What will we do when there are no more poor people?

A recent cover story in the Economist heralded the possible end of extreme poverty. It got me thinking about a world without poverty, a world without poor people. This prospect is definitely a cause for celebration. Yet, is this prospect also a cause for at least a bit of consternation? Surprisingly, yes. A lot of us need poor people. Our children need poor people. Here are just a few of the reasons I could think of:

  • Without someone to ladle soup for, how will we teach our children about gratitude?
  • Without a family to adopt during the holidays, how will we assuage our guilt for having it so good?
  • Without someone to build homes for, what alternative would college students choose over a raucous spring break?

  • Without someone to accept the stuff we do not want, how will we clean out our closets without adding to the landfill and get our tax deduction?
  • Without a community to randomize into treatment and non-treatment groups, how will we make progress on our research programs, get published and become tenured?
  • Without someone to save, how will we become a CNN Hero?
  • Without a village in dire need, how can we commit to make a difference in things that are largely out of our control and get invited to shake Bill Clinton’s hand?
  • Without service learning opportunities, how will we build purpose into our classroom curriculums?
  • Without someone to move out of poverty, what reason will world leaders have to convene conferences in exotic locations to solve a problem that they had a hand in creating?
  • Without someone to serve, how will we signal our moral superiority to family and friends at social gatherings?
  • Without someone to advocate for, who will our politicians surround themselves with when they wish to redirect our attention away from a scandal?
  • Without a poor child of color to sit on their laps, how will celebrities reignite a career that is long in the tooth?
  • Without someone living in misery, how will social entrepreneurs make money and do good at the same time?
  • Without poor children of color to surround ourselves with, how will we get our poverty photo-op (see above)?

The purpose of this post is not to be snarky. It is not to be holier-than-thou by highlighting how others use poor people. A lot of the questions were motivated by my own personal and professional relationships with poverty and the poor. The purpose of this post is to get us thinking about:

  • The many motivations that lead us to want to do good
  • The many ways that we win when we attempt to do good

What questions would you add to the list?

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If you like this post, you may also like Do-Goodernomics.

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