Enlightened Capitalism

Essays about how to harness people's natural desire to create wealth and improve their quality of life to solve global problems such as war and poverty.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Poverty Vaccine, Part 3

Let's face it, solving poverty is a huge task. Huge tasks behave a little differently than small or medium sized tasks.

For example, consider weeding your vegetable garden. All the vegetable gardens I have weeded have been small enough so that I could finish weeding them in less than 2 full days. This is shorter than the reproductive cycle of a weed, so I always finish weeding before the existing weeds reproduce.

Now imagine weeding a 100 acre farm, using the same technique (pulling out each weed by hand). I imagine that would take me at least 2 days per acre, or 200 days. I'm no botanist, but I know weeds grow and spread faster than that. The point is I'd never get done.

Weeding a 100 acre garden cannot be done using techniques that work fine on a 100 sqft garden. Think about that.

I have done a fair amount of experimentation with all sorts of landscaping, and I have prided myself on never using power tools, whose noise would lower the quality of life for my neighbors. At my first major investment property (back in 1994), 22607 Valley View Dr, Hayward CA, I spent a solid week from dawn to dusk frantically digging out a retaining wall with a shovel, and literally running 20 yards uphill with my wheelbarrow full of dirt, and dumping it at the top, to terrace my steeply sloping yard. When I set my mind to something, I really give it my all.

But I bit off more than I could chew in that job, and ended up completing only one terrace (I had planned for five). See, here's another example of using a technique that is too slow. The mortgage was burdensome; I spent a full year fixing the place up before I could rent it, and I ended up selling the property before I could finish.

The most avid John Kerry supporters can probably understand my feelings. Sure, there is satisfaction in working hard on something you believe in, but a lot of satisfaction comes from succeeding, too. I have learned the hard way to pick my battles carefully.

Life is too short to screw around with slow poverty solutions. We need THE FASTEST solution possible!

Here it is.

1. Solve the easiest cases first. Starting with the easiest country, the easiest state, the easiest city, the easiest neighborhood, the easiest street, the easiest house, the easiest room in that house, and the easiest part of that room.

Remember, our failure to solve poverty in the easiest place works on our brains like psychological proof that we cannot solve it in harder places. Poverty in Los Angeles destroys any hope of ending poverty in Calcutta.

2. Solve the profitable cases first. It makes no sense to pay to accomplish something when you can just as easily get paid to accomplish the same thing.

A large portion of the poverty problem arises due to people spending too much money on things that depreciate in value rapidly (e.g. ice cream, carpet, automobiles). We aren't going to solve it by engaging in that same behavior. Every dollar we spend should come back to us bigger.

3. Solve the cases that yield the most support first. Why start conflicts? I am still alive partly because I have spent the past 10 years figuring out ways of accomplishing the result I want such that not only does no one object, but people spontaneously help me. There is no need to boss anyone around or make anyone uncomfortable.

It might not seem like such a sure thing that this will work, if there weren't soooooo many incredibly wealthy, energetic, talented, outspoken, passionate people who want this result so bad we can taste it. This is the fastest, cheapest, easiest, most sustainable way to get there.

Now I just need to get this idea across to people in a way that sticks.


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