Aug 04 2009

Make Poverty History? We Already Have

From Jon Swift’s deliciously satirical blog post about critics of homeless people with cell phones, Let’s Make Poverty Less Enticing: “Contrary to what many people think, the poor are actually very rich, which explains a lot.”

Love it.

Cell phones and other mobile computing devices may actually help the poor and homeless to network, find potential employers and locate opportunities to improve their lives overall. There is already some very interesting experimental work going on in Vancouver around this, led by Fearless City.

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2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Make Poverty History? We Already Have”

  1. Earnest Canuckon 05 Aug 2009 at 1:36 am

    The blog post you reference is actually here:

    — and what leaden satire it is, my old Pink Tory; ’bout as funny as a little brother.

    A touch evasive, too: there are no pre-paid cameraphones, as the querulous M. Swift should know, presuming he’s even once been truly down and broke. Even today, it is a pricey item; I can’t afford one, for example. Maybe I could if I free-rode all my meals at soup kitchens… and I could probably keep my cable TV if someone else was paying for all my kids’ clothing… not that any of The Sainted Poor ever use leverage like that, of course!

    What you got here is small-scale moral hazard, Narvey. This isn’t about stone-heartedly denying The Blessed Homeless their “little” luxuries. It’s about how *everyone* struggles, or should, to get the good stuff in life. The way I struggle to pay my cell bill and mortgage, for example, or struggle to meet my tax obligations to help fund the massive public-services bill in the DTES. In this context, the moral hazard can be framed thusly: how badly do *I* have to screw up my life before I get a free cell phone, free apartment, and free food…?

    From this end of the telescope, yeah, it sometimes seems that The Innocent Poor get unjustly rewarded; worse, it sometimes appears that Non-Poor (Right Now) working people get unduly punished.

    Charity is a virtue, of course; but *virtue* is a virtue too. Is it Scrooge-ish, therefore, to ask that *anyone* seeking private relief or public assistance should truly have exhausted his or her own resources first? If you think so, you oughta tell The Even Poorer guys who got cut from the end of the soup queue (as some guys always do). ‘Cos they’d have gone hungry, right? While Mr Camera Phone was carting around a mildly fancy device worth, on the open market, say, 100 cans of soup, *plus* one hot plate, *plus* one cheap pay-as-you-go squawkphone with 30 minutes.

    This is not virtuous of Mr Phone, who essentially enjoys his MichelleCell while sending the bill to others. No, not the taxpayers, nor the charitable givers – it’s The Even Poorer this guy’s *really*billing. This embodies moral hazard.

    Hey, next week I’ll lecture you about “free riding” economic theory, Narvey. Briefly, imagine that a plodding blogger shoplifts the name of that great Dean, Jonathan Swift, the most carnivorous satirist of the Ages; imagine that the plogger then mangles the great name to “Jon Swift”, OK? Cos it’s snappier, perhaps. Now, suppose “Jon Swift” starts posting an inept series of political sarcasms and caricatures, raspberrying an imagined Right in a spray of hihg-pitched mockeries-by-restatement. Suppose the “Jon Swift” site actually clanks with the tedious weight of an un-satirist who Says The Things That Are Said. OK, with me so far? This guy is, ta-da… FREE RIDING. Jonathan Swift earned the capital; this “Jon Swift” is squandering it. All his visitors, Jon, are unique.

  2. jnarveyon 05 Aug 2009 at 8:13 pm

    “The moral hazard can be framed thusly: how badly do *I* have to screw up my life before I get a free cell phone, free apartment, and free food…?”

    What can I say except I agree with you on ALMOST everything. Yes, the image of someone entirely dependent on the handouts of others flashing his gadget does stick in one’s craw (Wow. What an awfully perverse choice of words. Get it together. OK. But moving on…).

    But I’m not sure about the facts in this case. As I understood it, pretty much any cell phone sold today comes with a camera built in. Maybe this guy is using pre-paid phone cards or something. Maybe he’s benefiting from a program similar to Fearless City. For all I know, this guy is just one of the countless working poor who labor in full-time shifts on minimum wage, supplementing inadequate income with soup kitchen fare. I assume he’s an exception to the rule, and that’s why he got noticed in the first place.

    In any case, cell phones can be very handy things for people who do want to pull themselves out of poverty through the tried and true method of getting a job. If this guy *is* homeless, how is the foreman at the construction company or the boss at the factory supposed to get in touch with him if he does get the gig?

    If this guy had been recording with his shiny new camcorder, I’d be shocked. But a cell phone? Maybe this isn’t as bad as it might seem.

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