Hurting the Victims
Last night I watched the documentary Poverty, Inc. , produced in 2014 by Michael Miller. I’m always discovering things way after the media frenzy dies out. This time I am not sure if there was a media frenzy, probably more like media outrage or simply ignoring it, but I am not sure. I know that I personally had never heard of this movie. Poverty, Inc is not an amateur Youtube or Vimeo video. It’s a slick, well-produced and full-length expose’ of the way that global aid negatively affects the victims of natural disasters and poverty caused by drought and systemic corruption. If you have not seen it, I urge you to go on Amazon ( it’s free with Prime) or other outlets and take 90 minutes to watch it. Watch it with other people so you can discuss the eye-opening, unexpected claims of the community leaders of the countries receiving that aid.
Disclaimer: This is my review and my interpretation of the information. Not all of what I say here is directly from the movie.
Feed the World
If you are 30 years or older, you know the famous, oft-played ‘Christmas’ tune, “Feed the World” produced in 1984 by a group of famous musicians that called themselves BAND AID. The song told the sad tale of Africans suffering from abject poverty and not even knowing that it was Christmas and asking for the good people of America and other westernized countries to send money and food. In this documentary, the song is considered by Africans as not only completely inaccurate and almost humorous, but very detrimental to the reputation of Africa. The song has been remade and replayed for 35 years with the same message, yet Africa has cities, universities, and an economy of it’s own that the majority of Americans know nothing about because they keep hearing this misleading song and nothing about the goods and services that Africa produces and wants to export. They are begging you to stop feeding them!
Free rice destroys farmers
For many years those countries produced their own food by small farming. But when a natural disaster threatened the food supply, a group of well-meaning world leaders decided to send bags of excess grain to supplement. The unintended side effect of the free food that kept coming long after the crisis was stabilized within the country was to depress the price of the farmers crops so much that they could no longer sell it. Farmers became unemployed and dependent on handouts to eat. One truth that is barely mentioned is that American taxpayers are the ones that pay for the rice, soy and wheat that gets sent as global aid.
Property rights are key!
When a person wants to start a small business, they often need to borrow money. But in third world countries, the property system is such that very few people own their own land or have a title to it that they can use as collateral for a loan. This puts them at the mercy of the wealthy and often corrupt officials. Only when this system is changed within these countries will things improve. Land equals power. When violence is prevalent and property ownership is not guaranteed, corruption thrives.
Destroying businesses with donations
Tons of used clothing is donated from western countries and dumped in these countries. It’s a profitable business for someone but it has destroyed the textile industry and clothing sales in those countries. Why buy locally produced products when they are being given away? Even small cottage industries are hurt by donations. Being able to buy and sell in a local market is historically the best way to improve one’s ability to provide for self and family. Take that away and take away freedom and the will to try.
Jobs, not orphanages
In Haiti thousands of children live in orphanages, not because they do not have parents, but because their parents do not have enough money to feed them and send them to school. This situation has created a profitable business of selling children to misled, compassionate families who think they are saving an orphan. In the movie we learn how one couple reacted when they learned the truth and were able to change the lives of many people by their truly compassionate act of giving them real jobs. Allowing children to be raised by their own parents is key to a free society and economic stability.
Competing in the world economy
The real answer to world poverty is to stop hindering these countries from participating in the free market. They want to manufacture and sell their goods in the global market like China and the United States. They want to be self-sufficient, self-governing, and free to compete with other businesses. But many people do not want this added competition. The truth about global aid must be told. People who want to help can support the truly helpless, but should not hinder able workers who want to start their own businesses. Reduce the unnecessary paperwork, laws and regulations and make it easier to get loans for small to medium sized businesses. We must not be naive. There are people who do not want to end poverty.
Destroying the middle class in America
These same destructive ways of “helping the poor” are being used in our country. This is the most important take away from this movie! The perpetuated false belief that giving food and goods will help the poor rise up out of poverty has kept them in poverty. Programs that well-meaning people are voting for are actually increasing dependence on those programs. Laws and fees and taxes are making it much harder for new entrepreneurs to enter the free market and make a profit. Buying a home has become much more difficult for young people and property taxes threaten to steal homes from those who have them now. Citizens owning land and property is the key to freedom and prosperity. Even the public schools are using ineffective methods that keep poor families dependent and poor children in the mindset of needing help, instead of being able to care for themselves. There is nothing more demotivating than having someone constantly enable you instead of having expectations from you.
There is nothing more damaging to budding independence than excessive enabling.
Looking at alternatives
So what is a compassionate person to do if they want to help the poor? Vote for policies that remove obstacles to working. Volunteer to teach skills like English or computer skills or trades. Work with youth in teaching life skills that help them to feel confident when going for job interviews and them about small businesses and how to get loans. Provide incentives to work instead of handouts. Teach good health habits to limit lost wages from sick days. Provide loans to help someone start a business, instead of just donations. Do not buy into or repeat the lie that the poor are unable to take care of themselves. Do not be afraid of having them entering the market of business and ideas. Welcome them into full participation! Learn from countries that have already been successful at changing their economy. Be willing to learn about the problem and admit that global aid is a crooked for-profit system that hurts the ones its meant to help. Only by allowing people to have self-determination will they be able to have self-respect. Let them make mistakes and learn from them! Let the safety net be for those who truly cannot take care of themselves. Lastly, educate yourself before you give to any charity to see how the money is used and whether it has any unintended negative effects.
You can read more on the movie website Poverty, Inc. but it does not seem to updated. I hope that changes in how aid is provided have been implemented since this came out. No 90 minute movie can show every single perspective or story and this movie has a specific message that must be told. I’m sure there are plenty of stories that could be told of how free rice or free Tom’s shoes (also in the movie) made a difference in someone’s life as well as stories of children being saved by adoption. The point is not that some people do not benefit. The point is that many people are hurt by the current system and it needs to be improved. And the other lesson is that we do not want to take America backwards. We do not want a country where a few rich people own all the property and means of production and the rest are either dependent on them or working for them. That is exactly what we had in England before America was born.
Please share your input on this movie and it’s implications for the world and for America.