StickK, a business that allows you to enter self-commitment contracts, is now open for business. If you would like to lose weight (for example), you make a contract with StickK, under which you are required to pay money to a worthy charity if a referee determines that you failed to meet your weight-loss commitment. You can also choose an unworthy charity:
During the contract creation process, you have the option of selecting an Anti-charity as the Recipient of Stakes. The purpose of Anti-charity is to give you an added incentive to achieve your goal by designating your stakes, upon failure, to go to an organization that you strongly oppose. You should select an organization which promotes values that are the most contrary to your own. We currently have a selection of Anti-charities which fall on either side of the following highly contentious issues: Abortion, Gay Marriage, Gun Control, and the Environment.
So if you want to lose weight and are a passionate gun control advocate, you can commit yourself to give to the NRA if you put on some pounds. The image of slaughtered innocents should concentrate the mind as you eye that candy bar. (Unfortunately, true Anti-Charities—such as Americans for Nuclear Waste, and Club the Baby Seals—are omitted, but I am confident that this error will be corrected in the future. To see why these are necessary, see here.)
Ian Ayres, one of the founders of StickK, has tested the product on himself, and has posted a graph that shows how he lost 20 pounds after staking $500. (I assume that the designated charity was Harvard Law School.)
The website claims that friends and family should join in to encourage StickK customers to stick to their commitments. But that is not entirely true. Unless Ayres has chosen a true Anti-Charity as his beneficiary, his colleagues, friends, and students should want to tempt Ayres with free desserts in the Yale cafeteria. True, if Ayres loses a pound, he is certainly better off, and so are his friends, and the rest of us will benefit from some extra academic papers of which his premature death from heart disease would otherwise deprive us. But this lost pound also means that some child will go unfed, or some whale unsaved, or some rain forest unpreserved, or some tot untoyed. Ayres is a terrific scholar, but is this the price we must pay for an extra paper or two in his old age? If you really want to save the world, find yourself a StickK customer and offer him a cigarette or an ice cream sundae.