Asking the Right Question about Poverty
Religion & Liberty Online

Asking the Right Question about Poverty

Writing for a special New York Times section on giving, Alina Tugend looks at the knotty problem of how best to help those in need. She digs into things like the economics behind food pantries and how relief donations to those devastated by natural disasters often wind up making things worse.

For her story, Tugend interviewed Michael Matheson Miller, Acton research fellow and producer of the new documentary Poverty Inc.

“Look seriously into yourself,” said Michael Matheson Miller, director and producer of the documentary “Poverty Inc.,” which will be released on iTunes in December. “People ask, ‘What can I do to help poverty?’ and that’s often the wrong question. The right one is, ‘What do people need to create prosperity in their families and community and what can I do to help?’ ”

Read “When Making Donations, Know an Agency’s Needs” by Alina Tugend in the New York Times.

While you’re at it, listen to Russ Roberts and Miller talk about the new Poverty Inc. documentary on the always interesting EconTalk podcast. Here’s Roberts on the film:

Yeah. It goes back–that insight of yours go back to a point I saw Angus Deaton make. I don’t think he made it on my program–I’m not sure, but I saw it elsewhere for sure–where he says, basically: ‘Why are we always doing things to people, not with them or for them? And why don’t they get a say?’ Of course, one answer would be it’s hard to find out what they want to say: they don’t have a voice; they don’t have a mechanism for making themselves heard. And I think one of the things your film does that’s quite moving–and it’s a fabulous film by the way; I encourage people to see it. At the end of this conversation we’ll be talking about how that’s possible, I hope. But there are many, many places where I was moved; and I confess that there were parts where I cried–which could have been just for the mood I was in that day. But it’s very moving.

John Couretas

is a writer and editor based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.