I came across two articles recently that gave statistical weight to my thoughts.

The first article is by Chris Blattman, a professor here at Columbia who writes prolifically on foreign aid (among other subjects). In his recent “Is it nuts to give money to the poor?” he remarks:

It’s interesting: neither the government nor the charity I worked with in Uganda were willing to try just cash, if only to compare. They wouldn’t even discuss it. This might sound sensible of them, since they could be right about their ‘other stuff’ being important. Except the ‘other stuff’ often costs more than the cash. This is the big ‘cost’ no one talks about: suppose a charity could give $2000 of stuff to one person, and help them become 200% richer or healthier than they were before. Is it possible I could spend $1000 each on two people, and help get them each get 150% ahead? Wouldn’t that be better?

Because he is a trained and responsible scientist he is loath to say that just giving money to the poor is always the answer when it comes to foreign aid. But there are plenty of arguments that can be levied against the current system.

Having done some study in the area of international development myself, I’ve seen a lot of issues with NGO accountability: how they handle money, the foundational ideas on which they operate (psst some of their ideas on how to “help” the poor are just plain unfounded and terrible), not to mention the amount that goes toward operational fees that could otherwise go directly toward the poor. Governments are hardly better and in many cases are worse. Too many leaders in devastatingly poor countries have lined their pockets with money intended for their people. And lots of money is spent on evaluations to keep NGOs and governments accountable and many don’t pass the test.

The second article hails from Utah, where a large amount of money has been spent to screen welfare applicants for drug use. $31,000 and 4,730 welfare applicants later, only 12 people tested positive.

Shame on us.

A conclusion I came to last year while I traveled in the Middle East is that if you want to be a giving person you have to stop wondering if the person asking is worthy or not. You have to stop wondering if they deserve it. The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter. You have to stop telling yourself that this is your money and that you have somehow earned it.

Because this blog doesn’t preclude religion or God, I will admit that there have been many times God has given me things that I did nothing to earn. They were gifts. And if I’m being really honest, I might ask: isn’t this always the case (The Book of Mormon, Mosiah 2: 20-25)?

Here is where I acknowledge that I haven’t always lived up to my scriptures and my conclusions. I want to do better.

Can you name a circumstance or time when you were given one of those aforementioned gifts? Or a time when you failed to realize that you received a gift? Feel free to share a list or a specific instance. I would love to hear from you.

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