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Thursday, June 10, 2004

Changes and Good Deeds

Changes in the blog: I turned on comments, although I couldn't repost everything, so you can't comment on early entries. I feel a little stupid not realizing that the feature was there but not activated. I also changed the style sheet, although because my entries are long, the narrow column may be a problem.

Deeds: I received an email about how my life was terribly empty, and I was turning into a souless rich man who could only purchase his love.

I also received a message taking me to task for wasting money and asking why I spend it on relationships instead of charities.

I find these emails, when well-written, quite thought-provoking. In fact I am quite worried that my fate is in the direction of souless emptiness. That somehow money fills and displaces meaning from your life.

I am responsible for my life, so my decisions are a big part of it. Part of it may also be money and the work I am in. Part of it may be my personality. Part of it may be fate. But it is my decisions that I can use to influence my future.

In that sense I am far from self-actualized. Otherwise I'd ignore all of that feedback and just enjoy... me! ;-)

Now as it turns out, I have made several fortunes, and am working on my fourth. For each previous fortune, I gave away 80% to 90% of the money (80% for my first, 90% for the most recent). It's a lot of money, especially if you consider that I live my lifestyle on the remainder.

Partly this is because I am not "in it" for the money. It's a measure of success, but not my measure of self. So I make it, accumulate it, and then give it away.

It turns out that giving it away is harder than making it. Or maybe just as hard, but more frustrating.

I will admit that most of the money I have away was wasted. Many nonprofit and charitable activities are run very inefficiently. Maybe that's not suprising considering that many of the entrepreneurs in the nonprofit field are not well trained, and are more passionate than capable; and there is less infrastructure supporting them and allowing them to scale.

And ultimately people build charities around perceived need, and do not really analyze what is the real need. The lack of this kind of analysis is sometimes due to compassion, sometimes ineptitude, but most often due to thinking in the box, or according to a set of conventional wisdoms that are considered immoral to think around, at least in the charitable world of social justice. Let's call it "politically incorrect."

Let me give an example. I'll start with a harsh one, and then a more reasonable one.

If you save the children of Africa from infectious disease, you will cause more suffering.

Why? Their economies cannot bear their current population, so if you increase the population by making more kids survive disease, it will get worse.

Now that's not a reason NOT to support helping the children of Africa. But it suggests that disease control has to be part of a more comprehensive program that include infrastructure, jobs creation, better government, better economies, and so on.

When you analyze this, many people then jump to jobs creation or education (or they call you a heartless bastard). But that disregards two other important blocking issues: 1) the governments and their corruption that blocks social changes in their nations, and 2) the lack of eye, dental, and hand and foot care that stops the population from being productive workers.

On the first issue, India could have been as bad off as Africa. India was many many tiny nation-tribes without a common language, and with a lot of strife. India is plagued with disease like Africa. But India has hope. Although politically incorrect, I assert that occupation of India by the British was the best thing to happen to them. The British unified India (against them), gave India an education system, roads and communications infrastructure, governance, and an economy. Now India has engines of growth, wealth, and job production.

These are the weapons they use to fight poverty, the tools India will use to defeat their social welfare problems. Their success is not a sure thing, but in the last few decades as they grew from 500 million to a billion people, they have reduced the number of their poor by more than the entire population of the US. They have a long way to go, but you should not discount their success.

But how will Africa do this? Nobody is unifying them, and nobody, imperialist or otherwise, is providing infrastructure, education, communications or an economic engine to fight the poverty, disease, and social travails of the continent.

On the second issue, you try being productive when you can't see well, your teeth hurt like hell and are rotting out of your mouth, and you can't walk or your manual dexterity is compromised. The diseases that ruin a nation are the ones that turn their productive working adults into unproductive liabilities that can't work. You can only have so many liabilities before you collapse. And then the wealthiest are only rewarded for keeping the poor too weak to throw a physical revolt.

The long and short of it is that it is difficult to give money rationally, and I have learned this the hard way.

I also hope to demonstrate, in this post, some evidence that I am not a sybartic hedonist, a Screwing Scrooge. I very much enjoy the non profit work where I have contributed, and remain quite active in that area, even if I don't post that much about it. Maybe I should balance this blog with more thinking on that side!

In a future post, I'll cover some of the areas I've invested in for non-profits. In preview, one of them was helping sex workers facing slavery conditions in Central Europe.


Blogger SBB said...

Again, very insightful. I hate giving $ and goods away especially now that I've had some insight into the non-profit world. It's very, very different from money making businesses, and usually not in a good way.

6/06/2005 2:28 AM  

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