Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On Poverty

I read an article that really has me thinking:

There were two reactions to this. Both of which are on the comments on poverty:

  1. Financial resources are *not* the reason that poverty persists. Usurped power through bad government is. We in the west have donated nearly $1 trillion to Africa. And over that time, the per capita income has increased $0. That's right. Nothing. Not one plug nickel. Where has that money gone? The leaders in the government, and their political allies

    This election is, to me, extremely discouraging.
    There are only two practical choices. And both of them would like to centralize more power in the government. There is nothing unique about the US that would keep it from the same sort of poverty we see in other countries with too powerful governments. Both of these candidates wish more power for the government. Say what you want about the evils of the United States. I agree with much of that. But you must also recognize that our prosperity has meant an awful lot for the rest of the world. Impoverishing the US has greater impact than just to the citizens of the US.

    And both candidates are fine with that. Who to vote for? IMHO, neither.”

  2. On the concept of "Be the change you want to see." The change I want to see is poor countries participating in the global economy to enrich themselves.

    So what does that mean? Find someone who's poor and trade with them. Don't give. That bandaid won't cure the cancer. It will temporarily help, but when they've consumed whatever you gave them, they will be right back to where they were. By trading you insist that they provide something of value back to you for the thing of value you give them. And *THAT* is the key. Once a poor person can provide value, they won't be poor for long, even if you stop trading with them.

    So what does that mean for me? It means that I need to have something of value to offer the poor person as well. It means that I need to work on the things that I do best in order to create that value that I would like to trade. It means I have to keep working. And keep trading when I find value.

Part of the assumption that I make here is that people are innately poor. If a person does nothing, they will die of starvation. We are required to work if we are to thrive. The Bible describes this here. Once you recognize that you are innately poor, the question of where does poverty come from is no longer valid. Poverty is the default state. The real question is: Where does wealth come from? And the answer is pretty straight forward: it comes from providing value to others.

This has some pretty important implications.

  1. Since were all innately poor, the answer to the question of battling poverty must start with ourselves. If you want to battle poverty, first battle your own poverty. For me, this means that in the battle against poverty, my biggest responsibility is to go to work. No, its not inspirational. Nor does it grab many headlines. But it is the single most important contribution that I can make to the fight against poverty.

  2. The second most important contribution that I can make in the fight against poverty is to teach my children that they are also innately poor. And that their single most important contribution that they can make in the fight against poverty is to ensure that they are not poor themselves.

  3. Trade. That is, find someone who is providing value and come to an agreement to exchange with them. If you do your job well, and this other person does his/her job well, then by trading you only have to be good at your own job. And your trading partner only has to be good at his/her job. Yet you can both get the benefits doing two things well. This makes both of you richer. Repeat.

After these, my ability to fight poverty is drastically reduced. But there are still some things that I can do:

  1. Fight for trade. Demand that no one stand in the way of two parties trying to enrich themselves through trade. When you see individuals or governments enacting barriers to trade, get in their and let them know that they are sustaining poverty. This is true whether the trade barrier is:
    • a protester actively disrupting trade
    • a government import/export tariff
    • a restriction on immigration or emigration
    • a government subsidy to preferred goods/services in order to dissuade purchase of non-preferred goods/service

    This impacts voting. And part of the reason that I
    m really discouraged by the current administration and either of the two potential administrations is that they seem to have no problem enacting barriers to trade
  1. Give. Last on the list. Its on the list because there are some people who need a kickstart. Kinda like the engine in your car. It needs a jolt of electricity from the battery to start. But once it’s going, it produces its own electricity from the alternator. In fact the alternator produces sufficient surplus to ensure that the battery is recharged. But this is last on the list because its least effective. It requires two things:
    • the recipient of the gift must see it as a kickstart, not an entitlement.
    • the recipient of the gift must not be encumbered by a government that misappropriates the gift

    I have hope for giving as a tool to eliminate poverty. But too often the basic
    requirements are not met. In one case, the kickstart doesnt get the engine running. In the other case, the intended recipient doesnt get it. But when the requirements are met, giving is a powerful tool. Because an effective kickstart can cause a person to start generating sufficient surplus to provide a kickstart to someone else. At that point, there are two available kickstarts: the one that I gave and the new one.

1 comment:

Jimazing said...

Two things you said that give me pause... Our default state is poverty. I have never thought of it that way. Now that you have planted that idea in my head it makes perfect sense. I wasn't born into poverty, but that's because someone else (my parents) did the work for me. Now it is up to me to do the work to not be poor. That was the second thing that struck me is that this is the single most important tool for battling poverty... not being poor myself.

Both of these sound now like common sense, but they are new perspectives to me. The common wisdom of the day is that poverty is "out there" and it is something that happens to some people, not something that would happen to all of us if not for...

Remind me sometime to tell you about my own journey from poverty.

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