RE: Uplift Projects (Was: rehabilitation versus punishment ...)

From: Billy Brown (
Date: Sat Mar 04 2000 - 15:04:24 MST wrote:
> I think we actually share the expectation that the device I
> describe can be made very cheaply - just not now.

Ah, I see. Yes, that does make more sense. Prices for all of the necessary
hardware seem to be declining steadily, so I could see easily see a
full-featured $200 computer with wireless Internet access in the 3-5 year
time frame. Making it work via satellite, or running it off of solar or
hand power, would be a lot more challenging, but I don't think either of
those capabilities is actually needed. Electrification and cell phone
systems are rapidly spreading to cover every part of the world where there
is anyone who could actually use such a system.

> The idea behind distributing the devices instead of money would be for the
> people funding the project to get to exercise a little choice in selecting
> large-scale social policy goals, raising the horizon of philanthropy from
> simple food-distribution and emergency-response aid, to a longer-term goal
> raising the cognitive level of the most disadvantaged one-third of

A laudable goal, and I expect that social engineering by philanthropists
would be better than social engineering by the local dictator. However, I
still think this is a flawed approach. It falls afoul of the same problems
of perverse incentives and information flow that prevent command economies
from working. As I said before, the fact that a net connection is immensely
useful to us does not mean that it is the best thing an illiterate farmer in
Zimbabwe could spend his $200 on. The optimal investment is different for
each individual, and no outside organization will be able to make the best
choice (or even an especially good one) consistently.

IMHO, the best thing a philanthropist can possibly do to help the world's
poor is to give them the capital to help themselves. And, since handouts
only encourage dependency, the best ways to do that is to invest in local
businesses. If you want to bring the internet to the Third World, the
optimal method would be to establish a profitable business that sets up
shared net connections of some kind. If you want to be more flexible than
that, get into the micro-loan business.

Billy Brown

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