Adrift In A Moral Sea: Should We Help The Needy?
In his article, Hardin presents a compelling argument why we should not help the needy: we cannot afford it. And by all means, I agree with Mr. Hardin.
The bottom line is it is not in our interests to help the needy.
It may be that sympathetic people’s hearts are bleeding with the fact that 790 million of the world’s population is chronically undernourished and starving when all over the world it is standard procedure for stores to routinely dispose food that they were not able to sell for the day. We see them in pictures or news clips: the poor in Africa burning under the sun, the hungry children in Asia going through the piles of garbage looking for food.
We feel sorry for them, but we are happy we are not them, that by some contingent force we ended up being born in a wealthy country. We may want to send them food and clothing and other parcels with wishes of peace and love, but if we really want to help them, then I think we should give them what they really need.
Most of the “needy” come from developing and in-transition countries, whose histories are characterized by civil wars, revolutions and struggles for freedom from colonizers, then struggles for freedom from tyrants; and whose financial records show glaring foreign debt. The World Bank recorded that for every dollar that the developing world receives in grants, it pays $13 for debt servicing.
In the Jubilee Year of 2000, Pope John Paul II called for the cancellation of all foreign debts so that the poorer nations can focus on rebuilding and strengthening their economies and governments and providing services to their people rather than being harassed to pay their foreign debt that they acquired because of the colonization trend (and almost all developed countries had colonies), and of the two World Wars which they were mere casualties of.
It seems to me then that if we really are serious about helping the poor, then we should not be giving them food or grants – we should be repaying them for ravaging their natural resources and enslaving their ancestors, for subjecting their nations to the highest form of discrimination and robbing them of their rights, and for destroying their lands and lives with our selfish wars. And the payments should be adjusted as per inflation and with interest.
Of course, no one will agree to that. If we did not let the Jubilee Year weaken our resolve, why now? If we cannot even admit our mistake at Vietnam and apologize, why should we humble ourselves before the poor of the world, even if they are the majority? Let us think of the food program and the foreign assistance to other nations as our way of making it up to them.
That is the best that we can do, since handing over our wealth is out of the question. The thing is, even with the food program, there is hardly any improvement in the hunger problem, and even with the grants the poverty levels and the population issues remain. In The State of Food Insecurity in the World, it is acknowledged that there have been significant improvement in agriculture technology and by all means, there is more food than ten years ago. But the problem of hunger persists because there are adequate infrastructures and mechanisms – roads, shipping systems – to deliver the food to people.
There is a vicious cycle of hunger, poverty and overpopulation, but do we solve their problem? According to the Population Reference Bureau, the less developed world has on average a population growth rate of 1.5 compared to the .1 of the more developed world. Apparently, high mortality rates, the lack of food and adequate resources are not stopping them from producing offspring. In Darwin’s survival of the fittest, they seem to be doing just fine. I may be accused of being simplistic in my argument, but the needy have governments, and more than that, they have their own minds.
They should know by now that there is not enough food where they are, there are very few opportunities, and so if they wanted to help themselves maybe they should focus more on looking for food and work than having babies. If their governments cannot take care of them, should ours do? Presently, we are facing our own social security issues; why would we want to trouble our government with providing for other people when there is an impending danger that we might not be having enough for the future? And why even dwell on the hunger in Africa when in our country there are hungry, homeless people?
As Hardin pointed out, there is not enough space in the lifeboat. Either they make their own lifeboat, or they learn to swim to an island, what is important is that they should do something rather than just accept their fate of drowning just because the metaphor says so. It is a battle of survival, of preserving interests. If helping the needy will not cost anything and even placate our moral sensitivities, then we will help them. But as it turns out, we cannot afford to feed the millions of hungry people. Everything that we give them we take from our future stock, from that which we hope to give to ourselves in our old age, to our children and to our grandchildren. And when faced with giving to strangers or looking after our own families, nobody is the Good Samaritan.
2005 Human Development Report, United Nations Development Programme
Global Development Finance, World Bank, 1999
The State of Food Insecurity in the World. Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2006.