There are two good tools for eliminating poverty
- progressive taxation
I as an individual cannot do much about reforming the taxation system. But I may be able to do something about education!
In the past few weeks I was researching the shortcomings of the education system in Hungary. A lot has been said about how the teachers are underpaid, and how the material is outdated. As I was getting deeper and deeper into my research, I got more and more interested in the situation of kids in poverty. On how they drop out of schools. On how they are disproportionately affected by the current coronavirus pandemic. On how fast they give up hope that life offers them a chance to make their own situation better by learning and working hard.
Schools and kindergardens in poor communities are struggling. I was baffled by how little attention they get from those in power. There is simply not enough political coolness about improving schools and kindergardens in poor communities.
So I started looking at ways to help. And I discovered an amazing foundation: Adopt a kindergarden! In Hungarian: Örökbe fogadok egy ovit! Here is an article about in in the Forbes Hungary magazine: magazin.forbes.hu/2020-julius/az-egesz-evem-libaboros
And I got so inspired by it that I joined them immediately.
The way it works:
- you register online
- in a few days you get assigned a kindergarden
- they give you the contact details of the kindergarden and a short list of what they need
- you get in touch with the contact person
- you get to know them
- you help them with what you can
I went through this process, and it was like opening my eyes to another world. I had no idea how much difference one can make by donating five second hand fairy tale books. Some of these children never ever had a fairy tale book.
Imagine how it would be to grow up without fairy tales. That’s what poverty does.
Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice
— Nelson Mandela
There are a lot of people around me – at the office – who only go on holiday when they feel they can no longer go on with everyday work and they need a break. They tend to take only a few days off per year, max two weeks, and they never have plans well in advance on where they want to go. They even feel maybe, that taking holidays is a sign of weakness, indicating that they cannot cope with the amount of stress at work or something.
Not me. I always take all my holidays – 25 days per year – and sometimes I even take more on top of that, as unpaid leave. Sometimes I go on holidays to recharge, because I feel tired with work. But more often, I go when I am full of energy.
When I go on holiday, I seek experiences that give me a different perspective.
I spend more time in nature than I can usually afford.
I spend way more time with people who matter.
I catch up on reading.
I catch up on writing.
I catch up on planning my future.
I do volunteer work.
All this, with a different mindset… one where I am not in a hurry, I can afford to be more spontaneous and efficiency does not matter so much.
This statement is in Hungarian, so a lot of you might have a challenge in understanding it. But believe me, it is so strong, like a morning espresso.
Egymás érdekeinek, értékeinek megbecsülése, kölcsönös tisztelete csakis harmonikus egzisztenciális és morális viszonyok között lehetséges, olyan fokú stabilitásban, amelyben az ember saját sorsával már annyira elégedett, hogy fogékonnyá válik szomszédja mássága, sajátos intézményei iránt, sőt közelségének mint tulajdon gazdagságának örülni is tud. Jelenleg minden jel arra mutat, ettől mérhetetlen távolságra vagyunk.
“Truth” is a social construct predicated on trust and mediated by power, meaning, and language.
We’ll generally use words we think other people will mostly understand. This is a very very rough definition of “meaning.”
The AI Now Institute is a research institute dedicated to understanding the social implications of AI technologies. They are doing a great favor to our society: filling the gap of ethical concerns around the massively approaching Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Recently I read their annual report of 2018. Here are my highlights…
Who is responsible when AI systems harm us?
The AI accountability gap is growing. The technology scandals of 2018 have shown that the gap between those who develop and profit from AI—and those most likely to suffer the consequences of its negative effects—is growing larger, not smaller.
Civil rights concerns
Earlier this year, it was revealed that Pearson, a major AI-education vendor, inserted “social-psychological interventions” into one of its commercial learning software programs to test how 9,000 students would respond. They did this without the consent or knowledge of students, parents, or teachers. This psychological testing on unknowing populations, especially young people in the education system, raises significant ethical and privacy concerns.
Power asymmetries between companies and the people
There are huge power asymmetries between companies and the people they serve, which currently favors those who develop and profit from AI systems at the expense of the populations most likely to be harmed.
Moreover, there is a stark cultural divide between the engineering cohort responsible for technical research, and the vastly diverse populations where AI systems are deployed. These gaps are producing growing concern about bias, discrimination, due process, liability, and overall responsibility for harm.
Their full report: https://ainowinstitute.org/AI_Now_2018_Report.pdf
John Stuart Mill wrote a famous book, entitled “Utilitarianism“.
Utilitarianism was first formulated by Jeremy Bentham, and though it was a sound moral theory, it received some serious criticism. The objection was that utilitarianism does not take into account the individual, and that some moral principles need to be followed, even for the benefits of a single individual. John Stuart Mill went deep into defending his standpoint. He stated that when you optimize for maximum utility for the greatest number of people on the long term – emphasis on the long term – utilitarianism is actually not the cold-hearted calculating moral theory that it looks like.
But there was one element he could not reconcile with utilitarianism. He had the intuition that human beings are entitled to an intrinsic respect, no matter what. Even when you optimize for the whole of humanity nong term. I like that!
Libertarianism – people are entitled to intrinsic respect; the fundamental right is the right to liberty.
Free to Choose
With humorous references to Bill Gates and Michael Jordan, Sandel introduces the libertarian notion that redistributive taxation—taxing the rich to give to the poor—is akin to forced labor.
No paternalist legislation – laws that protect people from themselves
No morals legislation – laws that promote virtuous living
No progressive taxation – redistributing income or wealth from the rich to the poor
Am I a libertarian? What do I think of these principles?
Paternalistic and moral laws – a certain minimum amount is required to sustain the stability of society. As little as possible.
Progressive taxation – required, for the same reason. Large inequalities make the society unstable. Aristotle: the poorer 90% only accept that they are poor because thay are convinced that they have a reasonable chance to be rich. Rousseau: the society does you a favour: sustains favourable environment. If you live in a society, the social contract applies.
The moral goal is to provide a prosperous society, where everyone has equal chance and everyone has a large amount of guaranteed freedom.
Utilitarianism is an ethical and philosophical theory that states that the best action is the one that maximizes utility, which is usually defined as that which produces the greatest well-being of the greatest number of people.
Is utilitarianism the best moral system we could possibly have? Many people around me think so.
This is a very compelling idea. But it can be challenged. Here is the challege…
Would you want to live in a world… where everyone lives a long and prosperous life and they are very happy … but! there is one single person, a child, who is constantly suffering and has a miserable life… in exchange for the happiness of the others. Would you be OK with this, being one of the millions of happy people, while knowing that there is one who pays for your happiness?
I would not.
The Moral Side of Murder
If you had to choose between (1) killing one person to save the lives of five others and (2) doing nothing, even though you knew that five people would die right before your eyes if you did nothing—what would you do? What would be the right thing to do? That’s the hypothetical scenario Professor Michael Sandel uses to launch his course on moral reasoning.
My thoughts about this lecture…
The first questions were easy to answer. As we went deeper into the lecture, they became harder. Often I had to go back to the previous questions are revise my answers… not the outcome of the moral dilemma (which option is the morally correct one?) but the reasoning that led to that outcome.
Very often we know why we believe that something is right, but when pushed to dig deeper, we realize that we actually don’t know. We feel that something is right, and our rational brain comes up with a logical reasoning – it rationalizes our choice. But that rationalizing can be challenged and it sometimes breaks down.