The First World can’t help the Third World because they don’t understand Third World poverty

Q: What do the conflicts in the Middle East, pestilence in Africa, and chronic poverty in the Philippines have in common? A: The West’s insistence that it can “help” the Third World. How many more times will the West’s intervention in the Third World end in disaster? Many more times — because the First World presumes to “help” the Third World on the basis of a flawed understanding of the nature of Third World poverty.

At the heart of the manner with which the West misunderstands Third World poverty is our simple definition of poverty:

Poverty is a habitual entering into commitments one is inherently incapable of honouring.

In the context of the above definition, the fundamental root issue that underpins Third World poverty is population. Increasing one’s population involves a commitment to the people who constitute said population — one entered into not just by a country’s government, but by the very people who are members of said population itself.

population_curve

What fuels population growth? Originally it was the luck of the draw. Back in the old days, communities that are lucky enough to find themselves in places where food is abundant grew big. Others were not that lucky. Left to her devices Mother Nature has a lot to do with population levels. In a lot of cases, she will keep it in check. In human societies, natural selection will then work to shape genes and culture to adapt to whatever Nature brings on.

Human population skyrocketed when humans figured out how to exempt themselves from Mother Nature’s fury. The dawn of technology enabled people to eat when they want, where they want. The key metric that describes the value of technological development is energy capture — specifically how much energy is available per capita to consume. In rich societies, energy is so abundant that it allows people to use it for lots of activities that are non-essential to basic survival. In poor societies, energy is enough only to keep a body functional enough to produce the energy it needs to live.

So in First World countries, there are many times more kilojoules available to the average person for every kilojoule he expends in his daily activities. In the Third World, there is a lot less — which is why poor people don’t have the time nor resources to do much of anything beyond scrounging around for their next meal.

Why then did the populations of Third World countries balloon to their enormous sizes today? Two words: foreign technology.

Much of what enables countries like, say, the Philippines to sustain their enormous populations is underpinned by foreign technology. Agricultural, economic, financial, and health technologies are at work helping the people of the Third World multiply and keep their offspring alive to sexual maturity (thus ensuring that population growth is sustained).

The offspring of people who lack these modern technologies are characterised by a high infant mortality rate — because lack of food and the impact on health this lack brings will kill most children before they reach reproductive age. So in pre-technological societies, population is kept in equilibrium with those societies’ inherent ability to capture energy.

The populations of “modern” Third World countries are not in natural equilibrium with their inherent energy capture capability. Foreign technology is an artificially-introduced variable in the resource management equations of such societies. Third World countries are entirely dependent on foreign technology to boost their energy capture capabilities to “modern” levels. In the Philippines, for example, the very research facility that developed farming technologies to increase the yield of the national staple — rice — is owned and managed by a foreign organisation. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been operating in the Philippines since 1960 and is credited with developing much of the high-yield rice crop varieties that are now cultivated by major rice producers around the world.

Still, the Philippines remains a net rice importer. Its population has grown to a size that utterly dwarfs its inherent and its foreign-credited ability to produce rice combined. Indeed, even with the IRRI planted well within its shores, the Philippines still had not learned to produce enough rice for itself!

What sorts of help do the West have to offer impoverished countries like the Philippines to rescue them from their poverty? You guessed it: more foreign technology.

The same problem besets the Philippines’ ability to generate enough electricity for itself. The Philippines relies on externally-supplied power generation facilities and fuel. Because its domestic currency (a rough reflection of its domestic production prowess) is weak vis-a-vis world-standard currencies, it will likely forever struggle to keep its citizens electricity-happy. An electricity-enabled lifestyle, suffice to say, remains an alien lifestyle in the Philippines. And those who enjoy it to the fullest are really a small elite dependent on something not inherent to their society. Until the Philippines can produce its own fuel and power generation technology and facilities, it is at the mercy of foreign markets and even its most elite citizens at high risk of catastrophic lifestyle failure.

Trying to solve a problem created by foreign technology using more foreign technology is like trying to pay off debt by borrowing more money. It’s a fool’s way of life.

Albert Einstein once said:

You cannot solve a problem using the same thinking that created it.

Foreign capital (of which “technology” as we define it is one form) will not cure the poverty of societies that remain inherently unable to embrace, absorb, and embed, foreign capital to productive (as opposed to consumerist) ends. Living within one’s means involves aspiring to a living standard commensurate with one’s inherent ability to produce economically valuable stuff to sustain that living. The Philippines, like many Third World countries aspire to live to a standard way beyond that inherent ability. And that is why the Third World remains poor despite the First World’s “best efforts”.

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Post Author: benign0

benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.

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48 Comments on "The First World can’t help the Third World because they don’t understand Third World poverty"

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Gustaf von Creutz
Guest
While the population situation described above is true now, I’m quite sure this wasn’t the case before. Even with a substantial agricultural base during those times, our economy was booming during the 60’s and 70’s. We were even able to export rice during the 1980’s! All these were from the reconstruction efforts using technology and capital that had to be imported during the 1940’s, since most internal capital was destroyed during the war. This is why I can’t fully accept the contention that “an electricity-enabled lifestyle… remains an alien lifestyle in the Philippines”. The fundamental question, energy capture is true.… Read more »
Add
Guest
….Not clear to me what you are exactly advancing here. You can’t rollback technology. As soon as some humans thought of wheels and levers, any human would have been foolish not to use them after that. Of course it is more complicated than that now, but the basic premise should be that technology is there to serve humans and not humans serving technology. When one buys the most expensive smartphone beyond one’s means, that is a human trying to be a slave to technology, although that may be more reflective of one’s mentality and twisted priority (and I think this… Read more »
Add
Guest

Sooory, several typo…. ungirds should read undergirds to a culprit, shoukd read to be a culprit

There are others, i think. If there are others, appreciate you telling me. Just hope I got some msg accross.

Anyway, thanks Benigno for this space in your site. Addy

Gustaf von Creutz
Guest
I think the language assertion was beside the point. There really isn’t any set point as to when a people “became stupid”, much like there isn’t a set point as to when a people “becomes poor”. These are dynamic processes, much like progress. benign0’s article discusses poverty using a lens more fundamental than the conventional narratives about poverty, like lack of economic trickle-down, political idiocy, or culture. That’s why I asked for a clarification, which he gave during his replies. It’s not that the Filipino chooses wrong in terms of technology, but that the presence of technology gives the Filipino… Read more »
Deep Throat
Guest
You got this half right. Our ability to adapt to technology is individual based due to us being a market economy. There a lot of self made people at least middle class who were in poverty a decade or so ago. Filipinos do not have equal productivity. If you look the least most productive, these are tambays, just like our unemployed wherein half of them don’t even try to look for a job. Poverty if you look it objectively is a self inflicted individual problem. No amount of help from the government if the individual is lazy, or unproductive, uneducated,… Read more »
ChinoF
Member
I would disagree with poverty as a self-inflicted individual problem with individuals. There are cases like a person getting sick, not of their own fault, and needing to stop work, despite their life depending on their salary from work. Sometimes, these individual cases do need help. However, “self-inflicted” perspective better applies to Philippine society as a whole. This society, since after World War 2, has depended on dole-outs. For example, the US aid is what made us the top nation in Southeast Asia. So when people “reminisce” that we were supposed to be the “top in Asia” back then, they… Read more »
Deep throat
Guest

What you describe are very small cases. There aren’t millions of Filipinos who stop working because they are sick. There are millions of tambays though. We are in denial that there are a lot of lazy and unproductive people in the Philippines.

If you read what I wrote, spending beyond your means, that is lifestyle inflation.

Flint Beastwood
Guest
What means, the population is lucky to make $5/per day and no one can live in any type of decent way on that amount of daily stipend. Do not blame the First World, blame the poverty wages that employers are forced to pay employee’s due to the fact that the electricity rates are 3 X’ the rates in nearby Bangkok,Thailand. 300% higher electricity rates are making elites wealthy and stagnating what could be a lucrative textile manufacturing base, but with the costs in electricity alone, some talented seamstress’s that I know personally are unable to hire extra people in order… Read more »
Gustaf von Creutz
Guest

I really don’t see how one can separate external conditions and personal decisions as causes of poverty. Especially when it concerns lack or incompatibility of education.

Deep throat
Guest

We go back again to the individual and their family. Did their parents work hard enough to make their child graduate? Did the individual choose the right course, learned from school, finish school? Try to find work, pass the qualifications and Better than their peers to get a job.

You would be surprise there are Filipinos who make their children stop to go school rather than work harder so that their children won’t have to work.

Flint Beastwood
Guest

Given the fact that once a Filipino is past the age of 30, no one wants to hire him/her and the Filipino enetering what is the most productive part of a Westerner’s working life….is forced to drive a cab that runs on the most expensive gasoline in S.E.Asis ,again, due tothe excessive tax levied on the petroleum products in the country. The gov’t. is also corrupt as the day is long and way overdue for a massive violent revolt.

Pallacertus
Guest

I would be surprised if just working harder for the same pay would pay for household expenses, tuition, miscellaneous stuff to make life livable and not a hell in Spartan settings, etc.

But it would surprise me even more if the outrageous cost of living here in this country (or at least Metro Manila) didn’t contribute to the pervasive poverty, though that is probably a chicken-or-egg matter.

Hyden Toro333
Guest
The First World cannot understand the Third world countries, because mainly on their different mindsets and cultures. Third World countries were mostly colonized. They were subject to all kinds of indignities by their foreign colonizers. When the cololizers were gone; the Elite families of the Natives, were left to rule over most of them. Take the Feudal Oligarch case. This class was installed by our former colonizer: Spain. When Americans came, as our colonizer. They did not remove these Feudal Oligarchs. They just sugarcoated them as our rulers, in some kind of Sham elections, including HOCUS PCOS. They called this:… Read more »
Hyden Toro999
Guest
Technology serves mankind; not mankind serves technology…the reason, we are not self-sufficient in power/electricity is; our leaders lacked the comprehensive plans to sustain enough power/electricity for the future. They even want to have the country in power/electricity shortage. So that; they and their cahoots can sell more electric generators and gasoline. Greed in the worst sense. Like the greed of land of the Aquinos/Cojuangcos on Hacienda Luisita… It is some kind of a cruel Joke; that a country with the International Rice Research Institute, is importing tons and tons of rice. While,the Vietnamese, Thailanders, etc…come to this Research Institute; learn… Read more »
Attila
Guest
I thinks there is gap along race lines. Most of the Filipino professionals here in New York look Chinese variant to me. However people in the Philippines look dark native Malay. Before my first trip to the Philippines I was part of the Filipino community here and I had the false illusion that Filipinos here are the same race as most Filipinos back in the Philippines. Boy was I wrong. Your “dark naive” people are way behind and are a very different or separate group the way I see it. I also visited an Aeta town to educate myself. They… Read more »
Hyden Toro977
Guest

Filipinos are mostly crossbreeds of different races. The Spaniards came, and crossbreeded the natives. The Chinese came as merchants and intermarried with the natives. Some people of India also settled here.

The aborigines are the “Aeta”…then, the Malays came.

So, we are some sort of everything. Poverty is always in any country. But, it is worst here, because our leaders have no comprehensive plans to fight poverty; create more jobs. Population explosion is caused by religion; fighting against birth control…

Deep throat
Guest

Sorry rice production has nothing to with poverty. It has more something to do with Carp and land reform. Due to Carp and land reform, rice self sufficiency isn’t achievable. Having equal land does not equate equal productivity nor equal wealth. not only that, because businessa/land owners are discourage to invest in agriculture to the limitations of land reform and limitations on How to deal with tenants, you end up with unproductive farmers given land by DAR who farm the same way since spanish colonial times.

Hyden Toro987
Guest

Land Reform is a must to our country. A feudal country will never progress.
Most of our leaders are Feudal Lords; they have hundreds of tenants.

if you are a tenant/serf, you will never get out of poverty. Our case is like before the Russian revolution. The Russian serfs were living in abject poverty. While the Czar and the Russian Aristocrats were living in excessive wealth.

Flint Beastwood
Guest

at first I thought you were blaming the West, and that is BS. The Filipino is eating its young and the young are content with screwing their brains out to produce more food for the elites.

The countries problems are vast, and most can not even agree on where the poverty comes from and thus articles like this, in its authoritative narrative on the subject matter and its causation, serves to further misunderstand the problems…BUT SO FUCKIN WHAT? SOLUTIONS ANYONE ?

d_forsaken
Guest

History has proven again and again that whenever “First World countries” interferes with “Third World countries”, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.

Flint Beastwood
Guest

Blame the frist world like a typical none-thinker-er,DUH !

annoyingmost
Guest

Create local solutions for local problems and forget about First World pretensions. What’s going on in Singapore or Malaysia may not be palatable to Western countries, but can we deny the fact that their people as a whole live better?

Beawolf Agatte
Guest

What an interesting healthy discussion going on here and very informative too. Keep it going guys.

Flint Beastwood
Guest
This article FAILS to look at what is really happening in the FAIL-IPPINES….the causes of the poverty are not as the author states, at least not MOST of it. The majority of the problems are based on the massive population explosion, the failure of the family unit and rampant energy speculation that is producing the world’s most expensive electricity rates ala the ENRON scandal in the USA.Filipino’s trying to start manufacturing business’s in order to compete in the lucrative textile markets are unable to do so, not because the First World doesn’t understand the Filipino style poverty BUT ,rather, THE… Read more »
Yawn
Guest

All countries started equal in the beginning their was no 1st world or 3rd world. Some sort their shit out and become 1st world. Others just keep making the same mistakes decade in decade out going around in circles and never progress.
Very few 3rd world countries ever cross the bridge and become 1st world.

Gustaf von Creutz
Guest
Actually, if you analyze the conventional narratives of poverty so mentioned in your reply, you will arrive at the same conclusion as the article. The question why there is a population explosion was already answered in the article. Energy speculation may be a factor in high energy prices (cf PSALM), but I have to beg the question: who the hell would want to build energy plants in a country that is geologically, meteorologically, and regulatorily unstable in the first place? These three factors, along with high consumption given the Filipino’s propensity to believe in the illusion that he can afford… Read more »
Pallacertus
Guest

A grossly simplistic way to look at that is: as far as I know, Japan doesn’t have any issues with energy security despite being in the same geological and meteorological straits as us. So what’s the difference? Lack of R&D investment for Philippine-specific energy solutions, reasonable (and reasonably unsullied) energy regulations (not to mention a culture that permits and encourages the practice of those regulations), and of course our ballooming population, which after all puts a strain on our existing energy resources by raw numbers alone.

Gustaf von Creutz
Guest

Which are differences that prove the article’s point.

Deep throat
Guest
Population growth or population shouldn’t be the issue. Malthus theory has never been proven a fact. We have almost the same land area as Japan and more natural resources. However, their people are more productive than filipinos. Most importantly you cannot control R&d of private energy companies in the philippines. If you are so eager, start your own R&d company or energy company or ask the congress to increase funding to dost. With regards to our R&d both private and public, philippines spend less than 0.1% of our gdp for it. More advanced countries spend1-4% of their economy in R&d… Read more »
Pallacertus
Guest

If I must be a contrarian to a contrary blog, I’ll say that while your definition of poverty may well define the plight of some of the millions of poor Pinoy families, it is not the only one that exists, nor can it be presumed to cover all cases.

Flint Beastwood
Guest

its way off and borders on delusional.

Attila
Guest

“Filipinos are mostly crossbreeds of different races”. Yes but they are sharply divided along the race lines in wealth distribution. Is it realistic to say that the the ruling Chinese cast who also holds power is also responsible for the sate of this country? They should reform themselves, right?

Hyden Toro988
Guest

Blame game will never solve anything…

Attila
Guest
Who are the decision makers in the Philippines and who are the privileged? The Chinese! Bingo! I keep hearing about white privilege in the USA. The same condition exist in the Philippines and it should be called yellow privilege. They are the ones who have the power not the Aeta and the the poor masses. You could beat up your fellow Filipinos for being uneducated and not able to vote intelligently however they will not be able to do it on their own. Your Chinese leaders have to do it themselves or it will be the same forever.
Hyden Toro777
Guest

Decision makers are the present leaders. Our government is a: Feudal Oligarchy. We had been a colony of the United States, for fifty (50) years.
U.S. has a lot of influence on Philippine politics, up to now.

It seems they cannot let go of their former colony…we receive massive financial aids from U.S., annually; which are mostly stolen by our political leaders…we look for U.S., for our defense….

Hans Und
Guest

this blogpost of my own is relevant to this discussion:

http://undskabenshotel.wordpress.com/2014/09/14/fighting-povertry-but-how/

– its about enough energy, and less gov. controll.

And OT:

Does any one have a background knowledge of a certain: “jean gocotano”. just google, the msm on p 1 and 2 explains…

She’ with the danish left side political spectrum, and of all things, she now engageing with the jew haters among them.

Jane Doe
Guest

Haven’t you noticed that Third World countries are more populated than First World countries? The problem with Third World countries are overpopulation (India, Philippines) while First World countries are underpopulated (Japan, Sweden, Germany). Why is that? How come people First World countries have a declining population?

By the way, Philippines will remain a Third World country because of PINOY PRIDE and they can’t take constructive criticisms.

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