Do you ignore the poor or exploit the poor?

There is a small (but I think growing) group of folks who are REALLY working hard to help people.  They neither EXPLOIT the poor nor IGNORE the poor as they seek solutions to the  world’s pressing problems.  

The rest of us – I still put myself in this category but hope to escape it someday – pretty much ignore the world’s pressing problems in favor of pet peeves, political nonsense, and the many usually trivial injustices faced in most of the western wealthy world.     So many  Americans don’t get this because they have not seen much of the rest of the world and/or they are incredibly self absorbed, but ironically the challenge of fretting over nonsense plagues most of us in the western world who collectively have … most of the wealth of the world.

As a reminder for those of you who get all their news from silly personal blogs (!)  local sources, the interwebz, or cable news outlets, the MOST PRESSING problems of the world are mostly related to poverty and include preventable diseases like malaria, bad water, poor sanitation, and lack of health care in developing world  (no, US health care is NOT a pressing global problem!   Just review the health care for the massive majority  living at the average standards in Africa, North Korea, rural India, Pakistan, China or Indonesia.   Studies of costs and benefits clearly indicate that the USA has great quality but wastefully and massively expensive health care system.

In  my opinion we need to seek *reductions in quality and cost* in many sectors of health care here in USA in favor of the huge cost savings that would bring.    For example if you shifted costs from expensive MRIs and CAT scans for the marginally ill to more funding for inner city nutrition programs the *net effect* would probably be a lot more life years saved.     Why?   high tech care is hugely expensive and only marginally helpful in terms of long term outcomes where low tech interventions have much higher return on investment.  Let’s start focusing on ROI, not politically motivated budgeting that favors interest groups over the truly needy.

Much of the world’s population is dying – literally dying – for the conditions we take for granted (and even complain about as inadequate) here in the USA.   To be rational, if we want to “make the world a better place” we need to discuss human needs in a global context rather than the local context.    Obviously there are reasons to discuss these topics within a local context, as when one is working to create better health care for their family, their city, their state, or their country.   But those discussions are selfish ones.   Selfishness is OK, it’s natural, and it will always be part of the human condition, but it’s important that we recognize that what’s good for our family, our state, or our country is NOT likely the optimal solution for the world at large.     I have no good resolution for this  but it always frustrates me how people tend to think the systems that work best for them  are the ones that are best.    That would be nice, but it’s almost never the case.     This extends broadly to other things as well.    There’s generally opposition to higher taxes in the private sector and support for higher taxes in sectors where taxes are paying the salaries.

Back to the point here:  Aside from that small group of missionaries, NGO workers, and a few others most of the rest of us simply IGNORE the poor.

For me, ignoring the poor is the pressing issue rather than exploitation.  In fact I think this point is missed by many of the amazing, wonderful folks who work in NGOs that do so much to fight poverty.    It’s easy to point at the wealthy and think they are “sucking up” resources that would go to the poor rather than the more accurate view that they are keeping most of the EXTRA wealth they created through innovation and entrepreneurship, not exploitation.    I realize this is a sweeping assumption and needs data, so if you have ideas about how to measure this objectively I’m very interested.

Definitions and symantics challenge us here.   For some Apple is exploiting those who work in the iPhone factories because they make a fraction of what they’d make in USA, where for others Apple is helping the poor by providing better jobs than they’d have without an iPhone factory.     I lean strongly to the latter view but recognize that this is a complicated subject, relating to the relationship of how to combine wealth creation with better wealth distribution.     Right wingers typically ignore inequality and distribution issues in favor of maximizing production while left wingers typically see economics as zero sum game and thus only pay attention to wealth distribution.    Of course there is no “right answer”, but we should always be looking to find a “better way” to combine the challenges of wealth creation and distribution.

…. more coming on my favorite topic …  please chime in ! ….

6 thoughts on “Do you ignore the poor or exploit the poor?

  1. I have seen multiple times the poor through the heartfelt lens of helping organizations as pitiful because they are carrying wood for their home fires. Crudely grinding grain for an evening meal. Walking a dusty road with bucket of water. We view them in light of our conveniences which to many are the very things that the abundance of has cost us dearly. Physically, spiritually, financially. Please don’t get me wrong, we must assist and help the poor, and never grow cold in this regard. But a wider angled lens would go far in getting the full picture. Thanks for allowing me to add something to it.

    • Betty I need to add that I am NOT talking so much about us ignoring the subsistence farming poor as the much as how we ignore the malnourished, malaria or intestinal worm infected folks. Over a thousand million people still don’t have access to clean water and in my view we need to focus on that long before, say, fretting that pink slime is in our McDonald’s hamburger. Many reply to me “hey, we need to focus on BOTH those problems but I don’t see them doing that. Rather,we have a robust dialog in the USA about things that have relatively minor effects on health and well being and we … IGNORE the pressing issues of poverty that afflict much of the globe. History is going to judge humanity a lot more harshly for ignoring the thousands of children dying for lack of oral rehydration therapy than for the dozens of upper middle class causes that obsess folks with too much time on our hands. Bloggers, for example ! : ) ?

  2. Ha – fair enough Gracehopper, but the poor are not doing a very good job of exploitation … : ). Note that my point is NOT that the poor are better or more noble than the wealthy. In fact in my experience there are good and bad in all sectors, mostly good folks.

  3. Pingback: » Siri, Seriously: 10 Ways We’re Really Using Apple’s Voice Assistant

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