Ending world hunger:
At one point during the Triple Nine Society meeting about a week ago as I write a member was describing the efforts he had been involved in trying to alleviate suffering in a country I shall not name, there being a number of them.  As discussion unrolled the opinion emerged that the world could be made a better place through the dedicated efforts of self sacrificing, concerned people – the best of the best – on tragedy at a time.

Succumbing to my innate tendency to see an alternative position and announcing it without regard to how it was likely to be received, I told them world hunger could be brought to an end quickly and easily, and it wouldn’t even be cheap; it would make money – lots of money. 

I heard years ago that one must have the equivalent of $200 dollars a year.  That would cover the minimum amount of wholesome food, rudimentary shelter and less that new clothing.  It fact that is new on the board is that it costs only about $5 to make a cell phone.  So the cost of giving everybody a cell phone … 7 billion people times 5 being 35 billion … would be more than I could afford, but there a projects that cost that much, and besides for this not everybody needs a cell phone, just access to one.  So consider a, probably mythical, impoverished traditional society.  A village of 100 families generally overseen by a capable and highly motivated headman, might have 3 children, a grandparent, two parents and a bachelor uncle or maiden aunt in each family.  That’s seven hundred in the village.  The only need one phone.  So you are down to 10 million phones or 50 million dollars.  Are we talking now?  So famine strikes.  They had been making $200 per person, and that has fallen to $100.  Absent outside help they are in dire straights. 

Now consider that a big bank bailout costs a $ 1 trillion.  That’s affordable at a stretch.  We’ve done it.  Take your trillion and set up a fund for a relatively trifling amount.  Distribute those phones, also for a song, relatively speaking.  Now give everybody in the world $150 a year; break it up to $3 a week.  Poverty remains, but most famines are diverted.

Getting the money to the people is the easy part.  Anybody can summon an ap.  He or she takes a picture out of both sides of the phone, recording face, setting, time and location.  The system locates the file or if it is a new face sets one up with $3.  The person can now transfer the money or a fraction of it to anybody else who is nearby. 

For much of the world, it won’t even be worth the trouble of setting up an account.  Or the person might claim the money and then turn it back over to the system, or at any bank or American embassy take the money out as cash or add to it.  It would be a charity with almost no overhead.  If you try to means test it, it becomes prohibitive.  You’ll have to do it for your worst enemy. 

Soon there is the flood of dollars coming into the US buying goods and services.  The credit changes hands a number of times in the local region and again after it comes back, taxed at every turn.  It pays for itself without any change in the tax code most likely, and certainly pays for itself in economic growth.  Any other industrialized country will pile aboard with a program of its own or hitch onto ours.

Sure, if somebody dies with a lot of wealth, it’s lost forever.  The programming can tell whether the person as alive.  But that’s not such a bad thing.  It means that you might buy and sell a lot, but you don’t want to hoard it.  You want to unload it quickly.  They do that with hard currency now.  It’s why there is a target for inflation.  The powers that be think we’ll spend our money faster if it’s losing value all the time.  I can’t think of a time I ever took inflation into account when considering a purchase; people are notoriously irrational about money.  A business might be more rational, but buying things it does not need immediately reduces its liquidity and gives it a storage problem.  Sure, there are contracts for oil that fix the price; but the inherent volatility of the oil market beggars the volatility of inflation most of the time.

The money will of course largely wind up in the hands of those who are already rich.  They will scurry around and figure out how to tap into the cash flow.  That’s what you want.  You want them to set up means for the money to move around and to compete in that.

You might not need to continue the program for many years.  Dire poverty might evaporate and the largess be phased out.  (Or some experience might suggest it be increased.) But meanwhile most people will be able to use the money that is beyond their survival needs to make their lives better.  And they will figure out ways to make your life better, which they will be able to do if they have good ideas and if they pool resources.  The poorest are – brace yourself – not dumb.  They have been in such straightened circumstances that if there is anything at all to selection, the bold and clever will have had a selective advantage.  Think about it.  At the time the Scots were inventing the modern world they were the poorest country in Europe.  At the time nuclear physics and quantum mechanics were being worked out, much of the best work was done by Hungarians; Hungary was at the time the poorest.  After a few generations of marrying strangers, or course it fades out.  If you have some genes trying to build one brain and others trying to build a different one, you probably aren’t going to be the best of the best, whether brain variability is genetic, epigenetic or cultural.  Anyway, the poorest might, in the interest of making more money, come up with things you’d  pay for but never thought of. 

I mentioned the idea to a friend, and today he called to tell me that a TV show by Fareed Zakaria would be talking about something akin to my idea.  A number of points had come up a few minutes earlier, including the notion that American’s aren’t actually isolationists.  Yet when they talked about giving money to the poor, they mentioned only Americans.  You have to be able to change hats really fast in this day and age.

It’s a pity.  I thought I had mentioned the idea in the right place and within a week there it was on TV.  That was a lot easier than talking people out of killing babies, eh?  But they did not seem interested in the global perspective.

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