My wife and I were watching the news yesterday when yet another announcement was made about a celebrity or dignitary donating money to some popular cause, probably aids or literacy or world hunger, or something along those lines. I can't remember, frankly, because I find these programs largely ineffective, and people who donate to them somewhat silly. One has to wonder how people smart enough to have accumulated enough money to give away could act as stupidly as they do sometimes. Oh yeah, publicity. If it looks good, it doesn't matter if it works, right?
What do I have against trying to prevent aids, illiteracy and world hunger? Absolutely nothing. I just think that donating money to any organization that funnels whatever percentage of its collected funds are left after overhead and expenses to any government or quasi-governmental agency is ineffective, useless, even stupid.
How much of the money sent to foreign countries and channelled through government agencies there do you suppose actually gets to the people it is supposed to help? Not much, I'm sure. Where does most of it go? Swiss bank accounts. Mercedes, BMW, and Porsche. European and American hookers. Palaces, vacations, guns, grenades, rockets, land mines, machetes and more guns. And, let's not forget prisons.
Cynical? I don't think so.
I'm not suggesting that organizations that try to help the poor and actually have staff on hand to make sure the money is used properly are all ineffective. We support several children through Foster Parents Plan and I sure hope that they and other similar agencies actually do some good. We see pictures of the girls we support and I can only hope that our modest contributions do help in some way. I am thinking more along the lines of money that has to be funnelled through the Ministry of Wonderful Things in Bungledesh or someplace to 'guarantee' that it gets to where it is needed. The money then makes a detour or two along the way and the needy are left needy, the donors are out their money and nothing has changed. Well, actually that isn't necessarily true. The donor feels better because she has 'done' something. But the intended recipient feels worse because where he had hope before, he now has only the despair that accompanies hopelessness.
That's the way it works.
The best way to ensure that things get better, if you absolutely must donate money, is to give it directly to someone, a needy individual or family, and let them determine how to use it. If you don't trust them to use the money effectively, if you suspect that they will buy cigarettes and beer instead of groceries and mittens for the children, don't give them anything. Don't use a middleman if you can avoid it. That's easier said than done, I know. But what is better, helping someone down the street feed his kids or sending money to some thug who will use it to buy newer and bigger guns for his cohorts?
The real problem with 'helping' people is that often the intended help isn't helpful at all. Even when the funds or grain or medicine do make it to the intended recipients, if they are not taught (and then allowed) to help themselves, all that is accomplished is to create yet another culture of dependency. The poorest countries on our globe are run by tyrants who need to keep the people subjugated and helpless in order to ensure compliancy.
What to do? It is a complex problem, but any solution has to start with fixing the problems that cause property in the first place. I recently read a blog post which discussed in easy to understand language, Hernando De Soto's theories on how to deal with third world poverty . It's worth a read.