Lee's Shopping Page (or how to solve the world's problems)

The solution to every problem is "Lets go shopping!" ... if only it was true.

Some time ago (in 1999) I recieved an e-mail telling me about The Hunger Site , where you can help feed the hungry simply by browsing the site. By following the links to daily sponsors, these sponsors donate money to help feed the starving masses. I dutifully did this but felt uneasy. Somehow there seemed to be a contradiction.

More recently I was told about The Rainforest Site, which uses a similar mechanism to save tropical rainforest. Both sites are run by Greater Good. This prompted me to put my analysis on a Web page, something I had resolved to do previously but had not got around to it.

If you are part of the solution you are part of the problem
... Doh!

Just how is surfing the internet able to generate money to help solve the world's problems? On the face of it, its rather miraculous. The answer is, of course, advertising. Companies are willing to pay huge amounts of money to advertise their products. They don't care where the money goes to, as long as they get good value for it. If some goes to unquestionably worthy causes all the better for the image of the company, and they may even believe in these causes.

Just how is advertising able to generate money for companies to increase their profits? On the face of it, its rather miraculous than some very successful companies spend far more on advertising their products than actually making them. The answer lies in those good friends capitalism and consumerism. Individually, companies increase their market share (compared to their competitors) by advertising. It is often a more attractive alternative to making their products better or less costly. Collectively, companies increase the size of their market by advertising.

Just how are capitalism and consumerism part of the problems of extreme poverty and environmental degradation? Its no miracle that as markets and economies grow, rainforests shrink. Its no miracle that as directors of companies try to maximise profits, the poor of the world become more poor.

But they seem to be nice companies who advertise there, and I don't intend to buy any products anyway, so visiting these sites does some good and no harm, doesn't it?

It does a pitiful amount of good. When I visited The Hunger Site a fraction of a cent was donated for each "hit" on a sponsor (also a fraction of the going rate for hits on advertisers on the internet). If you visited once every day (the maximum allowed), you would generate a few dollars donation in a year at most. Internet Service Providers are likely to benefit far more than starving people. And in the mean time, how much have you spent on products whose manufacture involves exploitation of the third world? How much were the workers paid to make your clothes and your shoes and for assembling components of your computer? If visiting The Hunger Site makes you think you are doing significant good then its actually doing harm.

Sorry to disappoint you all, but it takes more than surfing the Web to undo a fraction of the harm we are all constantly causing as we consume in the way we are accustomed to. You would do far more good to support an organisation such as Community Aid Abroad - Oxfam Australia.