My Inner-Republican and Inner-Democrat discuss a NYT op-ed on poverty
Sometimes my inner thoughts take sides against each other and chat. Here’s such an exchange between Republican Luke and Democrat Luke (for lack of better labels).
Republican Luke: Did you see Nicholas D. Kristof’s New York Times opinion Moonshine or the kids?
Democrat Luke: I did. Remember we’re just two manifestations of the same person. You’ve just been hearing me more the last decade and since you switched to an Independent. Remind me of the main premise again?
RL: He said:
It’s [the “ugly secret of global poverty”] that if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed. Much suffering is caused not only by low incomes, but also by shortsighted private spending decisions by heads of households.
Mr. Kristof, writing from the Congo Republic, highlights a man whose family is about to get kicked out of their home and kids kicked out of school because they can’t pay their rent and tuition. They have no mosquito nets. However, he spends more each month on a cellphone and liquor than rent + tuition for his family.
What did you think? I’ve been around longer, and I know what I think. Let me hear from you.
DL: Honestly, it was a little difficult.
It doesn’t seem very responsible.
RL: I know. That’s my thing; people are – or at least should be – personally responsible and culpable for their choices.
DL: But the system is broken and unfair for so many people. His circumstances are very different than yours. Ever lived in the Congo?
RL: No, but I don’t waste my money.
DL: Really? I like your value judgement. Eating out? Camera gear?
RL: That’s different. It’s expendable income. I realize when my kids need school supplies and when my rent/mortgage needs to be paid. I wouldn’t pay a cellphone bill instead of rent.
DL: Right. You have a little expendable income.
RL: Sure, but I’m a little wary about giving it to heads of households who ignore their families needs to buy moonshine and prostitutes (!). I can waste it better than that.
DL: Of course, you know this isn’t true for everyone, though the article and the studies show the scope of the problem are disturbing. For some people, the systemic problems are insurmountable.
RL: Yes, I’m trying not to get jaded. I just want people to be responsible.
DL: You sound so heartless. What about the innocent kids in poverty? Don’t we support a kid through World Vision?
RL: Valid. We support World Vision and Kiva because we believe they are responsible and making an effort. I’m not for hurting innocent kids. They need a better future and an opportunity. They need to be helped. But by whom? Is agency/government handout going to change the behavior of the kids? Make them more responsible? Remember the article:
Look, I don’t want to be an unctuous party-pooper. But I’ve seen too many children dying of malaria for want of a bed net that the father tells me is unaffordable, even as he spends larger sums on liquor. If we want Mr. Obamza’s children to get an education and sleep under a bed net — well, the simplest option is for their dad to spend fewer evenings in the bar.
So who’s heartless? Me or a father who won’t house/protect his kids with money he has?
DL: But at least if they’re helped, they have a better chance, even if their families can help them but don’t. You are lucky to be born American and white with caring parents.
RL: Yes, an undeserved advantage to be sure. But I’m not neglecting core financial obligations for pleasure. Not all white Americans are middle-class and happy.
DL: But you know better. Not everyone knows.
RL: I chose better, albeit from a better starting place.
DL: So what about grace? You want to be held responsible for all your mistakes?
RL: No, that’s a good point. Hopefully I’m making good life changes in areas I’m wrong. But I don’t want to enable others either. I’m all for forgiving people who want to change, but for people that aren’t sorry, or without consequences, how do people learn?
DL: Are we still talking about just poverty/life choices?
RL: Sort of. I want your perspective when it comes to spirituality/faith, etc but I’m stuck on the social thing. I don’t like the dualism I feel on this, especially since we’ve come to discount the bifurcation between spirituality and other areas of life. We’ll be blogging about that later.
DL: Sounds good. Did you notice the part where microfinance programs, especially those involved in microsavings and involving women, are making a difference?
RL: Oh, I’m all for those. I hope to channel some money towards such things. And I do appreciate the under-appreciated value women, especially those in poverty, have in changing the course of their children’s future.
DL: Ok, so how do you know who’s responsible and who’s not?
RL: Not sure. It’s kind of like buying food for the homeless. It’s a great gesture – and better than giving money – but only helps them today. It doesn’t teach them to fish, which would be better.
DL: So that’s why you like microfinance/microsavings?
RL: Yes. Not everyone wants to fish.
DL: Good to talk to you, as always. I do admit, things were easier when they were black and white.
RL: True, but when things were black and white, you didn’t have a lot to say.
DL: Yeah. I guess we’re maturing.
RL: Indeed. It’s bittersweet.
Thanks for reading the thoughts. I found the op-ed interesting. Mr. Kristof is no conservative, from what I can tell, which is why his short article was of special interest to me. He ended with:
Well-meaning humanitarians sometimes burnish suffering to make it seem more virtuous and noble than it often is. If we’re going to make more progress, and get kids like the Obamza children in school and under bed nets, we need to look unflinchingly at uncomfortable truths — and then try to redirect the family money now spent on wine and prostitution.