Category: Poverty

316853_288803591143707_552690558_nIn a recent episode of EconTalk, Russell Roberts chats with Acton Institute’s Michael Mattheson Miller about Poverty, Inc., the award-winning documentary on the challenges of poverty alleviation in the developing world.

The entire conversation is rich and varied, ranging from the ill effects of Western do-gooderism to the  dignity of work to the need for institutions of justice.

You can listen to the whole thing below:

Later in the episode, Miller discusses the need for us to reach beyond mere humanitarianism to a fuller expression of love, recognizing the dignity and capacity of every human person, as well as the full scope of human needs — material, social, spiritual, and otherwise: (more…)

Writing for a special New York Times section on giving, Alina Tugend looks at the knotty problem of how best to help those in need. She digs into things like the economics behind food pantries and how relief donations to those devastated by natural disasters often wind up making things worse.

For her story, Tugend interviewed Michael Matheson Miller, Acton research fellow and producer of the new documentary Poverty Inc.

“Look seriously into yourself,” said Michael Matheson Miller, director and producer of the documentary “Poverty Inc.,” which will be released on iTunes in December. “People ask, ‘What can I do to help poverty?’ and that’s often the wrong question. The right one is, ‘What do people need to create prosperity in their families and community and what can I do to help?’ ”

Read “When Making Donations, Know an Agency’s Needs” by Alina Tugend in the New York Times.

While you’re at it, listen to Russ Roberts and Miller talk about the new Poverty Inc. documentary on the always interesting EconTalk podcast. Here’s Roberts on the film: (more…)

homeless-1105Homelessness seems like it should be one of the most straightforward social problems to solve. The obvious solution would be to simply give people in need a place to live.

Getting people off the street and into shelter is certainly be beneficial. And in the winter months it can even save lives. But does providing housing end homelessness?

Unfortunately, as Kevin C. Corinth explains, housing people who are homeless doesn’t necessarily reduce the number of people who are homeless over the long run:

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, October 26, 2015

KillerOfSheepCarIn the critically acclaimed, though rarely seen, movie Killer of Sheep (1978) there’s a scene that highlights why being poor can be so expensive.

The film is about a black family living in the Watts section of Los Angeles in the 1970s. In an attempt to escape the drudgery of their everyday life, the family decides to join some friends one Saturday in taking a day trip out to the country. Before they can even get out of Watts, though, the car gets a flat tire. They don’t have a spare so they have to ride back home on the rim.

Not much is made of the event by the characters in the movie, but those who are poor (or have ever been poor) know exactly what it means. If they weren’t able to pay for a small repair like a flat tire they certainly won’t be able to pay for the damage that comes from a bent rim. The car will either be abandoned or be sold for scrap. Either way, it means the same thing: they no longer have a car. Life for them will became just a little bit harder, a slight more miserable.

That’s one of the worst things about begin poor: almost everything becomes a luxury good.

If you’re higher up on the economic ladder you get things fixed, whether tire or teeth, before the repairs become even worse and become more costly. But when you’re poor, even small repairs are more than you can afford. And they lead to catastrophic consequences. It’s not that you’re ignoring a situation or ignorant about the inevitable disastrous outcome. You know it’s a problem and that it’ll be an even bigger problem in the future. There’s just not much you can do about it.

Eric Ravenscraft has an excellent example of how this happens:

and112812blogSince its inception in the 1990s, the payday lending industry has grown at an astonishing pace. Currently, there are about 22,000 payday lending locations—more than two for every Starbucks—that originate an estimated $27 billion in annual loan volume.

Christians and others worried about the poor tend to be very uncomfortable with this industry. While there may be forms of payday lending that are ethical, the concern is that most such lending is predatory, and that the industry takes advantage of the poor and others in financial distress.

So what makes a payday loan a predatory loan? The obvious answer would seem to be “high interest rates.” But interest rates are often tied to credit risk, and so charging high interest rates is not always wrong. Another answer may be that the loans appear to be targeted toward minorities. But research shows that the industry appeals to those with financial problems regardless of race or ethnicity.

What then tips a loan into the predatory column? At a blog hosted by the New York Federal Reserve, Robert DeYoung, Ronald J. Mann, Donald P. Morgan, and Michael R. Strain attempt to answer that question:

foreign-aid-corruptionGiving foreign aid directly to poor countries may end up keeping those countries poor.

For most readers of this blog and others associated with the Acton Institute this claim will be neither surprising nor controversial. Indeed, it’s been a core assumption behind our work on PovertyCure. But until recently, many Americans would have found the idea to be counter-intuitive, if not obviously wrong.

But thanks to the work of the Angus Deaton, the recent winner of the Nobel prize in economic sciences, the conclusion that long-term aid can hinder a country’s economic growth is becoming so mainstream it’s almost a matter of conventional wisdom.

One of the reasons for the change is because Deaton is particularly adept at explaining the reasons why aid can hurt the poor in a way that are easy for the public to understand. For example, Deaton explains how foreign money often changes the relationship between a government and its people:

Blog author: bwalker
Tuesday, October 13, 2015

While it has been pointed out repeatedly by your writer and others in this space that Pope Francis’ Laudato Si contains much to recommend it for the beauty, compassion and depth of spirituality contained within, there remains much that is problematic. For example, there’s this:

At the same time we can note the rise of a false or superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and a cheerful recklessness. As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a license to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.

All this is consistent with Pope Francis’ warning that fossil fuels are contributing to climate change, but what he should be advocating for is energy abundance rather than this:

There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gasses can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.

Yet, how does the Pope reconcile his call for reduction of fossil-fuel use with his call for cleaner water and increased green space in the following quotes?

Here’s Pope Francis on water: