About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Cartier makes money out of "supporting" cancer research

Cartier, the maker of luxury goods, is pretending to help research on cancer through a campaign aimed at raising money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. According to a New York Times article by Damon Darlin, here is how the scheme works.

Cartier has produced 800 watches for a special limited edition, and sells them at $3,900 a piece (why would anybody wish to spend $3,900 for a watch is another matter, which we will leave unsettled for the moment). The watches are sold to "support" breast cancer research, but in fact what happens is that Cartier has given the BCRF a total contribution of $30,000, while standing to earn $3 million from the sale of the watches!

To add insult to injury, Cartier has spent more on advertising the sale of the watches than on the actual contribution to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Moreover, as Darlin points out in the article, an individual would be much better off contributing the price of a watch directly to the Foundation and then deduct the contribution from federal taxes. It would take just eight (not 800) people to do that to give as much money to the BCRF as Cartier did in its very finite (one would want to say paltry) "generosity."


  1. Ah, capitalism at its finest.

  2. I realize the capitalism comment was probably meant in jest.

    But there is sometimes an unfair backlash against Capitalism and corporations running through a lot of mainstream leftist thought.

    In the end corporations are just organizations of people. Some will be good, some not so good.

    My company, for example, recently donated close to $2 million in money and services to the recent Katrina disaster.

    I agree that Cartier is being extremely cheap and potentially slimy, but Cartier would have sold those watches anyway (perhaps commemorated for some other purpose), so $30K is $30k. (Not saying they don't deserve to be publicly reprimanded for their paltry attempt)

    My point is that countries with capitalism and corporations donate a lot more money to research (not necessarily the U.S.) than countries with no capitalism or corporations. (I have no proof, so feel free to refute that).

    It will probably be a capitalist country that ultimately finds the cure to cancer.

    Lastly, there is this idea that removing corporations will remove greed. However, the greed will remain. In countries without capitalism there is still greed. Greedy and corrupt warlords, monarchs, dictators, ministers of various government agencies, clerics, politicians, etc.

    At least with capitalism the greed is contained within a structure of laws and regulations and the really bad apples are usually eventually caught and punished (though often too lightly).

    Greedy and corrupt warlords and government workers in non capitalistic (with its market based corrections) or democratic societies can persist for generations (think old Eastern Soviet bloc).

  3. When I said "My company" above, I meant the company I work for. I don't any any companies, I am just a working stiff.

  4. Oh, I'm not trashing capitalism. I think capitalism can have some very good points, as long as it's regulated.

  5. Not that I’m necessarily pro-corporation or anything like that (not that I’m not either) but there are two points that I think can be pointed out here:

    1) Most corporations are small operations that incorporate so the owners won’t end up on skid row if things tank. A lot of times, this means people get to keep their jobs until the absolute worse case scenario arrives. I’ve worked for a couple of these places in my time; you would be surprised how resistant they are to firing people (even when they really, really deserve it.)

    2) When Hurricane Katrina hit, Wal-Mart was essentially the first responder, giving away a lot of goods and aid. Now I’m not a big Wal-Mart fan, and I’m sure they realized this act was good for their image, but bottom line, they were there when government failed. I think we can give them props for that.

    As for Cartier, that does seem like a dirty trick. Shame.


  6. 30k is indeed better than nothing from the point of view of the BCRF, but it certainly does not follow that we should applaud Cartier. I am sure that in addition to the actual watch sales they gained a great deal from the publicity surrounding their "generosity". This makes the 30K purely advertising money that benefits Cartier. I suspect that the price of the watches were also increased to in effect pass the cost of this contribution through to the actual watch purchasers (though I have no proof of this). If so this may have actually harmed those purchasers. OK, I freely admit that the harm to anyone that has the ability to purchase such a watch is likely laughable (or maybe deserved), but the principle remains. There are ethical companies that contribute a part of their profits to good causes. The most alturistic do so with little or no fanfare, though most probably do take advantge of the promotional aspects of their actions. It seems to me that the degree of Cartier's exploitation of a worthwhile cause for its own benefit is excessive and outside the bounds of business as well as personal ethical standards.

  7. What I don't get is why there has to be a reward, (watch, CD, Book, Tickets to an event) to induce people to give to a cause.

    I have three charitable causes that I give to. They are all secular organizations in the work of providing direct aid to or taking care of people in need. I also checked into there financial condition to make sure that a very high percentage of their donations go for the purpose they claim. (Charity Navigator is a very good souce of this kind of information. I don't want a prize to make that donation.

    Yes, I do take the deduction on my income tax, but wouldn't I be a fool if if didn't?

  8. Thirty thousand dollar total donation for 800 watches. That figures to be $37.50 per $3900.00 watch! Aren't they altruistic! That's an unspeakable rip-off!

  9. What I don't get is why there has to be a reward, (watch, CD, Book, Tickets to an event) to induce people to give to a cause.

    In this case, it's so people can rationalize buying a mega-expensive luxury item by telling themselves that they are doing it "for a good cause." That's my guess, anyway.

  10. Adrienne: "I think capitalism can have some very good points, as long as it's regulated."

    I agree - as long as I get to do the regulation, not you...

  11. I personally don't find any shame in what Cartier did. I commend them for their true generosity. I don't care if they donate $10, the fact is that they didn't have to donate anything.

    For those of you out there saying that the watch's price was increased, you are wrong. Most of their watches are more expensive.

    And so what if Cartier donated the money for publicity (even though publicity for such a company is unnecessary)? Now look, not only did they benefit from the donation, so did the cancer society! Who here loses from their kindness?

    oh, and as for the "reward" comment- #1: Sometimes people need an incentive, which is perfectly fine because at least they ARE doing something, #2: apparently, you are doing it for such an award because you would refuse the tax refund if you want to be so "selfless", and #3: People don't rationalize their luxury items like that. Those who want them, buy them and cherish them.

    Trust me, I appreciate ANY corporation that donates ANY amount of money no matter how small or large- especially to a cancer society! My father died of cancer 2 years ago when I was 14 years old. So thank you to those caring Corporations, and I do mean that sincerely.

    And on the last comment- I thought all those "selfless" people out there keep saying," Donate money no matter how big or how small the donation, anything counts?" I understand that this is a big corporation, but at least they are doing something to help the community. I find it hard to believe that everyone here donates $30,000 towards cancer. I'm sorry for being so harsh, but comments like these really bother me. Maybe you should focus more on how YOU can help than how much others aren't.

  12. Just a quick comment as someone who actually did purchase one of these watches - It is a beautiful piece very similar to their standard Roadster watches but with a slightly deeper pink face. Yes, i was going to buy one anyway so the company did not trick me with their charity. And no, it did not cost more than the others.

  13. What a shame! Now people don't even blink their eyes, while earning out of charity. Everybody's become so money minded!

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