Nonfiction in response to No Poverty
By Amrita Bhasin
Graphic Credit: Christina Zhao
It often feels like society is progressing at an incredibly fast rate and innovating on an unprecedented level. Yet, the core issues of socioeconomic inequality and poverty that have plagued society for centuries are still far too prevalent in the world today.
Walking down Market Street, San Francisco, home to some of the world’s most creative and successful tech companies like Uber, Twitter and Spotify, I witness high-paid tech employees moving briskly, ignoring the homeless vagrants who line the streets. While homeless people have inhabited this area long before most of these companies were founded, it is surprising that the presence of such inventive and visionary people has ultimately failed to produce any sort of positive change for poor and marginalized people in their own backyard. These appear to be two parallel and non-intersecting worlds unable to meet.
Peter Singer, a moral philosopher, believes that any money not used on necessities must be given away. This may seem like an extreme philosophy because it allows no room for luxuries so common in the modern age. Moreover, such a viewpoint may be more idealistic than practical. Nevertheless, an everyday citizen must ponder what he or she can do to alleviate extreme poverty in the world.
Recently, America has been impacted by natural disasters, namely hurricanes and fires. Many people in my community organized bake sales and clothing drives to help people devastated by these natural disasters. It is easier to make a one-time effort to help victims of these unfortunate events in our local communities because we identify with them, and their circumstances are easier for us to comprehend. I am not saying that the problems of these victims do not matter. But, there is something uncomfortable about feeling like it is more straightforward to help people that often only need a little extra aid to resort to their previous standard of living. Why does it feel more difficult to donate to a charity, one that works for the benefit of communities across the world? Perhaps, the reason is that problems like poverty run deeper in countries like India, Haiti or Tanzania. Widespread poverty is more abstract and ultimately requires more effort and commitment because enacting any potential change often demands reforming a whole system or altering cultural norms, efforts that are not as simple as merely running a car wash for charity.
Is it possible that the distance between us affects how we think about other peoples’ problems? Do I feel differently about helping a person of a different religion speaking a different language than I do about helping an economically struggling classmate in school? Am I more inclined to help a victim of the Californian fire compared to a poor citizen of another country, merely because we are fellow Californians, fellow Americans? Does this label create a sort of bond between us, justifying helping one specific person over another? Moreover, what possible form of charity or donation should a person pursue? I believe the only moral way to approach this issue is to think about it in terms of utilitarianism: what does the most good for the most number of people.
My school holds a canned food drive every year, and while we tell prospective donors that a monetary donation will purchase more cans and thus provide more resources for members of our community, almost everybody chooses to buy and donate cans. According to NPR, donors can feed 20 times more families with cash rather than cans. While some may believe that they are helping by purchasing a $6 bottle of organic peanut butter, many don’t realize that this money could go so much further.
Considering the value of money, $5 can feed a family of five for one day in a country like Bangladesh or Yemen, and $108 can feed 3,000 children for a year, according to Business Insider. By contrast, $5 in America will buy you a Frappuccino at Starbucks.
Many people defend their decision of not donating to other countries by stating that it is impossible to ensure that the money is being used in the right way. However, there are ways to combat this problem, and I see this reasoning as a way of ignoring the deeper, more pressing issues at play, which warrant the question of how to overcome poverty.
I believe that the best way to reduce poverty is to teach society the comparative value of money. Your $5 which buys your morning coffee can do so much more elsewhere; all you have to do is make the effort, something that requires often looking beyond your own reality. The only way to truly eradicate poverty is to ensure that all the giving people in the world are obtaining the most possible value from their actions, whether it be time or money. Of course, it is necessary to help people in your local community as well, but it is important to remember other people even if you may never see them. If more people were willing to consider the circumstances of another community or another culture, perhaps more promising and favorable change could be viable.