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?


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

6 comments:

  1. So are you saying we should let the "bad" poor that we don't know die rather than give them some small amount of money because they might use it for terrorism?

    I understand the point you're trying to make, but looking from the Christian point of view, I think that we can never truly know what someone will do with the money, no matter how well we know them. So instead of focusing on what he/she will do, we focus on *us* doing something good (supposing giving to poor is something good if for no other reason than because it says so in the Bible [I know this is a fallacy in argumentation, but I think there are many other arguments that support charity]). Even if we prevent only one man out of thousand from dying, don't you think that it was worth giving money to them?

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  2. If a person is good, he can convince somebody that he is, and convince him to give him charity. What's the problem?

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  3. I'm talking about people you pass by on the street. You usually don't have the time to talk with them for several hours to get a gist of whether they are good or bad.

    And most importantly, some "good" people can't use words really well while some "bad" people can convince you quite easily. So giving only to those you *consider* to be "good" can exclude those that really are and include those that aren't.

    I think that you should give money to all, except for those that you know with a high degree of certainty they will waste it. Doing that, those that really are "bad" will waste your money and stay on the street and those that are "good" will try to make something with it. But because not everyone is charitable, those that are "bad" will sooner or later realize that they have to get their life in order or they will actually die.

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  4. > I'm talking about people you pass by on the street. You usually don't have the time to talk with them for several hours to get a gist of whether they are good or bad.

    I think it’s bad to give money to somebody you don’t know whether or not he will do bad with it.


    > And most importantly, some "good" people can't use words really well while some "bad" people can convince you quite easily.

    If you’re too ignorant to figure out if someone is good or bad, then you shouldn’t be giving anyone money. “Bad” people who try to trick you are doing con-art/PUA — this is learnable stuff. There’s books on it.

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  5. I have doubts about what you wrote in your post and comments, but I’d still like to ask you some questions about your views.

    Why do you think “ignorance is what causes evil”? Do you think that if someone does something “bad” out of ignorance, then he is a “bad” person?

    And do you think that “bad” people not only shouldn’t get money, but they shouldn’t get in-kind help, either, and so they should die?


    > If a person is good, he can convince somebody that he is, and convince him to give him charity.

    Why do you think that? And do you think everyone who has money to give should spend a lot of time getting to know poor strangers so they can decide whether or not to give them money? And if so, how would that work?


    > I think it’s bad to give money to somebody you don’t know whether or not he will do bad with it.

    Do you also think it’s bad to buy anything from somebody you don’t know, because that would let them have money?


    > If you’re too ignorant to figure out if someone is good or bad, then you shouldn’t be giving anyone money.

    Again, do you think that then you shouldn’t buy anything from anyone, either? And that if you’re not sure whether you yourself are "good" or "bad", then you shouldn’t own any money yourself?

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  6. Hi Julia. I didn't notice this comment before. Got buried in email.

    > I have doubts about what you wrote in your post and comments, but I’d still like to ask you some questions about your views.

    "but"? Having doubts is exactly why one should ask questions. :)


    > Why do you think “ignorance is what causes evil”? Do you think that if someone does something “bad” out of ignorance, then he is a “bad” person?

    I’ve changed my mind. Ignorance is not enough to cause evil. One needs bad ideas.

    I don’t know what you mean by “bad” person. Note that I didn’t use the term “bad person” in my blog post.


    > And do you think that “bad” people not only shouldn’t get money, but they shouldn’t get in-kind help, either, and so they should die?

    It would be better to turn good.


    >> If a person is good, he can convince somebody that he is, and convince him to give him charity.
    >
    > Why do you think that? And do you think everyone who has money to give should spend a lot of time getting to know poor strangers so they can decide whether or not to give them money? And if so, how would that work?

    What’s wrong with just dealing with the people one already knows?


    >> I think it’s bad to give money to somebody you don’t know whether or not he will do bad with it.
    >
    > Do you also think it’s bad to buy anything from somebody you don’t know, because that would let them have money?

    If you buy something from someone, and if you have major disagreements with their worldview, yes you shouldn’t trade with them.


    >> If you’re too ignorant to figure out if someone is good or bad, then you shouldn’t be giving anyone money.
    >
    > Again, do you think that then you shouldn’t buy anything from anyone, either? And that if you’re not sure whether you yourself are "good" or "bad", then you shouldn’t own any money yourself?

    How did you get the money? By stealing or voluntary trade with people? If the latter, you’re good enough to have money.

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