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Archive for January, 2013

A Knife Edge

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The difference between being having money – and poverty, is a knifes edge.

And you likely wont even know you were on the edge until you are over it.

The fall is shocking, swift and painful.

And the climb back, if you can, is:

long,

slow

and lonely.

More than likely it will swallow up the rest of your life.

And no-one wants to associate with a “loser” – it might be contagious dont-cha-know.  In any case, what have you got that they need or want?

You literally have to have something you can trade or sell; or you are useless and surplus to requirements (so please go away and die quietly…. basically).

Yeah, sure it probably was choices we make along the way that leads to here, but being heel-tapped isn’t helpful either.

Seeing how many of us are running hard just to stay still, it is a life altering experience that a lot of us are likely going to share as the global crisis grips tighter.  Best of luck.  You will need it, there isn’t much mercy out there.

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In order to develop a line of logic, or argue a position, it is necessary to begin from First Principles. Establish a base foundation, if you will.

If “A” is true, then “B” “C” and “D” may follow from that.

If “A” is not true, then nothing derived from it has any merit or virtue.  (although that is not to say it doesn’t have any value – every Con, Fraud and Political Party is based on deceiving and profiting from specious arguments of zero virtue or logic)

Most issues, problems and arguments can benefit from being taken back to first principles and then redrafting the chain of consequences back to the point of issue or conflict.

Unfortunately, that often also immediately negates many peoples long held and privileged opinions and positions.  At which point it is not in their interests to come to an objective truth.  It is in their interests to come up with a rationalization that supports their conclusion.  They work backwards from a known position, to a contrived argument.  Albeit, it may not necessarily be a conscious act.

To start from a First Principle, involves the risk that the conclusions reached do not suit your desires and prejudices.  Best of luck getting a True Conclusion accepted then…

However, there is nothing wrong with pointing out the logic fallacies of others though.  If they are full of shit, then call them on it.  From my perspective, it is always better to highlight an error, than to let it propagate.

One I heard recently was regarding a well meaning, and even effective, philanthropist.  He was putting a lot of time and energy into helping the poor and destitute.  His intentions, and even his efforts are laudable. At least he is doing something, he is one of the good guys.  But if the effort is based off the back of a mistaken assumption, then any success is an accident rather than a consequence.

And when you hear the self-interested parroting the same catch-cries, then you know for sure that good outcomes are the last thing that is going to happen.

Lets take a practical example:

Your wealthy philanthropist adopts a poor village/community in the back of nowhere, or otherwise in parlous circumstances. He helps them with all sort of good practical assistance. And they do benefit from all of that and progress materially. All well and good.  Except…

What are the things we also know about poor people?  The reason they are poor, and a consequence of being poor is that they essentially have nowhere to stand.  Everyone has to be somewhere of course. So you stand, and exist, on the several square feet of your foot print. Anything more comes from what you can command and hold.  Some people in this world command and hold hundreds of hectares that is theirs and theirs alone to stand on. Farmers in the western world for instance, or Billionaires with their estates and islands for another.  But the poor pretty much have nothing and nowhere to stand, except where no-one else wants.  Like a rubbish dump.  They live and die (young) on the the dump and what little they have and wear are the smelly discards of the dump that everyone else threw away as worthless. They are relegated to the trash, they can stand there, because the rest of us don’t care about there.

However, consider this: the rest of us are only marginally better off. Take a trip out into the country side and behold the wide open spaces, the natural beauty etc etc. Except it not true.  They aren’t wide open spaces at all.  It is all allocated, divvied up and parceled out.  The boundaries are invisible mostly, but they are most certainly there and vigorously defended.  If you think not – then try going out and setting up a camp on some farmers field, try building a dwelling and see how long it takes for the theoretical boundaries to be replaced by the physical boundaries of prison walls.  Unless you can make the rent, or own your own property (and the right and ability to pay rates and taxes on it) you will quickly end up on the trash heap too.

Even in that wide open countryside with the wide open road to travel, the space you are allowed to be on is that narrow ribbon of the road. And even that privilege will be taxed. You have actually got to be quite wealthy to be allowed to drive across the countryside.

But back to our poor community. So what happens when you have helped them lift themselves a step or two out of their mire?  They do what every species does, they breed to the limit of their capacity. There is nothing wrong with that per see.  But consider this idea. Where is the merit in spending a decade and significant resources raising a village, a hundred people out of poverty, if at the end of that you have two hundred more people in poverty?

Absolutely there is merit in helping people (as many as possible) to get ahead and improve their circumstances.  But what about the others, the increasing number of poor who are created faster than you can help them?

In one sense at least, helping people only works in a stable environment where what you do has a net positive impact.  It is not merely squeezing a balloon, that bulges out somewhere else.  And that is the First Principle.

Wealthy, educated societies have stable populations and birthrates (some even have negative birth rates), so that there, a net increase in wealth or well being, remains as a net social increase.  Anywhere else, where what you do gets swamped by a larger counter-flow, is therefore by definition a waste of time and resources.  First Principles.

An unstable situation, society, community, or situation is not amenable to help or improvement.  Poverty is stable only in the sense that being at the bottom means there is nowhere else left to fall to. It is not a lost cause, there are ways and means around everything, no matter how insurmountable the problems seem.  But PLEASE, lets stop pissing away our energy and resources along lines of  effort that are doomed to fail.

Take a look at all the reports that have been written regarding the failed aid projects to assist the poor.  Yes they need and deserve our help where we can give it. But it has to actually work.  There is a cute (trite?) little saying: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.  That is simplistic of course, but it illustrates the point. One works, the other doesn’t (and can have serious unintended consequences).

A growing population, particularly in a poor country, invariable brings a growing population of poor. Without somehow stabilizing the population, there can be little or no progress made on improving the situation.  Interestingly, that is a conclusion China came to as well.  Their solution was the “One child family” policy.  Whatever the merits or otherwise of the policy I would argue that there is an intrinsic link between the economic rise of China and that decision.  There are other factors in play as well of course, but for the moment, lets stick with this as a First Principle.

Which bring me to the next point.  In this country, there is an argument being put forward that increasing the population is an answer to our economic challenges. Apparently we should import large numbers of people and double or even triple our population in order to give our economy and society a mass and concentration required  to make us viable and competitive.   It is arrant nonsense of course.

First off, note who is making the pitch.  Real estate agents and immigration consultants.  All that a bigger population will do is make our problems bigger, they certainly wont magically go away.  Sure, the people selling to the newcomers will have a big bright new market to exploit.  But all our old problems will just get bigger, and we will add a bunch of new ones on top as well.  The people making the money from such a change won’t be the ones having to clean up the mess afterwards.  And, giving us all, on average, less ground to stand on is not a recipe for making us all better off.

What makes us all better off is actually doing practical things to improve what we have already got.  Stop making new problems, start solving the ones we have got.  And – by the way: having an economy that is “too small to generate critical mass” is a blatant lie.  Our economy and wealth is a function of what we do with what we have got, not of piling more and more dysfunctional and disjointed elements together.  (Beyond stating that, I am not going to bother arguing the truth of it with anyone who choses to disagree. They aren’t worth my time or energy.)

Ultimately, my argument is that doing anything that in the end has the practical effect of substantially increasing the population, directly or indirectly (like my ernest philanthropist?), actually does more harm than good.

While I am just speculating that our proverbial village in deepest darkest Pooristan would have a population explosion as soon as they were assisted to became well off enough to be able to sustain a bigger population, I will argue that it’s true.  The examples of population growth in Africa and the Subcontinent add some weight to my argument.  But leaving aside for the moment any  nit someone may chose to pick with that.  Lets assume for the moment that my First Principle is true,  and anything other than slow growth will create more problems than it solves (and, as a First Principle, it remains true whether applied to a rich advanced country, or a poor primitive one).

What then would you do differently, having that as a basic understanding and foundation for choices, decisions and action?  Where would/should your efforts go instead?

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