This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power; cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. Any attempt to “soften” the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this “generosity” which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.
Paulo Freire ☀
The psychological poverty trap ☀
Shafir has proved that anyone faced with adverse conditions will consistently make bad economic decisions. An experiment he conducted with Mullainathan and Zhao placed financially-savvy Princeton students from prominent families under the stressful and rushed conditions that poor people face every day. They were given questions to answer in a series of timed rounds, but were permitted to “borrow” time from a subsequent round.
"My students at Princeton are well-to-do and intelligent," Shafir says. "They are the sons and daughters of senators and other highly successful people. And yet these brilliant students took precisely 10 minutes to start borrowing too much; they were tending to the present without any thought to leaving something for the future.
"Given enough time, a person will consider the future cautiously. He won’t engage in nonsense and won’t borrow at high interest he can’t afford. But if you put him under strict deadlines and pressure him, he’ll start behaving foolishly. We all put off for tomorrow things that need to be done today, and pay high interest because we didn’t pay on time. All the mistakes poor people make with money we make with time - but for them the price is too high. A person probably doesn’t seem intelligent when he doesn’t have enough time to consider the future, but if he did have enough time he would start acting intelligently. Poverty is an emotional state."
The Best Ways to Fight Poverty—Really ☀
What these latest findings demonstrate is the church’s relative ineffectiveness and impotency at helping the poor. Some Christian activists have been trying to motivate us to care for the poor by pointing out how they are neglected by society. The state is a clumsy and arrogant institution, they argue, and not doing its job. So the church must step in to make a difference. That means that (1) churches should create their own anti-poverty initiatives (like microfinance), and (2) churches should lobby governments to do better.
These recent economic developments suggest that both of these strategies are either insignificant or relatively ineffective. It is not Christian activism that has created history’s greatest poverty reduction initiatives in India and China. And it is not micro but rather macroeconomics that really makes a difference.
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