The Economist's Apprentice

In which a little girl confronts the world and battles the anti-humans.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Do the Poor Even Exist?

I once read an interview with someone trying to save the tigers. This person lamented the fact that the increasing human population in India was encroaching on tiger habitats. Let's think, if the human population in India had been curbed, the increase in tiger lives would be measured in thousands, while the decrease in human lives would be measured in millions. This struck me as a bizarre tradeoff to wish for. Of course, amongst environmentalists it is a fairly common attitude. Many ordinary folks implicitly think like this, even though most would never admit to preferring one tiger to a thousand people.

I think the cause of this is that the thought of so many poor people living in India depresses many people. This is in sharp contrast to the joyful response people have of tigers prowling in the wilds. Based on any normal standards of wellbeing, the poor in India have it much better off than tigers. Tigers typically have shorter life expectancies, less stable food supplies, worse housing, a reduced ability to communicate with their family etc., etc. Perhaps, the U.N. should advocate family planning for the poor tiger instead of the human poor. The fact that human's feel bad when they see poor humans makes them advocate policies to reduce the number of poor humans. This is fine, if it leads to converting poor humans into non-poor humans. It is misguided, if it just reduces the number of humans.

I wanted to illustrate the disconnect between reason and people's emotional response by posting two photos:
1) a tiger in the wild,
2) an impoverished slum in India or Africa.
The caption would read, "who do you feel sorry for?" Then I would explain all the advantages the humans enjoyed versus the tiger.

I was going to get the photos at a stock photo website like Big Stock Photo. Typing 'tiger' in the search box of these sites yields many beautiful shots. Unfortunately, I didn't find the photo of poverty that I wanted. From these sites, you get the impression that India and Africa are mostly populated by animals. Of course, I should have expected this. After all, my point was that people irrationally prefer to look at tigers than the poor.


At 10:00 AM, Blogger SL said...

I have long suspected that westerners treat their dogs better than people in the thrid world. Your article is a good evidence that even the animal in the wild enjoys more goodwill.


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