I started reading When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett today. It’s a fairly easy read after Bonhoeffer, Niebuhr and Norbet, but it’s also very good. I’d suggest it to anyone who’s interested in poverty issues and especially in charitable work. The primary focus of the book is a discussion on the fact that how we seek to aid the poor is as important as working to aid the poor. So, some of these issues will probably being showing up in the Philosophical Challenge tomorrow :). Also, I’m thinking about focusing the story I was talking about yesterday on a long-term poor orphan who is used to begging for his income being taken in by a knight of Fa’ar and taught to work for his living. Not sure yet, but it’s an idea that I think can high-light some of the issues that Fikkert and Corbett are discussing and give me a chance to discuss some of the opportunity issues I want to explore. We’ll see what happens. Anyway, for today’s exercise I’m going to give you a picture and I want you to use it as inspiration to design one part of the world you’ve started. This could be fleshing out one of the nations that you’ve already come up with or it could be creating an all new nation or continent for your world. Here’s your picture:

This piece was done by Ben Wotten, a New Zealand artist. You can find more of his work here.
This piece was done by Ben Wotten, a New Zealand artist. You can find more of his work here.

6 thoughts on “Plot Challenge of the Week

  1. I assume yoy are aware of the fundamental world view difference between seeing money as a fixed available amount that needs to be devided vs money as an ever increasing supply that can be created. In the first everything, including opportunity, is limited. In the second even new ideas put into motion create more money and thus opportunity is unlimited.

    I don’t know if you want to address this issue but it lays the fundamental availability of opportunity in a society. e.g. North Korea vs. South Korea.

    1. Wayne, I think that it is a very important issue! I’m not sure how many issues I can actually address in a 2500 word story though. However, I think I might be able to combine empowerment of the poor, creation of opportunity at a fundamentally basic level, and the need for more significant redistribution of opportunities at an overall societal level.
      When I refer to creation of opportunity I’m looking at work issues (i.e. my idea here is that the knight will create a job for the orphan, thus empowering him to improve himself and his situation through his own work), but I’d also like to, even minimally, address the need for the redistribution of educational opportunities (i.e. should Harvard cost $68,000 a semester), and the redistribution of payment schemes (i.e. the fundamental question of whether a CEO should be making exponentially more than the low-level wage employees in a company). It seems to me that both creation of new job opportunities and the redistribution of more life-fundamental opportunities is necessary.

  2. You are taking on a huge task, one that no one yet has figured out. How to do one without destroying the other. When you ‘redistribute’ something you are taking away from one to give to another. This destroys motivation to accomplish and demotivates rather than increases ‘opportunity’. Increased opportunity is meaningless unless the people are willing to use it. When you set up an economy that rewards effort and rewards initiative you have to allow those rewards to stick. If you take them away you are destroying the motivation to accomplish and ruining initiative.

    1. Wayne, I don’t entirely agree. Unlike wealth you don’t have to actually take opportunities away from one person in order to give them to another. You simply have to make opportunities more accessible in order to widen the potential competition pool. I think that college education in the US serves as a perfect example at the moment. One of the major issues limiting even the most intelligent of the poverty stricken from improving their lot is the expense of good education. Since 1970 the cost of a college education has risen by around 300%, and at this post even a lower-end college education can mean a life-time of debt for many people. Further, because of the social culture of the US the connections made in college can easily play a large part in defining what opportunities are presented to an individual. A poverty stricken individual, even a very intelligent one, does not have the ability to pay even for a part of a higher-end education (often even the scholarships a poor student cannot afford the fees or housing that he/she is still required to pay). Thus, opportunities that could launch the individual out of poverty are lost because of that same poverty.
      Further, we must consider America’s dying middle class. In our current economic scheme (let’s call it Capitalism gone extremely Randian) the middle class is slowly disappearing. The upper middle class are quickly (in a historical sense) becoming upper class and the lower middle class are quickly becoming low class leaving no real middle class for the nation to rely upon. This is, at least in part, due to the loss of a strong manufacturing sector. When our manufacturing sector disappeared (taking with it jobs that commonly paid $15-$45/hour) the jobs that went with it were generally replaced with minimum wage (or close) service jobs. This is where opportunities need to both be created (i.e. strengthen middle wage jobs to redevelop a strong middle class and engage in development oriented aid to the poor [i.e. soft skills training, financial training, resume building, etc] so that they can be ready for those jobs) and redistributed (i.e. widen the realistically potential pool of competition for educational and entry-level job opportunities to include the poor who have show the ability to excel in those jobs). This will result both in strengthening the middle class and, moving to a truly merit-based system instead of a social system, ensure that we are actually giving opportunities to the individuals best able to take advantage of them.
      In short, what I am suggesting is a move back towards traditional Capitalism and a move away from the current scheme.

  3. I’ll grant your point about college. However, there still exists many opportunities to succeed in this country short of college. I know several people who have developed successful lawn care and landscaping companies, and financially in the upper middle class as a result, with no college beyond some business classes at the local community college. I know crafts people who have good lives as potters and woodworkers. They don’t live in the city and don’t want to.

    Consider why those manufacturing jobs went overseas. It was largely because the inflation caused by those high wages and benefits driven by the unions that were unsupportable in the long run. The same thing happened to the auto industry, but the leaders in those industries were wiser than the leaders in the steel industry.

    1. Wayne, I agree that there are ways to succeed without a college diploma. It is not impossible to ‘make one’s way in the world’. My point is that it is becoming more difficult to do so. Opportunities are not staying the same, nor are they becoming less difficult to find. Further, the psychological and emotional effects of poverty can easily be crippling? How many of the people you know who have made their way as craftsmen or entrepreneurs started in the ghetto? I’m guessing its not more than a couple, and I’m also guessing that they had help getting started.
      The issue is not simply that it is impossible to overcome any particular challenge that an individual faces. The problem is that our nation has become one that is systematically designed (and while I reject conspiracy theories, I would not be surprised if there actually is an element of design to parts of the system) to keep the poor poor, not to aid them in becoming non-poor.
      It is also certainly true that the unions destroyed many manufacturing jobs. However, the attitude that ‘any job is a good job’ has also led to significant abuse both of American laborers (which led to the rise of Unions in the first place), and of illegal immigrants and the material poor overseas.
      Consider why the unions were formed in the first place. Why we have laws against forced child labor and other labor abuses. While the unions certainly became a part of the problem, they were initially started as a response to the problem, and asking for massive life-time health benefits (which is ridiculous) is very different from asking for a living wage.
      Further, and the most significant problem at the moment, the systems that are in place to ‘help’ the poor actually serve to keep them poor. They focus of provision and relief, not on the development of soft-skills or on the development of the poor’s own assets. This is also something that needs to change. Instead of ‘helping’ in ways that keep the poor in their current state, we need to act in ways that help them develop the means to become non-poor. In some cases, especially where there is abuse, this may be unionizing individuals in order to stem that tide. This is what the unions were originally created to do, empower the workers and the poor to improve their lives. While unions can certainly go out of control, that doesn’t mean that every union is a terrible thing.

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