Persephoneconomics: Does Motivation Matter?

I was going to write a post about the basic principles of neoclassical economics and why they have little to no bearing on real life, basically part 879 of Why Republicans Suck Blog 2K11. Instead, because I feel like we might already be a little burned out on that sort of thing and it’s only Wednesday (I KNOW, RIGHT?), I thought maybe I’d talk about things that are a little more fun, and a little less cut and dry: Lady Gaga and pizza.

What does Lady Gaga have to do with economics and motivation other than the fact that I purchased The Fame Monster – most likely at the opportunity cost of groceries – and “So Happy I Could Die” motivates me to run, er, walk fast on the treadmill sometimes? Last Friday, Lady Gaga announced that she had come to an agreement with the Target Corporation wherein they would get an exclusive album distribution deal, but only under the stipulation that they would not only cease their anti-gay activities, but begin to actively support LBGTQ charity groups.

Great news, right? I think so. However, I’ve heard some consternation over the fact that it took a profit incentive to change a major corporation’s evildoing ways. To that my first reaction is ugly laughter. Because seriously? You’re disappointed that the decision-makers of a huge profit machine didn’t spontaneously see the error of their ways and return to the land of goodness and light of their own accord? And to be honest, that’s still my reaction, but I do think that this is worth a conversation.

To look at this on a smaller scale, let’s talk about pizza. Specifically, let’s talk about Ian’s Pizza, a small Wisconsin-based pizza chain that has been soliciting pizza donations for the protesters in Madison. Since last week the State St. pizza shop has been keeping track of donated orders of pizza from all over the world and all fifty states. This is clearly both a great business strategy, and a very effective social statement. What better way to show solidarity than through the gift of food?

With the Target Corporation, we can fairly clearly trace the impetus of their change of policy, if not of heart. Should we similarly dissect the motivations of Ian’s Pizza?

Personally, I think the answer to this lies in whether you are interested in change or in credit. I do not believe in handing out cookies for activities that promote social justice. Did you stand up to your friend’s racist comment? Congratulations, you are a decent human being. No cookie. In the same vein, I find very little benefit in ranking the reasons behind a business’s social activities. Sure, corporations give to charity to improve their public relations standing, and sure, local businesses join local causes to garner name-recognition, but does that change the outcome? Which matters more: the feelings of the Target CEO on LGBTQ individuals, or giving social justice-minded individuals who don’t have the expendable income or the time to seek out alternative places to buy clothes and groceries a chance to shop at a reasonable price without feeling like they are betraying their cause?

I recognize that my brand of activism comes from a very pragmatic, outcome-oriented school of thinking, and I realize that kind of activism may not be the kind that changes hearts and minds, so what do you think? Are you happy to celebrate all the wins, no matter what created them? Or are you holding out for more significant change? Does the motivation matter to you?

(Image credit Wikimedia Commons)

By (e)Kelsium

Kelsium lives in Southern California with her partner and collection of almost (almost!) kill-proof plants. She enjoys the beaches, but finds the lack of acceptable bagels distressing. She considers herself an expert in red lipstick and internet rage.

3 replies on “Persephoneconomics: Does Motivation Matter?”

If we question Target’s motives because they will profit from their activism, do we question MY motives? I profit from my activism. I’m a queer person living in this society and the activism I engage in will — I hope — profit me directly. In the case of gay marriage and job discrimination, etc., these benefits may even be financial. Target holding out for X million dollars isn’t all that different from me holding out for marriage over civil unions is it? Money’s just the language corporations speak. It’s the language of their profit and it’s also the language of their activism. Target wants money. The Trevor project wants money. Lady Gaga is offering to facilitate that transaction. How is that not a win-win?

Although it seems a bit cynical, I’m generally happy to support all the wins, no matter what motivated them. I suppose I see it as similar to the fact that I generally only donate money and stuff to nonprofits that allow me to take the donation tax deduction. Am I a jerk? I hope not. In general, I trust those types of nonprofits to be more likely to actually do something good with my money, but really, I just like doing something good that benefits the world and me too. It’s better motivation. And the groups still get their money, so should they be mad at me for wanting the deduction? I don’t think so.

I totally missed the Gaga/Target announcement, but good on her. I know, I know, she is derivative and copies everyone blah, blah, blah, but you have got to respect a celebrity using their fame for the greater good, especially when we are inundated with spoiled pieces of crap like Charlie Sheen and the like, so this makes me like Lady Gaga even more (because, yes, nothing gets my ass moving at the gym like her music).

I try to be optimistic about all the wins, but only because I am so deeply pessimistic and disturbed about so many things going on in this country right now. Do Target and Ian’s Pizza have ulterior motives? Of course. But better those motives impel them to action that makes the world a better place while they count their stacks of money. Because so many people and corporations are never motivated to do anything at all, I have to say I’m in the “take it where we can get it” camp.

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