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Magnanimity
February 29, 2008 3:38 AM   Subscribe

Just wanted to highlight this post by allkindsoftime (in case people miss it on the blue).
posted by hadjiboy to MetaFilter-Related at 3:38 AM (57 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

Thanks, a great post.
posted by farishta at 3:57 AM on February 29, 2008


Wow, Great FPP post hadjiboy and comment allkindsoftime. I missed that the first time around. My biggest problem when I woke up this morning was if my babysitter was going to be able to come so I could go get my monthly dye job and make my appointment to test drive new cars. Really puts my comfortable life into a much different perspective. I have some thinking to do.
posted by pearlybob at 3:59 AM on February 29, 2008


Damn right you wanna highlight that! (I missed it on the blue. Thanks!)
posted by not_on_display at 4:53 AM on February 29, 2008


Wow.

Ya know... this last week has been a convergence of suck for me. My daughter needed some emergency dental work, and my car broke down on the way to the dentist! My daughter's tooth is fixed, and my car is in the shop awaiting diagnosis. I may be late in paying my rent this month. Also, due to a recent divorce, I owe about $12K to the IRS and another $9K to attorneys. It's pretty stressful and depressing.

But that comment has made me truly, incredibly, grateful for how good I have it. My rent will be paid, even if it's a little late. The attorney and IRS will eventually be paid off, and I have the ability to take on extra freelance work to keep afloat. It will be 4 or 5 years before my finances recover. But the people mentioned in that comment will still be in the same situation, begging for shoes and hoping the river cooperates so they can pay their rent.

Thanks for putting things in perspective.
posted by The Deej at 5:22 AM on February 29, 2008 [8 favorites]


Ok, seriously, how does a person help someone like Butho? I'm talking, where can I send money that I can be sure will get to the person and help them the most. 'cause I spent more on breakfast then some people pay in rent and that's just crazy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:22 AM on February 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


A humbling comment, and post too. Thanks to both of you. I've been very much moved by some of the content posted on MetaFilter just recently.
posted by tellurian at 5:41 AM on February 29, 2008


Thanks.
posted by dobbs at 5:46 AM on February 29, 2008


Ok, seriously, how does a person help someone like Butho? I'm talking, where can I send money that I can be sure will get to the person and help them the most.

[insert your own GiveWell joke here]

Personally I think Kiva and Heifer International are great in that you can pick exactly what your money will be used for.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:05 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ok, seriously, how does a person help someone like Butho?

I'm sure my experience will be different than others, but mine is with mission trip groups (not the "CONVERT TO CHRISTIANITY" style, but rather just to help out in the area). I've been on a few trips myself to Mexico where people donated clothes and non-perishable goods for us to distribute to the people, of which 100% was given out while we were there. I totally know where allkindsoftime is coming from. If only I could write well.

At school, one of my coworkers helps to lead a group of doctors who go to Guatemala 3-4 times a year. They bring down medical supplies people have donated, again of which 100% is given to the Guatemalan people. I'm trying to convince her to bring a laptop with her and blog about the doctor's experiences.
So, yea, based on my own experience and of those around me, I find giving physical good to groups doing down to 3rd world areas an effective way of making sure they get the goods, which is the important part to me. Giving straight up money, well, it can get lost in the shuffle and all that jazz. But giving goods, you (hopefully) know where it'll end up.
posted by jmd82 at 6:13 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Good call all around. burnmp3s, I was reading about kiva just this afternoon - saw it briefly mentioned by the author of the mirabilis weblog. Looks to be a fine way of helping.
posted by peacay at 6:22 AM on February 29, 2008


Thanks, allkindsoftime.
posted by grateful at 6:27 AM on February 29, 2008


Wow.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 6:40 AM on February 29, 2008


My wife and I use Kiva; it's incredibly satisfying. Also, thanks for highlighting allkindsoftime's excellent comment.
posted by languagehat at 7:07 AM on February 29, 2008


I'm a big fan of Heifer International -- and I didn't realize that you could start picking how your money is used at this link. Of course, as Miko was talking about in some of our other charity threads, they prefer gifts that they can choose how to spend it instead.
posted by garlic at 7:13 AM on February 29, 2008


Thanks for highlighting allkindsoftime's comment. Really puts things in perspective, doesn't it? I'm going to check out the Kiva link now.
posted by misha at 7:28 AM on February 29, 2008


allkindsoftime does highlight some great organizations who can assist people in need a bit farther down in that post, but I'll take the chance to plug one more here:

Safe Passage is a wonderful organization that assists families who are living in the Guatemala City garbage dump. Its founder, Hanley Denning, had been a US schoolteacher who visited Guatemala to learn Spanish. Shortly before she was to leave the country, a friend took her on a tour of the "Dump City" and almost immediately Hanely sold her computer, her car, and basically everything else she owned to get the money to enroll about 40 of these "dump children" in local schools and try and change their lives. Hanley was killed in a car crash in Guatemala just over a year ago, but the organization she founded lives on.

I knew Hanley (not well, but I met her several times and have friends who attended Bowdoin with her). I know many of the people who work now for Safe Passage and many more who have visited Guatemala as volunteers with the organization. I do understand both the urge to "send shoes" and also the urge to say "sending shoes won't do it, we must do more".

Hanley would tell you that you need shoes first (in particular, children needs shoes and specific clothing so they are able to attend school), but that we should not simply give shoes and then think our job is done. Hanley is one of the few people I've ever met who was both able and willing to take that urge and try to change the world. For the children and families Safe Passage assists, I really do believe the world will be changed.

I urge you to support Safe Passage.
posted by anastasiav at 7:53 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh hey neat, I had put that on the sidebar before I even saw that it was here in MetaTalk.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:54 AM on February 29, 2008


I missed too. Thank you.
I'm spending this year reading about poverty in the global South with a group of people, most of them Xians and one Buddhist. The book I just finished lists a lot of local self administered entities that can use help in the following slums:
Manila
Cairo
Nairobi
Mexico City
e-mail me and I'll send you the links tonight.
posted by francesca too at 7:55 AM on February 29, 2008


Thanks pointing out allkindsoftime's comment, I would have missed it. Also, please check out kaibatsu's link to Engineers Without Borders. I had no idea this organization existed (it probably merits its own fpp). I've donated money, and I'm looking to see how I can become involved. What a great idea for an organization.

Here's the list of open sanitation projects alone. For any engineering students who have more time than money to donate, this looks like a brilliant way to do a senior or graduate project. Remember that functioning clean water and sewage systems can drastically reduce illness due to bacteria, which reduces strain on already marginal health care systems. Most engineers will find many of the projects to be rudimentary and straightforward for a technical standpoint. The most difficult part is building the psychological courage to break out of our comfort zones and make the trip. They also have projects relating to energy, construction, water treatment, etc.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:58 AM on February 29, 2008


Heifer gets some of my money annually, thanks for making me feel bad about not giving more.

No, seriously, thank you allikindsoftime and hadjiboy.
posted by Skorgu at 8:59 AM on February 29, 2008


Oh hey neat, I had put that on the sidebar before I even saw that it was here in MetaTalk.

Jessamyn always gets to sidebar the good stuff, consarnit.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:42 AM on February 29, 2008


Jessamyn always gets to sidebar the good stuff, consarnit.

She also kicks ass at Scrabulous. These kids these days with their sidebars and wordnerdery and Dewey Decimal System. Bah.

sitting on pillow
posted by The Deej at 10:03 AM on February 29, 2008


Well done Hadjiboy and Allkindsoftime.

Support Safe Passage; I visited their program and it is amazing; the death of Hanley Dening was the loss of a saint. Or Oxfam, they do as much as they can with the minimum of admin costs, American Friends Service Committee, or the program of your choice.
posted by theora55 at 10:07 AM on February 29, 2008


Giving straight up money, well, it can get lost in the shuffle and all that jazz. But giving goods, you (hopefully) know where it'll end up.

Sometimes giving money is better because organizations use it to buy the supplies they need within the local economy. That way you're giving more than just the goods the money would have bought-- you're also supporting the local economy. The important thing is choosing a program to donate to that is trustworthy. Which approach is better depends on context though.
posted by Tehanu at 10:09 AM on February 29, 2008


To me, "good" means "helping people as well as possible." As with any organization trying to do difficult things - whether helping people thousands of miles away or selling refridgerators - "not a fraud" is a tiny, tiny, tiny piece of being good. I hope the intent of your question is to demand the best deal you can get, as you do with every other purchase, rather than settling for a "double-check" that your money isn't being lit on fire. If that's what you're looking for, I recommend
posted by cillit bang at 10:35 AM on February 29, 2008


Thank you for that post and for pointing out allkindsoftime's sincerely thoughtful and moving comment. I missed them both.
posted by LeeJay at 11:16 AM on February 29, 2008


burnmp3s: "Personally I think Kiva and Heifer International are great in that you can pick exactly what your money will be used for."

Hmmm. Maybe. I've heard that Heifer International and Kiva are both decent organizations, but I don't think being able to micromanage your charity is necessarily the best way to help the poor. From the research I did (I did my dissertation on information sharing in development NGOs and looked a lot at "accountability" which is closely related) it seems that this form of narrowed oversight means the NGOs, both international and local, consciously or subconsciously steer towards activites and services that can be more easily monitored and controlled, whether or not it matchs the needs of the community.

Participation at all levels of the development chain (Donors <-> Head Office <-> Local Office <-> Community Organizations <-> Poor) is important but the more control you put in the hands of the donors, the more the power in the chain shifts to the "top" of the chain. Bottom-up participation is elusive enough already.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:21 AM on February 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh and for a somewhat depressing but really excellently written book on the problems in development, I always recommend Despite Good Intentions by Thomas Dichter. It covers many of the issues and methodologies of development: community participation, healthcare, education, microfinance, etc. Possibly the most engaging parts are the stories in which Dichter presents a hypothetical character (loosely based on himself, I think) who continuously encounters various setbacks and rude awakenings during various development projects. Through both the stories and chapters on various subjects, he makes a compelling argument that international development now behaves more and more like a self-serving, self-perpetuating "industry" and as a result cannot be effective in alleviating poverty.

The major beef that I have with the book is that effectively, after an entire career of working in development assistance, he basically says "the West should no longer be involved in development." He worked in the industry for over 35 years and reaped whatever the benefits of working in such an industry might be. Now that he has had his time, he feels like he can just tell everyone else to forget it.

Honestly, it was not a message that I wanted to hear even though I think it may be true.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:33 AM on February 29, 2008


Just to be clear, my advice would be more in line with nax's in the infamous Givewell AskMe that cillit bang quoted rather than holden0's. The Red Cross prefers monetary donations in cases like disaster relief, so that they can contribute to a recently impacted local economy as well as hand things out. Like I said, sometimes that's the better approach. And sometimes it's not. I'm not recommending a one-size-fits-all approach or the Givewell mentality of evaluating charitable donations as if they're investments.
posted by Tehanu at 11:45 AM on February 29, 2008


Put it in the sidebar so people can snark about it.
posted by Artw at 11:59 AM on February 29, 2008


Hmmm. Maybe. I've heard that Heifer International and Kiva are both decent organizations, but I don't think being able to micromanage your charity is necessarily the best way to help the poor.

I agree with you, but I feel that this argument somewhat misses the point. The way that most people feel when they hear a story about people who can't afford shoes is "I need to give these people shoes", and not "I need to contribute toward changing the system so that in the future people like these people will be able to afford shoes".

I think that the second goal is more important in the long run, but it's much harder to verify that you are making any difference at all when you work towards it. When you give someone shoes, it's very easy to see that they have shoes. When you contribute to a program that is trying to end the overall shoe problem, it's hard to tell if it's all really going to add up to anything.

I think that changing the world is a noble goal that's worth fighting for, but there's also something to be said for making one person's life better right now, even if the overall system is still broken.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:04 PM on February 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the links to Kiva. I'd vaguely heard of it, but forgotten to check it out. Excellent system they've got there.
posted by ceiriog at 12:14 PM on February 29, 2008


burnmp3s: "I think that the second goal is more important in the long run, but it's much harder to verify that you are making any difference at all when you work towards it. When you give someone shoes, it's very easy to see that they have shoes. When you contribute to a program that is trying to end the overall shoe problem, it's hard to tell if it's all really going to add up to anything."

Yes, this is exactly my point. Donor's general distaste for development projects without immeditate results appears to be part of the problem. As a result, NGOs get steered into giving shoes, and all of a sudden they are that organization that needs shoes. If the community decides something else is more important and they go to the local NGO office to say, "We need X or Y", the NGO has to say, "Sorry, all the funds we have right now are earmarked for shoes."
posted by Deathalicious at 12:21 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks for pointing out the comment and post, hadjiboy. I wouldn't have seen them otherwise.

Last year I decided that instead of giving gifts of candy, xmas ornaments and other useless items, that I'd be giving donations to Heifer.org. I don't know how my family is going to take it, but I know I'll feel better about giving something to someone who actually needs it.
posted by deborah at 12:42 PM on February 29, 2008


Until a few weeks ago I always sort of intellectualized the whole thing -- always preferring to donate to charities that work to create lasting change rather than just feeding and clothing people today. What changed my mind was learning that in Haiti, they're literally eating dirt.

It made me want to buy a lot of food for a lot of people, right now.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:14 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:35 PM on February 29, 2008


Signed up to Kiva; made some loans. Thanks for the information.
posted by fish tick at 2:49 PM on February 29, 2008


in Haiti, they're literally eating dirt.

When I was in the Peace Corps, there were a bunch of people in the village I lived in who had to do this. Food insecurity is really pervasive, all around the world. Anecdotally, at least, I think that Amartya Sen's observation that famine comes from income inequality, rather than from an actual lack of food in a country, is true. Where I lived, poor people ate dirt even though they worked on banana and sugar cane farms, producing food for export.

Watching that was the worst thing that I have ever experienced -- I have seen a lot of physical violence, and hunger is far, far worse than just about anything imaginable. And I felt totally powerless to do anything, since it was so clearly an income distribution problem stemming from basic inequities, not something that I could really effect. I gave a lot of "loans" that weren't really loans, and helped hook one person up with a good job that paid ok, taking one family at least out of dire need. But really, that was just scratching the surface of what was needed.

I have worked and lived in other poor places since then, but nowhere else where food insecurity was so visible. (Partly that is because in the Peace Corps, you have two years in one place, and you come to know that place incredibly well; problems, like food insecurity and micronutrient malnutrition, that people see as shameful can be deeply hidden and hard to see from the outside.) But this isn't only a third-world thing -- anywhere with sharp inequality will present food insecurity issues. In the US, the figure is something on the lines of 11% of households (and about 17% of children) -- not a figure to be proud of.
posted by Forktine at 3:56 PM on February 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


He took the kid's shirt?!! Superb work.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:08 PM on February 29, 2008


this is all good. maybe because I've never had alot of money (compared to some people I know) I've always found myself reassuring myself that we have it alot better than others.... and yes we fucking do. we haven't got a fucking clue how good we have it.
posted by Frasermoo at 7:08 PM on February 29, 2008


Excellent post on the blue hadjiboy and wonderful, compassionate comment by allkindsoftime. It's also wonderful and inspiring to read the practical generosity of those who are giving what they can and about organizations that are ethical and doing real good.
posted by nickyskye at 8:15 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


we haven't got a fucking clue how good we have it.

Indeed. Great stuff, guys.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:27 PM on February 29, 2008


In re: problems caused by Kiva donations being micromanaged or targeted by the donor.
I can tell you that this is somewhat true but nothing to worry about. It's true because an African woman on the front page of Kiva's website will have their loan filled in no time, while an Eastern European man will linger on there for a while. However, it's not really a problem for you, the donor, to be selective because Kiva doesn't actually send the money overseas in $100, $200 or $500 increments to be handed over to the exact person you are supporting. Rather they lump all of the money they receive for a particular institution together and send it as one large tranche. (The clever trick that they do at this point is to deduct the amount of money that the institution owes them in repayment from the tranche they are sending them, lowers transaction costs) Then the institution gives out the money to the specified clients and does all of the follow-up. The microfinance institution gets cheap capital, the microfinance client gets access to credit and you get to hear about and feel good - as well you should.
I can't speak to how Heifer International works.

Deathalicious: Thomas Dichter has issues. I think you're diagnosis of the worst sort of hypocrisy is spot on. In his article "Hype and Hope: the Worrisome State of the Microcredit Movement" he makes all sorts of baseless claims against a development intervention that he formerly oversaw. It's a little too late at night to get wound up about it again, so I shan't go through the article claim by claim. At one point, though, he suggests that, just like Swiss peasants who hid some of the milk that their cows produced to avoid paying taxes on it, the poor hide their wealth. Butho drinks your milkshake, allkindsoftime! I hear that motherfucker has, like, 30 goddamn shoes! It's patently absurd.

The one thing Dichter has right, perhaps only partially right, is that microfinance is not a panacea. Why? Because some people do it stupidly and some only care to make profits. I have seen personally the remarkable effects of microcredit programs. Most recently I was working with an incredible organization in Kenya called Jamii Bora. For a really good insight into their, quite frankly, revolutionary work, you can watch this somewhat long, mostly powerpoint presentation by their Managing Trustee. Yes, they are working with beggars. Yes, they provide health insurance. Yes, even to people with HIV/AIDS. Yes, their staff are all from the membership. Yes, they are building homes with mortgages for their members in the slums.

Another great institution is Fonkoze in Haiti. They do microcredit and are teaming up with Paul Farmer's Partners in Health to open joint health clinic/ branch offices. You can donate to them directly through their website.

Why do many of these programs fail or produce mediocre results? The answer usually lies with the commitment they have toi the individual being served. Compartamos in Mexico, for instance, is a microfinance institution that recently went public. Who do you suppose they are serving now, their clients or their shareholders? Others fail because they are tragically oblivious to the realities that their clients face. They are more committed to their own existence than to helping their clients work their way out of poverty.

On the microcredit tip and in consideration of the charges of paternalism, I'd also like to relate a little illustrative story. I once took money out of the ATM of a bank I don't have account with and became overdrawn at my bank. That's the whole story. Now, think about what happened there for a second. One bank in one part of the country asked another bank in another part of the country if I had enough money to take out my 40 bucks. My bank said, "No, not really, but give it to him anyway." I got credit. So, before we start worrying about the white man's burden or whether we are putting all of those t-shirt vendors out of work by flooding the market, I think it would be healthy to ask if we think that having bank accounts and access to credit is in toto a good thing for people and a society. Please let's not get into the whole discussion of sub-prime mortgages and Americans glut of credit. Just ask yourself if bank accounts are better than your mattress and if ATMs and credit cards are better than loan sharks.

Ok, I can barely keep my eyes open at this point. Forgive me if I'm less than coherent. My last point is that there is a clear way to help all of these people, no matter what sort of intervention you think is necessary. That is to be a vocal and active citizen. The only thing that we lack to solve all of these problems is the political will. You can't seriously believe that the top 5% will really have to give up anything of substance to help the bottom half of the population that lives on less than $2 a day. We could all collectively scrounge behind the cushions of our couches and come up with enough to double their daily income. We know what people need to live. We know how to grow food. We know how to eradicate and prevent malaria and a host of other diseases that claim hundred of thousands of lives, needlessly, each day. So, I think it falls on all of us to use our voices as citizens to say to our representatives in government, "You are failing. Here's how to fix it. Do it or you're fired." Voting is not enough.

Thanks for an excellent post and discussion.

g'night.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 2:25 AM on March 1, 2008 [30 favorites]


We could all collectively scrounge behind the cushions of our couches and come up with enough to double their daily income.

I think that's a very interesting point you made. Thanks.
posted by hadjiboy at 3:53 AM on March 1, 2008


hadjiboy, your posts and comments about the Global South dramatically improve the awesome quotient of The Blue.

Kiva's problems we (and other websites) can fix. How about a Metafilter Kiva Person of the week, dug down on, researched, annotated and posted about mefi-style at kiva.metafilter.com?

Maybe just for a year. We can partner with another charity next year.
posted by By The Grace of God at 4:33 AM on March 1, 2008


Wow. I'm rather humbled. I'm glad my little story got people thinking about this.

I actually wrote that comment maybe 2 or 3 times before, in the last month, and I deleted it each time because it sounded selfish. It sounded like I did a good thing. It still sounds that way, and I hate it for that reason. But I kept finding places that I had to type it out, and I finally said "Screw it" and posted the damn thing.

I'm just one dumb American scratching the surface of what's going on over here. That's all you've read. I've seen the touristy parts, and a little more. That's all I could write about. But as I said before, these discussions (relief vs. development, microfinance viability, donor visibility, etc.) are ones that I think are important for us to have, and to come to conclusions on.

That said, I also think its vitally important to do something now. I realize that we need to help 3rd world countries establish free markets and encourage economic development internally, but that's not going to happen over night. And its certainly not going to happen if you don't start motivating people to push for that change in the first place.

Doing something now (whether its handing out a few loans via Kiva or giving away a pair of shoes) is important because it creates a lasting memory in your head. It makes you stop and realize how good your life is and how much ability you really do posses to help other people. And I think, most importantly, it removes the excuses to procrastinate about helping in the first place. Its important to help in the best way possible, and I'm still working to educate myself to learn exactly how to do that, and who the best organizations to support are, and what people in these situations really need. But if I spend all of my time talking about the issue but never getting off my ass to actually do something - anything - well then, nothing has changed.

This is a picture of a grocery store aisle in Zimbabwe. Apparently its like that every day. I had gone in to buy some bread for some of the street kids, but they didn't have any bread. They weren't sure when they would get any. Those kids needed food THAT day, and they weren't going to get it. Yes, they need a regime change in their government, and a revaluation of the currency, and the restoration of a free market and a return to the viable economy they once had. That's important. But those kids still needed food that day.

Here's a compendium of the orgs I've seen linked in the orig thread and here as well:

Kiva
Heifer International
Safe Passage
Engineers Without Borders
Oxfam
American Friends Service Committee
Jamii Bora
Fonkoze

One World Running

Shoe4Africa
Give Meaning
Shoes For Humanity
Hanson/TOMS Walk Tour
Technoserve
World Vision International

Also, here's a few more that I'm a fan of - I either have friends working with these orgs or I've personally seen and can vouch for their work here in Africa:

CARE
Save The Children
International Rescue Committee
International Justice Mission

Thanks everyone, it means a lot to me that people care about these problems.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:08 AM on March 1, 2008 [39 favorites]


Here's something that I worry about that maybe the people who know more about this can tell me about. My concern is that we focus on things like 'they earn a dollar a day, think how little it would take to have them live on $2 a day' and I can't see how the theoretical doubling of people's incomes does anything but cause massive inflation in their country, such that their $2 a day now buys them pretty much exactly what they had before. And for the people who didn't get the aid -- because this stuff is never really universal -- doesn't that leave them even further behind with their dollar?

Is the $2 a day sekrit kode for more realistic adjustments in living standards? Is my perception of the economic realities off? I try to support things like this -- I have some money out via Kiva for example -- but whenever I sit down and think about it really hard, it's never clear to me that I'm really helping.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:37 AM on March 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


jacqui: you're right that $2/day won't make that much difference, but if we can get it up to even $5/day, then they can start saving up money and importing things. $2 won't pay for much to be imported, but $5 would probably be enough to notice. $10 might even approach reasonable comfort.
posted by Malor at 11:05 AM on March 1, 2008


jacquilynne: I don't know enough about economics to answer your question thoroughly. As I understand it, increases in wages are always trying to keep up with increases in prices that are caused by increases in wages, ad infinitum. With microcredit programs, however, we're talking about increasing profits for small businesses. In many cases your Kiva loan is being offered to an entrepreneur who previously could only turn to a loan shark who charged 1000% interest. In other cases the money might go to a farmer to smooth out her cash flow over the year. Her income increases perhaps only marginally, but she has money to pay for food and school fees throughout the year and not just at harvest time. In both cases the money is being redistributed, not injected from outside.

Microentrepreneurs who are successful enough create jobs and can raise the wages for non-microcredit borrowers in the area. (If a husband starts working with his wife on her business, there is a decrease in the supply of labor and the price for labor, i.e. wages, goes up.) I don't know how that would affect inflation. Lastly, the $1 or $2 a day level of poverty sometimes is a "sekrit kode" as it is measured by proxy. Some of those proxies are based on living conditions; does the house they live in have a floor or just dirt, a tin roof or thatch, do they eat two meals a day or one, e.g. So, if a family rises above the poverty level, they are improving their living conditions by definition. That sort of analysis is somewhat backwards though, isn't it? And again, I'm not sure how that would relate to inflation.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 11:35 AM on March 1, 2008


I can't see how the theoretical doubling of people's incomes does anything but cause massive inflation in their country, such that their $2 a day now buys them pretty much exactly what they had before

If you said, "hey, let's double the wages of everyone in country X," then yes, that would be a great recipe for inflation.

But to bring the poorest of the poor from $1/day to $2/day would affect only a portion of the people in a country, and only a relatively small portion of the money and income in that country. Because even in "poor" countries, there are lots of rich people, who control most of the wealth. So doubling the daily income of one million extremely poor people has the same net effect as one rich person making a semi-decent bet in the stock market -- it's a big deal to the people involved, but not a big deal to an entire economy.

Microcredit is great, but really it's kind of like giving out shoes -- it is a necessary component of how urgent needs can be met, but because it entirely sidesteps questions of structure and politics, it is not a mechanism for societal change. For the people who benefit, it is wonderful, of course. It has been a big deal long enough now that there are starting to be an interesting set of critical voices pointing out the limitations of microcredit -- development is an extremely faddish business, and no sooner does everyone jump on one bandwagon then along comes a set of critics and soon after another bandwagon. Microcredit will stay around as an important component of development programs, but it is no more revolutionary than was "participatory planning" or "basic needs" or "sites and services" or any other previous fad.
posted by Forktine at 4:52 PM on March 1, 2008


"it is not a mechanism for societal change"

Maybe not, but I think it is extremely helpful in creating the conditions for social change. When people can plan, when they have trust in their fellows, when they can have faith in self-built institutions, and above all when they can obtain investment capital to liberate a little time and a few extra calories, they are far more likely to be able to organise politically.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:36 PM on March 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Microcredit is great, but really it's kind of like giving out shoes -- it is a necessary component of how urgent needs can be met, but because it entirely sidesteps questions of structure and politics

That's a pretty bold statement.

The problem with aid programs is that you will always be limited by the amount of donor dollars. Microfinance is different; it encourages local economies to grow not only by dropping money on a problem but by investing at the individual level and creating self-sustaining safety nets in the form of self-employment. This doesn't cause inflation, it causes an increase in productivity, a metric you may notice is watched very carefully in developed economies. And because most microcredit recipients are women, that money goes back into the family--meaning the opportunity to provide education (often for the first time in the family's history), better health care, better/more food, clothing, etc. The capital to drive microfinance is in short supply because the poor are expensive to service (lots of small loans) but the industry is evolving. As the capital markets begin to catch on, I think you'll see microfinance driving social/political change in a way none of the other programs you mention ever began to touch.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 8:57 PM on March 1, 2008


The problem with aid programs is that you will always be limited by the amount of donor dollars.

And the reason we've limited donor dollars? It's because almost all our wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few hundred people who don't share.

The 400 wealthiest US Americans have $1.25 trillion in riches.

That's a lot of shoes.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:46 AM on March 2, 2008


It's because almost all our wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few hundred people who don't share.

Sorry, but I gotta call bullshit on that one. That's the excuse that the majority of upper-middle and even middle class America uses to never pony up and give themselves (and let me tell you, middle class America alone has enough wealth to make a significant impact on the 3rd world). Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are both right at the top of that list of 400 - both of whom are donating massive amounts to charity. I haven't done the research on all 400 on the list, but I'd be willing to bet more than a few of them are following suit with Gates and Buffet.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:08 PM on March 2, 2008


These people are more wealthy than nations. Gates and Buffet are the exceptions, not the rule, and even at that, they could give 10x as much and still not feel the pinch.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:40 AM on March 3, 2008


Not sure what the problem with KIVA is ???
Guess people have to bitch about something ???
I have made a number of Loans on KIVA without any problems
whatsoever...Their notifications on every step of the loan is
clearly documented...
As for them asking for donations for KIVA Operations,
seems that the amounts asked for and which are strickly
on a volenteer basis are low...well they have to pay the bills somehow...

Am a Retired Marine and have lived and worked in a few of these
Poverty striken countries...
If you haven't been or seen any of this...well you really haven't got
anything to say...also if you are on this site...
YOU ARE LIVING IN THE TOP 10% OF THE WORLDS POPULATION...
NO MATTER WHAT COUNTRY YOU ARE IN !!!!

Like the statement about finding enough change hidden
in your couch to double someones daily earnings...

You can give them fish everyday...
But if I teach them to fish...and supply what they need...
Then they will be fed every day...and also sell the surplus
they catch...to get other thinks they need hence a start of
a Free Market economy...ONE PERSON AT A TIME !!!
The PRIDE of ownership will be quite evident...
posted by Marine5 at 12:28 PM on March 12, 2008


Reading the last line of allkindsoftime's post "There's just not enough motivation." brings to mind a site addressing change.

It's good of us to be concerned about the state of things everywhere and share that concern here with others. We know there is a community of sorts aware of issues that should be addressed everywhere. That's a start.

It's been far too long since I have been involved in facilitating positive change myself. I plan to become involved again. I won't need to re-invent the wheel. There are enough community based organizations already in existence. I just need to get up off my derriere and become involved again.

I'm reminded of a time when I was employed as a community activist by a local organization. We ran programs for all ages including a before and after school program providing subsidized child care. Each year at Thanksgiving we did the basket thing, distrubuting food collected by local high schools to families who had signed up.

This particular year, after the distribution was done, one of the mother's came to me to pay her childcare bill for the following week. She gave me her money, I gave her the receipt. We talked for a few moments about Thanksgiving. I noticed she was fighting back tears. I asked her what was wrong. She told me that in paying her childcare bill she had spent the last of her money and her family would be eating cheese sandwiches Thanksgiving day. We had one more turkey in the freezer and some left over associated vegetables, potatoes and etc. I gave them to her. When I asked her why she hadn't signed up for the distribution she told me that her family would eat regardless. Some families would not. She didn't want to take away from those families who "really" needed it.

I often said, and I'll say it again the majority of people receiving assistance would rather be standing on their own two feet. So, I believe I'll donate my old shirts and boxes of shoes I never wear because I can't teach someone to fish unless they have something to wear at the riverside.

And then I'm going to get involved again. It all begins, and all too often, ends with us.
posted by crisshag at 8:56 AM on March 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


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