Monday, 4 January 2010

Give a man a fish...

There is a proverb that gets used quite often, especially in relation to charities helping poor countries...

'Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime'.

Well for a long time I have disliked that quote, for a start it shows arrogance on the part of the would-be teacher, who seems to be assuming that those that are hungry are so because they are not as cleaver as we. Of course that isn't always the case, and often it is valuable to share skills. But, and this may be the cynic in me, I also dislike it because it doesn't seem to match up well with some of my understanding of how things are and it ignores some fundamental issues. My version of the quote would be...

'Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, try and teach him to fish and he will tell you "don't be stupid, I know how to fish, but the fish in the sea have been wiped out due to overfishing by the west, the smaller rivers are drying up due to climate change, and the larger river is polluted because of a factory upstream owned by a western corporation"'

Well today Andy Zaltsman provided me with a new version (on BBC iPlayer currently)...

"Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day, but lease him a fishing rod and he will feed you cut-price fish for a life time, and that is a competitively priced labour market you have got there! Plus since you own the rod he better fish and fish hard, otherwise you can take his rod away, no rod means no wages and no wages means no imported tinned fish, which is now all he and his family can afford to eat!"

It seems to me that people, globally, often are not poor because of random chance or due to a lack of effort on their own part, rather, that people are poor largely because we have created a world that requires some to be poor so that others can be rich. This does imply a power to be able to create things differently though.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. Terry Pratchett has a rather humorous adaptation of this quote 'give a man a fire and he is warm for a day, set a man on fire and he is warm for the rest of his life!'

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