2005-12-27

What good is charity? A proposal.

Bill Gates, Bono (of U2 fame) and Melinda Gates have been named as the 2005 TIME magazine persons of the year. The Gateses were chosen partly for the $3+ billion their foundation spends on third world public health each year, but just as importantly, as a tribute to the Gateses' and Bono's ability to sway entities with even larger pockets into contributing.

Certainly, the donated money will improve, and rescue, the lives of large numbers of people. TIME writes that the Gateses' foundation alone has helped save at least 700.000 lives in poor countries, and I'm sure it has had a very positive impact on many more.

However, I am not certain how this manner of help is going to make things better in the long term. There are 6 billion people in the world, and the vast majority of these people are poor. Some argue relativity, that poor people are only poor materially. This article, among many others, shows how these people are also poor mentally. Their states of mind are medieval.

I can see no reasonable and good way how 1 billion of rich people, who among themselves have people who are disadvantaged, can prop up the other 5 billion through giving. In fact, nothing good has ever come from uncritical giving, and there are more than enough examples. People who, rather than using what gifts they receive as an opportunity to become self-reliant, instead rely ever more on the gift-giver; and worse. In the long term, therefore, giving don't work.

What does work, however, is teaching. And giving can improve the long term fortunes of another only insofar as it is in conjunction with teaching. Because the reason a person or a country is in misery is not that she was denied access to wealth by some whimsical, ill-tempered deity. Wealth is not received from up above, but instead is a product of people working together in a long term constructive endeavor. Knowledge and wisdom are the highest gift; yet, at the same time, most difficult to give.

It has taken the western society hundreds of years to break out of the mental prison of the middle ages. This is the same prison as third world people are in. Knowledge of how to create a constructive society will not emerge in their minds in a reasonable timeframe spontaneously. And their poverty is chronically incurable unless they themselves form a constructive society.

As per the phrase that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, we won't be successful in teaching most of third world's grown people. And we can't go there to teach their schoolchildren either. Their elders' values are largely dysfunctional, or they wouldn't be living in misery. Therefore, the children need to be taught things against their own elders' values. But if we teach them those things, we will at minimum be accused of cultural imperialism, or worse; our teachers will be vilified, expelled, or even lucky to escape the local idea of punishment.

Yet, there are things we can do.

I propose that, in overpopulated countries where most people's prospects are a lifetime of hunger and suffering, an economically promising and politically viable possibility is:

A self-funding scheme of large-scale adoption of children

The scheme I propose is based on the premise that every human being is an intrinsic potential creator of wealth, and all that is needed to realise this is to place the human being in a proper environment. I propose that, while the potential of most of the 6 billion people on earth goes to waste, we can salvage some of this potential by taking those people and putting them in an environment where they will thrive. We shall nurse them, feed them, raise them and educate them to our highest standards, and in 25 years we shall have individuals who will go and create wealth on their own. And I'm not talking a few thousand people; I'm talking hundreds of thousands, a million, or more. These individuals can either disperse to a country of their choice, return to their own or we can start with them a new country entirely. As part of our agreement with these individuals, they will pay for their raising and education from future income they make, as is the case with people who take a student loan and graduate e.g. from Harvard. In other respects, these people shall be free to move anywhere in the world and pursue careers of their choice.

Coincidentally, there is an enormous volume of money looking for a very similar investment as this. Retirement benefits. Pension funds invest safely and prefer not to risk most of their money on companies that may fold in five years; and they invest long term, managing funds whose life spans are measured in decades. And they expect a positive, even if modest, return.

What better and more promising long term investment is there, if not one that is guaranteed by a whole generation, one which we raise ourselves?