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Aug 28, 2013


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It looks like two separate problems tend to get conflated or at least connected in unhelpful ways in well off societies.

1. What is the best way or ways to help the poor move out of poverty?

2. How do we get people in affluent societies to live moral or virtuous lives?

Of course a problem with the second question is that there is not agreement as to the nature of a virtuous life among all Christians. I suspect you would get very different answers if you asked Jim Wallis and John Sirico of Acton to describe virtuous behavior.

Michael W. Kruse

I think you've nailed the two separate issues. Actually, I think at the private individual level, Wallis and Sirico might not be that far apart. The divide is in terms of societal systems and structures.


Used clothes are part of the global economy. I don't think that local industries can or should be shielded from the global economy. Although the clothes were cast off in the West, much like recycled aluminum or paper, they can be re-marketed. I don't think this is the best illustration of your very valid point about how charities, by shattering local markets, often hurt developing economies. Unlike food aid, for example, people donated those clothes for the benefit of the local Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc. They were not aiming for Africa.

Michael W. Kruse

Fair enough.


"I don't think that local industries can or should be shielded from the global economy."
I agree Percival however, every economy does it in some form or fashion.
I think there is more to it as well. The issue certainly is not with individuals making donations. I think we would all agree that that is virtuous, where the alternative is to throw them away.
But it is the role of charities and the courses of action they choose to take that has to be questioned.
Did these charities put any work into analyzing the impact of throwing these goods into the market? I don't know the answer to that, but often times the answer is "no."
It has to be attacked from both sides. Charities must consider the impacts that relief aid has, and enterprises must adapt and meet the needs of the community.
The video didn't provide enough insight into how the flea market works but it did say "cheap clothes" not "free clothes." So it may be that the flea market itself is the enterprise that is flourishing. Or is there an opportunity for an entrepreneur to acquire the best of the donated clothes and setup a shop for himself to resell them?


As I understand it, the Western charities sort the clothes into categories and they are bundled into huge bales and sold to brokers on the international market. Those bales are shipped overseas and resold to local wholesale agents who distribute them to sellers in the local market. Supply and demand at work, full of the usual complications of unintended consequences.

The charities benefit because they have sold a supply of things from a glutted market in the West to people who actually want them. The Western donor often supposes those clothes are going to the needy in their community, but that is only true for a small percentage of the donations.

Michael W. Kruse

I don't know a lot about the specifics of the Malawi case but the vid certainly implies that there was a significant influx of used clothes that has destabilized the market. The clothes are apparently being sold dirt cheap in the markets in Malawi and that is because someone has provided the clothes to the vendors either free or at minimal cost. It operates much like a subsidy, creating an unfair advantage. That is what I perceive the charities are doing.

A region, in this case Malawi, was targeted for this type of aid. After a few years, the charity tires of this focus and leaves. Then comes someone giving away bags of rice until they tire as well. Each episode does considerable damage to a sector of the local economy.

We need to think more creatively about how to help these economies grow.


Hi Michael, I am currently co-teaching a weekly workshop style class for 14 homeschooled, high school juniors and seniors, focusing on world issues and how Christians should think about, care about the world and others who dwell in it with us. These are all good-hearted kids who have been very involved in missions trips and local projects with the homeless, etc. I'd like to help them begin to think outside the box a bit and challenge some of their thinking on "help" and caring for the poor in less patronizing, sensational, and actually more beneficial/connecting, ways. Have you done a review on either of the two books you link to above, or is there one you think would be particularly appropriate and helpful reading for this age student? Most of the students are already taking full-time dual-enrollment classes at the local community college, so they're not likely to willingly take on a heavy or dry academic book, but if one of the books is not a hard read, but still challenging in its thinking, I'd consider having the students read and discuss it. Any input would be appreciated! Thanks!

Michael W. Kruse

I don't have an extensive review of either book. Both books are written for popular audiences. The authors of both books write in an engaging style. I think both books would be accessible to your students.

Based on what you have described, I suspect "Toxic Charity" might be the better place to start, but it is a tough call. Lupton is a pastor and does a good job of critiquing the church mindset. "When Helping Hurts" gets a little more into what economic development is. Their passages about the difference between relief, rehabilitation, and development are worth the price of the book alone. "Toxic" goes a little more into unmaksing dysfunctional thinking while the other book focuses more on articulating a healthy model.

Neither book as an academic yawn. I think you would do well with either.


Thank you! That is very helpful.

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