Not helping neighboring countries detrimental to the United States
January 18, 2010 —
The thing about poverty and health crises is that they canít be entirely contained anymore. The world is past the point of large groups of people never coming into contact with other large groups of people. I would be willing to bet a good deal of money that, living in any large city in the world, there is probably at least one person from nearly every other large city in the world. Still, I frequently hear and read arguments that essentially propose this: if problems arenít happening primarily in the United States, why are Americans spending their time and money helping to solve them? Maybe poverty in Afghanistan didnít seem important until September 11th, 2001. Even for those folks who believe that a life outside of U.S. borders isnít as valuable as one inside of it (unless of course that life is accompanied by an American Passport), it must be becoming obvious that globalization is making problems on the other side of the globe much closer to us.
It seems quite common that we care about the people living with us in our house much more than we care about our neighbors. If the neighbor is starving, canít afford garbage tags, and her/his toilet is overflowing with, well, the stuff that goes into toilets, one might be stricken with compassion to help a person in such dire need. On the other hand, one might feel that their neighbor should get his/her life together, and ultimately the responsibility for maintaining the home does not fall on the altruism of others. However, regardless of what the neighbor should be doing to maintain his/her own home, the stark reality is that, depending on the direction of the wind, your home and property is befouled with the stench of thy neighborís shortcomings.
Maybe if this were the case, most people would just move. But in the world today, it is not an option to move the country far enough away from trouble as to avoid it. Rather, no corner of the earth is safe from the consequences of poverty that may exist in any other corner of the earth. Humanity has two options for coping with the presence of poverty, since it is impossible to escape. The first option is to simply suffer and endure the effects of poverty, be it that of thy self or that of thy neighbor. Certainly, that is the option that we have by and large chosen; destitution is seen as an inevitable reality of life. The second option is to invest in actually relieving poverty to the degree that its consequences do not spill over and lower the standard of living for everybody. That doesnít seem to be a very popular option.
Adam Smith makes it clear in his work, The Wealth of Nations, outlining the principles of capitalism, that capitalism causes polarization between economic classes, and that altruism is necessary to prevent the system from self-destruction by its own success. The proponents of capitalism have forgotten this rule today. Today, those who wave fists violently against public works and services, calling upon the free market to solve humanities crises, are most often the same people who are not willing to invest in the quality of life for others in order to raise their own quality of life. That necessary altruism that Smith describes is politically unpopular. So, I say throw it out the window.
Forget appealing to peopleís compassion (that may or may not exist), and beg their ability to reason logically (also questionable) toward the end of self-interest (a timeless certainty). If you are unwilling to accept that your neighbor just doesnít have the resources to make his property not stink, and you are certain that he is just stupid and lazy, still acknowledge that your neighbor isnít going to clean up. If you donít do it, you will forever live downwind of your unwillingness to help another person, even if there are direct benefits to you.
Here is the truth about poverty. It causes lack of education. It causes unrest. It leads to violence. Where there is destitution, there is war and conflict, and that spills over into our backyard. Where there is abject poverty, disease spreads, and that spills over into our back yard. I donít think that anybody argues that Haiti has brought this earthquake on itself, but there are those who think Haiti ought to solve its own problems. Maybe they are right, but that wonít change the fact that Haiti either canít or wonít solve its own problems, and it wonít change the fact that we are directly downwind of that strife. Will we accept this, and help to bring stability to our neighborhood, or will we repeat Afghanistan, and live downwind of our unwillingness to help.