Monday, April 20, 2009

Paying The Poor

This was my response to a Digg post and I thought I'd repost it here so that, in theory, I can find it later; not that this tactic has worked well for me in the past. In a nutshell the contrary argument to which I respond is thus: "If you pay people to be poor, you'll never run out of poor people. Poverty is not simply an absence of money. Rather, it is bound up with a whole set of other circumstances: lack of qualifications, demoralisation, family break-up, substance abuse, fatherlessness. It follows that you do not end poverty by giving money to the poor..."

We have an economic system that allows a very small minority to control the majority of wealth. Do the math. If the majority of your society has to share a small percentage of the wealth, some people are gonna be left with nothing. An economy is not determined healthy because some of its participants are rich. It has nothing to do with how much an individual saves, but how much an individual spends. Economies are healthy when money is changing hands. Without constant bartering and constant transactions, an economy will stagnate. Only when people give money to one another, or spend money on goods and services, is there a fluid economy that supports the society it serves.

If you think by giving money to poor people you are paying them to be poor, you completely miss the point. By investing in people who are down today, you help give them a chance to pull themselves out of the hole and become productive members of society. If they have no resources, they can't improve themselves. Now granted, most poor people also need education and support so they don't spend what's given to them in a frivolous manner. Most people wouldn't know a good investment versus a bad investment without proper education.

For example, if you come across a homeless person and want to give him money, and he has a liquor bottle in his hand, there is a relatively high probability he'll use the money you give him to buy another bottle of liquor. However, if you take the man to a grocery store or restaurant and buy him a healthy meal, that's a more resourceful way to invest your money on his health. It may cost you more time and resources than if you just throw five bucks at him, but he'll be in better shape when you leave him, and it may help him get out of his hole. Most people just throw money at homeless people to get them to leave them alone. It allows a person to get on with their day and they feel like they helped somebody, but it's not as good an investment as it could have been with more forethought put into it.

Also keep in mind some people just don't wanna get out of their hole. Most of us are always trying to improve our lives whether we're at the bottom of the ladder or on top of the world, but some people just give up on the foolishness of the rat race and find a comfortable place to just be. Maybe you think everyone should constantly be fighting one another to be top dog on the hill of life, but not everyone has the same goals. Some people just want to live a peaceful and happy life, and bring joy to the people around them. Their lives are no more or less forfeit than the lives of the go-getters in the world. We can't all cure cancer. Some of us are just meant to light the way for others with a smile or a word of encouragement. Everyone has their place in this universe, no matter how big or small that place may be.

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