Friday, September 26, 2014

Something Better

It's a common enough complaint: "Too bad [fill in the blank] can't think of anything better to do with the money." It comes up almost every time a wealthy person or institution spends what comes across as a significant amount of money on something that someone could consider frivolous or otherwise unnecessary. But implicit in that criticism is an assumption - that the people who receive the money for the goods and services provided are not doing anything constructive with it either.

One of the issues with many forms of charity is that they do nothing to reduce the need for charity. It's easy to complain that someone who bought, say, a large yacht, would have done the world more good if they had fed some number of people with the money, but does simply feeding people actually help to life people out of poverty? Especially given the fact that here in the United States, we often buy food from relatively well-off farmers (and large agricultural corporations) and have it shipped across the ocean, where one of its main effects is to make it more difficult for local farmers to make a living. But, of course, there is a trade-off - while the people in the area who grow food are hurt by the influx of free food, since many people are net purchasers of food (as otherwise, it's less like that food needs to be imported) the population as a whole may be better off. But, in the long run, if the local farmers had the financial means to become even better farmers, perhaps they would be better able to supply the food needs of the people in their communities.

This not to say that the relatively well-off employees of a company that makes what are effectively a luxury good are at risk of being immediately unemployed if a particular wealthy person doesn't knock on their door to have their precious cat copied. Or that the money they earn from their work will be immediately spent in ways that will benefit impoverished members of their communities. But I don't know that the apparent default assumption - which is that the money that goes most directly to the poorest person it can find is the best spent is necessarily accurate.

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