Sophomore Symposium on Poverty

Later on 10/12, one of the Sophomore Class Presidents' events was a Sophomore Symposium on Poverty. There were a bunch of different perspectives.

The headliner was the founder of Kiva. She talked about meeting Mohammad Yunus, going to Africa, connecting with entrepreneurs who couldn't afford basic economic capital because of predatory lending, and wanting to help them out. 

She said that she was able to succeed because she started small and specific, so she knew who she was helping and exactly what they needed.

She said that it was bad to be in a donor/recipient dichotomy. She told the story of going on a tour with some donors of some place in Africa that had some recipients of donations. One of the donors went into a sewing circle and said "Hello, I'm the person who gave you the money to get started sewing!" The recipient replied, "It's nice to meet you. I'm the person who paid you back."
The Kiva founder's main philosophy was to build connections between people. If she received an offer from a large corporation to make a donation to Kiva, she would tell them to, instead, have their workers each make small donations so that they would be able to each have an idea of where their money was going and who they would be working with.

There was a social psychology professor who talked about making people care about poverty.

There was a sociology professor who talked a lot about gender issues in poverty. The people most affected by poverty are overwhelmingly women and children. Women lack maternal or child care. This also means that they can't get jobs or educations after having kids.

Rob Reich,my professor in Justice at Home and Abroad last fall, was also a panelist. Taking the political philosophic perspective, he advanced Peter Singer's argument about the obligation of people to donate to end poverty. One of the specific justificatiotns that he used was that money doesn't linearly correlate with happiness. That is, someone who makes $4 per day will be much happier than someone who makes $0.50 per day, and someone who makes $100 per day will only be a little bit more happy than the $4 person.

There was a professor of literature. He was kind of funny (but not in a good way). He actually said "Literature needs poverty: the subject matter." Oh, the corrupting influence of postmodernism. He also said that literature can help us understand the complex nature of poverty. Interestingly enough, he seemed to talk more about what literature could do than actually sharing any literary insight. I think that I got more insight into the complexity of the issue from the other panelists. That was one of the good things about SLE, my humanities program last year: it wasn't just idly postmodern. We actually looked at the issues and got lectures by other people who could help us understand the issues, both from within literary fields and from without.

The econ professor was similarly funny. He was dogmatically opposed to taxes and for free trade agreements, the World Bank, and the IMF. I think that his problem is that he assumed that everyone else was as abstracted away from material reality as the lit professor. While the other panelists were critiquing the economic status quo by providing reasons as to why it materially harms the poor, the econ professor argued that the economic status quo was good because materially helping the poor is good. He never responded to the substance of any of the other panelists.

The star of the show was the director of Stanford department of Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Gary Segura. 

He talked about how the hypocritical economic policies were responsible for poverty. For instance, giving social services to the poor is considered a handout which will decrease self sufficiency and lead to laziness, so it's bad, but giving billions of dollars with no accountability to banks that exploited poor people is considered necessary to keep those same banks in power, so in that instance socialism is considered a good thing. In other words, the rich subsidizing the poor through their taxes is bad, but the poor subsidizing the rich through their taxes is good. The way that free trade policies are written is also troubling. They are not truly free policies because they only allow for the mobility of goods and services, not of people, across borders. This means that a Mexican worker cannot go to the US to buy the very pair of jeans that they produced. We have rhetoric of equal trade relations, but some are more equal than others.

He also talked about racial divisions support poverty. In the widest sense, there is a global north/south divide where the whiter nations tend to be richer and tend to exploit the poorer nations. He kept this issue concretely connected to material reality: the US has 5% of the world's population and uses 25% of the world's resources, so it is inherently materially exploitative regardless of what ideological picture people ascribe to the US. Even within the US, race supports poverty because racist justifications keep whites from supporting antipoverty programs. Poor whites support antipoverty programs until those programs are described as helping both white and black people. Race keeps poor people divided.

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Experience Date: 
Monday, October 12, 2009