Competition will help Haiti

Simon Cowell has announced that he will produce a cover version of Everybody Hurts by REM to raise money for the suffering in Haiti. Good for him! It may be a bit saccharine, and I’m not sure that the tone is quite right, but I am sure that it will raise a bucket load of cash for people who badly need help.

It did strike me that it would be competing with the other Haiti appeal song, recorded by U2 and Jay-Z (apparently, it’s pronounced “Zee”) and produced by Swizz Beatz. Does it make sense to offer a rival product when raising money for charity?

Of course it does! For one thing, no matter how keen people are to give, if they hate one of the songs, or find Cowell too smug or Bono too self-righteous, they might be inclined not to buy it. By offering them choice (a concept that is much-maligned in some circles) one is more likely to satisfy their desires and so raise more money for the appeal.

Secondly, it does not automatically follow that the two are competing. I would bet a significant donation that a large number of charitable music-lovers buy both.

And thirdly (though this slightly deviates from competition), because both songs will appeal also to people who do not necessarily care about the people of Haiti but who do want to own the song, the very concept of a charity song is an excellent example of how people can do good by pursuing their own self-interest.

There may be more than two Haiti appeal songs. I hope there will be. Providing choice will only help efforts to alleviate the suffering.

A fascinating point of view, but much more interesting for me is the idea that people need to be incentivised to support others, in this case by buying a record made by famous people. I wonder if Bono is usually so keen on incentives?

An interesting question, Peter. Of course, people do not always “need to be incentivised to support others” (or perhaps one might say that helping others is often its own reward). Of course, charity alone – even charity records – won’t help Haiti in the long run. Like the rest of the world, it needs to become somewhere where private property is safe and the rewards of hard work and investment are retained by the workers and investors. Only then will people be willing to do (for themselves) the things that will build its economy and raise the stardard of living of Haiti’s people.

The main concern with Haiti is probably not raising enough money, but rather allocating it efficiently. Certainly there have been serious questions over how the huge donations for the Asian Tsunami were spent. In destitute Haiti, it will be extremely difficult to distribute resources without worsening long-term dependence on foreign aid.

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