Zero. The answer is zero. Okay? Great.
According to Make-A-Wish, the average cost of realizing the wish of a child with a life-threatening illness is $7,500. That sum, if donated to the Against Malaria Foundation and used to provide bed nets to families in malaria-prone regions, could save the lives of at least two or three children (and that’s a conservative estimate). If donated to the Fistula Foundation, it could pay for surgeries for approximately 17 young mothers who, without that assistance, will be unable to prevent their bodily wastes from leaking through their vaginas and hence are likely to be outcasts for the rest of their lives. If donated to the Seva Foundation to treat trachoma and other common causes of blindness in developing countries, it could protect 100 children from losing their sight as they grow older.
The question at this point should become, “How many people were going to donate their money to the Against Malaria Foundation but instead donated it to Make-a-Wish for the purpose of fulfilling Batkid’s dream of being a superhero? I’m going to guess that number is zero. Singer decides not to offer any evidence that the number is greater than zero, so I’ll stick with my guess until shown otherwise.
I actually don’t find Singer’s article particularly bad – I’m in favor of evidence-based charitable giving, and making certain that your money is doing the most that it can. Singer makes good points about how people are psychologically influenced to give to charity in ways that sometimes defy logic. Research on this is very important and can help us better understand how best to encourage people to help those in need.
The problem comes with the insipid Gawker article, assuming that charity is a zero-sum game and cynically using a popular feel-good moment to garner pageviews. What if Batkid’s family or he himself saw that headline? What if he believes that other kids died so that he could have one happy day?
What if the people who donated to Make-a-Wish saw that headline? Previously, they donated to charity and got a surge of good feeling. Research suggests that that good feeling can lead to more charitable giving (though, ironically, me advertising that fact may lead to a decrease in giving according to the same paper). That Gawker headline will turn that happiness into shame. Great job.
I hesitated to even post about this because I hate playing into cynical bids for page views, but I’ve seen that Gawker article shared on social media with accompanying “Amens,” and I have to step up to say: bullshit. How many children died so that you could have a new flatscreen? How many died so that you could have one Starbucks coffee per day for a year? How many died because you donated to an animal shelter? How many died because you made your friend happy with a nice dinner out? How many died because you made a sick child happy with a dream-come-true?
The answer to all these questions is zero (speaking economically, and not taking into account child labor when it comes to picking coffee beans or manufacturing electronics, of course). Let’s encourage people to donate what they can to good causes, and let’s do it without making charity into a competition with winners and losers.