Sunday, May 26, 2013

How should the poor be helped?

How should the poor be helped?

First lets consider the underlying premise which is that giving to the poor is good. Why do people want to give to the poor? I think that the most common reason is rooted in altruism -- they feel guilty that they have what they have while others don't have it, and they believe that others should have the  opportunities that he had. Following this argument it seems that the goal is to make the world a better place by helping less fortunate people everywhere. Seems like a noble goal.

Now lets consider how people currently give to the poor. It seems to me that they mostly give to people they don't know, or at least there is an expectation from society to give to strangers (at least that's what I gather from today's Christian tradition). What is the result? Well poor people, in general, have worse morals than non-poor[1], so giving to *any* poor person means giving more to bad poors than good poors (on average). This is counter-productive to the goal of making the world a better place. Why? Because a lot of wealth is being wasted (i.e. destroyed) by bad people doing non-productive things [underlying premise here is that wasting wealth for one person is bad for everybody -- need argument].

So *blindly* giving to the poor is counter-productive to the intended goal of giving to the poor, which is to make the world a better place for everybody.

Which raises the question: How should donations to the poor be done so that only the good people get it?

Islam tries to solve this problem by saying that one should give to one's family first, and then work outwards, to the tribe, and then further out. But this is bad because it assumes that one's family is good. Its better to give to a good friend than a bad sibling -- good morals could make use of my wealth while bad morals would destroy it. So helping a bad sibling isn't actually helping anybody and instead its hurting the world (on average) because it destroys wealth, which is counter-productive to the goal of helping the world be a better place.

The US government doesn't try to solve this problem at all. They give (i.e. forcibly redistribute wealth from taxpayers) to poor people regardless of their morals. This does more harm than good since most poor people have bad morals [same unargued premise as above]. Could the US government change its policies such that only the good poor get help? I don't think so for a few reasons. First, the decisions are made federally and by the states, and not locally so its practically impossible for those few individuals to make judgement calls about each individual poor person. Second, even if this was switched to local government, there is no incentive for government officials to do the right thing and be selective of only the good people because its not their wealth that they are redistributing. Third, even if there was sufficient incentive to do a good job, there's no incentive for the government to hire officials with sufficient knowledge of how to judge good from bad.

So what's the alternative? Let the people that give the wealth decide who they will give to. How would they do that? By giving to poor people that one knows well enough to make a judgment call that the money will be used for good. Maybe you have a poor friend that could be a good salesperson for your boss (and this would improve your life because its another good productive person working for your employer) so you give him some money for him to buy a suit.

Instead, lets say you met a homeless person on the street and he asks you for money so that he could buy a suit to get a job. You don't know his morals so how can you make a reasonable judgment call that the money will be used for good? How do you know he won't spend it on crack, or on terrorism?


[1] Poor ppl are generally way more ignorant than non-poor ppl. Ignorance is what causes evil.