Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Quote of the Day -- Carl Sagan

It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not, so long as it makes you feel good, as it is not to care how you got your money, so long as you have got it.
-- Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Pay It Forward and Philanthropic Shopping

On a whim, I decided to research the origin of the expression "pay it forward" and found an interesting article in wikipedia, my go-to knowledge source. I found that the expression was popularized by Robert Heinlein in his 1951 novel Between Planets:
The banker reached into the folds of his gown, pulled out a single credit note. "But eat first—a full belly steadies the judgment. Do me the honor of accepting this as our welcome to the newcomer."
His pride said no; his stomach said YES! Don took it and said, "Uh, thanks! That's awfully kind of you. I'll pay it back, first chance."
"Instead, pay it forward to some other brother who needs it."
The idea has blossomed into a movement and even a foundation. And like so many good ideas, it now seems like common sense. What good does it due to "pay back" someone who really doesn't need repayment. Isn't it far better to help someone else with the funds or influence when you have them?

And this got me thinking about shopping and whether there is a "buy it forward" equivalent. Searching for "philanthropic shopping" yielded retailers who specialize in fair trade goods or who donate a percent of their profits to charity.  But I'm thinking more of the trade-off between frugality and spending, when the spending might actually be a "buy it forward" gesture.

For example, I love to read. I love bookstores. And I'm seldom able to leave a bookstore without at least one new purchase. This feels frivolous to me when there is a perfectly good library close to my home that offers the convenience of reserving books online. And yet... I think there is value in supporting authors by actually purchasing their books. This is especially true for authors of somewhat obscure but high-quality books who haven't broken through the noise of the best-seller world. So I assuage my conscience by getting popular fiction from the library but purchasing quite a few books as well.

Similarly, there is a strong movement among the so called "educated elite" (and that label isn't considered a compliment by the labelers) to support quality journalism by subscribing to newspapers and magazines. Apparently, subscription rates are increasing, especially among millennials, who typically expect information to be free. Clearly, they are "buying it forward."

And finally, when traveling in developing countries, I feel compelled to purchase local arts and crafts. Of course, I love to have them hanging on our walls and adorning our shelves. But I also feel like I am doing good... buying it forward. And I've been "doing good" all over the world with my pocketbook.

Recently, we had the good fortune to make two brief stops on a southern Mediterranean cruise, in Tunisia and Algeria. In Algeria, we were one of the first large ships to visit and they were still gearing up for tourism. Our visit was heavily guarded and tightly controlled. We had absolutely no opportunity to spend a single cent. People were thrilled to see us and waved at our buses with appreciation, but I felt badly that I couldn't "buy it forward."

Worse, in Tunisia, we did have the opportunity to visit a village. We trouped through the streets, past many shops and stands. They were clearly delighted that tourism was resuming. But our leader took us to an "approved" store and gave us only a few minutes to wander elsewhere. I was devastated and felt like an ugly American. I think it was part of our obligation as affluent tourists to reward their work by buying some of their wares. When we returned to the ship, I went out to the stalls in the port and purchased several items. I felt a bit better but still gave my two-cents worth on my critique of the visit.

Maybe I'm rationalizing, but as someone fortunate enough to have disposable income and to be able to travel, I think that "buying it forward" is an important philosophy.

Quote of the Day -- Mark Twain

An uneasy conscience is a hair in the mouth.
-- Mark Twain