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How do we eliminate the paradox of poverty & privation amid plenty & abundance?

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Author Topic: How do we eliminate the paradox of poverty & privation amid plenty & abundance?  (Read 8486 times)
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« on: August 24, 2010, 10:11:29 am »

Pancakes and Poverty

by Lindy Davies
The Henry George Institute
September 22, 1999

My 2½ year old son and I like making pancakes in the morning. We like eating them too, but making them is really way cool. He supervises the mixing of the batter. "Don't over-mix, Daddy!" he reminds me (all true flapjack chefs know that over-mixed batter makes rubbery cakes). He deposits the first bit of batter in the pan, and recently he has begun to learn flipping. Often while I cook subsequent panfuls, he plays in the kitchen sink, and I have a few moments to sip coffee and think.

His Mom and I do our best to take care of our kid. We reconfigured our lives to make sure we were ready and able to give him our very best attentions. We worry if he doesn't feel like eating. We make sure he hasn't outgrown his shoes. We feel for fevers. We sing, walk, play, tell stories, name things, explain processes; we frequent three libraries. None of this is heroic, of course. We do what parents are expected to do: take the best possible care of their kids. Children are our hopes, our loves -- it's our job to do right by them and they owe us nothing in return. All they have to do is grow, and gain an identity.

We do not think kindly -- do we? -- of those who disregard their children. We cluck judgementally at parents who we consider to be too young, or too irresponsible. We are horrified at parents who abandon, neglect, malign or misuse their children. Let's consider a few examples. What about a parent who habitually leaves lead paint chips and stagnant, scummy water around for a kid to consume? Or perhaps one who lolls in fur coats while the kids have no blankets? Or forces a child to go out and work, while the parent sits at home watching TV? Or perhaps even blames the child for his own poverty?

Yet as a community we have not done so very well by our children. Tens of millions of children die each year due to diseases borne by unsanitary drinking water and lack of sewage facilities. A quarter of the children in the world today lack adequate shelter. And multitudes of kids are forced to fend for themselves, lacking support from parents who are unemployed, or ill, or absent -- ground down by their own poverty until they can no longer function as parents.

It is striking how much attention we pay to our own children, and to the parenting standards of those in our own community, while disasters of such mind-addling proportion are going on around us. Perhaps there isn't too much we can do, in the short term anyway. Like Scarlett O'Hara, we just cannot think of it today, we'll go mad if we do! But it is not healthy to be in too much denial for too long. Kids are kids, and the majority of them in the world today are forced to live in appalling hardship.

Seeing this, we immediately seek refuge in the notion of the parents' irresponsibility. They simply shouldn't be having children if they can't provide for them. All those people in Bangladesh should look around them and see how selfish it is to create another mouth to feed, when so many go hungry. Before those crazy young couples in Mexico City have more kids, they should work hard, save their pesos and buy a few acres in the campo, ¿Si?

But there's one problem with that argument: it's irrelevant. It's never the kid's fault, no matter how "irresponsible" its parents might have been. Does the child not have rights of its own?

               My kid                   Someone else's kid

We have to realize that more money, energy and resources is spent on taking photographs of children in the United States than goes toward feeding them in the world's LDCs. What about the millions upon millions of acres squandered on subsidized meat production? The insane wars over natural resources, fought with the leftover weapons of the cold war, that result in starving refugees?

It was once a sort of hip, existential-despair sort of thing to say, "How could I bring a child into such a hopeless world as this?" I think of that as we flip our pancakes. There's nothing hopeless about the world. The world provides for its children with abundant generosity. The hand-wringing about the Earth's "carrying capacity" is misplaced. The world can never can be overpopulated while so many resources go wasted, while the top ten per cent live in such luxury and feel so free to throw their garbage wherever they wish.

Proliferation of hungry children, and destruction of the natural environment, are not parts of the natural order of things, as Malthus and his later-day enthusiasts would have you believe. That is a formula for despair. Human beings are not a cancer on this planet. The world would not be better off without us. Would the world be a better place without the paintings of Cezanne, the music of the Davis/Coltrane quintet, the polio vaccine, or those two little guys pictured above? No. It is up to us to fashion social institutions that are worthy of us, our children and our best achievements. How do we do that? That, too, is known. Ignorance is no excuse.
« Last Edit: August 26, 2010, 11:17:28 am by Geolibertarian » Report Spam   Logged

"For the first years of [Ludwig von] Mises’s life in the United States...he was almost totally dependent on annual research grants from the Rockefeller Foundation.” -- Richard M. Ebeling

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