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(stuff we don’t want) to describe initiatives like Jason Sadler’s 1 Million T-Shirts project.
Like some sort of lightning rod for the combined venom of the humanitarian aid world, Jason found himself pilloried across the web in a matter of weeks.
Everyone from armchair bloggers to senior economists spat fire on his dream until it eventually ground to a halt.
In July 2010, Jason threw in the towel and abandoned his scheme.
And somewhere in Africa, an economy sighed in relief.
Firstly, it’s debatable whether there is actually a need for T-shirts in Africa.
There is practically nowhere that people who want shirts are unable to afford them.
Wanting to donate them is a classic case of having something you want to donate and assuming it is needed.
Just because you have a really large hammer does not mean that everything in the world is a nail.
Secondly, dumping a million free shirts is inefficient.
What it would cost to pack them, ship them, and transport them overland to wherever it is they are meant to go would cost close to the manufacturing cost of the shirts in the first place. If you wanted to get people shirts, it would be far more cost effective to simply commission their manufacture locally, creating a stimulus to the local textile economy in the process.
Which brings us to the third critique of free stuff.
When people in the target community already have an economy functioning in part on the sale and repair of the stuff you want to donate (shirts in this instance), then dumping a million of them free is the economic equivalent of an atom bomb.