Posts Tagged ‘charity

03
Jan
10

Sweet [and Sour] Charity

Let the facts be faced, charity is a futile practice. No matter how much money we donate, the poor seem to just get poorer. No matter how much aid is given to third world countries, no matter how many people volunteer at the local homeless shelters, no difference seems to be made.

It’s not because the right measures aren’t being taken. People aren’t (in general) being fed for a day- most charities and aid organizations attempt to help people help themselves. Impoverished families are taught modern farming techniques and are given poultry and livestock, the homeless are offered shelter and are instructed on how to hold a job. At first glance it would appear that charity is working great. There are, sadly, several factors which most people don’t take into account.

Firstly, there’s the overwhelming logistic issue. On the whole, charity and aid aren’t the foremost thoughts in the minds of those who actually do have excess capital. Give a man five dollars and his first impulse probably isn’t going to be to give that money away to someone else. Once we establish that very few people actually do give to charity on a regular basis, we have to realize that the number of people in wretched, abject poverty is monumentally greater than the number of people donating. For example, imagine that all that’s needed to bring one man out of poverty is a mere hundred dollars. If the average person donates five dollars per month (and that’s a generous estimate) it’ll take either (1) twenty months for enough cash to be raised to help the impoverished man (by which time it may be too late) or (2) twenty donors to help a single person. At this rate (and it’s a generous rate), charity will never help more than a fortunate few.

But of course, this is only if the aid gets to these people at all. Corruption is rife both within aid organizations and in every channel that the aid must pass through. Some estimate that only a quarter of all the money given to charity actually reaches those who need it (again, this is a generous estimate).

But of course, all of this is dwarfed by the third and most critical issue: what’s the point of getting people back on their feet when they’ll just get knocked down again? People don’t choose to be poor, people either become poor or are born poor. This is a world dominated by the principals of Capitalism. Competition is brutal, and those who aren’t quite as strong or smart or deceitful or brutal as others will inevitably find themselves forced to the lower rungs of the social ladder. The children of these people, through absolutely no fault of their own, find themselves born into this hellish existence (to call it “life” would be a gross exaggeration). Now imagine enough money filters through to lift a family out of poverty. What then? We’ve simply placed them back into a glorified game of Monopoly where they’ll either be forced back down or force down someone else. Simply throwing people back into the system responsible for their situation is about as useful as bailing water out of a boat with a gaping hole in the hull. Essentially, the capitalist idea of charity is throwing money at something until it’s covered up. It’s costly and completely unproductive.

Now does this mean that charity and aid are wrong? Absolutely not! Helping one’s fellow man through any means is perhaps one of the noblest things a human can do. The problem isn’t with charity and aid- it’s with the system. Until we mend the hole in the boat’s hull, charity and aid serve only to offer fleeting comfort.

And perhaps that alone is something worthwhile.

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13
Dec
09

Capitalist Pigs

Recently, I was traveling across the US. As I was waiting at one of the gates, a man sat down next to me. To say he was ‘large’ would be a gross understatement. This man was grotesquely overweight, and nearly as wide as he was tall. As we waited for the plane to be refueled, he began to eat a cheeseburger, the sheer effort of which had him panting, wheezing, and sweating. It was, in short, a nauseating experience.

Of course, there are those who would object to my diatribe. One could argue “It’s the right of a person to choose his or her own weight or amount of consumption!”. Really? If there’s a man who is sitting next to me starving, is it my “right” to devour a steak dinner in front of him? When a child dies of starvation every five seconds, is it the right of a country to be suffering from obesity?

Yet the wealthy countries of the world continue to get fatter, and the poor countries stand in lines handfuls of rice. Sickening, isn’t it? The most obese state in America (Mississippi), is only 2,300 km from the second most impoverished country in the western hemisphere (Haiti). This is obesity we’re talking about- the result of constant binging on food- it’s not an epidemic, it’s not something that people cannot control. In a world where the vast majority of humanity lives in poverty and every year, fifteen million children die of starvation and malnutrition, this kind of egomaniacal indulgence is, as I’ve pointed out, sickening.

Of course, the companies selling the food aren’t exactly helping the situations. It is, after all, in the best interests of these corporations to exacerbate humanity’s propensity to gluttony. The more willing the public is to stuff food down their throats, the higher the demand, the greater profits for the food industry. As a result, the food industry will do all it can to convince you that your happiness hinges on your consumption or that food is a central part of tradition (just look at Christmas). They will attempt to sell the greatest amount of food to the greatest number of people for the lowest cost of production possible (and of course, cheap production tends to mean the food will be low in quality and nutrition). Everywhere you look, there are advertisements telling you to eat this or to drink that. Granted, the obesity level is due largely to individual choice, but at the same time, the food industry plays a significant role.

So what’s the relation of obesity in the West and other so-called “developed countries” to the starvation in others? Well, think of it this way. Aside from the now rare family-owned farm, we get our food from corporations. Since the purpose of Capitalism is capital (money), corporations will naturally attempt to maximize their profits by selling high-quality foods for exorbitant price and low-quality foods for next to nothing. Those who have little or no money to begin with (those who are, for example, living in areas that have been devastated by disease or drought) are of course, unable to purchase any food at all. This leads to the people of these areas to become dependent on charity- a solution which merely prolongs the suffering of the impoverished (exactly why charity doesn’t work is a topic for another day). Of course there are those who would claim that all these people need to do is begin farming in their own countries- conveniently forgetting that the materials and resources needed for farming are controlled by massive corporations. What possible reason would these companies have for simply donating material? Corporations usually don’t rise to the top of the economic food chain through altruism. Of course, when the majority becomes hungry enough, everything becomes a source of food- including the juicy, Capitalist pigs wallowing around at the top of the social spectrum.

28
Jul
09

Why I’m Still a Communist

I became a Communist because I believed that it was the only viable political/economic system capable of providing liberty, justice, and security for everyone, rather than just those who can afford it. I have remained a Communist for much the same reason. While one might expect (and many have hoped) that experience would lead me to leave Communism, it seems the more I see of life, the universe, and everything, the more I become confident that my views are correct.

For example, when I was seventeen I took a course on mainstream worldviews (Christian, Humanist, New Age, Marxist). The class turned out to be a series of hyper-Conservative, dogmatic lectures and the textbook wasn’t much more than a seriously biased collection of arguments against any view other than Conservative Protestantism. Despite the waste of time, effort, and money that the class was, I nevertheless found myself affected by it (or at least, an event resulting from the class). While the textbook was full of little cartoons advocating various right-wing stances- one stood out to me in particular. It showed two frames, one in which a wealthy man giving a handful of coins to a poor man, the other depicted the poor man robbing the rich man. The caption claimed (roughly) that in Capitalism, when the rich give to poor it is called “charity” and- no matter what Communist word you use to describe it- when a poor man takes from the rich it is called theft. When I saw this cartoon, it took a while for me to fully digest what it’s implications were. Granted, it seemed reasonable- giving is accepting, taking isn’t. But when one thinks about it, if this were to be applied, the poor would be reliant on the wealthy giving out a steady stream of spare change. Of course, this would mean that the wealthy are willing to give out a steady stream of spare change (and they say that Communism claims humans are basically good). Quite simply, charity doesn’t work- the people need a better way to survive than aid, pity, and welfare. All in all, as a result of reading a simple political cartoon, I became even more entrenched in the idea that Communism offers the solutions for the problems Capitalism simply can’t solve.

Another example would be the game of monopoly (yes, even Communists play monopoly). You gather the players around the board, they compete and trade and make wild gambles but in the end, there is only one winner. Now disregarding the amount of pain and suffering caused by running every competitor out of business, one must consider what it would be like to live in a country with a monopoly on- let’s say- iron. If you want to make anything with iron, you have to pay the monopoly’s price. If your looking for quality, then it’s more or less a game of chance- the monopoly has no reason to sell anything better than its lowest quality product. If you try to import, then it’ll probably a baffling and expensive ordeal- the monopoly has a hefty lobby at the capitol and there aren’t many senators and congressmen and even presidential candidates who wouldn’t mind taking contributions from the monopoly. Regulation laws? This is Capitalism- regulations are, as Milton Friedman is attributed with saying, “corruption”. Communism averts a disaster that Capitalism leads to.

Or yet another example would be that of airplanes. Nowhere is the class system so pronounced as on a transatlantic flight. The same distance is being traveled, the same plane is being ridden, but the differences between the 1st class and coach cabins are massive. Now we must keep in mind that the people in coach are just as human as those in 1st class. Yet, due to a simple lack of money, those in coach have a dramatically different flight from those in 1st class. The food is inedible, the seats are cramped, the cabin is crowded. Why? Because some people are poorer than others and therefore less valuable. The class system is the greatest example of social injustice since the days of segregation and religious persecution. Communism does away with the class system and ensures equality for all- not only those who can pay for it.

In short, while it was the massive tomes of Marx, Engels, and Smith that convinced me to become a Communist,  it is the little things in life- cartoons, board games, traveling- that convince me to stay Communist.

24
Jul
09

The Many Faces of Capitalism

Throughout the blog I have been discussing various aspects of Capitalism, however, one must keep in mind that Capitalism isn’t so much an economic theory in and of itself but rather a general category of economic theories based around capital (money). For one to describe Capitalism without making note of the various schools of thought within the system would be the equivalent of describing Christianity without mentioned the beliefs of Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, or describing warfare without noting the invention of gunpowder. So, in the interests of clarity, listed below are the descriptions of the major classes of Capitalism.

Classical Capitalism

While the actual term “Capitalism” was coined by Karl Marx, the first comprehensive work on the subject of Capitalism (or “commerce”, as it was simply known as) was penned by British economist Adam Smith, in his The Wealth of Nations (considered by many to be the “Bible of Capitalism”. Smith’s essential argument was that humans ought to work in their self-interests which would create a strong and healthy society. Smith stated that if one person owns a product and attempts to sell it, the purchaser will buy it for whatever he deems it to be worth, leaving both seller and buyer richer and happier than before their transaction. Throughout his work, Smith advocates this concept of self-interest as the foundation of commerce, stating that “We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.”. Additionally, Smith claimed that it is in the best interests of the economy and the government for the government to interfere as little as possible with the economy (see “Free Trade” below).  Today, Adam Smith is viewed by many as the founding father of Capitalism and one of the most important economic theorists in the history of the world.

Laisseiz-Faire

Laisseiz-faire (literally “Hands-off” or “Let-do”) can perhaps best be described as an aspect of Capitalism (Classical Capitalism, to be precise) rather than a school of Capitalism. Based on the works of Adam Smith, Laisseiz-faire is a philosophy that states that the government should never interfere or attempt to regulate the economy which- according to the advocates of Laisseiz-faire- functions best without outside influence. While developed separately from Adam Smith, the philosophy of Laisseiz-faire and Classical Capitalism are often combined or associated with each other. While Smith primarily objects to government tariffs, Laisseiz-faire has historically opposed government interference in the form of anti-monopoly laws, minimum wage, and unions.

Christian Capitalism

While the US and much of Europe has never had any theocratic rule since the end of the Renaissance, it is undeniable that in the West, a Christian concept of Capitalism has existed for some time. Of course, this “Christian Capitalism” by no means applies to all Christians, but the fact remains that this philosophy does indeed exist. Christian Capitalism attempts to reconcile the self-focused, competitive tenets of Classical Capitalism with the rather community-focused, anti-materialist teachings of the Christian religion. The end result is what one might call a “moralistic Capitalism”, where competition and materialism do exist, but are tempered by ethics. Those within the system are free to make a profit, but gouging the buyer, deceiving the competition, or tricking the seller is considered to be unacceptable. Charity is advocated but not mandated (as opposed to other religious economic theories to be discussed later). While this form of Capitalism is often considered to be the ideal, there are many split on issues of what is and is not moral (what are the limits when trying to outsell a competitor, for example).

Regulated Capitalism

Contrary to common belief, regulated Capitalism is not a form of Communism or Social but simple government interference. Regulated Capitalism, like Laisseiz-faire, isn’t so much a theory of Capitalism but an aspect of Capitalism. Teaching the very opposite of Laisseiz-faire, regulated Capitalism states that economies require some form of control in order to flourish. This “control” can range from basic laws on minimum wage and worker-safety (such as in post 1940s America) to major government control (as in 1920s and 1930s Italy). While regulation is often confused with Socialism, one must keep in mind that so long as the state does not own the company, the products it sells, and the revenue generated, it does not count as Socialism.

Keynesian Capitalism

British economist John Maynard Keynes could perhaps be described as the most anti-Capitalist Capitalist the world has ever known. Keynes held that Capitalism is “the astounding belief that the most wickedest [sic] of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”, and yet was himself a Capitalist. From a philosophical standpoint, Keynes despised Capitalism and yet saw it as the only option. As a result of this, his economic theory (known as “Keynesian economics”) attempts to protect the public from Capitalism’s costs while maximizing its benefits. Keynes advocates government regulation to protect the public while stating that the public, in order to prevent recessions and depressions, should spend their money without excessive investment or saving. Currently, Keynesian economics are often criticized by other schools of Capitalism as requiring too much collective and government interference.

Ayn Rand Capitalism

Also called “tooth-and-claw Capitalism” “Anarchist/Anarcho-Capitalism”, and “Social Darwinism”, this form of economics focuses on individualism to the point of egotism (or as Rand dubbed it, rational self-interest). Theorized by novelist Ayn Rand (most famously in her books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged), this form of Capitalism is perhaps the most brutal. Rand’s philosophy vehemently opposes all forms of government interference, charitable aid, altruism, and religion. While never explicitly stated in her works, Rand’s economic theory holds that the wealthy and privileged are wealthy and privileged because they earned it, while the poor and proletariat are at the bottom of the economic food-chain because they are lazy or simply choose to be poor. In her book Atlas Shrugged, Rand submits that the wealthy and powerful are the most productive and useful members of society, capable of bringing the world to a sudden halt by going on strike. While Rand’s theories are essentially Capitalist, many other schools of Capitalism look down on Rand’s theories as barbaric, excessively anti-charity, and basically flawed. Despite public criticism, many hold that Rand’s Capitalism is by far the most pure form of Capitalism.

Free Trade

Free trade, like regulated Capitalism and Laisseiz-faire Capitalism, is a concept- not a theory. Free trade essentially is the belief that international trade should not be regulated or controlled by governments. Outsourcing, the import/export of resources and goods, multinational corporations, and international investment are all aspects of Free Trade that its advocates state will produce higher profits, lower production costs, more jobs, more demand, and generally stronger economy.

Protectionism

Protection (perhaps more of a political concept than an economic one) demands the very opposite of Free Trade. Protectionists believe that jobs should go to citizens of the country the company is in, that resources and products should be obtained and produced locally and that massive export and import tariffs should be maintained for the purpose of preserving jobs for the citizens of the country. Protectionists will often also oppose immigration for the same reason.