12 August 2020

How to give away money

The Baha'i Writings are full of references encouraging charity and generous spending on the poor. Baha'u'llah wrote, "O SON OF MAN! Bestow My wealth upon My poor", and, "O CHILDREN OF DUST! Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth. To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with him that adorneth himself with My virtues." And, "Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity." 

It seems like such a simple thing, if you have money, give it to the poor. But it's not at all that simple. Philanthropy can have unintended negative side effects, my favorite example of which was the very well intentioned Jason Sadler of Florida, who made it his goal to send one million t-shirts to Africa. He stepped into a debate among aid workers, that sometimes incoherent attempts to send aid end up making things worse. In the case of the t-shirts, there was no particular need for shirts (Jason had excess from his company), there were much more pressing problems that needed addressing, and flooding the market with free shirts would ruin many local businesses. That's not an argument not to care, it's just to say that aid is complicated.