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This is poverty, Jakarta edition

  • The child who has crisps, coke and M&Ms for breakfast.
  • The family who doesn’t register for free government healthcare… And gets sick.
  • The children whose mother doesn’t talk to them.
  • The unsupervised nine year old who gets into a road accident.
  • The parents who won’t walk their son to the free playgroup available at the end of their alleyway.
  • The five-year-old who plays games on their own phone until three in the morning.
  • The husband who is smart, healthy and good looking, has a free place to live, and doesn’t lift a finger to earn income to feed his kids.
  • The six-year-old who has never held a book.
  • The child whose clothes are too small, whose parents don’t make him bath… when both clothes and water are readily available.
  • The woman who smashes her partner’s phone in one of their regular fights… meaning that he can’t work
  • The school leaver who can’t a good job because they can’t get their graduation certificate because they never paid their final school fees… And because a member of their family assaulted the principal.

Here’s the point: even if your parents or caregivers had almost nothing, even if all they could give you was love and care, a bit of structure and a safe place to sleep, you are incomparably privileged compared to these families, and it seems to me that this most basic layer of privilege outweighs all the others.

Each of these situations is a product of a complex history, of unfair structures… and (judging by the number of other people in similar situations who are able to slowly build better lives) a bucket-load of human frailty, folly and bad luck.

It’s not as if we don’t want to help, but these are hard problems to solve – if it was easy, no-one would be poor. Sadly for all of us, the families that most need support are exactly the hardest to help.

They need exceptional additional resources (ten times more than a ‘normal’ poor family needs?) and exceptionally skilled and committed people supporting them, and even with these things they are much less likely to achieve good outcomes than other families who are equally poor in material terms but have a family culture of care.

So let’s be clear about how much we’re willing to give and how hard we’re going to try to help.


See also:

From JakartaLives:
The Great Escape (three keys to riches) / Tanah menjadi marmer – tiga rahasia menjadi kaya

On Poverty and Inequality:
Natura non facit sultum*: Lant Pritchett on poverty lines
“Empirically sufficient and empirically necessary” – Lant Pritchett on economic growth as the (only) key to poverty reduction
Thought experiment: poverty and inequality without injustice
Russ Roberts on inequality and poverty
Recommendation: The Pudding on the Yard-Sale Model and Wealth Tax
Will and Ariel Durant on Inequality, Redistribution, Revolution and the Nature of Society’s Wealth
Harrison Bergeron: Kurt Vonnegut imagines true equality


The Little by Little Series:
Little By Little 1: Raymond Briggs on 1940s Britain
Little By Little 2: Li Kunwa on indoor plumbing in 1980s China
Little By Little 3: Scarcity and Subsistence in rural Suffolk in the 1900s
Little By Little 4: Dolly Parton on the scar on her toes (rural poverty in 1950s Tennessee)
Not long ago; or, Little by little (5): Tyler Cowen on progress in living standards since 1900
Not long ago; or, Little by little (6): New York Tenement, 1889
Not long ago; or, Little by little (7): Fred Dibnah, Steeplejack – health and safety edition
Not long ago; or, Little by little (8): Singapore market, early 1970s

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...