donating luxury before needs

I earlier mentioned MIT's prototype for $100 hand-cranked lap-tops, designed to be handed to hundreds of school children in less developed countries. A worthy cause, an empowering technological improvement, to be sure. But as David Henderson points out at Tech Central Station, somewhat misguided.

Henderson's primary fear is that either corrupt LDC governments will unfairly distribute donated computers, just as they misappropriate foreign aid, or that the LDC governments will purchase the laptops instead of providing more basic, but also more valued, goods for its poverty stricken citizens. The argument for market efficiency priv
ileged to government charity is more cogent in the case of $100 laptops than it is regarding basic goods. People without clean water and malnutrition problems want a solution to sanitation and nutrition before then want to benefit from advances in communications technology. Here, the government is less responding to a need its people absolutely have no money to procure, but rather attempting to gild the carriage before supplying a horse.

When I first came across this idea of supplying (totally cool) "disposable" and low-energy lap-tops to poor children, what bothered me originally was the waste. Not only what Henderson point to, but simply the idea of pressing one into every child's eager hands. This revolutionary democratization of information technology has such fantastic potential that providing a singular village or family with one would do wonders for building community independence and individual advantage. In fact, it may be more culturally appropriate too, where kinship relationships hold stronger ties to" joint-stock enterprises" like building a cassava grinder.

1 Comment:

David Palsgrove said...

As I finished shaving this morning, and threw my old razor into the garbage, I had a thought. Why not donate my rusty old razor to the poor children of Africa? Surely they can not afford a Shick Mach Three on their own. Somewhere in Africa I know there are some hairy children just dieing to get their hands on a good razor. So I propose a new organization, Razors for Children. Can You Dig It?