charity". Niskanen Center website @

Religions generally revolve around tracts which claim to give moral guidance. If history is any guide, we can see that such moral tracts are always interpreted according to the personal agendas of whoever is doing the interpreting. Thus controversies (sometimes violent) arise about interpretation in every religion and ideology. The Christian Bible makes a good source of case studies for this kind of thing: Brad Littlejohn (March 27, 2013) "Private Property in the Bible". Political Theology Network @

Courtney Carver (n.d.) "Why You Should Give Away 50% of Your Stuff". bemorewithless blog @

Yannick Khayati (n.d.) "Why you must give your best stuff away - for free" [Marketing advice] GrowthRevolution blog @

Fergus Koochew (June 21st, 2017) "Giving Stuff Away Makes You Money, According to Science". [Marketing advice] Edge Insights website @

Matthew Lynn (12/08/2018) "The business of giving stuff away" [Free sharemarket investment portfolios] Money Week website @

Wikipedia: "Reciprocity (social psychology)" - "In social psychology, reciprocity is a social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions. As a social construct, reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative than predicted by the self-interest model; conversely, in response to hostile actions they are frequently much more nasty and even brutal." @ (social_psychology)

Some professions, such as teaching and nursing, live by the narrative that they are dedicated to giving freely. However, the receiving of 'gifts' creates obligation, and obligation is ambiguous in human psychology. A sense of overwhelming obligation can create resistance. For this reason, one of the strong conclusions from my own PhD research on teaching productivity was that people like teachers (nurses, doctors ... etc) need to not only give, but to receive graciously. The technique of reciprocal teaching is extremely powerful. This BBC article briefly explains it: "Reciprocal Teaching: A Classroom Strategy that Promotes Interactive Learning" @

Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


What is the best way to give stuff away? (c) Thor May 2018 return to Ddiscussion