“What Do I Do When Someone Asks Me For Money?”
Minor Thoughts from me to you
Archives for Poverty (page 1 / 2)
This story breaks my heart and makes me angry.
10-year-old Ima helped harvest the fruit that makes its way into a dizzying array of products sold by leading Western food and cosmetics brands.
Ima is among the estimated tens of thousands of children working alongside their parents in Indonesia and Malaysia, which supply 85% of the world’s most consumed vegetable oil. An Associated Press investigation found most earn little or no pay and are routinely exposed to toxic chemicals and other dangerous conditions. Some never go to school or learn to read and write. Others are smuggled across borders and left vulnerable to trafficking or sexual abuse. Many live in limbo with no citizenship and fear being swept up in police raids and thrown into detention.
The AP used U.S. Customs records and the most recently published data from producers, traders and buyers to trace the fruits of their labor from the processing mills where palm kernels were crushed to the supply chains of many popular kids’ cereals, candies and ice creams sold by Nestle, Unilever, Kellogg’s, PepsiCo and many other leading food companies, including Ferrero – one of the two makers of Girl Scout cookies.
… Ima led her class in math and dreamed of becoming a doctor. Then one day her father made her quit school because he needed help meeting the high company targets on the palm oil plantation where she was born. Instead of attending fourth grade, she squatted in the unrelenting heat, snatching up the loose kernels littering the ground and knowing if she missed even one, her family’s pay would be cut.
She sometimes worked 12 hours a day, wearing only flip flops and no gloves, crying when the fruit’s razor-sharp spikes bloodied her hands or when scorpions stung her fingers. The loads she carried, sometimes so heavy she would lose her footing, went to one of the very mills feeding into the supply chain of Olivia’s cookies.
“I am dreaming one day I can go back to school,” she told the AP, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Child labor has long been a dark stain on the $65 billion global palm oil industry. Though often denied or minimized as kids simply helping their families on weekends or after school, it has been identified as a problem by rights groups, the United Nations and the U.S. government.
Let’s look closer at what’s going on. Above the story says that Ima’s father made “her quit school because he needed help meeting the high company targets”. The same thing is mentioned again, later in the article.
Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer and, with a population of 270 million, there is no shortage of strong backs. Many laborers migrate from the poorest corners of the country to take jobs that others shun, often bringing their wives and children as helpers in order to meet impossibly high daily quotas.
The company executives who set those high daily quotas, will wash their hands of the child labor saying that “it’s the parents choice to bring their children to the fields” and “we can’t stop that”. Of course, they could. Lower the daily quotas to a level that one person can meet on their own. Keeping the daily quotas high isn’t about preventing laziness or motivating hard work or incentivizing creative ways to increase efficiency. It’s about forcing people into impossible choices, all for the good of your own bottom line. It is, in short, greedy and evil.
I wonder if the Bible has anything to say about giving people high daily quotas.
So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king. But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread, and the more alarmed the Egyptians became. So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.
… But Aaron and Moses persisted. “The God of the Hebrews has met with us,” they declared. “So let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness so we can offer sacrifices to the Lord our God. If we don’t, he will kill us with a plague or with the sword.”
Pharaoh replied, “Moses and Aaron, why are you distracting the people from their tasks? Get back to work! Look, there are many of your people in the land, and you are stopping them from their work.”
That same day Pharaoh sent this order to the Egyptian slave drivers and the Israelite foremen: “Do not supply any more straw for making bricks. Make the people get it themselves! But still require them to make the same number of bricks as before. Don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy. That’s why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifices to our God.’ Load them down with more work. Make them sweat! That will teach them to listen to lies!”
These workers end up in a repeating cycle of poverty, because they’re kept out of school as children.
But the biggest obstacles faced by Alex and other child workers in the two countries are lack of access to adequate, affordable education and medical care.
Some companies in Indonesia provide rudimentary elementary schooling on plantations, but children who want to continue their studies may find they have to travel too far on poor roads or that they can’t afford it. In Malaysia, the problem is even bigger: Without legal documents, tens of thousands of kids are not allowed to go to government schools at all.
It’s such an extensive problem that Indonesia has set up learning centers to help some of its children on plantations in the neighboring country, even sending in its own teachers. But with such heavy workloads on plantations, one instructor said he had to beg parents to let their sons and daughters come for even just a half-day of classes. And many children, especially those living in remote, hard-to-reach areas, still have no access to any type of education.
“Why aren’t companies playing a role in setting up schools in collaboration with the government?” asked Glorene Das, executive director of Tenaganita, a Malaysian nonprofit group concentrating on migrant issues for more than two decades. “Why are they encouraging the children to work instead?”
And, yes, I use “kept out of school” deliberately. When children are prevented from going to school because they don’t have legal documents, presumably because no one will give them legal documents, someone is making a choice to deny them that which they need to get an education. And when companies are happy to pretend that they don’t see child labor even as they avoid setting up schools for the children that they know are on their plantations—well, that’s a choice too.
Are the companies which are buying and using palm oil acting responsibily?
The [Girl Scout cookies] bakers’ parent companies – Italian confectionary brand Ferrero and Canadian-based Weston Foods – would not comment on the issue of child labor, but both said they were committed to sourcing only certified sustainable palm oil.
Weston Foods, which owns ABC Bakers, would not provide any information about its palm oil suppliers, citing proprietary reasons, so the AP could not determine if its supply chain was tainted.
“Proprietary reasons”. I’m going to make my own decision. Weston Foods is guilty of using palm oil made by child laborers. That’s the most plausible explanation for why they won’t tell AP who their suppliers are.
Weston Foods is owned by George Weston Limited. It, in turn, is owned by the Canadian branch of the Weston Family. Galen G. Weston is the current chairman and CEO of George Weston Limited.
He sounds like a man who places profits far above people.
Weston has faced frequent criticism from the Canadian labour movement, including from unions representing his companies' workers and from organizations promoting workers' rights and poverty reduction more generally. On December 31, 2017 Galen Weston Jr. "won" labour organization RankandFile.ca's 2017 Scumbag of the Year award. The organization holds Weston responsible for opposing a $15 minimum wage, engaging in tax avoidance via offshore holdings, firing 500 workers and closing 22 stores in response to an increase in minimum wage, and being caught in a 14 year bread price fixing scam.
In June 2020, Weston confirmed the cancellation of an hourly $2.00 CAD wage premium to Loblaw workers, earning criticism from Unifor President Jerry Dias. The premium was paid to low-wage grocery store workers, who were deemed "essential" and required to attend work in dangerous conditions while most of Canada was shut down in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Why do I bring all of this up? Because evil is perpetuated by real people, specific people, who make specific decisions that make the world a worse place. And I may not be able to do much to change a man like Galen Weston, prick his conscience, or cause him discomfort. But I can do my tiny part to tell the truth.
Galen Weston runs a company that knowingly purchases palm oil that is produced with child labor. Galen Weston has the power, authority, and clout to make a real difference in the fight to stamp out child labor, to stamp out child illiteracy, to make the world a better place. And he chooses not to do it. He is not a good man.
Likewise, Girl Scouts of America chooses to contract with ABC Bakers, owned by Weston Foods, to make their Girl Scout cookies. They could make a different choice. So far they have chosen not to. They also share the blame for the child labor in Indonesia and Malaysia.
If you’ve read this far down, you now have a choice to make. Will you continue purchasing Girl Scout cookies? Or will you do your tiny part to make the world a better place?
Don Boudreaux on one of my bête noires, the minimum wage.
Finally, when Ms. Kim writes that “The minimum wage isn’t a pathway to the middle class; it is a safety net to prevent destitution,” she reveals that she doesn’t understand the key problem with the minimum wage – namely, that it causes some workers’ earnings to fall to $0. However economically precarious one’s life might be when paid a positive market wage of less than $15 per hour, that life is far more precarious when paid $0 per hour.
Minimum-wage legislation isn’t a safety net; it’s a knife that shreds the safety net of employment opportunities in the market.
I think there are already people who want work and can't find it, at the current minimum wage. A policy that makes them more expensive to employ, a policy that increases the minimum wage, makes it harder for them to get a job. That seems counterproductive to me.
Jason Brennan, at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, offered some thoughts about the arguments in favor of a living wage.
Isn’t it more plausible to think that if there’s some enforceable positive duty to provide Bob with enough stuff to lead a life, that all of us, together share this burdensome duty, rather than just Bob’s employer? Why should Bob’s employer, specifically, be the one that has to bear the burden and lose all this money to keep him alive (at whatever level you consider decent)? This just seems like a kind of moral outsourcing to me. Why not instead Bob’s neighbors, parents, friends, or sexual partners? Bob does McBurger a service, and McBurger pays him for that service.
I think this can apply to more than just a living wage though. Think about any employer mandate: salary, health care, paid vacation time, paid sick time, birth control, etc. Why should Bob's (or Barbara's) employer be responsible for those costs. If "we" in society think that all employees are entitled to those benefits than shouldn't "we" in society be responsible for paying for them?
If the goverment mandated cost of entry-level employees keeps going up and up and up, why wouldn't you expect employers to be a lot more picky about who gets those "entry-level" jobs? I love having these benefits at my job and I'd love for everyone to have access to them. But if we load them all onto employers, I think we'll soon find that the poorest among us are sitting home, unemployed. And that pains my bleeding heart.
From Matt Taibbi, at Rolling Stone:
Despite the passage in late 2012 of a new state ballot initiative that prevents California from ever again giving out life sentences to anyone whose "third strike" is not a serious crime, thousands of people – the overwhelming majority of them poor and nonwhite – remain imprisoned for a variety of offenses so absurd that any list of the unluckiest offenders reads like a macabre joke, a surrealistic comedy routine.
Have you heard the one about the guy who got life for stealing a slice of pizza? Or the guy who went away forever for lifting a pair of baby shoes? Or the one who got 50 to life for helping himself to five children's videotapes from Kmart? How about the guy who got life for possessing 0.14 grams of meth? That last offender was a criminal mastermind by Three Strikes standards, as many others have been sentenced to life for holding even smaller amounts of drugs, including one poor sap who got the max for 0.09 grams of black-tar heroin.
Justice should be blind but it shouldn't be deaf, dumb, and stupid too. Shame on the politicians who passed these laws and more shame on the voters who supported them. I was one. As a kid, I thought Three Strikes and mandatory sentencing guidelines were a great idea to crack down on soft judges. I was wrong. These laws are wrong. And the people unjustly imprisoned for long sentences deserve release, apology, and restitution.
Tyler Cowen, on the slow improvements in agriculture and the difficulties that Africa faces.
Consider Africa, which is often considered to have turned a corner and to be headed toward steady growth. The expansion of the African middle class and the decline in child mortality rates are both quite real, but the advances have not been balanced — and agriculture lags behind.
In a recent address, Michael Lipton, an economist and research professor at Sussex University in Britain, offered a sobering look at Africa’s agricultural productivity. He suggests that Rwanda and Ghana are gaining, but that most of the continent is not. Production and calorie intake per capita don’t seem to be higher today than they were in the early 1960s. It remains an issue how Africa’s growing population will be fed.
... On top of all that, many African nations have unhelpful policies toward agriculture. Malawi, for instance, subjects corn to periodic export and import restrictions as well as to price controls, all of which thwart development of a well-functioning market. When market speculators save corn in anticipation of greater scarcity, they may be punished by law. These restrictions of market incentives exacerbate the basic supply problems.
What can we do about these problems?
... the United States government should stop subsidizing its own corn-based biofuels, mainly ethanol. Today, about 40 percent of America’s field corn goes into biofuels, thanks to a subsidy and regulatory policy dating from 2005. With virtual unanimity, experts condemn these subsidies as driving up food prices, damaging land use and costing the taxpayers money. Once the energy costs of producing the biofuels are taken into account, it doesn’t even appear that this policy helps slow climate change. It has become a form of crony capitalism, at great global expense.
Perhaps Christians should take up the elimination of ethanol subsidies as a "social justice" issue. Is it just to funnel money to American farmers at the expense of hungry, poor people worldwide?
Very harsh accusations against Greenpeace. Especially coming from Greenpeace's co-founder.
Greenpeace has openly and aggressively spread misinformation about Golden Rice since it was first invented and has continued to do so at every opportunity. They claim that there are better ways to alleviate vitamin A deficiency, such as vitamin pills and “home gardening”. Yet Greenpeace is doing nothing to implement alternative programs for the millions of victims, claiming the cause of vitamin A deficiency is “poverty”. One might ask if purposefully condemning millions of children to blindness and early death perpetuates poverty rather than alleviating it. Academies of Science around the world endorse the use of biotechnology, including genetic modification, to improve the nutrition and productivity of our food crops. There is zero evidence of any possible harm from these improvements.
It is clear by the facts that Greenpeace is guilty of crimes against humanity as defined by the International Criminal Court. They claim that “Golden Rice is a failure” while they are the ones responsible for preventing the cure that is so desperately needed by millions of civilians. The fact that Greenpeace perpetuate lies about Golden Rice while at the same time doing nothing to solve the problem themselves constitutes gross negligence on top of the crime against humanity. Will someone please bring them to justice?
Left Out: A Critique of Paul Krugman Based on a Comprehensive Account of His New York Times Columns, 1997 through 2006 →
This may be interesting reading, if you're tempted to place a lot of weight on what "Nobel prize winning economist" Paul Krugman has to say.
We have made a complete review of Krugman’s New York Times columns 1997 through 2006—in all, 654 columns. The pattern of policy positions and arguments do not square with his purported concern for general prosperity and the interests of the poor. Some of the evidence lies in statements made. But the more important evidence lies in patterns of statements not made. Because Krugman assumes the role of addressing the most important things, because our account is comprehensive, and because the omissions are flagrant, we may treat omissions as evidence of Krugman’s ideological character and sensibilities. Krugman is best interpreted as a committed social democrat and Democratic partisan. Our main contention is that his social-democratic bent sometimes trumps people’s interests, notably poor people’s interests.
I started paying attention to how anti-GMO campaigners have distorted the science on genetically modified foods. You might be surprised at how successful they've been and who has helped them pull it off.
I’ve found that fears are stoked by prominent environmental groups, supposed food-safety watchdogs, and influential food columnists; that dodgy science is laundered by well-respected scholars and propaganda is treated credulously by legendary journalists; and that progressive media outlets, which often decry the scurrilous rhetoric that warps the climate debate, serve up a comparable agitprop when it comes to GMOs.
In short, I’ve learned that the emotionally charged, politicized discourse on GMOs is mired in the kind of fever swamps that have polluted climate science beyond recognition.
Well. The anti-science idiots exist on the left too. Worse, this kind of idiocy kills people, since it keeps people from planting GMO crops, thereby keeping crop yields lower than they have to be, and making food more expensive.
L.A. Chinatown residents want a Wal-Mart. L.A. won't let Wal-Mart in to serve them.
While Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) has decried Wal-Mart’s “ability to…drive all other competitors away” with rock-bottom prices, many Chinatown residents, suffering for years from gouging by the local markets, would probably say “good riddance.” In what must frustrate the unions most, the typical argument that products “Made in China” are inherently inferior doesn’t work in Chinatown. “I come from China, too!” one of the old Chinese ladies protesting in favor of Wal-Mart said. “We Chinese are cheap!” another pro-Wal-Mart elderly lady told me.
I've said it before and I'll keep saying it. Wal-Mart does more to help poor people than anything of the anti-Wal-Mart crowd could ever dream of doing.
SPM’s consideration of taxes will help Obama’s reelection campaign if (and I believe it’s more like when) the Census Bureau surprises everyone and releases its related report in October of next year instead of November, as it did this year, and attempts with media help to give it greater credibility than the official measurement. By far the largest tax low-income families pay is the payroll tax. In 2011, that tax was reduced by two percentage points. As a result, when next year’s SPM report comes out, millions of Americans will no longer be “low income” under its framework. I can imagine the campaign verbiage already: “Who first broached the idea of eliminating part of the payroll tax? Why, it was Barack Obama, who singlehandedly moved millions into the middle class in one bold move, undoing much of the damage of the past decade’s misguided policies.”
Cynical and paranoid? Perhaps. But hasn't the past 50 or 60 years taught us that it's hard to be too cynical when it comes to our government?
Eric S. Raymond gives his explanation for why he loves the unlovable: Walmart.
I do not love the ambience of Walmarts; by my standards they’re loud, cheerless, and tacky – and that describes a lot of their merchandise and their shoppers, too.
But my esthetic and aspirational standards are those of a comparatively wealthy person even in U.S. terms, let alone world terms. To the people who use Walmart and belong there, Walmart is a tremendous boon that stretches their purchasing power, enabling them to have things that don’t suck.
That’s why I love the idea of Walmart, and will defend it against its enemies.
This is my reason too. Even though I rarely shop at Walmart, I'm glad that it exists.
Walter E. Williams, Professor of Economics at George Mason University, summarizes 3 recent papers about poverty in America: "Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts About America's Poor", "The Material Well-Being of the Poor and the Middle Class Since 1980", and "Income Mobility in the U.S. from 1996 to 2005".
The truth is that there isn't nearly as much poverty in the U.S. as is commonly assumed. And poverty doesn't tend to be nearly as bad as we assume it is. It's still plenty bad. And being part of a smaller group of poor people doesn't make it suck any less to be poor. But having an accurate view of poverty might change the ways and means that we use to alleviate and attack poverty.
For the last couple of years, I've been unhappy with the "short term missions" model that many churches use. It seems to involve a lot of good feelings about going somewhere else to experience "true poverty", working there for 1-3 weeks, coming home, showing lots of pictures of really poor people, and talking about the great need for Christian generosity. Now, I am a fairly generous individual. And I don't like seeing poor people suffer in poverty any more than you do. Despite the vast concern for social justice that's put into most trips, I don't think poverty will ever be reduced by them.
Poverty will be eliminated in the 3rd world the same way it was eliminated in the 1st world: growth. And that growth often involves taking the best scientific know-how we have, training people to understand how and why it works, and then letting them get on with the business of making themselves richer. (Growth often involves a strong rule of law and a government that doesn't steal from its own people, but I'll leave that topic for another post.)
I quoted from an article, just a few minutes ago, about the need for appreciating the "modern, science-intensive, and highly capitalized agricultural system" that we have her in America. But what about Africa? Will that really work over there?
Yes (from later in the same article).
Africa faces a food crisis, but it's not because the continent's population is growing faster than its potential to produce food, as vintage Malthusians such as environmental advocate Lester Brown and advocacy organizations such as Population Action International would have it. Food production in Africa is vastly less than the region's known potential, and that is why so many millions are going hungry there. African farmers still use almost no fertilizer; only 4 percent of cropland has been improved with irrigation; and most of the continent's cropped area is not planted with seeds improved through scientific plant breeding, so cereal yields are only a fraction of what they could be. Africa is failing to keep up with population growth not because it has exhausted its potential, but instead because too little has been invested in reaching that potential.
One reason for this failure has been sharply diminished assistance from international donors. When agricultural modernization went out of fashion among elites in the developed world beginning in the 1980s, development assistance to farming in poor countries collapsed. Per capita food production in Africa was declining during the 1980s and 1990s and the number of hungry people on the continent was doubling, but the U.S. response was to withdraw development assistance and simply ship more food aid to Africa. Food aid doesn't help farmers become more productive -- and it can create long-term dependency. But in recent years, the dollar value of U.S. food aid to Africa has reached 20 times the dollar value of agricultural development assistance.
The alternative is right in front of us. Foreign assistance to support agricultural improvements has a strong record of success, when undertaken with purpose. In the 1960s, international assistance from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and donor governments led by the United States made Asia's original Green Revolution possible. U.S. assistance to India provided critical help in improving agricultural education, launching a successful agricultural extension service, and funding advanced degrees for Indian agricultural specialists at universities in the United States. The U.S. Agency for International Development, with the World Bank, helped finance fertilizer plants and infrastructure projects, including rural roads and irrigation. India could not have done this on its own -- the country was on the brink of famine at the time and dangerously dependent on food aid. But instead of suffering a famine in 1975, as some naysayers had predicted, India that year celebrated a final and permanent end to its need for food aid.
What if the American church committed to getting over the West's passion for antiquated farming methods and decided instead to take up the mantle that the U.S. government dropped 35 years ago? We might find that we're far more likely to be of some use that way than we currently are. Instead of sending people over to marvel at poverty why don't we fund the same kinds of projects that enabled India to be self-sufficient?
I talked earlier this week about capitalism and its blessings, in regard to cleanliness. Consider this, about the blessings of capitalism in regard to food.
What's so tragic about this is that we know from experience how to fix the problem. Wherever the rural poor have gained access to improved roads, modern seeds, less expensive fertilizer, electrical power, and better schools and clinics, their productivity and their income have increased. But recent efforts to deliver such essentials have been undercut by deeply misguided (if sometimes well-meaning) advocacy against agricultural modernization and foreign aid.
In Europe and the United States, a new line of thinking has emerged in elite circles that opposes bringing improved seeds and fertilizers to traditional farmers and opposes linking those farmers more closely to international markets. Influential food writers, advocates, and celebrity restaurant owners are repeating the mantra that "sustainable food" in the future must be organic, local, and slow. But guess what: Rural Africa already has such a system, and it doesn't work. Few smallholder farmers in Africa use any synthetic chemicals, so their food is de facto organic. High transportation costs force them to purchase and sell almost all of their food locally. And food preparation is painfully slow. The result is nothing to celebrate: average income levels of only $1 a day and a one-in-three chance of being malnourished.
If we are going to get serious about solving global hunger, we need to de-romanticize our view of preindustrial food and farming. And that means learning to appreciate the modern, science-intensive, and highly capitalized agricultural system we've developed in the West. Without it, our food would be more expensive and less safe. In other words, a lot like the hunger-plagued rest of the world.
(Hat tip to Wilson Mixon, at Division of Labour.)
Does this make you sad, or is it just me? I think there's something incredibly barbaric and degrading about destroying a perfectly good piece of machinery. A well maintained engine can run for more than a hundred thousand miles. It seems almost sacreligious to just destroy it out of hand.
To receive government reimbursement, auto dealers who offer rebates on new cars in exchange for so-called clunkers must agree to "kill" the old models, using a method the government outlines in great detail in its 136-page manual for dealers: Drain the engine of oil and replace it with two quarts of a sodium-silicate solution.
"The heat of the operating engine then dehydrates the solution leaving solid sodium silicate distributed throughout the engine's oiled surfaces and moving parts," says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration publication. "These solids quickly abrade the bearings causing the engine to seize while damaging the moving parts of the engine and coating all of the oil passages."
Over the weekend, half a dozen mechanics gathered around three clunkers marked for death at Jim Clark Motors in Lawrence, Kan. As Loris Brubeck Jr., the dealership's president, held a stopwatch, the sodium-silicate solution took two minutes flat to kill a 2002 Ford Windstar, and just a few seconds more to kill a 1999 Jeep. But a 1988 Dodge van lasted more than six minutes.
"Sometimes those old engines, they're the hardest to kill," says Mr. Brubeck.
I can't get over what an incredibly wasteful program this is.
Automobiles represent a significant share of the nation's capital stock. Even used cars often have years of life left in them, years during which owners can use them to get to work, perform work, or transport themselves and their families for education, recreation, or consumption.
"Clunkers" don't play much of a role in the lives of upper- and middle-income Americans, I suppose, but they play a major role in the auto market for low-income Americans. What the federal government is now doing is using taxpayer dollars to subsidize the large-scale destruction of functional cars that would otherwise exchange hands one or more times in the used car market. This will make it harder for poor folks to purchase cars in the future. It's an income transfer up the income distribution, at the behest of so-called progressives.
The fundamental mistake is to think that the government can magically induce economic activity with no countervailing downside. The Clunkers program is really just shifting around sales, creating the illusion of a demand for cars conjured out of nowhere. To the extent the program has enticed people to speed up or delay their purchases to take advantage of the rebate, it has borrowed demand from earlier this year or the future for a burst of sales in the summer of 2009.
The car-buying guide Edmunds.com reports that as many as 100,000 buyers delayed their purchases, waiting for the Clunkers program. And some of the roughly 60,000 trade-ins that take place in any month anyway were rushed to gobble up the rebate. "We have crammed three or four months of normal activity into just a few days," Edmunds.com CEO Jeremy Anwyl writes in the Wall Street Journal.
The Clunkers program demands that the old cars be disabled. In a ritual repeated in dealership lots across America, sodium silicate is being poured into car engines to kill them. Many of these cars have value and could be sold on the used market. They are being destroyed senselessly in a diktat reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt's slaughter of livestock during the New Deal. Decades later, we still haven't learned that the wanton destruction of goods is scandalously wasteful economic policy.
But these consumption-promoting policies are not necessarily a boon to the environment.
First, even when new cars and appliances are more efficient than the ones they replace, the act of replacing them entails environmental costs not accounted for in the stimulus programs. Building a new car, washing machine or refrigerator takes energy and resources: The manufacture of steel, aluminum and plastics are energy-intensive processes, and some of the materials used in durable goods, especially plastics, use non-renewable fossil fuels as feedstocks as well as energy sources. Disposing of old products, a step required by most incentive and rebate programs, also has environmental costs: It takes additional energy to shred and recycle metals; plastic components often cannot be recycled and end up as landfill cover; and the engine fluids, refrigerants and other chemicals essential to operating products end up as hazardous wastes.
Policies that encourage purchases of energy-efficient products may also increase, rather than decrease, energy use by confusing efficiency with consumption. For example, Energy Star refrigerators, which now qualify for rebates in many states, are certified to be 10 to 20 percent more efficient than "standard" models. Yet the Energy Star rating is awarded overwhelmingly to refrigerators far larger than would have been the norm two decades ago, and smaller models of refrigerator, which use less energy simply because they have a smaller volume of air to cool, were not even included in the Energy Star program until 2002. Consumers who wish to benefit from environmentally friendly stimulus money, then, are pushed toward purchasing "efficient" but relatively large models rather than being encouraged to opt for the smallest refrigerator, with the smallest energy demands, that meets their needs.
Beyond these concrete environmental drawbacks, product-replacement policies also send a message that old things are dirty and inefficient, while new ones are necessarily green and efficient. Under the Cash for Clunkers program, for example, old cars must be traded in for new ones. Yet plenty of used cars exceed the required 22 mpg: The Toyota Prius hybrid, on the market since 2001, gets upward of 40 mpg, and even a 15-year-old Honda Civic gets 28. By assuming that only new products can be environmentally friendly, these policies lead us to discount the environmental gains that could be made through well-established and low-tech means, such as smaller refrigerators. They also reinforce the idea that all products, even "durable goods," quickly become obsolete -- a notion that leads to overwhelming amounts of environment-despoiling waste.
Another unintended consequence of the Cash for Clunkers program is that poor people who can't afford new cars - or expensive used cars -- will be crushed along with all those clunkers. If you can only afford $500 - $1,000 for a car, you'll find many of these vehicles are now unavailable. They have been sent to the junk yard thanks to this program.
The Blogger News Network points out that junk yards that demolish the clunkers aren't allowed to pull engines and other parts before they're crushed, making parts for older cars harder and more expensive to get.
"Cash for Clunkers" benefits New Car Dealerships primarily, by increasing sales, and the upper and middle class possibly, by giving them an extra few hundred dollars. But it's not good news at all for lower income people. We can't afford a new car, and we won't be able to continue fixing our older cars at an affordable price, if we can find the parts at all. This isn't good.
In fact, the Obama administration knew they were taking away our options to keep our vehicles running. They want our cars off the road, and they really don't care how it affects those of us with very little money. The little guy isn't a priority. Obama pretended to champion the little guy in order to get their vote, but it's becoming more and more obvious that special interests - those that have received the bailout money and those industries he is choosing to socialize - are what he really champions. Politics as usual.
It's popular among the Christian left to talk up the "Old Testament" values of social justice: caring for the poor, paying fair wages, not perverting justice, etc. They're fond of the Old Testament prophets and the prophets jeremiads against wealth and privilege.
Increasingly, the Christian left is also fond of promoting Democrat candidates and talking about how Republican candidates only look out for the rich and powerful. The exact people that the Old Testament prophets inveighed against. Ergo, the Old Testament prophets hated Republican ideals and all good Christians will vote against Republican ideals.
If that's true, what should we make of the Democrats record on free trade? After all, the poor in America are far richer than the poor in the third world. By any just standard, the America's poor are rich. They're poor only if they're exclusively compared to other Americans. Free trade is the biggest and best "social justice" platform in existence. Free trade spreads the wealth around the entire world and gives opportunities to billions of people in the third world.
If we do as the Democrats demand -- if we restrict free trade -- we remove opportunities from billions of impoverished people. "Fair trade" would take jobs away from those that need them the most. "Fair trade" would raise prices for those that can least afford to pay them. "Fair trade" would benefit rich Americans (that is, all Americans) at the expense of the global poor.
Is that Christian? I don't think so. But don't take my word for it. India has good reason to fear a Democrat government.
So, pressures will mount for protectionist measures and beggar-thy-neighbour policies in the US, hurting countries like India. Apart from erecting import barriers and subsidising dumped exports, US politicians will seek to curb the outsourcing of services to India. Visa curbs will slow the movement of skilled workers and their dollar remittances back to India.
[Obama] has voted against trade barriers only 36% of the time. He supported export subsidies on the two occasions on which he voted, a 100% protectionist record in this regard.
In 2007, he voted to reduce visas issued to foreign workers (such as Indian software engineers), and to ban Mexican trucks on US roads. He sometimes voted for free trade - he supported the Oman Free Trade Act and a bill on miscellaneous tariff reductions and trade preference extensions. More often he voted for protectionist measures including 100% scanning of imported containers (which would make imports slower and costlier), and emergency farm spending.
In 2005 he voted to impose sanctions on China for currency manipulation, and against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). He voted for the Byrd amendment, a disgraceful bill (later struck down by the WTO) that gifted anti-dumping duties to US producers who complained, thus making complaining more profitable than competitive production.
Obama says the North American Free Trade agreement is a bad one, and must be renegotiated. He has opposed the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement on the bogus ground that Colombia is not protecting its trade union leaders from the drug mafia. In fact, such assassinations have fallen steadily from 205 in 2001 to just 25 last year. Obama is cynically twisting facts to woo the most protectionist US trade unions. This cannot but worry India, which may also be subjected to bogus slander and trade disadvantages.
Unlike Obama, McCain voted against imposing trade sanctions on China for supposedly undervaluing its currency to keep exports booming and accumulate large forex reserves. India has followed a similar policy, though with less export success than China. But if indeed India achieves big success in the future, it could be similarly targeted by US legislators and, will need people like McCain to resist.
Obama favours extensive subsidies for US farmers, hitting Third World exporters like India. This has been one of the issues on which the Doha Round of WTO is gridlocked. McCain could open the gridlock, Obama will strengthen it.
Obama also favours subsidies for converting maize to ethanol. The massive diversion of maize from food to ethanol has sent global food and fertiliser prices skyrocketing, hitting countries like India. But McCain has always opposed subsidies for both US agriculture and ethanol. While campaigning, he had the courage to oppose such subsidies even in Iowa, an agricultural state he badly needs to win if he is to become president.
I want to help the poor. I want the poor to succeed and become rich. I don't want to protect the rich at the expense of the poor. That's why I support open borders, free trade, and no import / export tariffs. That's why I'm surprised that so many people who talk so much about helping the poor consistently support policies that will make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Above: A Chinese propaganda poster from 1986. No wonder Communism has appealed to so many. I would've called this The Communists party, but its painter named it _Youthful dance steps. _Oh well.
Say what you want about China's Communist leaders, but they get results, and they get them quickly. From the latest Newsweek:
"In the 10 years since Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty, official statistics show that the number of "working poor"—defined as those who earn less than half the median income—has nearly doubled."
The article itself, of course, naturally goes on to blame this 100% increase in poverty on "turbocapitalism".
Which, you have to admit, is at any rate a great name, and we here at Minor Thoughts will probably be using it a lot from now on until we can finally lay claim to the word as our new domain name.
Armed with a Georgetown University diploma, Beth Hanley embarked in her 20s on a path hoping to become a professional world-saver. First she worked at nonprofit Bread for the World. Then she taught middle school English in central Africa with the Peace Corps. Finally, to certify her idealism, she graduated last spring with a master's degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins University.
... Hanley, a think tank temp who dreams of aiding the impoverished and reducing gender discrimination in developing countries, is stuck. ... Numerous young Washingtonians bemoan the improvisational and protracted career track of the area's public interest profession. They say the high competition for comparatively low-paying jobs saps their sense of adulthood, forcing them to spend their 20s or early 30s moving from college to work to graduate school and back to work that might or might not be temporary.
No, wait. I don't weep for you.
You know, somewhere there's a guy, toiling in a cube, who just spent six weeks working out a way to make toilet paper with 1% less energy input, thus cutting the cost of goods sold by 0.25%, while keeping the TP just as soft and smooth as it was before.
...and that man has added more to the sum total of human happiness and productivity over those six weeks than little-Miss-altruist Beth Hanley has in her decade of getting elite degrees, wasting time in the Peace Corps, and getting her masters degree in international relations.
I'm not saying that Mr-TP-improvement is a hero ("because what's a hero?").
And I'm not saying that little-miss-perky-nose-and-silk-blouse is a bad person.
But, aside from her own sense of self worth, what has she accomplished in the last decade?
Pretty much zero.
Who is more of a humanitarian, a Norman Borlaug, who through his technological efforts saved untold millions from hunger, and even starvation, and was reasonably compensated for it, or an Albert Schweitzer or Mother Theresa, who labored to help a relatively few poor and ill, while living in relative poverty? Obviously the latter derived personal satisfaction from their hands-on retail efforts, but I don't think that they ever whined about their lifestyle.
These people do in fact need to grow up, and understand that there are other ways to help people than forming non-profits and NGOs, or working for a government bureaucracy. People are helped most by technological advances that make essential items--food, transportation, communication, shelter--more affordable and accessible to them, not by those who provide them with handouts and sympathy, and keep them in a state of perpetual dependency.
What causes poverty in America? Greedy capitalistic businessmen? Unethical financiers? How about marriage?:
For the most part, long-term poverty today is self-inflicted. To see this, let's examine some numbers from the Census Bureau's 2004 Current Population Survey. There's one segment of the black population that suffers only a 9.9 percent poverty rate, and only 13.7 percent of their under-5-year-olds are poor. There's another segment of the black population that suffers a 39.5 percent poverty rate, and 58.1 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor.
Among whites, one population segment suffers a 6 percent poverty rate, and only 9.9 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor. Another segment of the white population suffers a 26.4 percent poverty rate, and 52 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor.
What do you think distinguishes the high and low poverty populations? The only statistical distinction between both the black and white populations is marriage. There is far less poverty in married-couple families, where presumably at least one of the spouses is employed. Fully 85 percent of black children living in poverty reside in a female-headed household.
It turns out that the poor in America are actually doing pretty well, by absolute standards.
In 1971, only about 32 percent of all Americans enjoyed air conditioning in their homes. By 2001, 76 percent of poor people had air conditioning. In 1971, only 43 percent of Americans owned a color television; in 2001, 97 percent of poor people owned at least one. In 1971, 1 percent of American homes had a microwave oven; in 2001, 73 percent of poor people had one. Forty-six percent of poor households own their homes. Only about 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. The average poor American has more living space than the average non-poor individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens and other European cities.
Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars. Seventy-eight percent of the poor have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception; and one-third have an automatic dishwasher.
That's certainly doing better than me. I don't have cable TV or a dish washer (not until my daughter gets a bit older, at any rate).