With voluntary exchange, both parties benefit, or expect to. Charity is no different, especially in a wealthy society. Local knowledge is key for effective charity, and it makes sense for a reality TV show, where an outside audience shares the vicarious pleasure from philanthropy, to research the family in need before documenting the transaction.

Gertrude Himmelfarb’s “The Idea of Poverty” and “Poverty and Compassion” discuss the rich history of compassion for the poor, and the challenge of helping the “deserving poor”. Elites developed charities to provide support with the least disruption of incentives.

Both parties benefit. Those who give money to improve the lives of others prefer that expenditure to alternatives. They gain great satisfaction from giving that makes a difference, and some givers also gain from the sense that their peers will be impressed by their skill in effective charity.

So three cheers for reality TV series entrepreneurs who highlight philanthropy entrepreneurs and draw additional funds from advertisers and cable subscribers to give to the deserving poor.


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