Category: Poverty

phillies-cubaThree years ago, Dalier Hinojosa was making the equivalent of $5 to $20 per month playing baseball in the state-run Cuban league. Having now defected from the country, escaping first to Haiti and now to America, Hinojosa will make $514,000 this season, playing for the Phillies.

In a profile at Philly.com, we learn more about the trials of his journey, which involved a high-risk, 12-hour escape at sea, joined by his wife and a smuggler in a small motorboat:

You never think about how you’re going to escape, [Hinojosa] said through an interpreter. You think about when. You cannot think about the risk of imprisonment or, worse, death. You think about the desperation that you never want to feel again.

The transition from communism to capitalism has already made Hinojosa rich, indeed. He originally signed with the Boston Red Sox for a $4 million bonus. (more…)

missions-selfie

As many are beginning to realize, and as the new documentary, Poverty, Inc., details at length, the foreign aid movement has largely failed the global poor, promoting top-down solutions at the expense of bottom-up enterprises and institutions.

This is partly due to errors in economic thinking, but it also comes from a lack of understanding and appreciation for the intangible assets in individual communities, particularly as it relates to the social and the spiritual.

“There has got to be more than just a change in a wallet for significant change to happen,” says Peter Greer in an excerpt from the PovertyCure series. “And I think that is where certainly the church and the faith community has something materially different to offer than just another loan, just another job. When you have the opportunity to touch hearts, to touch meaning, to touch purpose, to touch identity, alongside helping an individual get out of physical poverty, that’s where you see incredible transformation.”

Unfortunately, in our efforts to assist with this sort of ground-level, whole-life transformation, Christians often give way to the same mistakes of detached economic planners. Such risks are detailed at length in PovertyCure, as well as in books such as Toxic Charity, When Helping Hurts, and The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, each illuminating the temptations and dangers of misaligned charity and activism. (more…)

generosityMost Americans believe that it is very important for them to be a generous person. Yet almost half did not give to charity in the past year, and less than a quarter gave more than $500.

That’s the latest findings in a new Science of Generosity survey. An even more disconcerting discovery is that quarter of Americans were neutral on the importance of generosity and 10 percent disagreed that generosity was not a very important quality.

As David Briggs of the Association of Religion Data Archives notes,
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mass-incarcerationWith the 2010 publication of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander, the conversation about America’s exploding prison population singularly became focused on the intersection of race, poverty, and the War on Drugs. According to the narrative, the drug war disproportionately targets blacks in lower income communities as a means of social control via the criminal justice system similarly to the way Jim Crow controlled blacks in the early 20th-century.

The one problem with mass incarceration-as-Jim-Crow thesis is that it does not fit the empirical data. The drug war is not the reason that today we have nearly 2.5 million people incarcerated in this country. In the mid-1970s the U.S. prison population grew from about 300,000 to 1.6 million inmates, and the incarceration rate from 100 per 100,000 to over 500 per 100,000 largely due to violent crime, property crime, and rogue prosecutors. Drug policy changes would, therefore, have little effect on prison population rolls.

The first significant challenge to the Alexander thesis came from Yale Law School professor James Forman, Jr. In a 2012 article, “Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow,” Forman observes that drug offenders constitute only a quarter of our nation’s prisoners, while the violent offenders make-up about one-half. While sympathetic to the ways in which those living in poor black communities are more likely to end up incarcerated than those in middle-class black communities, it is simply not true that drug policy, targeted at blacks, is driving prison numbers.
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Western activists and foreign aid experts often pretend as though material redistribution is enough to elevate the world’s poor. All we must do is give people the “tools” to do their work, they’ll say, and developing nations will take it from there.

What these “tools” consist of is a bit more blurry. The more serious development experts and economists recognize the need for immediate relief, but point to deeper factors and obstacles that prevent or accelerate the path to long-term prosperity and flourishing — “intangible assets and hidden liabilities,” as Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz have put it.

One such overlooked asset is cultural capital and the ripple effect it yields on a society’s underlying attitudes and overarching philosophy of life. In an excerpt from the PovertyCure series, Michael Miller and Michael Fairbanks explain why it matters.

As Fairbanks explains:

The most important type of capital is cultural capital, and by cultural capital I don’t mean just food and music and fashion and language. These are very valuable things, but I mean, how does a group of people attach meaning in their lives? Are they tolerant of people unlike themselves? Are they optimistic about the future? Do they believe in competition?

It’s trustful relationships…loving new ideas, loving the idea of serving the client very, very well. This cultural capital tells you if the country has the conditions to be prosperous in the future.

For those living in countries with higher levels of such capital, it can be easy to take it for granted, assuming society rolls along simply on the momentum of self-seeking investment and blind consumerism.

If society grasps the proper meaning of work — “as service to others and thus to God” — cultural and economic transformation is a natural byproduct.

Having a healthy understanding of God’s design for work is important for our individual lives, but here we see its importance for flourishing across society. Here we see it’s importance for an enduring economic order that is both just and prosperous.

culture-trust“If a market is going to be sustainable in the long run, we need something very different from unconnected self-seeking individuals,” Miller concludes. “We need people who think of others, and who are rooted in their families and communities. We need a moral culture and a measure of trust that extends beyond family and clan.”

sanderstrumpImagine that a presidential candidate promised to raise taxes on everyone. Under the new proposal, both the wealthy and middle classes would pay more. But as a percentage of a person’s income, the tax increase would disproportionately affect the poor and working class.

Now imagine that when many blue collar and working poor hear about this tax proposal they have a strange reaction: they cheer and consider it one of the primary reasons to support the candidate. They believe this deeply regressive tax that takes a large portion of their weekly paycheck is just what the American economy needs.

While this scenario may seem too absurd even for the bizarre 2016 election, it is actually happening. In fact, such a proposal has been made by both Bernie Sander and Donald Trump.
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Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, February 18, 2016
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True justice begins with seeing and believing in the dignity of every human person. It begins with recognizing God’s image in each of our neighbors, and it proceeds with service that corresponds with that transcendent truth. When distortions manifest, the destruction varies. But it always begins with a failure to rightly relate to this simple reality.

Thus, transformation often begins with a basic shift in our perceptions about others; how we see transforms how we serve. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that this can begin with something as simple as a haircut.

Last Christmas, Ogden Rescue Mission offered an interesting holiday gift to the homeless community, welcoming local hair stylists from the surrounding area to donate their gifts by offering free haircuts.

It was a simple gesture, and it’s one that doesn’t fill a belly or meet what we might call an “immediate need.” A haircut is, in so many ways, “superficial.” Yet the response from these recipients demonstrates the importance of remembering our divine personhood, and how easy it can be to forget.

“It makes me feel like I’m respectable again,” says one man. “I look like, you know, an average person.” (more…)