Bureaucratic Altruism in International Transfers: The Samaritan’s Dilemma Revisited

Originally published in Social Science Research Network

Conventional wisdom tells us that prosocial feelings, such as altruism, are desirable and should be promoted as they yield positive social outcomes. However, the consequences of other-regarding behaviors are broadly ambiguous and may have unintended consequences, especially when they must pass through institutional filters. In this paper, we use the Samaritan’s Dilemma model to understand the perverse unintended consequences of institutionalized altruism expressed through international transfer organizations (ITOs), the collection of government and non-government international organizations involved in transferring foreign assistance. To do so, we alter some of the assumptions of the classic Samaritan’s Dilemma model to account for (1) altruism channeled through ITO bureaucracy, which we call bureaucratized altruism, and (2) the recipient affects that extend beyond a single person to include various heterogeneous individuals. We argue that in the context of foreign transfers, the Samaritan’s Dilemma entails interaction effects that expand recipient harm beyond mere loss of self-reliance.

Find the full article here.