Thursday, February 1, 2018

Where They're Planted

When you’re at zero—subsistence—with no hope and no help, that can feel pretty desperate. Sometimes that inspires creative invention. But sometimes it just overwhelms.

We talked about that in part of Monday’s discussion. I was thinking about it more this week, especially following a lot of immigration discussion after President Trump suggested, in the State of the Union Address, that 1.8 million illegals who were brought here as children might get a path to citizenship.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the SOTU, but the plan, as he laid it out, was more generous on DACA than the Democrats were insisting on—which was the continuation of Obama’s executive order to fail to follow the law concerning them. The Trump plan, however, also included a strong border, stopping gang infiltration, and getting rid of chain migration—the practice of letting in one, and then allowing all their extended family to attach to them.

So, this puts the opposition in a tough place. They get what they want—and then some—and then they get an end to allowing the problem to keep happening over and over. As Elle Woods would have said in Legally Blonde, “It’s a perfectly brilliant plan!” And yet, they sat on their hands and accused the president of insane racism. Why? For giving 1.8 million a path to citizenship that they didn’t have—against the will of his base, so costing Trump some political capital.

Or maybe they like having the “dreamers” available as a tool to hit their opposition with, and it wasn’t really about helping those young people; it was nothing but posturing.

I can’t tell whether President Trump made a genuine offer, or whether he was setting up the Democrats so he could demonstrate to the American people directly how unreasonable those Trump-deranged Dems are.

I’ll just leave that there.

What I’m thinking about is that zero level poverty—abject and hopeless. And how do we, as civilized people, help solve that.

The immigration debate is relevant here, because so many people come to America in hopes of something better. There’s a gut reaction among compassionate people, thinking, “I feel so sorry for them. We should let them come. Just open our borders. Anyone who doesn’t want to do that is just heartless.”

The problem is, there’s more poverty in the world than we could solve through any amount of immigration.

There’s a video—from 2010, but still pretty accurate—that illustrates the problem using gumballs. I think we need to see this 6-minute lesson, to understand the scope of the problem, before we go ahead with the conversation:

So, if the best way to help people is to help them thrive where they are, that should be the goal.

Foreign aid is another feel-good idea that causes compassionate people to say, “I feel so sorry for them. We should give them our money—whatever they need. Anyone who doesn’t want to do that is just heartless.”

But foreign aid isn’t the answer either. It passes nation-to-nation, so it doesn’t usually get past a corrupt leadership—and if you’ve got a country with a lot of systemic poverty, you can be certain there’s corrupt leadership.

So how about giving humanitarian aid, through service organizations? If they can get past the corruption and get to the people, that’s part of the answer. I wrote this back in 2013:

Sometimes there’s an immediate need to give a man a fish. But that is never a long-term solution to his hunger. You teach a man to fish, and he has the skill to take care of himself. But maybe he also needs the means to make or otherwise get hold of a fishing pole or net.
LDS Humanitarian Services recognized that following the Christmas tsunami that hit Indonesia in 2004. Aid workers would interview the survivors to find out what they needed. After meeting immediate needs of food, clothing and shelter, which LDS Humanitarian Services was known for supplying following disasters around the world, what the survivors needed was a way to replace some of what they’d lost, to get back on their feet and self-sustaining. So aid became a sewing machine or two, plus enough for a few starting supplies of fabric and thread. Sometimes it was a fishing boat, or even just a new sail. Enough to get a person or a family back on their feet and independent.

That leads to long-term happiness more than just receiving necessities without hope for self-reliance.
One solution I’ve liked for a long time is microcapitalism. In the book Influencer, the authors talk about combining microloans—typically around $250—with a small group council, to improve the success of fledgling businesses. The example they share is a small village in central India, where a group of housewives meet to discuss ways they can individually develop very small businesses, such as starting an egg business.

And the next step up is small-to-medium-sized loans, which can lead to real economic growth. Here’s their description:

While many organizations have promoted microloans (typically under $250) to start one-person businesses, we are also aware of encouraging cases in which Christians have decided to invest in for-profit businesses in the “small and medium enterprise” (SME) range, where $25,000 to $1 million is required to start a business. Such businesses are crucial for larger economic growth in poor nations, but they are more difficult to launch due to high start-up and due-diligence costs, and the challenge of providing a reasonable risk/return model for investors.
So, there are steps to helping people in abject poverty:

1.       Alleviate starvation and provide basic survival needs.
2.       Help people work together to do small enterprises that will begin to provide a livelihood. These are loans, not handouts, with group help to think fully through ideas to make them work.
3.       With enough people doing small enterprises successfully, communities will develop enough experience to support slightly larger enterprises. These are higher risk, and some will fail, but some will succeed. And more success will follow.

It isn’t heartless to face the fact that we can’t bring everyone here to solve their economic woes. And it isn’t heartless to face the fact that we can’t just pour money on a problem and call it good. Insisting that government take tax money from your neighbors to alleviate your guilt about the poor of the earth isn’t really charity.

If you really care about people, then support good ideas that help individuals and local communities. I like LDS Humanitarian Services, which puts 100% of donations to use—no overhead (which gets covered through other Church donations). They carefully target where and how to help, and they keep learning.

And I really like the microloan idea. If you want to help someone out of abject poverty, try giving a $250 loan.

Inside the catalog of WorldCrafts. I've bought from them,
and I think they are a way to connect local
artisans with buyers around the world.
Or buy what local artisans produce. Let them know they are creating value. That’s a free-market idea, which is the best way out of poverty ever invented. And it’s also the most moral, and the best path to a satisfying life.

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