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I don't think altruism should be expected to do that.
Or at least not that kind of altruism.
If you want to bridge the yawning gaps you need to reorganize society so that the gaps do not appear.
It's why I engage in the kinds of politics I do. That engagement is altruistic, but it runs on a different scale than charity.

Well said Jim.

Jim: building a society where there's "equal opportunity" would require massive changes to how modern societies work:

Some people get born into a substantial starting capital. Some people inherit superior genes that make them excellent sportsmen. Some people are plain out lucky. None of it is their own virtue.

Then there's people who get born into a poor background. Some people inherit sub-par genes that hinder them. Some people are plain unlucky. None of it is their own fault.

To 'even out' such fundamental and unfair imbalances in opportunity, we'd have to build a massive utopian state that would forbid inheritance, would engage in gene engineering and would artificially eliminate all venues of luck - and more.

Instead the much more realistic approach is to try to balance out what cannot be balanced: i.e. to not make "opportunities" fair (the world is not fair), but to dampen the arbitrary excesses of the "outcome" to a certain degree: those who have disabilities should receive assistance, those with a poor background should receive assistance tuition and those who are lucky to have earned a ton of money should be taxed progressively more.

I find it quite ironic that on the right they often stress the creation of "equal opportunities", without realizing that if we ever took that idea at face value and pursued "equal opportunities" seriously, our way of life would have to change drastically.

The same people on the right often oppose the much less drastic, much more pragmatic "buffering of luck/unlock volatility effects" policies.

Frances: interesting observations!

There's a possible link in an unrelated area: it is an interesting fact that in many european countries the top income bracket is 50% or close to 50%.

Maybe that is so partly because, according to your article, 50% is considered the "limit of fairness" by humans and anything above that is considered (perhaps irrationally) way too much - creating a lot of political pressure to not raise the tax rate beyond that threshold.

White Rabbit - you're right. I'd noticed that same fact myself, but never made the connection. Thank you.

This has interesting implications for the guaranteed annual income etc discussion that happens frequently on the blog. For income, there's this restriction that anything above 50% isn't 'fair', but if the issue is reduction of benefits rather than the paying of taxes, I don't think the same fairness frame applies.

Jim, I share your skepticism on the ability of private charity to reduce income inequality substantially. The point I was making in this post was a much more micro-level one, about the psychology of individual giving.

Provides some economic theory to the anger I feel when passing between 1 to 5 people with clipboards asking me if 'I care about children/the planet/the homeless' while I'm just trying to walk home.

Mark, and the thing is, I bet you do care about children/the planet/the homeless. But you're being pushed over the top of the curve.

Timely topic Frances as Charities are suffering and promise to suffer further with the oncoming austerity measures.
I'm not sure what I was expecting from the title 'The Generosity Collapse' but it wasn't fish...definitely not Atlantic cod, nor the depletion of that resource. But I have been known to rise to the occasion and land something...the takeaway.
Alrighty then.
Our charitable propensities have lapsed like the mighty Atlantic Cod, as depicted by the most beautiful graph ever to grace the pages of any economic document (is the way I would mount this catch in my rec room)...on account of BAAAAAD fisheries management...like Jim alludes to maybe: BAAAAD organization characterized by a few Stupendous Draggers taking all the fish.
Hard to believe how beautiful the curve is depicting this blunt story, but I cannot but defend the curve...such a beautiful takeaway.
Philanthropy, (not quite the same thing as generosity nor the same thing as altruism), the last time I looked, was confined to Gates and Buffet. The next dozen billionaires in the lineup gave next to nothing.
I did notice that Sally Ann was looking for bell-ringers at Xmas --a sign that generosity, common generosity --the real thing and the hook that brought me this far, was lacking.
And could be collapsing or collapsed as you say. "fenced off from others" pretty much identifies the hunkered down posture of many still adjusting to new and harsher economic realities. But it may not be just a cyclical collapse...or a seasonal fence, but a structural feature that goes along with goods and services that are increasingly not only foreign but alien: we don't care where they came from or what services they provide as long as they are economical choices.
Ok, that B it: my takeaway is that the increasingly global nature of our economically driven lives is alienating us.

I am not an absolutist with respect to equality of opportunity. I do want proper monotonic improvement in this regard. My generation in Canada has failed that test.

The experimental research shows that the situation is more complicated than this one experiment: we already know that each society has a *standard* for fairness, for appropriate distribution, and that the percentage varies among societies; in some African societies, you are very much expected to give 70%, in America that is considered "too much".

The graph would have the same shape, but the peak would probably be at 70% in those African societies.

With experimental economics, as with all else, it helps to look at the past literature. Which you may not have done.

The ultimatum game is good for identifying cultural fairness standards.

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