Thursday, December 25, 2008

Charity at a price

Nicholas Kristof's NY Times column on Christmas day, The Sin In Doing Good Deeds, begins with the question about repugnant transactions:

"If a businessman rakes in a hefty profit while doing good works, is that charity or greed? Do we applaud or hiss? "

He writes, of a book by Dan Palotta on the subject:
"Mr. Pallotta’s frustration is intertwined with his own history as the inventor of fund-raisers like AIDSRides and Breast Cancer 3-Days — events that, he says, netted $305 million over nine years for unrestricted use by charities. In the aid world, that’s a breathtaking sum.
But Mr. Pallotta’s company wasn’t a charity, but rather a for-profit company that created charitable events. Critics railed at his $394,500 salary — low for a corporate chief executive, but stratospheric in the aid world — and at the millions of dollars spent on advertising and marketing and other expenses.
“Shame on Pallotta,” declared one critic at the time, accusing him of “greed and unabashed profiteering.” In the aftermath of a wave of criticism, his company collapsed.

Kristof later touches tangentially on a lively debate among development economists:
"There are lots of saintly aid workers in Rwanda, including the heroic Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners in Health, and they do extraordinary work. But sometimes, so do the suits. Isaac Durojaiye, a Nigerian businessman, is an example of the way the line is beginning to blur between businesses and charities. He runs a for-profit franchise business that provides fee-for-use public toilets in Nigeria. When he started, there was one public toilet in Nigeria for every 200,000 people, but by charging, he has been able to provide basic sanitation to far more people than any aid group. "

Aside from debating the merits of non-profit versus profit making organizations in fostering development, development economists have become interested in the question of whether it might further the goals of charity to charge a small price for some goods (water purifiers, or mosquito nets), rather than giving them away for free. Aside from the issue of how such supplies are financed, the question has been raised about whether charging for such goods might better put them in the hands of those who would actually use them, or even might make people more likely to use them.

Two randomized trial field experiments have reached different conclusions on this subject, in two countries, for two different goods.

The first of these, by my colleague Nava Ashraf, and James Berry, and Jesse M. Shapiro is "Can Higher Prices Stimulate Product Use? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Zambia."
They find that, for a home water purification product, in Zambia "...higher prices screen out those who use the product less," i.e. that when a price is charged, more of the product ends up being actually used.

The second paper, which uses the Ashraf et al. experimental design to study the distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets in Kenya, is
"Free Distribution Or Cost-Sharing? Evidence From A Randomized Malaria Prevention Experiment" by Jessica Cohen and Pascaline Dupas. They conclude
"... our results suggest that in some settings free distribution might be as
cost-effective as cost-sharing, if not more."


Anonymous said...

Charities are created to help people find ways of dealing with situations that can’t be solved in normal ways. With a charity you have the ability of seeing how best to help the different situations get solved. You can support charities in your area by making sure that you provide the support that the charities need
For this reason when you are deciding to support charities you can choose how to help. There are lots of ways that you help the charities. The many different marathons, phone in marathons and fund raising events are good ways to support charities.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article