October 15, 2008

The Curse of Poverty

I have become more and more convinced that I, that we, should be doing more. Despite the recent problems in the economy, despite the talk of a global recession, we have so much.

Like many people, I lost a huge chunk of my net worth over the last few months, having been heavily invested in the stock market. While it has been depressing to watch the news and watch my IRA balance, I have been otherwise unaffected. I still have an apartment, I still have plenty to eat, I still have a TV and a Wii and a computer and access to the Internet. In fact, if I lost all of my savings, all of my possessions, and only had my last paycheck, I would still have more money than 80% of the people in the world make in a year. In fact, even those at the poverty line ($10,400 for one person) in America are in the top 13% of earners in the world!

How To Help

  • I am a huge fan of Kiva as a way for me to give some of my (relatively) untold wealth to those who have not had the great fortune to be born in a Western country. Please feel free to join the Kiva Mormons team that I founded.

  • Another great way to help is through fasting. Members of my church forgo two meals for one day each month, and donate the money to help the needy.

  • There are many, many other ways to help. Find something you are passionate about, and get involved. Just do something.

Our humanity is defined by the way we treat The Other - those without a voice, without opportunity, and without the ability to reciprocate. Christ spent his time with the publicans, the Samaritans, and fisherman. Should we not do more for the Forgotten in our society?

September 10, 2008

Let Their People Come Review Part 1 - The Morality of Immigration

Photo from Flickr - celikins

I just finished Lant Pritchett's fantastic Let Their People Come, and I feel compelled to put down a few of the thoughts that I had. I hope this will kick-start my writing on this blog, but that remains to be seen.

I wrote about immigration once before, and reading Mr. Pritchett's book reinforced some of my ideas, and gave me some new ideas.

One of the most powerful arguments, in my mind, is his argument that we treat nationality as a morally legitimate basis for discrimination. He compares labor mobility restrictions to apartheid - "The analogy between apartheid and restrictions on labor mobility is almost exact. People are not allowed to live and work where they please. Rather, some are only allowed to live in places where earning opportunities are scarce . . . The restrictions about who can work where are based on conditions of birth, not on any notion of individual effort or merit"(79).

This is one facet of what I call the "There but for the grace of God" argument, and I think that it is spot on. Any attitude or policy that treats people differently because of the "conditions of birth" is inherently wrong, and the location of birth is no different than race, gender, or ethnicity. He argues that we have as strong a moral obligation to the "Outer Mongolian" as we do to our own countrymen.

While there are serious policy difficulties in determining how to achieve a society without "nation prejudice", Pritchett reminds us that this should be our goal, and we should couch our policy decisions in that framework.

June 18, 2008

Great video on Ants

I just saw this great video about ants from a TED talk:

Her focus is on exactly what fascinates me about ants. She talks about how they coordinate a complex organization using very simple tools, and even more importantly - simple brains. No ant understands the organization, or what needs to occur in order to succeed, and yet the coordinate and "make decisions" about resource allocation, and other things.

I think it can be compared to the cells in a body - each individual cell has very, very limited inputs and outputs, and yet they can work together to create movement, sensory perception, and even consciousness, and even more importantly, can link those complex systems together. Truly amazing.

June 17, 2008

Use Firefox 3!

Firefox 3 was just released today. It is a fantastic piece of software, with some significant improvements over the already-great Firefox 2.

It is amazingly quick, has some really intuitive features like tagging, dragging text, searching page histories, etc.

Firefox can be download at http://www.firefox.com. You won't regret it.

June 13, 2008

Of Ants and Men

One of the reasons that I am so fascinated by ants is their ability to do complex things with their exceptionally limited intelligence. Given a changing environment, with various and varying inputs, ants are able to go on scouting missions, collect food, care for young, etc.

Weaver ants, for example, build nests by pulling leaves together into a sphere, and "sewing" the leaves together with larval silk. Producing something like this takes teamwork and coordination by hundreds of ants. It seems like this sort of project would require central planning, and someone (or some ant) who understands the aim and eventual outcome of the work. I think it is very fair to assume, however, that no one ant, nor the entire group of ants, understands what they are doing. Their biology has programmed to react a certain way, given a certain set of conditions, and the result is the completion of a complex project, beyond the comprehension of any of the participants.

I wonder if certain human institutions are of this same nature. Are there things that we create without understanding what we are doing? Are we working toward goals that are beyond human comprehension, without any of us understanding our role in the process?