January 11, 2006

Reflections on relative poverty in North America and Africa

I'm so sorry about all these links and articles. Somehow it seems like a cop-out to writing a blog about your experiences, but there is a spat of great articles on the DRC right now.

The article Reflections on relative poverty in North America and Africa from the Economist on Adamash.blogspot.com, compares a North American unemployed man and a Congolese Doctor in Kinshasa. It seems like happiness is a difficult concept to define after all. Who would have thunk it?

Keep an eye out for the classic conclusion:
First, if poor Americans were to compare their standard of living with what is normal elsewhere in the world, let alone in Congo, they would see they have little cause for discontent. Then again, were Americans not so incurably discontented with their lot, their great country would not be half as dynamic as it is.

I can't figure out whether to find it clichéd, insightful, funny, or sober.


Ammo said...

It doesn't seem like a cop out to link to other articles, it is a cop out! Booh! Plus I already read this article :)

Black River Eagle said...

Welcome back from V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N!

I read this article "The mountain man and the surgeon" at The Economist website last month. Here is a link to the Economist article (with photos) December 20th:

A rather long URL, hope that it doesn't destroy your comments template layout.

NY Times senior columnist Howard French posted the whole article (with copyright permissions) to his blog HowardFrench.com on January 9th. If Howard can "cut-and-paste" and get away with it, you can link and get away with it.

Magali said...

Thanks for the article! I'm going to forward it to students in one of the classes I'm TA-ing.
Btw... 'thunk'??? ;)

007 in Africa said...

Thanks for the full link BRE--the few pics there are great!

Elizabeth said...

I read that article. What I hate about it is that it's some rich or middle-class person analysing poverty. You can tell because he doesn't get the point, which is:
It sucks to be poorer than others, not to be poor, in and of itself. That's because people are, by nature, jealous creatures.

It's not that Americans are discontented with their lots because they are Americans and that's our culture (although believing that it's possible to change our lot is something more common in North America than many other cultures). It's that Americans have been told that (a) they can change their lot and (b) that other people have.

This myth doesn't really exist in the same way in Africa.

It's people like the writers at the Economist who try to make poverty alleviation and sustainable livelihoods into big academic subjects, when in reality if they would just try being poor for a spell, they'd get the point. Pisses me off.

Sorry for freaking out all over your comments section.

Carl said...

Elizabeth: As a die-hard class warrior, what do you think should be our goal; to raise the poor up or drag the rich down?

This question I ask as a firm believer of the myth.

007 in Africa said...

Elizabeth, thanks for your rant! It's what makes blogging so interesting. I agree that poverty is somewhat a degree of relativity and it's pretty boring to have a writer from the Economist rehash all the old clichés--it would have been nice to have an author from a developing country write this article or throw in new insights.

Though I must add that it sucks to be a doctor in Congo with no electricity or antiseptic to operate for appendicitis...So it goes both ways: poverty is both a matter of attitude and a true measure of your material wealth.