Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jay Leno's Pseudo Altruism?

Media is inherently predisposed to preach about "collectivism" (particularly in the Philippines).

For us, the implicit motivation or the reason for this is about saleability.

People buy mostly on emotions. And to generate more audience means to connect with people's emotions.
And collectivist themes of 'equality', 'fairness', 'justice', 'charity' etc... greatly appeals to emotions. And more audiences translate to more ad revenues. Audience plus ad revenues equals the life of the show.

Thus, media content-whether it is news, soap opera, talk shows, movie or reality shows-are almost always scripted or produced to appeal to the emotions.

Occasionally some of these pseudo acts of altruism are unmasked, especially when they "diss" the markets.

An example is from a recent amusing incident where the popular US comedian Jay Leno brings his show to Michigan aimed at helping autoworkers and those displaced by today's recession by giving away free tickets.

Unexpected to Mr. Leno, one of the recipient attempts to sell the "donated" ticket at ebay. The donor discovers the attempt and vehemently objects!

From Mr. Leno, ``Here is something that annoys me. I look on eBay today and I see four tickets to my show for sale. ... You're out of your mind to pay $800 to see me. ... I would like to ask the people on eBay to take the tickets down. There is nothing for sale here.”

Picture from

Harvard's Greg Mankiw on his blog wrote a caustic but deserving remark (bold highlights mine)...

``So I wonder: If a person down on his luck prefers the cash to the opportunity to watch Leno live, why would Leno object? Is it altruism that is really motivating Leno here? Is he really sure that the unemployed person in Detroit would be better off with an evening of laughs than $800 in his pocket? Or does Leno want to play to a live audience of unemployed workers so he will seem altruistic to his television audience?"


Again Mr. Mankiw, ``Absent externalities, markets improve the allocation of resources. Both the buyer and the seller of the ticket must be better off: otherwise they would not engage in the transaction. The only significant negative externality that I can see here falls on Mr Leno himself. In other words, Leno's objection to the eBay sale is an understandable and fundamentally self-interested act in that the sale impedes his abilty to appear selfless.

This reminds us of a quote from D.W. McKenzie who, in an article at the, wrote,``Altruism alone does not harmonize social interaction. On the contrary, a world of altruistic people could easily be more rancorous than the world we know. It is not enough for people to want to promote the interests of others.
We must also comprehend the interests of others, and this is impossible."

Showmanship-yes, comprehend the interests of others-no.

So much for altruism.

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