Start from the premise that we all want the world to be a better place. We want equity, justice, prosperity, security, etc. for everyone. Should we pursue those goals through our purchasing decisions?
Some Mormons view “responsible” consumption as a necessary concomitant to a spiritual life. This felt obligation might manifest itself in myriad ways. Consider choices about food: buying organic fruit and vegetables; educating oneself on the manufacturing practices that created a certain product (e.g., “The Dark Side of Chocolate“); or shopping at co-ops or farmers’ markets. Even if such notions of “responsibility” appeal to you, the informational barriers to implementing this sort of strategy are substantial. Plus, it’s usually more expensive. And it may not be a very effective way to change the world.
Here is a simpler strategy for changing the world through charity: shop for the “best” deal you can find, considering all of the relevant tradeoffs in search costs and personal preferences but leaving notions of social responsibility to the side. Then make donations, including the money that you saved by not shopping “responsibly,” to a trusted charity.
In most instances, I follow the second strategy, and my guess is that it is just as likely as the first to change the world for the better, at least in the sense of transferring resources to those who most need them. On the other hand, I have sometimes wondered whether I am missing out on an opportunity for spiritual growth by being more concerned about the way my vegetables are grown or my beef is produced.