Kickstart: Dr Martin Fisher

Kickstart makes cheap hip-operated pumps so that poor people can irrigate their land, which increases their income by a lot.

I was interested by this speaker. He is obviously doing something good by helping people move out of poverty, but he has a weird justification. When he was talking about what made him want to start Kickstart, he gave a bunch of poverty statistics. 45% of people in Sub Saharan Africa live on less than a dollar a day; 40% are malnourished; with failed states and global warming, they're getting even poorer. However, because his pumps are moderately costly, the average person that buys one of his pumps makes $400-2000 per year. 

He was very composed when answering everyone else's questions, but I seemed to hit a nerve when I asked him about this disparity. At first, he disparaged the statistics that he used earlier, saying that the numbers that the World Bank used to get them might be slightly off, but eventually he even admitted that he isn't helping the poorest people that he was bringing up statistics about.

I also found it interesting how I could see how the common critique of utilitarianism -- that the means, in addition to the ends, matter -- applied to him. I try to see how both the means and the ends are significant (in other words, in my version of utilitarianism, the means and ends are both effects of a policy, so we have to take both into account.). He had recently moved the production of his pumps from Kenya (where he sold the pumps) to China in order to make the pumps cheaper. It is true that this would let him sell more pumps to needy people, but his justification for this was that the plants in Kenya cost more to operate because, in Kenya, there is a higher turnover of people in his factories because when people get job skills from working in the factories, they can get better jobs. 

In other words, the production costs in Kenya were higher because in Kenya he was helping the workers who made his hip pumps in addition to the people who received his hip pumps, whereas in China, people tended to stay in the sweatshops that created his hip pumps. 

Hearing the justification for sweatshop labor from such a good person was sickening.

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Experience Date: 
Monday, October 5, 2009