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Why You Must Watch the Documentary Poverty, Inc.

When I first saw the advertisement of the documentary advertised above, POVERTY, INC. I thought, “Great, another conspiracy piece about how nobody should ever make a profit, how all profit is theft, how the rich are rich because they’ve despoiled the poor.” I couldn’t have been wrong-er.

Let me tell the story.

I started reading economics texts in 2010 after completing my PhD. I asked myself, “After X years of education, what gaps do you perceive? What areas would you most like to develop?” The answer was easy. I wanted to gain a practical knowledge of economics and political theory. Both seemed natural accouterments to my work with Biblical theology, since both sought to understand “the way of things” at a basic level. Indeed, like my greatest discoveries in biblical theology, both were social lynch-pins connecting almost every other aspect of life.

I learned quickly that there were two types of economic discussion.

The popular chatter was always centered around wishful thinking and firm convictions of how we could make money and people function someday if only we would give our leaders complete control over everything. I call this “Wishful-Thinking economics.” The calling card is “There ought to be a law.”

The other discussion was based on observing the entire history of how people and money have actually worked, tracking real world results of certain decisions, regardless of intentions, and the garnering of consistent principles and patterns that emerge from these observations. I call this “real-world economics.” It’s calling card is, “Beware the unintended consequences of even the most well intended action.”

Connected to this, were two different political discussions.

The first, and again most popular, is built on endless promises of how wonderful the world would become if only we empowered our leaders with unchecked control over everything so they could force an “equality of result” regardless of personal, national, or cultural input in society. They’d solve all our problems and humanity would finally arrive at that beautific state of contentment natural to our souls, if only our environment were right. This is the root of leftist & progressive ideology. It’s calling card is “Solutions!”

The second, and less popular one, assumes that the biggest problem with society is that it has innately flawed people in it, helplessly bound to self-interest. It recognizes that human systems cannot provide solutions, but CAN offer meaningful tradeoffs to minimize human suffering and foster human prosperity to one degree or another in given circumstances. Here, government functions best by viciously enforcing basic natural rights between people against threats from neighbor, foreign power, and government itself. This is the root of what is often called “Right wing” & “conservative” ideology. It is the foundation of our national documents like the Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and the Federalist papers. It’s calling card is “Tradeoffs” because everything has a cost and everything has unintended consequences.

As a Biblical theologian I took great interest in the proposed motives for each of these perspectives on economics and politics. A wishful thinking approach proves quite attractive to the Christian who is supposed to askew greed and reach out to his fellow man with charity. The entitlement programs proposed by the left have all the surface markings of charity and concern for the poor, a supposed desire to elevate the downtrodden to equal status with the prosperous. It seeks to force every citizen to give his second coat to one who has none. I cared about the poor. I wanted to elevate my fellow man. I believed in equality of all as image bearers of God. Certainly, this must be the biblical approach to economics and politics, I thought…

…but something always seemed amiss… like the roots of this ideology in secularist thought and its connection to human villainy throughout the ages by way of the promotion of the totalitarian state control needed to force said equality of result—Quite a body count, even if one ignores the cost to human freedom. Then there was the counter principles in Scripture about personal responsibility and sowing and reaping and Jesus’ defense of property rights and the fact that all biblical law is rooted in equality of nature as image bearers NOT equality of result regardless of input.

I asked myself about the real world results of supposed charitable systems and found those results wanting a good deal… being counter-productive to stated goals… hurting the very people these programs were designed to help.

I learned that no one should ever consistently do for someone else what they ought to be doing for themselves. It may make one feel good, may make one feel important, but it is a lasting injury to object of one’s charity.

I learned that the goal in charity is the same as in raising children—to create self-sufficient, functional adults. Anything that leads to some other end, no matter how well intended, is misguided at best and evil at worst.

True charity is not about doing something the makes me feel good, but is about doing something that actual does good for others in the long run.

I started wondering whether our charitable efforts in the rest of the world had the same unintentional but devastating social and political consequences as our entitlement programs have had here in the USA. It only made sense that it would follow similar patterns.

This brings us back to the documentary Poverty, Inc. After crossing paths with the trailer for Poverty, Inc. on a few different occasions, I saw it advertised on an economics site that I trusted. I decided to take a look at the trailer. I was impressed enough to purchase it. Best $15 I’ve ever spent.

With a generous and gentle spirit, the documentary celebrates the desire of so many westerners to help other nations achieve greater levels of prosperity and to escape the destitution of poverty… BUT it challenges us to reconsider the methods that we use to help. With numerous case studies from around the world Poverty, inc. considers the real-world impact of misguided charity efforts. The tag line runs:

“Having a heart for the poor isn’t hard. Having a mind for the poor… that’s the challenge”

It details how so many of our orphanages create more orphans than they help. It looks at how shoe drives and clothing drives destroy textile industries around the world (who can compete with free?) It considers the corporations that sustain themselves not on eliminating poverty, but in sustaining it through dysfunctional economic patterns. It considers governmental foreign aid and its role in sustaining third world dictators. It also looks at those who are breaking these patterns and building up industry, fostering healthy family and healthy working communities. It paves a way forward for our charitable hearts to do something that actually does good rather than just making us feel good… and that is a noble end.

I cannot recommend this documentary enough.

It can be purchased on Amazon.com here


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