Maybe all those Bush library donations don’t mean what you think they do

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Lots of people are giving lots of money to help George Bush build a library. TIME’s Michael Weisskopf and Michael Duffy, down in D.C.-land, report that since leaving office, Bush has raised more than $100 million. It took Clinton two years to raise that much.

I’m bringing that up here because I was recently chatting with Dean Karlan, a Yale economist who dreamt up the Web site People often want to make changes in their lives—quitting smoking, losing weight, spending less money—but have a hard time doing it. On Stickk, you publicly announce what your goal is, and then have a referee keep tabs on whether you’re taking steps toward it. That raises the stakes on you sticking—er, stickking—to your plan. It’s peer pressure used for good, not evil.

In addition to putting your reputation on the line, you can also commit to a financial payout. Here is Stickk explaining itself:

Let’s imagine you can’t stop eating candy bars. Try committing to eat 3 or less candy bars a week, and penalize yourself $100 every time you go over. Essentially, that fourth candy bar will now cost you $100! Would you eat a $100 candy bar?

When you slip up, Stickk takes your money and hands it over to the person or group you’ve designated it should go to—a friend, a family member, a charity.

And here is where we get back to the Bush library. If you want to make that candy bar really expensive, then what you do is direct your penalty money to an anti-charity—an organization you’d be upset to see yourself helping to fund. Not only are you eating a $100 candy bar, but you’re also supporting a cause you despise. One of the anti-charities to pick from: the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

I’m just saying.

On a slightly more serious note, Karlan mentions that the Stickk folks have recently seen an uptick in goals related to the crappy economy. Things like “I commit to sending out 100 resumes this week” and “I commit to do a household budget this month.”  In fact, Stickk is now trying to figure out if there’s a way to loop in financial planners. As Karlan notes, the big obstacle to a lot of people saving money is sitting down and writing out a budget. It’s not just about cutting out the lattes, it’s about truly understanding where all the money goes.

But I’ll have more to say about that in a few days.