“No one wants to be a beggar for life” – “Poverty, Inc.”

December 16, 2015, 7:32 am
consequences facing facts and accept consequence of acts take and face responsibilities

photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Poverty, Inc. is a documentary from a group by the same name. You can see the trailer at those links.

The way we, that is, the developed world, are doing international development is broken. One comment in the movie from an economist in Africa tells the story:  emergency relief is the standard model used for decades to end poverty and suffering.

That isn’t working.

As another speaker says:

“No one wants to be a beggar for life”

I read two reviews of the movie, one from a center-left perspective and one from a center-right perspective. Both praise the movie and share in the criticism of big aid.

The documentary won several awards at a libertarian film festival and then won best documentary at a progressive film festival. Imagine that!

Guess which of the following two columnists made this comment?

It’s almost like anybody with a populist outlook and, you know, a brain between their ears and a heart between their shoulders, has got to look at our current system of international development and aid and say there’s something deeply wrong.

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Life is complex. Helping people even more so.

August 24, 2015, 6:51 am
Complicated road. Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Helping people move out of poverty is extremely complex. Every part of a culture and economy is tied to every other part. Changing one part could result in some unanticipated change another part. Or another issue may immediately surface as a block to any progress.

I don’t have any answers to the questions raised by the following articles. I am trying to work through these issues. Join me as I ponder.

About deworming medicine…

The complexity of helping is illustrated by this article at Vox on 7/28: Worm wars: The fight tearing apart the global health community, explained. Three main points I draw from the article:

First, there may be other factors that deserve credit for some portion of the effect of deworming medicine. Thus it isn’t merely passing out bunches of pills that makes things better.

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On Unintended Consequences – giving away consumer goods and banning plastic bottles doesn’t do what you would expect

August 17, 2015, 8:22 am


consequences facing facts and accept consequence of acts take and face responsibilities

Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

One frustrating feature of life is that things are so complex. Doing something to help people or make things better can have unrelated impacts that offset any benefit.  Sometimes doing good stuff can make things worse.

That is called unintended consequences. Here are two more examples.

Giving away free consumer goods may not make life better for poor people…

7/23 – Vox – Buying TOMS shoes is a terrible way to help poor people – Add this article to the vast and growing body of articles explaining that the buy-one-give-one-to-poor-people way to end poverty is doing little to help and might be doing a lot of harm.

Amongst the many points made: Read the rest of this entry »

The problems with celebrity activism? Let’s start with unintended consequences.

July 13, 2015, 8:13 am

Amongst the long list of challenges getting in the way of actually helping the people you want to help, two repeatedly jump out at me.

The first challenge is to avoid unintended consequences. Because humans are so complicated and react to changes around them, you will frequently find that taking one action has some unexpected consequence that undercuts the help you’re trying to provide.

Another challenge is finding out what the people you are helping might actually know about the issue. The people living with the struggle every single day might have some insight that could have helped you while you were in your office figuring out how to fix their problem.

Check out the following article on 7/12 by Georgia Cole, Ben Radley, & Jean-Benoit Falisse writing at Quartz – What’s missing from celebrity activism in Africa? The people.

My summary:  the article explores the long list of problems with celebrities picking a cause, choosing the one single perfect solution that will fix everything, and advocating for their personal preference of policy action.
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The world is messy and there is no silver bullet for development

December 3, 2014, 7:37 am

That headline is my feeble summary of a superb 6,000 word article at the New Republic by Michael Hobbes: Stop Trying to Save the World – Big ideas are destroying international development.

In the last year he has read all the books on the shortfalls in development he can find.

The article covers a lot of ground. Here are the three biggest points for me:

There is no silver bullet that will fix all problems or work in all situations.


We need to modify our expectations that we can find a silver bullet.


Projects that work splendidly in one specific location in one set of circumstances won’t scale up by a factor of a thousand and might not do any good if you roll it out across the country.

I often talk of unintended consequences.

New phrase for today is “complex adaptive systems.”

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Arguments in favor of harmful aid

September 3, 2014, 12:26 pm

Blogger “J” writing at AidSpeak recently experienced another round of lousy arguments in favor of harmful aid. He developed an inventory of the bad arguments in play.

I’ve mentioned “J” a number of times on my blog. He has helped me stretch my understanding in general and especially on the difference between doing aid well and causing harm & hurt by doing aid poorly. We rarely consider the risk of unintended consequences when helping others. Check out some of my articles:

His detailed explanation of great reasons to do aid that hurts is A Taxonomy of Arguments in Favor of Bad Aid.

What does he include in the population of harmful aid?

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Before you get too far in planning that short term mission trip….

July 28, 2014, 8:19 am

….read Once more, from the top at AidSpeak. The author, “J”, wrote the article It’s a Crappy World, that I mentioned here.

The article discusses, then demolishes, a number of the arguments for volunteers going overseas to help.

Here’s just a few thoughts for your consideration:

Aid and development are professions, not hobbies. It takes specific knowledge, skill and experience to get this right.

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