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Economists, Charity And The Boston Marathon (And A Request For You)…

April 20th, 2009 · 15 Comments

Today is Patriots Day in Massachusetts- yes, this is actually a state holiday, but what it really means is that the Greater Boston area shuts down for the running of the Boston Marathon. The Boston Marathon is one of the most popular marathons in the world, and it is one of the few marathons to still have a qualifying time requirement. However, slow people like me can circumvent the qualifying issue by raising money for a charity and getting a number that way. I chose to raise money for Boston Partners in Education (not surprising given my background), and I am still in the process of raising the required $3000. As an economist, the motivation for charitable giving is a bit of a foreign concept to me, but I also know that I support organizations with a valuable mission, so who knows.

As part of the fundraising process, there is a prize for the person that gets the most individual donations. As such, I bring a contribution request to you, even if it’s just $1, $5, or whatever. In return I will continue to entertain you with my economic wisdom. 🙂 (Ok, I will continue to entertain you regardless, but you get the idea.)

You can donate online via You can also track my progress in the race here– my number is 21868. The race starts at 10:30am for us slow people, and I will be Twittering updates (@jodiecongirl) as I go!

Also, a funny picture from after the Hampton Beach half marathon last fall…and yes, I really needed a corn dog…

Lastly, in the spirit of the occasion, here are some links about the economics of charitable giving:
“What Makes People Give” by David Leonhardt, in the NYT (I probably should have read this earlier!)
An Undercover Economist article about charitable giving in recessions, published just two days ago
A report on charitable giving from the St. Louis Federal Reserve
An Undercover Economist article entitled “The Economic Case Agaist Philanthropy” – oh wait, don’t read that one until later 🙂

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15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Matt // Apr 20, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Wow, you have got it all going for you. Not only are you smart, witty, and talk about economics :-), but you can run in a marathon. I’m jealous of your determination in all of that. (I’ll stick to 1 or 2 miles, thank you)

    Anyway, just thought I’d add an idea for the economists to think about. The link to the Karlan and List project was a good read, and I am glad we have economists that take the initiative to do such labor. I cannot help but be reminded of my senior Game Theory class at college a year ago. The one thing I took away from that class was the idea of limited rationality and the effect it plays on decision-making. I liked that idea so much that I know it is the one thing that made me truly believe in behavioral economics.

    I simply pose this: Is it so hard to believe that people donate money simply because they believe that it will make much more of a difference then it actually does (Thinking of the multitude of smaller donors exhibited by the Obama faithful this past election). Just like a person’s solitary vote, it will mean little, and often times cause negative utility(cost of going to polls, etc.), when the political figure you support does not win. How far down the road do the donors look when they are swept by political fervor?

    Although we economists hate to assume this, it may sometimes be quite rational to expect people to be irrational. 🙂

  • 2 Dan L // Apr 20, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    A prize for the person that gets the most individual donations? Don’t you now owe us a post analyzing this incentive scheme?

    Side note: You clearly took up running for the outfits.

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