Monday, May 24, 2010

The Evil of Giving?

We find that,
  • Giving of gifts tends to make givers happy, even happier than spending money on themselves. [1].
  • Gifts that are felt to be unearned tend to make people unhappy in the long run. For example lottery winners and such tend to in the long run do pretty badly in the long run.
Does this mean that giving gifts to individuals who don't deserve them is selfish and evil? Obviously this wouldn't apply to giving gifts to foundations/charities/etc, because those are not really gifts but they are the relationship of agency with the foundation. We give money to charities because we want them to do what they want to do with our money, so really they are just acting as our agents. However, this would apply to many forms of gifts to adult children, such as inheritance. Also, does this suggest that welfare payments would be worse than government mandated unemployment insurance (paid for by the workers)?

For those who don't believe in "evil", replace instances of "evil" with "negative" or "harmful" or whatever similar word suits your fancy.
This talk is what got me thinking about this question.

1. Elizabeth W. Dunn, Lara B. Aknin, and Michael I. Norton (21 March 2008)
Science 319 (5870), 1687. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1150952]