14 December 2010

Will sign books for food

National Post | Melissa Leong | The $4,000 tip jar: David Sedaris on a life spent on tour

As told to Melissa Leong, National Post

A couple of books ago, I put a tip jar on my signing table and I made over $4,000 on my tour. [...]

I told people it was all for me to spend on candy. They were delighted because it’s funny to give money to someone who doesn’t need it. If there had been a beggar outside the bookstore, at the end of the evening, he might have had 75 cents where as at the end of my best evening in Dallas–[ I had] $530 in tips.
I don't think it has anything to do with fun.

Tyler Cowen thinks they are trying to encourage the production of public goods.  I think this is more right, but still wrong.

They are giving back some of their consumer surplus to the producer. It is a way of expressing exactly how much surplus he created for them.

Furthermore a David Sedaris signing or reading provides an experience for people.  They get to go tell people they met him, spoke to him, shook his hand.  That's value above and beyond that of his books.  (Well, it is for some.  I find Sedaris relentlessly depressing.)

The beggar outside has created no value for anyone.

Sedaris is busking, and the beggar is ... begging.  There's a big difference between the two.

Even if the busker's performance is shit, at least the busker is trying to create value for others. Write up a funny sign, tell a story, pick up the trash around you: do something to create for other people.

~ ~ ~ ~

I think we are in a weird place when we consider donations to the homeless shelter and donations to the city opera to be legally equivalent as charitable donations.  It's a distinction that a lot of people have noted, obviously, but I'm still not satisfied that we've put our finger on exactly what the difference(s) is/are.

Sedaris' tips have helped me get closer to pinning down that difference, I think.

The donation to the opera, or to your favorite author, or podcast, or whatnot is more like a gift to a friend.  It says "thanks for being in my life; my life and the rest of society is better with you doing what you do."

The donation to the charity is not like that.  It says "I am sorry you have to be a part of society in the manner you are, please accept this money so that you no longer play that role world."

1 comment:

  1. I like the distinction you make between busking and begging. I think it's right on. People are happy for the presence of the busker and they want to encourage him/her to continue to provide free entertainment. When they give to a beggar they do so to quiet their conscious...

    Here is a busker in NYC spreading holiday cheer on a musical saw:

    Happy Holidays!