Archive for the ‘Children’ Category

“Foolish Spending Habits” of the Poor – Now Explained by Economists

June 24, 2015

steak

In America, middle-class people get angry when they see the poor buying steak and lobster with their food stamps, especially when they themselves can’t afford these items.

In India, the middle and upper classes get angry when they see the poor without enough food to eat, wasting money on lavish religious festivals and funerals (up to 40% of their household’s yearly income).  The King of Swaziland banned lavish funerals in 2002 for this same reason.

In Morocco, the middle and upper classes wonder how the village poor can have a satellite dish, a television, a DVD player, and a cell phone, and yet, are subsisting merely on bread and sugary tea!

In all countries, many of the poor seem to be making very poor food choices, spending their very limited food money splurging on junk-food items, rather than on healthy foods which would provide adequate nutrition for their families.  For example, in Britain, George Orwell describes poor British workers as subsisting  on an appalling diet of white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potato.  They prefer this to living on a more healthy diet of brown bread and raw carrots.

So why are the poor, the world over, making these seemingly bad decisions?

The answer, according to economists who have studied this question (Banerjee & Dufflo, Poor Economics, 2011),  is that  things that taste good, or things that make life less boring are a priority for the poor.

“The less money you have, the less you are inclined to spend it on wholesome food…When you are unemployed, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food.  You want to eat something a little tasty.” Examples of tasty food might be cake, fried foods, chocolate,  a bag of chips, or even just a cup of sugary tea.

In America, a poor man in in his early 20’s, with numerous debts to other people, spent his paycheck on personal pleasures.  He purchased new tattoos, new clothes,  a weekend vacation, and some upgraded accessories for his car, instead of making payments to his creditors.

In rural villages, life can be quite boring for the poor.  “There is no movie theater, no concert hall, no place to sit and watch interesting strangers go by.  And not a lot of work, either.”  In modern Morocco, Banerjee & Dufflo found that many men lived in small houses without water or sanitation, and struggled to find work.  “But they all had a television, a satellite dish, a DVD player, and a cell phone,”  even though their families had very little food to eat.  When asked why, one of them responded, “Oh, but television is more important than food!”

So how do the poor survive depressions?  George Orwell explained it perfectly.  “Instead of raging against their destiny, they have made things tolerable by reducing their standards.  But they don’t necessarily reduce their standards by cutting out luxuries, and concentrating on necessities; more often, it is the other way around…Hence, in a decade of unparalleled depression, the consumption of all cheap luxuries has increased.”

According to economists Banerjee & Duflo, “The poor are skeptical about their supposed opportunities, and the possibility of any radical change in their lives…Therefore, they focus on the here and now, on living their lives as pleasantly as possible, and on celebrating when the occasion demands it.”

–Lynne Diligent

 

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“No One Told Them to Have Children!” Is Becoming a Mainstream Attitude Today

March 7, 2015

Poor people having children

An economic trend and a social trend have combined today such that parents are now being judged today by a completely new set of criteria.

With the decline of the middle class, more people than ever before are being judged by the criteria, “No one told them to have children!”  In other words, the new criteria means that instead of full adulthood being conferred only upon those who have become parents and householders, that adults are now judged as being irresponsible for becoming parents, unless they can provide a middle-class standard or above for raising their children.

How did this change come about, and in only two generations?

The first element was a social change, with the sexual revolution, with availability and acceptability of contraception and abortion, and more young married adults choosing a child-free lifestyle.  A generation ago, those choosing to be child-free were called selfish.  Now, they are called responsible, especially if their incomes are not up to an upper-middle-class level.

In today’s America, getting married and having children is no longer the normal progression of adult life.  Now, it’s about finding a job or career which pays enough to afford a middle-class lifestyle.  Anyone who has children, by choice or mistakenly, without having achieved that, is now judged harshly as being a burden on society.

Thus, the middle classes are very careful now to have only one or two children. A few upper-middle-class  families have several children, and can well afford them, but more are having only two children.  Lower-middle-class  parents, as well as any parents who are struggling financially, are now viewed as irresponsible, and that their problems are of their own making.  “No one told them to have children!” is now a common judgement by those without children.

The poor (even the married poor) are judged most harshly for having children, whereas in the past the married poor would have been expected to have children.  The poor often have more children, but not always for the reasons (irresponsibility) that the childless or better-off imagine.  (Those reasons are not the subject of this post.)

In the past, only Catholics were judged for having too many children and being poor because of it.  Now, all poor families are judged for having any children at all.

To other cultures, the new situation in America appears incredible.  Other societies view children as the foundation of their growth and family support of the different generations throughout life as a necessity.  Other societies place less burden on young parents, whether they provide free daycare for working mothers (European societies) or inter-generational child care for children, or even the support of having maids at home,  to enable parents to work.

Two generations ago, the norm was that women were at home caring for children, while men worked.  But as women have gone to work, American society has not provided any workable childcare solution compared to other societies.  The result is that now, it has become socially acceptable and even common to judge that whole classes of people should no longer be having children at all.

–Lynne Diligent

Why It’s So Difficult to Eradicate Corruption

January 26, 2013

Eradicate corruption

Whenever a new government or new party is elected, particularly in the Third World, a promise to eradicate corruption is always at the forefront.  But why do these promises almost never materialize?

The answer is more simple than it appears. Government doesn’t lead society; it REFLECTS society. If people in government are corrupt, it is because this corruption, this way of thinking and getting things done, is pervasive throughout the society.

So, at best, new parties and new governments make a big show of “attacking corruption” by arresting a few people.  What they are really doing, however, is just trying to scare everyone from pushing the boundaries of corruption, so that they don’t “get caught.”  All the while, even the new government officials continue with corrupt practices in their daily lives.  The people change, over and over, but the corrupt system never changes.

Why is this?

corruption

The problem starts with young children.  I see this every day as a teacher.

Young, impressionable children watch and notice the way their parents deal with the issues of life each day. In most third-world countries, when the child has a severe problem at school, instead of letting the child repeat the grade, the parents go in and “beg” or pay a bribe for their child to be promoted (because parents feel ashamed if their child is not promoted). When the child gets a bad grade or doesn’t do homework, parents do the same thing. Instead of children being taught that they will have the consequences of their actions, good or bad, they are taught that one can “get out of any consequence” by either paying a bribe, or knowing the right people. Is it any wonder that they grow up into corrupt adults?

Corruption will never be eliminated in government until it is first eliminated in society. Yet, speaking as a teacher, I don’t see this happening at all. Even five-year-olds are learning this corrupt behavior by watching their own parents.

I personally know of one case where a five-year-old told his teacher that if the teacher didn’t allow him to do as he pleased, “I will bring my father in and have you fired!”  (The result was that the foreign teacher told him, “Go right ahead!  Go get your father right now!  I’m waiting for him!”  The student didn’t know quite what to say after that, as he wasn’t expecting that response…..)

So where, exactly, does the endemic corruption in third-world nations come from?  It comes from the class system.  In order to have a meritocracy, and fair treatment for all, whether in the courts or in daily life, EVERYONE HAS TO BE EQUAL UNDER THE LAW.  In third-world countries, and even in many developed countries, this is unfortunately not the case.  Those who are born wealthy, or with titles, the right name, or connections can get away with crimes of any sort and no court will convict them.  This is truly what it means being “above the law.”

corruption 2

The ONLY way, therefore, for ordinary citizens to get justice, or even things done in everyday life, is through “knowing the right person (powerful people),” or paying a bribe.  In every class of society, those above exploit those below.  (This does not mean every individual in the society exploits others, but it is true as a general rule.) The rich exploit the middle and lower working classes.  Even lower-middle class people, if they have some economic success in their own lives, hire a maid and exploit her even worse than higher classes.  People on the lower end steal and cheat time-wise on their employers because they feel like they “deserve it.”  They feel this way because it is a passive-aggressive sort of class warfare.

Class warfare 2

The same dynamic plays out in companies where many bosses exploit their workers.  Since there is no justice in third-world countries, it is dangerous to resist directly, so they resist in a passive-aggressive manner, “forgetting” important things, showing up late, etc.   Their jobs are often protected by “work rules” which mean they can’t be fired for any of these sorts of infractions.

Not every boss is exploitative.  Unfortunately, when a foreign manager is working with these sorts of employees, their behavior is very confusing.  The manger expects a certain level of output, what is normal for himself, or in his own home country.  He gets only 1/3 of that and wonders what is wrong.  He tries every tactic to improve productivity, only to find workers getting worse and worse.  (He can’t fire them due to work rules.)  What’s wrong is those particular workers have the class-warfare mentality.

In third-world countries, because of the “class” system, no one will ever be equal under the law.  Even in countries with recent revolutions, such as in Arab Spring countries, the class system and class-warfare mentalities continue.  So I am not optimistic that they will be able to develop meritocracies.

Democracy (or democratic reform) means nothing without meritocracy.

–Lynne Diligent

The REAL Reason Arab Men and Boys Are Still Treated as Pashas by Women

December 5, 2012

Man Washing Dishes

“Kitchen! Kitchen!”  Most North African boys still make fun of each other by saying this, which means, “Sissy!” (For my foreign readers, this means, “You’re acting like a girl!”)

North African mothers still raise their daughters to do all the housework, and boys are not expected to help at all.  (The only exception is in some families where there are no girls, and the boys have learned to help.)

The first generation of educated, North African women are out in the labor force.  But are the attitudes of men changing?  Not yet.  Working women are still expected to work full time AND do ALL of the child care AND take care of ALL the housework.  In general, men are expected to work, and spend all of the rest of their time relaxing.  They still expect to come home and find “everything done and waiting for them.”  (A very few modern husbands do help out doing dishes or cooking, or with general housework.  But they don’t tell their friends!  Some even make sure the curtains are closed so no neighbors see them helping out, either.)

closed curtains

As one young dual-citizen North African-American girl told me, “In North American culture, MEN take care of WOMEN.  In Arab culture, WOMEN are expected to take care of MEN.”   This accounts for the shocking experience of American women who marry Arab men, only to find they are expected to take care of the man as if they were his MOTHER!  Many intercultural couples have hit the divorce courts over this exact issue, as many of these men are unable to adapt, even when living in America.

Will this change, in Arab countries, within a generation, as the second generation of women hits the workforce in 25 years?  I don’t think so.  Here’s why not.  This is my own theory, but when I discussed it with several local North African women, they all agreed with me.

Islamic inheritance laws give double to boys as they do to girls.  The reason for this is that men are supposed to be financially responsible for women under their care, in THEORY.  If a man is decent, he will do it.  (But just as everywhere, many men are irresponsible, or not decent.)  In practice, many women are never able to claim their inheritance rights, particularly in places like mountain villages.  (Crawford, 2008)

The essential point is this.  Every woman knows that she is under a man’s thumb, or will be in the future.  Girls are under their father’s control.  Wives are still under their husband’s control in most Arab countries (such as needing the husband’s permission to get or renew a passport, even for a foreign wife, such as in Egypt).  When women become widows, they are not free, but instead under the control of their sons, and at the mercy of their sons!  Love aside, THIS is the TRUE reason why mothers spoil their sons so extremely.  That son is eventually going to have power over them, and be responsible for supporting them in old age, so of course they need that to be a very strong emotional relationship.  But it accounts for why they young boys are treated as pashas (the amount varying by specific country, but in all countries when in comparison with the West, where boys and girls are treated equally).

When I asked several North African women, that what if inheritance (and divorce) laws were changed and made totally equal between men and women, do they think women would continue to treat men and boys as pashas?  Each of the women I asked answered me by saying, “What you say is true, of course they would not.”

However, since those inheritance laws are laid out in the Koran, I don’t see any changes on the horizon!

–Lynne Diligent

Do First World Countries Really Impose an “Anti-Immigration” Curriculum on Third-World Countries?

February 26, 2012

Anti-Immigration Plot?

Among some in the educational establishment in Northwest Africa, the idea is spreading that the new skills-based educational pedagogy is actually an “anti-immigration” plot hatched by first-world countries to “keep third-world workers in their own countries.”  I even heard of a college professor of education who is teaching this to prospective teachers, who are asked to implement the new pedagogy.

What is actually happening with the new pedagogy, however, is the result of the new global communication revolution of internet penetration into third-world countries.

World Internet Users, 2011

In the past, as explained in The Globalization Paradox (2011), the Industrial Revolution spread from England, to the European countries, and to some of the New World (North America, Australia, and New Zealand), but not much further.  These parts of the world had two distinct advantages (which up-and-coming third-world countries are now trying to do something about):  1.)  they had enough educated and skilled workers to run the new factories, and 2.)  they had good institutions–well functioning legal systems, stable politics, restraints on expropriations by the state–to generate incentives for private investment and market expansion.

Other countries had to depend on “importing” skills and institutions, and they used intercontinental labor mobility to do so.

Imported labor building American railroads

This era is now coming to an end.   Internet communication and improved transport of goods via supertankers enables companies to move operations elsewhere, because it is more cost-effective, rather than the more expensive alternative of importing labor.   Therefore, any country who wants those jobs must prepare its labor force.

This revolution is NOT happening because of a first-world PLOT designed by governments.  It is an unanticipated effect of internet communications.   Many, many individual companies are making these decisions on their own.  Many are now forced to in order to compete with those who have already done so.

Forward-thinking third-world governments are now realizing this, and are beginning to create the conditions which will enable some of their citizens to obtain jobs in the new world marketplace, or to become entrepreneurs and create their own businesses.

Education in Libya, North Africa

For example, in North Africa, in just one decade, schools have been built all over the country, and for the first time, the majority of children are in school. Those who are graduating from college, having succeeded in their education, are now clamoring for jobs.

The only middle school in this rural area of Northwest Africa

Two problems exist.  First, the countries are small, and the market size served by businesses is small (except in textiles, tourism, and agriculture).  Therefore, the profitability of acquiring new equipment and technologies is small for the average business, which still remains family-based, and therefore provides limited opportunities for employment to average workers without family connections.

Tunisian college students

Second, most local college graduates are not from the elite classes (the elite usually send their sons and daughters to foreign universities).  Many of these graduates feel that the elites are in cahoots with the local governments, and that these elites block improvements in others’ economic positions that would threaten their own power.  This is a great part of what the Arab Spring movement is about.  The newly-educated middle classes want a democratic meritocracy, rather than an oligarchy of the elites.

By implementing the new skills-based pedagogy, they are actually attempting to insure that what is being taught has some usefulness in the real world, as well.   However, it is not only in the third-world where these pedagogies are being implemented; they are now de rigueur in much of the first world, too.

This trend has now been taken to an extreme, however, as was illustrated to me recently by a friend in England, “I was amazed to see how rigidly it is implemented these days in my daughter’s school.  When you go to parents’ evenings, the teachers actually do have enormous A3-size spreadsheets with hundreds of tiny squares on a grid.  Teachers find the student’s name, and move along the row, saying things like, ‘Uses adjectives to express emotion in a third party – level 4A;’ or in history, ‘deducing a specific social condition from a contemporary artwork – level 5B.’  It is all incredibly mechanical, and if you ask how they are doing overall, there is no such thing.”

A Page from the British National Curriculum

What is happening in third-world North African education is now no different that what is happening in Europe.  It is not a plot.  However, this trend in Europe appears to have gone much too far, into uselessness!

Is it something new that first-world countries are against importation of unskilled labor?  Yes, and no.  First-world countries are mostly interested in protecting the middle-tier of jobs, rather than those at the very top or the very bottom.  These are the jobs that every country wants to reserve for their own workers, and that they do not want immigrants filling.  This is nothing new.

Middle-tier, white-collar desk jobs

No country minds importing workers at the very high skill end, where those skills don’t exist, and where they may benefit by learning those skills from the imported workers.  Also, most countries continue to import workers for the very lowest level of jobs, such as migrant farm labor, or office cleaning at night.

What is new is that both Islamic terrorism has been increasing in Europe, and migrating groups have been attempting to impose ideological change on their host societies.  This has definitely had a backlash  effect on the general willingness to accept immigrants, both in Europe and in America, especially from Muslim countries.

This restriction on jobs is even true for me as a first-world immigrant to a third-world country, where I find most jobs are reserved for people who are citizens.  As a non-citizen immigrant, I am only permitted to do for which it can be “proved” by the company I work for that a citizen cannot fill the position, or else I must be self-employed.  I want to point out that third-world countries have equally strong anti-immigration policies as do first-world countries.

Northwest Africa has been implementing a new educational pedagogy the past few years, which requires teachers to mark each student on specific skills mastered (similar to my English friend’s experience, described above), as well as to use modern group activities and other interesting delivery methods.

Crowded classrooms in Northwest Africa

One of the reasons teachers have been striking for several years is that most teachers feel this is too difficult and requires too much work when each teacher has over 300 students each week ( compared with typical American teachers having up to 180 students per week). One middle school teacher I know says, “I teach 13 classes of 45 students each, with each class lasting once a week for two hours.”   An incredible amount of material has to be covered.  This teacher felt that if he had three classes of 15 students each, or even his own classroom (he has to move from room-to-room) he might be able to fully implement the new educational pedagogy.

Educational trends swing with the pendulum as much as other social trends do.  We are still clearly in the upswing of this trend toward skill boxes.  I predict that the current trend will continue for another twenty years before it is scrapped in Europe, and educational trends head in another direction.

–Lynne Diligent

American Problems in International Business

January 28, 2012

 

The Seven Cultures of Capitalism compares the business cultures of the United States with Britain, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands (Holland), France, and Japan.  Other countries, such as Singapore, Italy, and Australia are sometimes mentioned.  While not a new book, the content is still just the knowledge international businesspeople need today.

According to British author Charles Hampden-Turner and Dutch author Alfons Trompenaars, some of the biggest problems faced by Americans in International Business are:

1.)  The United States invents extremely well (whose creativity correlates with an inner-directed society), but sometimes isn’t able to follow through well with the subsequent phase of innovation (improving and changing the product in order to to better serve customer’s ideas of how to use it, something at which the Japanese excel).

2.)  American firms become extremely vulnerable at the point where they must serve a maturing market (just where Japanese industry strikes and makes massive inroads).

3.)  Inner-directed Americans sometimes encounter problems in world marketing because customers using the products often do not share the logic of the designers.

4.)  America’s inner-directedness prevents the U.S. from forming the cooperative structures necessary to compete internationally at the level of value-added chains, industries, or nations .  (Three examples given of when America was able to close ranks to fight a larger problem were the Great Depression, World War II, and after the launch of Sputnik.)   Other nations, especially Asian nations, are able to do this much more effectively.

Historically, large economic combinations have been viewed negatively in America’s experience.   The Sherman Antitrust Act and other antitrust policies came about because America views collusion as the inevitable consequence of joining together.  Turner and Trompenaars believe that Americans see cooperation between firms as collusion against consumers. and that their fears are not groundless.

–Lynne Diligent

Will Only the Rich and the Poor Have Children in the Future?

November 18, 2011

In the 1950’s and prior times, it was normal for 98% of married couples to have children.  Even though types of birth control existed, childless couples were relatively rare.  Those who were childless by choice were considered somewhat eccentric.

Today in  the United States many people are foregoing having children not merely as a lifestyle choice, but because they cannot both have children and remain in the middle class.  This trend is now increasing dramatically.  Not having children is a deliberate choice now used by many as a way to try to stay in the middle class.

As Elizabeth Warren writes in The Two-Income Trap:

“Our research eventually unearthed one stunning fact. The families in the worst financial trouble are not the usual suspects. They are not the very young, tempted by the freedom of their first credit cards. They are not the elderly, trapped by failing bodies and declining savings accounts. And they are not a random assortment of Americans who lack the self-control to keep their spending in check. Rather, the people who consistently rank in the worst financial trouble are united by one surprising characteristic. They are parents with children at home. Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse…And the lines at the bankruptcy courts are not the only signs of financial distress. A family with children is now 75 percent more likely to be late on credit card payments than a family with no children. The number of car repossessions has doubled in just five years. Home foreclosures have more than tripled in less than 25 years, and families with children are now more likely than anyone else to lose the roof over their heads.”

Having children in the United States is becoming more and more about economics, and less about life values.  Many people who cannot afford to raise their children at a minimal middle-class level are choosing not to have children at all, while others are choosing to have only one child–not necessarily by choice, but because doing so would condemn them to a life of perpetual poverty.

Compare this with life in some other countries.  Many other countries provide at least some kind of logistical help, financial support, or other help for couples with children because everyone in those societies agrees that children ARE important.

In France, for mothers who choose to return to work quickly, day care for ALL children who are younger than school age is completely paid for by the state, so that mothers don’t have a problem.  Fathers are given a paid leave of several years (equivalent to a full working salary)  if they choose to stay home and take care of their child.

The situation in the United States is very different.  There is usually NO ONE to help parents take care of their children, and no financial or state assistance of any kind for the new parents.  In the United States, mothers may have up to three months of UNPAID maternity leave.  Because it is unpaid, many mothers return to work after only two or three weeks, because it is all they can afford, and because they are afraid of losing their jobs, or of permanently hurting their chances for advancement if they inconvenience their employers by taking a full three months.  Few fathers would dare ask for paternity leave (also unpaid).  To do so brands a man forever as someone not serious about his career, and as someone never to be promoted.

Many countries, even third-world countries, pay a monthly allowance to families with children (regardless of family income).  Even in third-world countries, support and aid is given to ALL parents who have children because those societies believe that children are an important part of EVERYONE’s lives.  Those societies tend to be in-group societies, where people have very close relations and obligations between family members, and where children are considered necessary in order to take care of parents, or where children have legal and filial obligations toward parents and brothers and sisters, and toward their other family members (such as in the Muslim world, where male members of families are considered somewhat responsible for taking care of female members of families).

Morocco, for example, pays all parents with children a monthly subsidy for EACH child of  200 DH ($23) a month.  This subsidy goes to wealthy parents as well as to poor parents.  While this money makes little difference for wealthy parents,  for poor parents, it can go a long way toward feeding their child (many very poor  families are subsisting on a diet of bread and tea) or even toward buying school supplies.  (Morocco also subsidizes all the staple food items consumed by the poor such as flour, tea, sugar, and oil; although families of all income levels benefit from the subsides.)

The United States is not an in-group society.  People with children are not given any financial assistance from the state. If people choose to have children and later fall upon bad economic times, or have bad luck, or can’t live at a middle-class level, no one is sympathetic to their plight.  Most people now just say, “No one told them to have children.  They made their own bed (by doing so), and now they can  lie in it.”

A formerly middle-class family with bad luck, now begging on the street.

An unexpected effect of the birth control revolution of the 1960’s seems to be that in today’s world, especially in the United States, it is becoming increasingly the case that many in the middle class can no longer afford to have two (or more) children.  An increasing number of families are opting for just one child, or are remaining childless.  In fact, it is through limiting or foregoing children entirely that many couples  are remaining in the middle class at all.

As Elizabeth Warren writes, in The Two-Income Trap:

“The families in the worst financial trouble are not the usual suspects. They are not the very young, tempted by the freedom of their first credit cards. They are not the elderly, trapped by failing bodies and declining savings accounts. And they are not a random assortment of Americans who lack the self-control to keep their spending in check. Rather, the people who consistently rank in the worst financial trouble are united by one surprising characteristic. They are parents with children at home. Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse.”

Birth rates in younger groups of women have fallen to all-time lows, whereas birth rates (with assistive technology) in women over 40 (who have enough career and financial success to afford it) have risen to all-time highs (for that age group).

Some of the very poor are continuing to have children in the United States, at higher rates than many in the middle class, for several reasons.  One reason is that some of them cannot afford birth control.  Another reason is that married or not, among the poor, there is a higher incidence of domestic violence and oppression of women with higher incidences of forced sex without condoms or other birth-control protection.

I feel that what is happening is birth rates (among couples in their 20’s and 30’s) have declined dramatically among the middle class in the United States, for economic reasons, and that this trend is continuing to accelerate.  People in other countries are shocked that the United States does not give any financial, logistical, or moral support to couples with children.  Meanwhile, most in America feel such policies should not be in place, that having children is an entirely personal decision, and the responsibility for the children belongs entirely to the parents.

–Lynne Diligent

Reflections on Poverty in Saudi Arabia

October 23, 2011

American Bedu wrote about a video-blogger-journalist who was arrested in Saudi Arabia for this short, but extremely well-done documentary on poverty in Saudi Arabia.  I especially liked that the journalist tried to offer some positive suggestions for help to the poor at the end.  The reason he was arrested was for violating the Arab cultural norm of never speaking out in public regarding in one’s own country (or any other Arab country); speaking out publicly is considered more shameful than letting a shameful situation continue.

However, in this video, I was somewhat surprised by a couple of things.

First, having lived in the Middle East for the past twenty years, the level of poverty shown in this video is not nearly as bad as what is current in some other parts of the Middle East. The people shown in this video as living in extreme poverty in Saudi Arabia are living at the same level as much of North Africa’s lower middle classes today (excepting Libya), for example.  For example, I noticed all these homes had TVs and hot water, as well as refrigerators, even if they are in bad condition.   (The poor in other places have none of these things.)  The kids in the poor neighborhood were all dressed in the latest sport shirts.

Clearly, what makes people feel poor is not how their life is compared to poor people in other countries, but how their life compares to those around them in the same society. The wealthy in Saudi are living at such a high level compared to other countries, that even their poor are living at a high level (when compared to some other Arab countries).

The second thing which struck me about this video was the attitude about what should be done about these problems. Unlike in America, there was no talk of any personal responsibility. One man shown in the video explained that he was married to two women, and that the first one had six children, while the second one had five children.  Whatever is a poor man like this doing with two wives and eleven children? If he had one wife and even two children, he would not be poor with what he stated his income was in this video.  Furthermore, each person interviewed in the video just asked for the government to “give” them a house. It seems to be the norm in that society to just ask others to give people what they don’t have, rather than taking any personal responsibility for one’s life, and planning accordingly.

Saudi Journalist-Blogger Feras Boqnah, Arrested for Documentary on the Poor

Saudi Journalist-Blogger Feras Boqnah, Arrested for Documentary on the Poor

Oddly (to a Westerner) the journalist never suggests anything about working harder, or looking for better paying jobs, or improving one’s skills, or even being responsible about how many wives a man chooses to marry, or how many children he chooses to have.  At the end of the video, the journalist makes suggestions that charities be especially organized to regularly assist poor people with their lives in all the poor areas.  It’s clear that ideas of personal responsibility don’t even occur to the interviewer, indicating that what these people are asking for seems “normal” for Saudi Arabian society. It’s just an interesting contrast with the values and ideas of the Western world. Many people in Saudi Arabia and much of the Middle East assume that they are not at all personally responsible for how their lives turn out; they view themselves as victims of fate and circumstance and God’s will, or as victims of “bad luck.”

In America, by contrast, people are seen as being about 90% responsible for their own fate. Perhaps this is too much. But in Saudi, where people seem to believe that they have no personal responsibility for their fate, this is too little. People should make an effort to “help themselves” and not just wait only for charity from the government, or from others.

–Lynne Diligent

Why Foreigners Sometimes Think that Americans View the World as Geography Cartoons Depict

July 18, 2011

What Americans are first taught about the world as children. This looks like a 1970-2005 point-of-view.

These maps represent what Americans are first taught about the world as children.

For a majority of Americans (speaking as an American now overseas) these maps are maps about feelings, rather than about knowledge.

It’s true that there are some Americans who never progress beyond this viewpoint, but the majority of American adults are not quite this uneducated.  Among those who are, it comes from the “We’re number one!” mentality that pervades what children are taught about America (or at least were until recently).

This view of the world looks more like how Americans felt in the 1950s and 1960s.

No matter how knowledgeable we become, it’s true that we can look at maps like this and understand the reasons they are drawn that way immediately–from our first knowledge as children.  That’s what makes them cartoons, that some of those feelings stay with us forever,  in spite of our knowledge.

Anyone who lived through the Reagan years certainly remembers the country feeling just like this!

–Lynne Diligent

Ringing the Doorbell and Running Away — Is It the Poor Kids’ Version of Prank Phone Calls?

May 29, 2011

Sometimes our doorbell rings and when we answer it, no one is there.  Sometimes it happens two or thre times in a row, so we think it’s local kids, who must manage to hide quickly.  Luckily it doesn’t happen too often.

My Middle Eastern family says. “It’s kids.”  It happened again yesterday.  My conclusion is that it’s a group of poor kids who live a couple blocks away.

It occurred to me that this is the poor kids’ version of making prank phone calls, for those who don’t yet have telephones at home, and certainly can’t afford cell phones.

–Lynne Diligent


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