Rent seeking for cancer

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So, I'm at Safeway yesterday and they ask me whether I want to donate $1 for prostate cancer. Here's the promotion of which I speak. Now, I'n not unsympathetic to the cause of prostate research—I own a prostate and it might someday decide to go berserk—but one suspects that this isn't the most efficient way to run a health research program. Indeed, it looks rather like a case of rent seeking, with the monopoly rent in this case being space at the Safeway cash register. And as with all rent seeking, we have to worry about two kinds of inefficiencies: inefficient allocation of resources, and money spent lobbying to acquire the monopoly rents. Again, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with funding prostate cancer research (though I think it was breast cancer or MS a few months ago), but it's also pretty unclear what the connection is between being able to convince Safeway to sponsor you and being a good place to put research dollars. This, after all, is what we pay NIH to do.

That said, while I did see people in front of me in line handing over their money, I wonder whether the value here as far as the prostate cancer foundation is concerned is the money they collect at Safeway as much as commitment and consistency: once you've handed over your dollar (as I recall that's what they're asking for), you're probably a lot more likely to be willing to favor prostate cancer research later, whether you're asked to hand over significant amounts of money or just to vote for it. While we're on the topic: I wonder whether this sort of promotion has any impact on how likely grant reviewers are to favorably rate proposals for research the disease du jour.


It also amuses me that they ask for a dollar "for" prostate cancer — but cancer's a bad thing, why would I want to put money towards it?

Oh, you mean a dollar to fight cancer? Fair enough then, but that's quite different ...

I believe the Safeways of the world execute these promotions as a way to build tax deductions for themselves - it's my understanding that they claim the tax deduction for giving the money to the cancer research charities.

This sounds more like a case of cross-selling. I'm reminded of the "save a starving child by partying till 4AM" fliers.

I suspect Tybalt's right... my safeway changes the "cause" every few weeks... I have a feeling, from what I've heard over the obnoxious loud speaker at my Safeway, that there's also some sort of store-to-store competition. It would be interesting to see which stores get more... and analyze that (would have to observe tactics and take into account demographics).

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