Most of us know that numerous commendable charities exist that work to save the lives of starving children who they can feed for pennies a day. Other organizations, especially those addressing poverty in less utterly destitute places, focus more on investing in long-term solutions like changing society, turning around economies and uplifting entire communities. The long-term investments require more upfront, but if successful they will save more in the long run, just like the cost of teaching a man to fish today will cost less than just continuing to donate fish to him. Regardless, the fact is at the least we can save children’s lives for pocket change a day if not do more with it to end poverty.
However, based on my experience growing up in the United States, it seems to me the typical person in the first-world does not donate much to these charities that can save starving kids for pennies a day, nor to the ones that work to find long-term solutions. Instead, we needlessly hoard luxurious cars, expensive fashionable clothes, and bigger screen televisions, which not only puts us into a self-destructive debt, but leaves the question: How many starving children could have been fed with the extra money spent on luxuries?
But I do not think the typical person is so callous, so uncaring, so sociopathic that they would really prefer to wear a prettier shirt and let a child die than feel the joy of saving a child. So why do we do it? Let me try to guess what I think are the main reasons.
Commercialism – I think commercialism and excessive consumerism are perhaps the main reason we fail to provide more help to the needy. Unfortunately, businesspeople and corporations can get lots of money by convincing us to foolishly spend our hard-earned money on needless luxuries or other junk that we often cannot even afford. We are bombarded by billboards, TV ads, magazine ads, newspaper ads, junk mail, spam email, sales calls, and other advertisements. We put ourselves into debt for junk we do not need. People who earn enough income to not only live comfortably themselves but also help others end up in debt, unable to help others and in need of financial help themselves! We spend more but end up less happy and less secure. This is not a selfish choice, a callous choice or a sociopathic choice; this is a stupid, self-destructive choice. We cannot only blame the advertisers and businesspeople for the stupid, self-destructive choices inspired by commercialism anymore than the drug user could only blame the drug pusher. We also have to blame ourselves for our own self-destructive choices. We need to stop it.
Denial – I think denial is a common reaction to an overwhelming problem. This is especially true of problems that only bother us emotionally from our acknowledgment of them. Some kid we never met starving to death or suffering hundreds of miles away or even on the other side of the earth does not have any effect on us if we do not know about it. But because we are not sociopaths, we sympathize with them. Their pain hurts us. However, we choose to ignore it, to suppress our knowledge of it like a child suppresses memory of traumatic events. We keep it out of our mind to avoid being overwhelmed by the painful feelings of such a massive, overwhelming problem that calls for such overwhelming action to fix it. This is common, but I don’t think it is healthy. If we can be brave enough and honest enough to truly acknowledge a major problem like this and admit how incredibly terrible it makes us feel, then we can start making choices based more on reality and doing our part to work to fix it. And I think facing life’s obstacles and horrors like that will make us stronger and happier.
We don’t want to give it all up – Most of us would otherwise be willing to give up a portion of our luxuries or time to save lives. But that creates a slippery slope. If we admit to ourselves that it makes sense to buy a not-quite-as-luxurious car and fight poverty instead, then it blatantly follows that it would make just as much sense to buy an even less luxurious car and fight poverty that much more. I think it would be too blatantly inconsistent to give up a little bit, but at the time we fail to get ourselves to give it all up. Is it any surprise we choose to ignore poverty almost completely rather than take a so-called ‘vow of poverty’ and live with no luxuries? For some of us, the only solution may be a very drastic change to our excessively materialistic lifestyle. But also we have to remember that we do not just have to send all our extra money to another continent. We could invest it into our own children’s education or into starting our own local nonprofit. We could just work less and spend more time with our families or volunteering with friends. I think that would help end poverty and make us happier.
What do you think? We’re not sociopaths, so why do we behave like sociopaths when it comes to poverty? When it costs less than a buck a day to save the lives of children, why don’t we? Please post your comments about this blog post and discuss inaction on poverty in this thread at the Philosophy Forums.
In this post I will write my answer to the question we used for a contest we recently held, “If you were given $10,000,000 and all the money must be spent to reduce poverty and hunger, how would you spend the money?”
I think we all agree that charitable handouts of food, water and shelter would not effectively reduce world hunger and poverty alone. As I wrote in a post I made in August 2006, entitled The Method To End Hunger, “if a hungry child fails to eat today, that hungry child dies tonight. However, if the hungry child eats today, then we still have a hungry child tomorrow. We cannot end hunger without food, but food alone won’t solve the problem. Simply giving food to the hungry to solve hunger is like shoveling water out of a sinking ship.”
On the other hand, neither $10 million nor any amount of money one person could reasonably have would be enough to fix the political unfairness and non-meritocracy and the destitute economies that make it so even skilled, strong people willing to work hard cannot escape poverty. In regards to unfair non-meritocracy, even the smartest, strongest hardest-working slave can still live in poverty while his lazy master lives in wealth off the slave’s labor. In regards to destitute economies, what use is a skill that might earn great wealth in a non-poor, fair economy in an economy where resources are so scarce that a new Mercedes-Benz might sell for the prize of a few apples?
So I would spend the money on helping individuals directly, rather than on trying to fix the broken economies and political corruption. Besides, when we help enough individual people directly and thus empower those people, empowered people will be able to work together to fix their political and economic environment.
I would invest the money to create an organization that can continue to grow on its own without the need for any more donations of $10 million.
This organization would focus on providing a lot of help to each person it helps, rather than providing a little help to a lot of people. As mentioned before, we cannot end poverty by only providing the bare essentials to a lot of people through handouts. We would only be temporarily relieving the symptoms of poverty until we run out of money. So instead of just giving people food, clothes or temporary shelter, the organization would find a way to help each client become self-sufficient and thus permanently escape poverty.
Namely, the organization would help people permanently escape poverty by not only providing them with food, clothes and other necessities, but more importantly by providing the following:
1. The organization would get the poor people it helps out of ghettos and bad neighborhoods ridden with crime, violence, drugs and so forth. They would be brought to affordable housing in better neighborhoods. The organization may have to temporarily help these people pay for these new homes.
2. The organization would make sure each person it helps is mentally fit, and make sure they get treatment for mental health problems and addictions if the people have them.
3. In addition to the shelter already mentioned, the organization would make sure each person it helps has food, clothes and health care. Even though we already agreed we do not merely want to provide only free handouts of basic necessities, we must at least loan the funds to get those basic necessities while we find and implement long-term solutions. We cannot expect a person to work on the fundamental causes of their poverty if they have to worry about where they will get their next meal. A hungry schoolkid cannot get the education he needs if he is on the brink of starving to death in the classroom.
4. Each person’s specific situation and needs would be evaluated to determine whether the person needs education and skills-training, needs a business loan, or just needs a better job or business. And then those services would be provided. When completed, the person would have a job or own their own business with which they make enough money after deducting job costs to repay their loans and afford the cost of living. The cost of living must include the following costs (insofar as they are not provided by the government): food, clothes, shelter (in a safe neighborhood), education, unemployment insurance, and retirement.
Of course, this help would only be provided to the people if they are also helping themselves. For example, the organization would not spend its resources providing food and shelter to someone who could escape poverty by going back to school but who refuses to go to school even with the help. We are fighting poverty and world hunger, not laziness and anorexia.
At least upfront, providing those resources to a person or family would require a large investment. But it would be ensured that the people actually escape poverty permanently and become self-sufficient. Then ideally the people could pay the organization back, perhaps even with a little extra. Then the organization could not only continue doing the same work with other people, but hopefully also grow and help even more people at once.
What do you think? Comment on my idea and post your own idea of how to spend $10 million to reduce world hunger and poverty.
In my last blog post, I explained the way that I think ignorance causes inaction on poverty. In this post, I have come up with a series of questions that I think we can ask ourselves to help us relate to poverty and understand how much poverty actually threatens and affects those of us not currently living in poverty.
How may your life have been different if you were born in a much poorer family? What if you went to a much poorer public school in a much poorer community, with much more crime, with much more wayward students and with much less funding?
What if pretty much all of your family and friends were poor throughout your life? Have you ever been bailed out by family or friends who had spare money or personal connections? What if you hadn’t been?
What if your household never had a car or other automobile for your entire childhood? What if you never had internet or a computer? How may that have changed your life?
Can you think of something that could have been different in your past through no fault of your own that would have caused you to fall into poverty? Even if you had worked just as hard and exercised just as good decision-making, what may have happened to you that could have led to you being poor (or poorer) now?
Can you imagine a future scenario in which you end up poor through no fault of your own? What kind of help would you expect to get or need to get to escape poverty? If you fell into poverty in the future while still working just as hard or harder, how would you feel if people called you lazy or stupid or said you deserved to be poor?
How have you been lucky in your life? How has that luck contributed to your comfort of life and financial situation? Are there ways you could have been much more unlucky that could have caused you to fall into poverty? What sort of unlucky things could happen to you now or in the future that could severely affect your finances and make you poor or poorer?
Post your answers to those questions, read other people’s answers and comment on this blog post as a whole in this thread at our forums.
Pass a link to this post along to other people as well. If we all start thinking about poverty, we will be inspired to do something about it and hopefully finally work together and eradicate it.
There has been a lot of frustration over the massive amount of pay, bonuses and luxuries given to the executives at failing banks which together received hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. government. Indeed, it leaves us asking why rich people get bailout money to pay for private jets and unnecessarily lavish Superbowl parties when working class people need bailout money just to pay for food, clothes, shelter and health care. In response, some people including President Obama have called for capping the pay of executives at banks that receive bailout money.
But the highly paid chief executive of Netflix, Reed Hastings, has asked for the taxes of executives like himself to be raised. In his op-ed entitled Please Raise My Taxes, Hastings writes, “Instead of trying to shame companies and executives, the president should take advantage of our success by using our outsized earnings to pay for the needs of our nation.”
That idea interests me. And I like when one of the very rich suggests it. At the very least, we could raise the richest people’s taxes enough so that they are no longer paying a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than the rest of us.
Anyway, stopping and undoing the recent economic crisis will cost a lot, but we do need to do it. The recent economic crisis has pushed many people deeper into poverty, many people into poverty and still pushes many people closer and closer to poverty. Raising the taxes of the extremely rich can help fund the costs of reversing the recent economic crisis.
However, poverty is not a new problem. Even before the economic recession, millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide lived in poverty. Even then, working class people still worked too hard for too little pay in a society riddled with corruption and social, political and economic unfairness. Even then, a lot of people were poor who would not have been poor and a lot of people were very rich who would not have been so rich had it not been for the corruption and unfairness.
I believe we can not only reverse the recent recession but also eradicate poverty completely. Just like reversing the recession, eradicating poverty will require an investment that costs a lot upfront. But that investment can permanently solve a very costly problem. In analogy, we can spend $1,000 once to fix the hole in a boat today rather than spend $10 a day to desperately scoop water out of the sinking boat.
Ideally speaking, I see a society in which nobody suffers from poverty, where people don’t go hungry and homeless down the street from an overstocked grocery store and a vacant house. In that ideal society, neither taxes nor government spending would be needed. So one could say I ideally want taxes to be reduced and even eliminated if possible. But noting the difference between theoretical ideals and practical steps, increasing taxes on the richest of the rich in our current messed up society seems like an effective and appropriate way to raise funds to make the investment to push us closer to that ideal society.
What do you think? Do you support raising the taxes of the very rich? Why or why not? Join the discussion and tell us your thoughts in this thread at the Philosophy Forum.
According to recent IRS data, from 2000 to 2006 the income of the 400 richest Americans doubled, but their tax rate fell by a third to only 17.2 percent.
The drop in the tax rate for the richest Americans is due mainly to ex-President Bush’s push to lower the capital gains tax to 15 percent in 2003.
As pointed out in my post Bob Edgar Stresses Poverty, Bush also drastically increased government spending, leaving even more government debt for working class taxpayers to pay since the rich people’s tax rate was decreased. In other words, Bush increased the total amount that the taxpayers have to pay by increasing government spending, but he changed the proportions so that rich people pay less of it while the rest of us pay more of it.
I also ask you to remember that the richest people in America pay less in taxes than their secretaries in percentage of income.
I think those policies of the Bush Administration and the mostly Republican legislature contributed to the current economic crisis. Worse yet, many politicians actually continue to propose the same policies as a solution to the problem. For example, Republican politicians are actually suggesting changing the “stimulus package” to include more Bush-type tax cuts for the rich while eliminating tax credits for the working class.
Please tell us your thoughts about this topic at the Philosophy of Politics Online Forum in threads such as this one.
In the discussion Food for Some, Not for All on the Philosophy Forums, I made this post. In that post, I argued that the problem in our society causing world hunger and poverty is that control over natural resources has been unfairly distributed through the use of deception and violence.
It is generally another rendition of the same point I often make on this blog in posts such as The Nature of the Current Food Crisis, Oppression, Capital and Poverty, and many of my other favorite posts.
But I do especially like the fun analogy I made:
Let’s say I claimed to own all the air in the world and threatened to imprison or kill anyone who breathed the air without my permission. I could get you guys to all work like slaves for me for barely anything because the desperation caused by your poverty would make you the equivalent of sweatshop workers. So I would gain control not only over the air in the world but also the labor. And I’m sure many people would die from lack of oxygen. I would benefit from keeping such a system, but everybody else would benefit from changing it. In that example, I represent the ruling class (a.k.a. the upper class or just the wealthy); my desperate workers represent the working class; those who die from lack of oxygen represent the poorest of us; and the air represents natural resources, namely land, water and the machinery passed down from previous generations.
Please do check out the whole forum post and join the forum discussion.