I was asked to speak on this subject at a recent symposium and, as we're once again approaching the dread Comic Relief/Children in Fucking Need/Of course they don't know it's sodding Christmas, they're fucking well starving season of goodwill to all men (and Jonathan Ross) I thought it timely to post it up here. For the sake of clarity, I've excised most of the expletives...
Oxfam Economics: Finding a Way Forward for the Grey Market in the Age of the Digital Download
by Dr. R. Swipe, Egregious Professor in Semantic Molly-Coddling, Faculty of No One is Allowed to be Bad at Anything, Online University of San Fransisco.com, CA.
Like many academics, I have an ambivalent attitude towards charity. On the one hand, I am, like most rational individuals, mildly annoyed at best (and violently enraged, at worst) by the constant demands on my finances made by the rapid expansion of the benevolent sector. How often has one had to suppress the desire to crush the skull of the gaudily-bibbed, and infuriatingly tutting post-graduate as you have politely declined the invitation to discuss the setting up of a direct debit, index-linked tithe upon your wages to be set up on behalf of any of the various good causes that these organisations profess to support? Many of you, I'm sure, have failed to show the same restraint as I usually manage to; and whilst I don't condone such rashness, neither can I wholeheartedly condemn it either.
Obviously, one doesn't wish to be seen as a callous, impecunious old fuddy-duddy who cares not a jot for the sufferings of the poor African/Palsied Individual/Mental Defective/Abused Pet etc. Fortunately, there is a way ahead that not only allows one to appear as if one does indeed care a jot about the sufferings of the poor African/Palsied Individual/Mental Defective/Abused Pet etc, but which requires no positive or altruistic action on one's own part. My extensive research, painstakingly conducted over the last two and a half weeks has yielded some fascinating and surprising data. Let me share with you some of the astonishing discoveries I have made whilst outlining the Theory of Oxfam Economics...
The principles behind Oxfam Economics are simple. Charities and charitable donors have created a self-sustaining loop that does neither good nor harm to the prevailing state of either the beneficiaries of the charity or of the donor. Confused? Let me provide a concrete example. As you'll have observed by the statement of responsibility beneath the Title of this proposal, I work for a University. I also spend a lot of my disposable income on secondhand records; often, though not exclusively, buying the aforementioned in large quantities from one of the many charity shops in the area where I live. All well and good, you might think, but how does this help to explain the Theory of Oxfam Economics?
A few years ago, whilst trying to find a way of circumventing the various (and utterly needless) pornography filters on our University's mainframe, I happened to notice a news item on our home page celebrating the securing of a £2 million donation from the Cancer Research charity. Two Million Smackeroonies. That's a lot of research. Or is it? Because that £2 million probably gets slopped around with all the other funding that goes towards making our Universities the pride of...well, I think you can see my point. Bit of creative accounting here, a few jollies to Trinidad & Tobago to laugh at the even more primitive state of their refectory than even your own institution's pathetic eaterie... the odd Honorary degree (and stipend) to the occasional disgraced former Tory cabinet minister and... you get the idea. Some of the money may even go towards a whole raft of very useful and important educational and research-led activities; the annual sponsored book burning, or funding a new Rastafarian translation of the Classics initiative ("Is this a dagger I see before I and I?"), perhaps the Student Union's Campaign to Free Dierdre Barlow (Retired Members) Pension Fund Committee might get a new overhead projector - who knows, we might even get that new refectory we've been after for so long...and so on.
To cut to the chase, some of those 2 million sobs probably ended up, no matter how circuitously, in the pockets of yours truly. I no doubt, in turn, returned some (if not all) of those sponduliks to the very same charitable source from whence they came. So there you have your loop. Oh, I've no complaints; we senior lecturers in Applied Semantic Molly-Coddling in the age of the Digital Download have to spend our ackers on something. And they've a fine selection of records, carefully selected and regularly updated so, if anything, it's a win-win situation as far as I'm concerned. I get paid, shell out for a few treasured lumps of drastic plastic, the charity gets to feel that it's performing a worthwhile societal role without doing anything to deprive itself of its own raison d'etre and, eventually, the cash dripfeeds it's way back into my pay-packet and we can start the process all over again...
This is the shop-based, 'classical' or 'perfect capitalism' model, of the charitable concern in which would-be consumers are invited to donate their unwanted tat and bric-a-brac in return for, well, buggar all, basically. This essentially valueless junk is then assessed by highly paid business graduates and put up for resale at a highly inflated price often based on a cursory glance at a Collector's guide whilst phoning Uganda on the office mobile. This massive price hike would not be possible without a highly impressive (and otherwise completely superfluous) re-branding of the charity shop so that it resembles in every respect (apart from the quality and newness of the wares inside it, obviously) the 'normal' retail environment. Evidently, such a sophisticated retail ambience does not come cheap.
But there are easier ways to redirect money given entirely well-meaningly to aid a particular cause away from the intended recipients and into the bank accounts of the well qualified Western Middle Classes. The hard-nosed, new entrepreneurial charity has moved off the high street and on to the street in search of your hard-earned cash. Those red-bibbed beggars I mentioned earlier are all graduates with excellent careers ahead of them in the high-end of the Cold-Calling industry. What better start for them in the finer arts of persuasion than the opportunity to service their student debt by way of an honest day toiling on the high street, guilt-tripping their well meaning but fatigued and life-immersed fellow citizens into contributing to whichever charity they purport to represent. Who knows? After the squadron of hawkers and clip-board-wielders have received their five figure stipend, there may even be enough of a residue to build a shanty hut/prefab rest home/poorly sanitized lunatic asylum/kennel or two for the odd African/Palsied Individual/Mental Defective/Abused Pet? So there you have it - Oxfam Economics. It's a pretty good scam, isn't it?
So, dig deep, citizens; every little helps. And whoever it is who has been donating their pristine and beautifully chosen records, please keep an eye on these pages; I'll be posting up a list of LPs some time soon...
L.U.V. on y'all,
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