An Economic Anthropology Blog
In her TED Talk, Roy makes a vital point in identifying that a spring break spent volunteering or a 5-dollar donation will do little to end poverty long term. While these little actions may give one a sense of accomplishment, much greater actions are needed to actually alleviate poverty. Institutional change must take place to fix the problems at the base of poverty before the world will see actual progress away from poverty. While having no money is what defines poverty, structural inequality is what causes it. As Ray describes, the wealthy get state help, while the poor are left only with self-help. This is likely caused because of the perception that many have of the poor—a view that they are dependent because they did not work hard enough and a desire to avoid. What Roy describes as the “sanitized encounters with poverty,” such as the polished marketing ads at Whole Foods, do not help us to understand the individuals. I believe that getting to know the poor not as a generalized group hidden in the shadows of our alleyways but as individual people trapped under institutional inequality is the best to “unknow poverty.”As Ray points out in her book but doe not mention in her TED Talk, some of the large intuitions that run microfinance are structurally built to profit for the poor rather than aid them. From the stories of many of our classmates that have seen the results of microfinance institution, it is clear that they are capable of doing good, but can also leave some in situations much worse than before entering into their loans. Widespread structural change in both the market and the institutions that operate them must take place to see a lasting change for the better. Regulations at all levels should be in place to stop predatory lenders from profiting off the poor and encourage benevolent lenders to reach the people who need their help.
Poverty, both globally and locally is a complex issue. Ananya Roy in her TEDx presentation outlines the complexities of the perception and response to poverty on a governmental and individual level in relation to the reality of their effect. What I found particularly interesting is her emphasis on perception of the individual in the United States regarding poverty and how that effects their response to it. Particularly, the contradiction of Americans valuing one type of poverty over another. As Roy discussed, Americans have a tendency to value global poverty over local poverty. Local poverty is quickly stigmatized because people place emphasis on the impoverished individuals “bad decisions” that lead them to where they are now, almost in a sense justifying their condition. While on the other hand Americans will look at impoverished people in other parts of the world and not blame the people, but their condition. The reality is that Americans don’t fully acknowledge poverty locally but they greatly acknowledge the conditional factors that come with poverty and divert attention to those, completely going around the root of the problem. For example, the combating of crime is heavily emphasized in the United States. Instead of hitting the root of much of the cause of crime in the United States, which is related to poverty if not a direct result of it, instead blaming “cultures of crime”. We enact policies like the war on drugs or increase spending on law enforcement and larger prison systems which if anything exacerbates the problem. The millions and if not billions spent on these policies and institutions could go to housing subsidies, scholarships or general funding to programs that can help impoverished American in order elevate themselves to a better financial condition. At base of this problem is perception of the individual’s mistakes and not the bigger picture of poverty. With that said by no means is our own poverty greater than global poverty. But as Roy mentioned the individual micro-philanthropist makes a very small impact in reality. However, on a local level an individual can make a much larger impact by directly interacting and helping their neighbors or local populations. This can only be done by dropping our perceptions of people in our communities who are impoverished. In all if we can better help ourselves then we can be better at helping others.
Roy discusses in her TED talk about poverty and how we have started to see a rise in micro-financing money for example the whole foods donation which goes to helping supply the poor with vital resources necessary to survive. She brings this discussion of how we feel a great about giving this money but when you look at homeless people in the US you wouldn't think twice about walking right past that person and not giving them any money at all. In the US we have this stigma behind homeless people that they did this to themselves instead of poverty in foreign countries we consider it a condition and out of there hands so we are more inclined to help them. There is also a big issue with trusting of the homeless in the US most people believe there is a high possibility the homeless will use this money for drugs or alcohol so they wonder why even give there money away. While on the other side of the spectrum people think they can trust these organizations like Red Cross so they feel safer giving their charity money to an organization rather than a random person on the streets. She definitely brings up the question of why all these people are homeless and what can we do institutionally that could try and provide these people with a place to live and opportunity to get themselves out of being impoverished. These small donations at grocery are not enough to bring people out of poverty, sure it helps but it by no means solves the problem and I think the only real way to solve this problem of poverty is to start with the government coming up with a plan to give people in poverty a place to live and a possibility at getting a job so they can start to provide for themselves. The issue is not just in the US either many countries have kicked out people in who are living in shacks because the government wants to do something with that land, and they don't even give these people another place to stay.
During Roy’s presentation, she mentions that we’re all gun-ho and will jump at the first chance to volunteer in countries like Africa or Haiti to help the poor but squirm at thought to help the poor here at home. When she said this, I made me realize how many people around me actually do this. Where people are so busy and focused on filling out applications for volunteer organizations in countries in Africa, but won’t take 2 hours out of their weekend to volunteer at their local soup kitchen. I don’t know if they think that 20 hours volunteering in Africa looks better on a resume than 20 hours volunteering at the local soup kitchen or that their perception is America doesn’t have a poverty problem. People may have this perception because they just don’t see poverty in their neighborhoods and think that it’s a distance problem. Another part of Roy’s presentation that really stuck out to me is when she said, “the wealthy get state help while the poor only get self-help.” This statement hits home for me. When I was little, my mother would always be on call since she was a nurse at the local hospital. If my dad was working night turn, he would sleep all day so my sisters and I were able to stay at home. We would just have to be quiet because if we woke up dad, there would be hell to pay. But when my dad was working day turn, my sisters and I would have to go to this daycare center in the hospital that was created by nurses like my mom. The nurses’ kids would be somewhere safe and it was completely free because no one could afford a babysitter. Now when we talk about state help for the wealthy, you see these insurance companies get bailouts time and time again. Another example I see the wealthy getting state help is when a wealthy person gets arrested and sent to court for drugs, they are almost always sentenced to rehab where as a poor person would get sentenced to 5 years in prison.
I thought that this Ted Talk was misleading. She doesn't really offer a solution to helping poverty but she mentions "shopping for poverty" or something of that nature. The way I understood it was that we should spend the $5 every time we go food shopping. The problem there is that I don't have control over where my money is going. Non profit organizations are businesses that get tax breaks but give out a lot of paygrade raises. I can not support such a process because then the results of the donations are usually *Shitty I hate to be blunt but it is true.I think a great solution to poverty and it is very slow but helpful is to allow people the right to sleep in a shelter no matter their income. No if certain luxuries don't come with, is another story for another day. I also think that it would be more efficient to spend 5 dollars at Wendy's for the homeless man in my neighborhood and a hose down with soap before I donate money for a cause outside my country. It's really weird how their is this stigma to help other countries and bud in their business before we have helped ourselves.
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