Please Don’t Feed the Humans

ph_grid7_7109_37421A few years ago I wrote a paper for a Rhetoric class on how most charities do more harm than good.  Unfortunately the professor wasn’t too thrilled with my conclusions, but that’s why there is chocolate and vanilla – right?  WRONG.  I received a C- and a semester worth of hateful thought.  After having three years gone by, though, I still hold the same conclusions, as well as am bitter towards that teacher.

Businesses have definitely been trending towards being more socially conscious in the past decade.  Companies that promote a social cause as their primary concern instead of profits (bull).  The most well known example is most definitely TOMS, the shoe company that delivers one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair they sell.  Besides just being a very heart warming concept, it’s brilliant marketing – since it allows consumers to feel like activists when they really are just spending more money.

It’s an extremely sexy concept, and I hear more and more kids my age talking about their ideas for employing it.  “A yoga studio that gives free classes to people recovering from physical trauma”, “Selling some widget to help starving Ecuadorians”, you get the idea.  But while these are noble causes, isn’t it important to ask whether they actually help?

A line I’ve used a few times to test how swift a person is when talking about this subject is, “wouldn’t it be great to start a company that donates a pair of pants to a starving child in need?”  You’re probably not laughing, but it hits a true note.  In our society we are told to believe that more solves issues.  And often are led to believe that simply throwing resources at a problem will solve it.  This is far from true, though.  The reason being that a lot of the time the problems are not in of themselves.

For example, a school might be low on funding and having to cut out important departments such as the arts, or gym.  Most people would assume that simply throwing money at the school would fix this, but would it?  Is the school over allocating to one department?  Are they giving themselves unjustified bonuses?  In short, are they using the money they already have as effectively as they can?  In most cases, unsuprisingly, they are not.

But how is it possible to say a starving village in Africa won’t be benefitted by having food donations.  The answer is it would benefit them, until the support ends – which it always does.  And then they are left where they started, but now with a mindset of dependency.

The largest problem with these socially focused businesses is that a lot of the time they aren’t paying attention to whether they are healing a wound or distributing band-aids.  Just  like in the “pair of pants for a starving child” line, people simply want to throw resources at a problem blindly, making them proud of their “good intentions”, but often not addressing the true problem at hand – sometimes even perpetuating it.

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This is why I did this meme to more simply express my opinion on the subject .  Just like when you are in a nature preserve, the ranger’s request that you don’t feed the animals because they know that they will never survive on their own if unless they are able to feed themselves.  I hope no one is overly offended by my comparison of the charity recipients to hungry wild animals, but it is what it is.

-Sepp

2 Comments

  1. Dude I totally agree with you. I’ve heard of what Tom’s does as a “bandaid” issue – instead of fixing the problems like teaching people how to specialize in a craft and trade so that everyone in the community is better off (a few people focus on agriculture, I’ll focus on making shoes, you focus on making pottery, etc.) and then trade making everyone richer, Tom’s just throws shoes at people – which ends up hurting them sometimes because eventually the shoes wear out and the have to go back to being barefoot without the leathery bottoms of their feet because the shoes have made them go soft. The bible was right when it said give a man a fish and he eats for a meal but teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. Throwing money at an issue won’t help (although money is necessary), but it’s more important to create economies for these people. I think it’s much better to contribute to microfinancing projects like Kiva because you’ll help finance and create businesses and economies instead of donating money one time that is gone after it’s used for one thing.

    Another thing that really bothers me is when people travel internationally to help people – granted they need help but we have a lot of issues in our own country, your own state, your own hometown, even your own neighborhood. Helping the homeless in other countries is important, but what about helping the homeless in your neighborhood? It bothers me a lot when people pretend like they are do-gooders – especially the ones that are against corporations. I find people that are entrepreneurs and can create multiple jobs and help stimulate the economy therefore giving less fortunate people or people with less entrepreneurial capacity the opportunity to support themselves are much more heroic than someone who goes out for one week for a mission and helps a few people. I think a decent job is the best social program, and if people can support themselves and put food on the table themselves then you don’t need silly social programs. IDK I think the best solutions are the focus on economies – helping educate, create, and finance economies which can then self-sustain instead of throwing some money at people where they will be fed a few meals but after that – then what?

    • I didn’t want to bore people with an economics lecture, but you are right-on. While there are great ways to others (i.e. micro-finance) it is rarely on an individual level, but more so macro. And I’ve always found people to want to solve others problems because it’s much hard to solve your own – or at least it seems that way. It’s much easier to think that you are doing good in the world by sending a few bucks over seas, where the outcome of your actions is both out of your control and do not affect you, than it is to truly invest yourself in something close to home that gives the chance for failure.

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