Monday, December 7, 2009


The worst thing about poverty isn't the not being able to buy what you want. It's not having to skip a meal because you couldn't afford it this time. It's not constantly repairing your ancient clothes in an effort to remain not a naked barbarian. It's not even constantly having to beg and plead for your continuing existence.
It's the loss of dignity from all of these. A desperate person would sell their body, soul, or mind, to gain a little relief from the suffering. Relief that can be often as little as $10 away. Two hours labor for me (soon to be reduced to 30 minutes or less), but a week's wages or more for many of them.
I have little money, but I was born fortunate in world terms. I ate regularly, had shelter, and even expensive luxuries like computers and education. 10% of the world somehow survives on one dollar per day. I am gobsmacked by this figure. $1/day is enough to provide me food for the day, if I eat the cheapest possible stuff. It would leave nothing left after for shelter, hygiene, or clothing. They only survive because they live where prices are lower, and thus can afford meager food, self-built shelter, and rags. I would need, to replicate their quality of lifestyle for myself, $50 to begin with and then $5 per day every day thereafter. And this would be living in a tent under the high powered electric lines where everyone else refuses to.
There are some projects to try to improve these figures. I can only hope that they work out. Many of them require perquisites that the average $1/day person can't manage.
Another thing to consider is the exponential utility that can be gained. In the tent scenario, I would sleep in a $25 tent, eat three cans of beans for a dollar, brush my teeth if I had a toothbrush, wake up at dawn, spend the daylight hours walking around looking for work, and at dusk, come back to the tent, rub three cents of rubbing alcohol on me for hygiene, then go to sleep. But with a $20,000 house, I can make hardtack with the oven for about $0.20 per meal instead, hygiene is reduced from 3 cents to .2 cents (as well as being more effective), and sleeping is free after the purchase of a bed. Hygiene of clothes is now possible. Labor-saving appliances free up chore time for more work, or what have you.
I seem to remember reading an article that I can no longer find, about an African government producing a welfare program, in which the penniless masses of the country were given $100 per person, to last them to year. The most commonly bought item with this money was clothes, replacing the previous impromptu rags. The recipients reported that this allowed them to feel like they were real actual people (as compared to being an animal, or a peasant before), and that now they could get jobs and maybe earn enough to pay it back, or otherwise develop. However, wealthy farmers who lived in this country were outraged. Their arguments were the usual rabble about welfare: that it was unearned, that it encouraged laziness, that it would be wasted, and that taxes would inevitably go up directly because of that. Never mind that if the recipients of this money became more productive, there might be a bigger market for the crops.
Sometimes I think many economic policies are built on contempt. That people "deserve" to suffer because they are "lazy." If that's the case, then let's implement a new tax: You pay $8000 per month, minus your average daily Calorie burn. Inactive people like me would have to pay $6000 per month (inactive Adult uses 2000 Calories per day), and a hard laborer might not have to pay anything ($8000 - 8000, it's conceivable that a very active person could use 8000 calories per day), and we'll do this for a year. Then we'll see who pays more "laziness tax."

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