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Oxfam and the Corruption of Foreign Aid

It is very wrong, morally, to take pleasure in the misfortunes of others, but I cannot disguise from myself the intense pleasure, amounting almost to joy, with which I learned of the public exposure of the wrongdoings of Oxfam in Haiti, Chad, and elsewhere. Its workers, sent to bring relief to the acute and chronic sufferings of those countries, used the charity’s money, partly derived from voluntary contributions and partly from government subventions (the British government and the European Union are by far the largest contributors to British Oxfam), to patronise local prostitutes, some of them underage, and also to conduct orgies, no doubt at a fraction of what they would have cost to conduct at home.

Oxfam, at least in Britain, has long been one of the most Pecksniffian of organisations, much give to auto-beatification. Mr. Pecksniff, in Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit, introduces his daughters, called Charity and Mercy, to Mrs. Todgers, adding ‘Not unholy names, I hope.’ It is therefore of the hypocritical Mr. Pecksniff that I think whenever I pass the Oxfam shop in my small town, with its unctuous slogan, Thank you for being humankind, posted in the window. It is only with difficulty that I resist the urge to throw a brick through it.

Of course, Oxfam, like many large British charities, has long been a villainous organisation — and the sexual exploits (or should I say exploitations?) of its workers in Haiti and elsewhere are the least of it. In the moral sense, though not the legal, it has for many years been guilty of fraud, of misleading the public.

I first realised this some years ago when I found a used book dealer of my long acquaintance poring in his shop over Oxfam’s annual accounts.

‘Look at this,’ he said, but I saw nothing until he pointed it out to me.

Oxfam, in common with many other charities in Britain, runs thrift stores in practically every British town and city. Such thrift stores are now more numerous even than Indian restaurants: they allow people to give away their unwanted belongings in the belief that, by so doing, they are furthering a good cause.

My acquaintance pointed out that, despite receiving their goods free of charge, paying practically nothing for their labour (which was voluntary), and paying much reduced local taxes, Oxfam shops made a profit on turnover of a mere 17 per cent, much less than his own, despite his incomparably greater expenses. How was such a thing possible, by what miracle of disorganisation (or malversation of funds)?

Until then, I had carelessly assumed that the great majority of any money that I gave to a large charity went to serve its ostensible end, say the relief of avoidable suffering. I was not alone in this, of course. When I asked the volunteer ladies in a local shop run on behalf of the British Red Cross what percentage of the money I paid for a book there went to the Red Cross, they looked at me as if I were mad.

‘Why, all of it of course,’ piped up one of the ladies.

The real average figure at the time for Red Cross thrift stores was 8 per cent; but the volunteer ladies supposed, because the goods they sold were free to the Red Cross and they themselves were not paid, that (apart from a small amount for unavoidable expenses) all the money raised went directly to victims of earthquakes and the like.

But there was more. When I looked up the accounts of the Red Cross on-line, I discovered that of the 8 per cent that the commerce branch of the Red Cross turned over to the charity, a fifth went in advertising and more than half in the salaries of the people working for the Red Cross. Further investigation of the accounts of large British charities demonstrated that for most of them charity definitely began at home. The last time I looked, Oxfam employed 888 full-time workers at its headquarters. Suffice it to say that this is not what most people who drop a coin into the rattling tin or make a regular contribution by standing order think they are paying for: they think they are paying for blankets, not orgies, for the young victims of earthquakes.

More seriously, Oxfam’s ideas of how poverty is to be overcome — by means of foreign aid — is, and in retrospect has always been, deeply flawed. The organisation, supposedly focused on poverty, has contrived to overlook the greatest reduction in mass poverty in human history, namely that which has occurred in India and China in the last thirty years, and therefore to reflect upon how it was brought about. Certainly, this reduction had nothing to do with foreign aid, or even concern for social justice. Of course, the reduction in poverty has benefited some more than others, but it is inconceivable that any process affecting billions of people should affect all equally.

The fundamental error of Oxfam’s approach to poverty was inadvertently illustrated very powerfully on page 27 of Le Monde (France’s newspaper of record) for 18 February, where an article about Oxfam’s current difficulties appeared over an article about the disastrous situation in Kosovo.

The first article, by a political scientist at the Belgian Tricontinental Centre of Development, begins with an attempt to extenuate Oxfam and similar organisations:

The attitude of a dozen members of Oxfam Great Britain, accused of having had resort to prostitutes in Haiti in 2011, is representative neither of the organisation itself nor of humanitarian workers in general.

Somewhat in contradiction to this, however, it continues:

All the same, it cannot be accounted a simple accident or dysfunction, even less an isolated case. Similar cases in other countries (Liberia, Chad, Southern Sudan…) attributable to other non-governmental organisations (ONGs), are coming to light more and more often.

The article ends:

This scandal… is emblematic of the power and structural inequalities in the chain of international humanitarian aid which permit such abuses to happen. To remedy them supposes something other, and more, than committees of vigilance and codes of conduct. It requires the rethinking of the way aid functions, to reverse the asymmetrical relationships and put an end to the beneficiaries silencing and powerlessness.

This might seem to be, in effect, a plea for the abolition of such supposedly humanitarian aid, which (according to the author) has hitherto been auto-legitimating and has always relied on donors mistaking the wish for the fact. ONGs are arrogant and behave with a kind of imperial impunity in the impoverished countries in which they operate: they are not so much the four horsemen, but the proconsuls of the Apocalypse. Indeed, one might surmise that it is the imperial or proconsular nature of the organisations and their work that appeals to the ‘humanitarians’ that they employ. It is the power in the power to do good, or confer benefits, that attracts them.

We have already seen by the example of India and China that aid is not a necessary condition of escape from poverty: but is it, or could it be, a sufficient one? Here the article on the case of Kosovo is highly instructive.

Twenty years after the end of the war with Serbia, Kosovo remains in a disastrous and lawless condition.

The local authorities have been unable to develop a real productive economy which remains almost completely dependent on remittances from the [Kosovar] diaspora and international funds. In total $4.5 billion of development aid have been sent since independence, that is to say $2500 per head, the highest level in Europe. In spite of this, the rate of unemployment is terrible, at 30.5 per cent, and 50.5 per cent among the young. The public sector is grossly inflated…

The author continues:

The traditional corollary of this type of economy is generalised informal activity and endemic corruption.

Even the members of the European mission to teach the Kosovars the rule of law accuse each other of corruption. Most young Kosovars want to leave, never to return.

So, aid is clearly not a sufficient condition of development any more than it is a necessary one. When people in favour of foreign aid use the word despite, I think it is probably a good rule of thumb to replace it by the word because.

Reader Discussion

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on February 22, 2018 at 08:11:59 am

This post gives me hope.

If lies are to be uncovered; if the "realness" of things and factual evidence for that "realness" can be made known, we may have reason to to hope that our descent into intellectual chaos can be reversed.

Even if the charges made in this post are in some ways inaccurate, the post will still serve the purpose of truth in that all aspects of the matter will have to be made known.

If we desire to find the truth of things, all things, we will have to investigate many formerly admired, even loved, organizations; all entities; for their own good, for the common good. Nothing human is perfect. At least we do know that!

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Latecomer
on February 22, 2018 at 08:25:27 am

What a mish-mash.

1. Yeah, it’s curious that charities get such low returns on their putative commercial enterprises. But here’s a factor: What do they pay for managerial staff?

My wife ran a not-for-profit quite welll. She was eventually hired by another firm for a higher salary. And, despite her best efforts, the organization she left has fallen into some disarray. Why have things declined? Arguably the better question to ask is why things function so well in the past. It was merely fortuitous that the organization was able to attract someone with my wife’s skills. When she left, things regressed to the level of chaos we should expect from an organization that cannot afford real managers.

2. Is 888 too many people for Oxfam to employ? Maybe—but Dalrymple offers no analysis to support this view.

Domino’s Pizza employs a lot of people, too.

I don’t embrace the idea that it’s acceptable to employ lots of people, and pay them well, if they’re making pizza, but not if they’re doing social good. I value both pizza and social good—and I’d expect each type of organization to make the human resource investments appropriate to their needs.

3. In Kosovo, there is high per capital social service expenditures, and high unemployment. Why is that surprising? Isn’t that the relationship you’d expect?

Is Dalrymple suggesting that charitable contributions are CAUSING the high unemployment? If so, he provides no support for the conclusion.

Dalrymple points out that many developing nations have seen a decline in poverty due to globalization. That’s great—although we should be cautious about the declines. If, over the span of 30 years, your family has gone from earning $1/day to earning $3.20/day, that’s a huge percentage increase—but it’s hardly affluence. Also, it’s worth noting that many developed nations such as the UK and US are entering a protectionist phase which may impair future economic growth in the developing world.

That said, there are plenty of places where circumstances (yes, including government corruption/incompetence) impede economic growth. Oxfam can hardly be blamed for that.

4. No, Oxfam staff should not physically threaten people. That’s a real problem. That said…

5. Prostitution is everywhere. It would be challenging to find any large organization which does not employ people who have hired prostitutes. I can’t recall the last time a read a story about an employee of Exxon-Mobile hiring a prostitute. Perhaps we should conclude that this never occurs. Or perhaps we should conclude that this is so common that it doesn’t qualify as news.

Given this fact, I find nothing surprising about the fact that employees of Oxfam would hire prostitutes, too.

Why would anyone work as a prostitute? As a first order proposition, I’d guess that they do so because they find it better than their other alternatives.

Oxfam works in places where there is a lot of poverty and hunger. They do what they can to alleviate those circumstances, but the circumstances will pretty much always exceed Oxfam’s resources. And what has provoked Dalrymple about this situation: That people are starving and desperate? Or that some of these people are able to help alleviate their circumstances through paid employment as prostitutes? It would appear that Dalrymple would prefer that people simply starve in quiet dignity. How inconvenient for him that starving people have other preferences.

I weary of juvenile people who point at others and say, “SEE! They seek to do good, but it turns out that they’re not really angels—they’re HUMAN!” Perhaps some people live with such guilt about not helping their fellow man that they cannot help but resent those that do. It’s kind of pathetic.

Ultimately, I believe in competition. If you want to REALLY criticize Oxfam, here’s how to do it: Point out a better way for people like me to help alleviate poverty. If Medicine Sans Frontier or the Red Cross is doing things better, then you’ve got a real argument. But if all you’re doing is kicking a good soldier for not being better—and alleviating your own sense of guilt in the process—well, I’ll pass.

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nobody.really
on February 22, 2018 at 08:58:39 am

"Point out a better way for people like me to help alleviate poverty."

Well you might start with actual persons in your community - "hands on", "person-to-person" assistance; help that requires time and effort. Encourage; donate your respect along with your money. That will be one good beginning.

Then, since you possess verbal skills, encourage others to follow your example. Offer examples taken from your personal experience about how an actual life (or more than one life) was changed. and how this can be made to happen in other lives.

Join a local organization formed to distribute necessities of life - food, shelter, clothing - to those in need within your geographical area. I know of activities of this sort that have done real good, made real changes to persons who can be seen and heard. Than give testimony about the power of these kinds of activities. You may inspire others; many others. Enough to make a significant difference.

Perhaps we have made a mistake in failing to understand that charity begins with each of us, person to person.

Or, if you feel yourself destined for greater, more expansive things, run for local or regional office. Advocate for practices that will do real good. Fight for that which you love, if that is you do actually love other people "close-up" ; not grand, distant causes that do not affect your daily life.

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Latecomer
on February 22, 2018 at 11:42:04 am

Nobody:

Apparently you are confusing pay levels with competence. It would appear that you believe that if only these NGO managers were paid MORE they would be better managers or that if the NGO positions were paid at a higher rate, the NGo's would be better able to attract more competent managers.

1) would you accept the same argument (in fact, you) when it comes from a multinational corporation?
2) Is a $1,000,000 plus salary sufficient for the head of the Red Cross in the USA?
3) Are certain sections of the tax code that permit certain managers of non-profits to defer and / or avoid taxes on compensation not enough to attract better managers? Does it MAKE them better managers?
4) Why deny the plausibility of Dalrymple's argument that the "business model" of certain NGO's is flawed. It is quite common for NGO's to remit a veritable Dickensian pittance to the supposed "object" of their activities.
5) Here you offer Another spurious attempt to confuse by comparing Domino's Pizza (BTW: don;t ever buy their specials; they act like NGO's and skimp on the cheese provided to their beneficiaries) to OXFAM, which, not unlike other notable NGO's / alleged non-profits such as universities, also employ far too many managers and administrators thereby further reducing the amount of monies available for their stated mission.
6) Who are you to decry the 300% increase in the annual wage of the impoverished? Would you prefer that they become prostitutes in order to earn $10 / day? Similar to your critique of Dalrymple, provide the context. What standard of living is NOW provided by the 300% increase.
7) YES, OXFAM can and should be blamed for: misleading its donors, misappropriating funds, taking advantage of the very people its purports to serve AND MOST CERTAINLY it should be blamed for ORGANIZING and engaging in orgies with those same "beneficiaries". To attempt to excuse this behavior, this breach of professional ethics and decency is, much like the aberrant behavior itself, inexcusable.
"SEE! They seek to do good, but it turns out that they’re not really angels—they’re HUMAN!”" _ And what precisely is it that you are doing? Turning the coin on its head, I would suppose. Nobody apparently believes that it is suitable and proper to justify these rampant indecencies by saying, "Well, see here, other people engage prostitutes SO these do-gooders should be excused."
Hey, what about #MeToo - does this not fall under the province of MeToo-ers such as yourself? BTW: It is not just OXFAM but other UN ?NGO's that have engaged in this disgraceful behavior. Does the fact that a UN Children's Relief Agency in Africa raped your girls in any make it less improper for OXFAM to engage in similar behavior. Does the fact that the Clinton Foundation provided much benefit to its politically connected allies in Haiti rather than the poor victims of natural disasters make it any less offensive that OXFAM also provides far more benefit to its own allies / employees.

9) You are however correct in arguing that it is better to provide examples of systems / programs that actually benefit the poor.
Here is an example. Two players on the Seattle Mariners and (perhaps) two on the Seattle Seahawks are building schools and houses for the poor in Haiti at their own expense, supplemented by donations from fans / charity events. The money ACTUALLY goes to building buildings NOT ADVERTISING OR MANAGEMENT SALARIES.

Perhaps, OXFAM, and many other NGO's ought to consider downsizing and undertake a streamlined more direct approach to disbursement of charitable monies they receive.

BTW: You surprise me, my friend. I am stunned that you seek to minimize the depraved behavior of this particular NGO and others in general.
8) Good for your wife. I mean that sincerely BUT... her case actually disproves your argument. It would appear that the reason she was recruited away at a higher pay WAS BECAUSE she had already demonstrated her competence. It was not the fact of her higher pay that MADE her competent.

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gabe
on February 22, 2018 at 16:02:36 pm

NOBODY:

Now for a concise overview of the managerial, financial and methodological problems plaguing "development" NGO's and for profit organizations as well, please review the following two links: (I believe you may be able to view three articles on this site without subscribing. Then again, I suspect that this site would appeal to you)

https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/08/development-delusion-foreign-aid-inequality/

https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/08/development-industrial-complex/

And nothing in these essays ought to come as a surprise!

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gabe
on February 23, 2018 at 00:41:39 am

It would appear that you believe … if the NGO positions were paid at a higher rate, the NGO’s would be better able to attract more competent managers.

1) would you accept the same argument … when it comes from a multinational corporation?

Yes and yes. The Yankees are the winningest team in baseball. Do you suppose this is because there’s something in the water that makes people in NY into great ballplayers? Or is there something in the fat paychecks that players can earn in NY that makes players flock there, giving the Yankees the pick of the crop?

2)Is a $1,000,000 plus salary sufficient for the head of the Red Cross in the USA?

Dunno. But we might ask how much the head of Domino’s Pizza earns, and whether the job of running the Red Cross is more or less difficult than the job of running Domino’s.

3) Are certain sections of the tax code that permit certain managers of non-profits to defer and / or avoid taxes on compensation not enough to attract better managers?

I am unacquainted with such parts of the tax code. Citations?

4) Why deny the plausibility of Dalrymple’s argument that the “business model” of certain NGO’s is flawed?

I don’t. I merely argue that Dalrymple has provided insufficient support for his thesis. Maybe Oxfam is badly managed, just as maybe Domino’s Pizza is badly managed. But I won’t simply presume it to be true.

5) Here you offer Another spurious attempt to confuse by comparing Domino’s Pizza to OXFAM, which, not unlike other notable NGO’s / alleged non-profits such as universities, also employ far too many managers and administrators thereby further reducing the amount of monies available for their stated mission.

I’m happy to consider evidence on the question. If you have a formula for identifying the right number of staff to work at OXFAM, and the right number for Domino’s, and can compare those numbers to the actual numbers of people working in those establishments, I’ll consider it. But thus far, I haven’t seen any such formula. I’ve just observed a bunch of bellyaching on the part of people who have exhibited no knowledge of the organizations in question.

6) Who are you to decry the 300% increase in the annual wage of the impoverished? Would you prefer that they become prostitutes in order to earn $10 / day? Similar to your critique of Dalrymple, provide the context.

I haven’t decried a 300% increase; to the contrary, I think it’s the 8th Wonder of the World.

Dalrymple is quite justified in noting that charity is not the foremost force for raising people out of poverty; globalism is. Since you ask for context, consider the famous Elephant Graph first reported by Branko Milanovic. As originally drawn, the graph showed how much the income of a household at a given percentile (say, the bottom 25th percentile of the world’s income) had grown over 20 years; there’s now a version showing growth over the past 36 years. It shows that over this period, an adult in the bottom 25th percentile saw his income increase 120% in real terms. That’s unprecedented!

But it also shows that the bottom 50% of the Earth’s adults received only 12% of the total growth. How is it possible to have such a large growth rate, yet accrue such a small share of the world’s growth? It’s because when you start with very little, increasing your income by 120% doesn’t actually result in that much wealth. In contrast, the world’s top 1% accrued 27% of the growth. Roughly speaking, the richest 1% sucked up more than twice as much wealth as the bottom half of all the adults in the world—and that has continued for a period of 36 years.

Am I happy to contemplate a woman working as a prostitute for $10 in order to help out her household that would otherwise have an income of only $3.20? No—but mostly because her household is facing a situation where it has to live on only $3.20. If I were to object to her tripling her income by engaging in prostitution, I’d be putting my concerns for middle-class morality ahead of her need to feed her family. What kind of entitled jerk would hold such opinions?

7) YES, OXFAM can and should be blamed for: misleading its donors, misappropriating funds, taking advantage of the very people its purports to serve AND MOST CERTAINLY it should be blamed for ORGANIZING and engaging in orgies with those same “beneficiaries”. To attempt to excuse this behavior, this breach of professional ethics and decency is, much like the aberrant behavior itself, inexcusable.

Agreed: To the extent that ANY ORGANIZATION engages in such practices, it should be judged accordingly.

Yet, funny thing: The Wolf of Wall Street presents a more-or-less accurate account of a Wall Street securities firm that misled donors, misappropriated funds, took advantage of clients, and hired prostitutes for orgies—and this behavior was directed from the CEO himself. Where is Dalrymple’s condemnation?

I conclude that Dalrymple’s point is not that these behaviors are wrongful. His point is that we should expect people who work for OXFAM to be angels, not humans. I sense he thinks that it’s especially scandalous to learn that people who work for such organizations might command real salaries, or have real staffs, or engage in real crimes, just like other humans do.

I do not excuse OXFAM employees for their misdeeds. I hold them to the same standards that I hold the wolves of Wall Street. But I don't hold them to some arbitrarily higher standard.

BTW: It is not just OXFAM but other UN ?NGO’s that have engaged in this disgraceful behavior.

Yup. Thus, it would appear that, whatever the shortcomings of OXFAM's managerial structure, the problems it faces are not unique to OXFAM. So what conclusions should we draw? Some hypotheses:

1. People who work in charitable organizations are all scam artists. Virtuous people all work in self-interested private enterprises.

2. You can find scam artists--as well as entirely sincere but fallible people--in all walks of life. Newspapers are currently reporting on sexual improprieties on the part of OXFAM employees, just as they previously reported on sexual improprieties on the part of Catholic employees. That said, I haven't seen stories demonstrating that sexual improprieties are more prevalent in these organizations than they are in other organizations. The reports on improprieties are new; it is unclear that they are disproportionate.

That said, I could well imagine that sexual impropriety might well be disproportionate in relief organizations. Many people who work in poverty relief in the developing world are young and living far from home in the midst of chaos. It’s a recipe for sexual impropriety. Hell, members of the US military periodically rape poor Japanese girls. If the US military cannot control all of its relatively well paid, well supervised, and relatively safe soldiers in Japan, why would we expect more from poverty workers?

I’ve never succumbed to the temptation to hire a prostitute in the developing world—because I’ve basically never been in the developing world. My hands are clean, because I’ve spend my life sitting on my fat ass rather than struggling through the Congo. By what standard would I claim to be more virtuous than the person who went to help the poor and fell into the temptation of buying sex? Why should I sanctimoniously condemn their sin of lust more than my own sin of indifference?

To the contrary, people who hire prostitutes create employment. Consider: OXFAM Joe saves up his salary so that one day he can buy a BMW. OXFAM Paul blows his salary on blowjobs. Which OXFAM employee is doing more to alleviate poverty?

Does the fact that a UN Children’s Relief Agency in Africa raped your girls in any make it less improper for OXFAM to engage in similar behavior.

OXFAM staff engaged in rape? Citations, please.

Two players on the Seattle Mariners and (perhaps) two on the Seattle Seahawks are building schools and houses for the poor in Haiti at their own expense, supplemented by donations from fans / charity events. The money ACTUALLY goes to building buildings NOT ADVERTISING OR MANAGEMENT SALARIES.

Awesome! Three thoughts.

1. Citations, please. Specifically, I’m interested in the idea that schools and houses are being built without any paid managers.

2. Where did these athletes get the money to finance these activities? Are they really all that productive?

And if we're willing to countenance the salaries earned by professional athletes, why would we begrudge the salaries earned by people working in poverty relief?

3. Suppose you later learn that someone working on one of those houses hired a prostitute. Would you then conclude that then entire benevolent enterprise was actually just a sham and a fraud, because now we have proof that these workers are not really the angels they profess to be, but merely humans? Or would you conclude that the apparently benevolent enterprise is really an apparently benevolent enterprise, but one in which some employees sometimes hire prostitutes?

Perhaps, OXFAM, and many other NGO’s ought to consider downsizing and undertake a streamlined more direct approach to disbursement of charitable monies they receive.

Perhaps they should. And perhaps Domino’s Pizza should do likewise. I don’t have any special reason to believe that they should, but I’m open to arguments. Thus far I haven’t seen any.

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nobody.really
on February 23, 2018 at 07:18:57 am

The last comment from "nobody", a reply to "Gabe" assists readers in understanding the thought of those who exclude all areas of life apart from economics from moral scrutiny.

The comment names concerns about prostitution as a form of "middle class morality"! Is this intended to assert that those who view this morality as one remedy for desperate poverty are in possession of "higher class morality?". Surely not. At least I hope that is not the case.

I can have nothing to say about complex economic issues. But I am interested in the economy of human persons. The effect of prostitution on a desperate mother cannot be reduced to economics. The cost to her, to any woman, in terms of personal violation, in exploitation of her body as an object to be used, is incalculable. That a mother may resort to this to save her children should not be, ought never to be, evaluated in economic terms. There is a cost; yes. The cost has is personal. We can show respect for her dignity in acknowledging this.

We can be certain that Theodore Dalrymple would and does condemn the behavior of a corrupt "Wall Street securities firm CEO. But "nobody" is correct in noticing that condemnation is more severe when it is applied to those who advertise, in one way or another, a devotion to virtue, whether employees of OXFAM or members of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church, or others. There is a difference in kind between a company formed to make and sell pizza and an organization dedicated to justice and protection of those in need. Unless we are unwilling to acknowledge important distinctions, such as that of a "someone" from a "something".

To act in a corrupt manner within such a group is to deprive others of their ability to trust. That is a form of theft. It deserves to be exposed so that those who are disillusioned can at least know the truth of matter and have hope that those who act in a corrupt manner will be corrected. We owe one another the truth.

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Latecomer
on February 23, 2018 at 07:23:15 am

please correct second to last line: "... the truth of the matter ..."

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Latecomer
on February 23, 2018 at 09:11:09 am

Well "this is embarrassing". My comment - re-written three times before breakfast - really is a "mish-mash". I apologize.

Second attempt:

The last comment from "nobody" to "Gabe" assists readers in understanding the thought of those who apply moral scrutiny to economic matters alone.
.
The comment mocks those who consider prostitution immoral. They are attempting to impose "middle-class morality". It implicitly elevates those who disagree to a higher level, that of "upper class morality", so to speak.

I can have nothing to say about complex economic questions. I leave that to those who have studied the subject in depth. But I am concerned about what I think of as "the economy of human persons". The effects of prostitution on a desperate mother are considered in economic terms. And we must consider that a mother might engage in such a practice to save the lives of her starving children.

The cost to any particular person cannot be reduced to economics; therefore, it is ignored. It does not therefore disappear. It continues to matter. In terms of personal violation, exploitation of her body as an object to be used, is incalculable. It resists economic analysis; in truth, cannot be interpreted in economic terms. The price would be paid at the level of personal integrity; in real human suffering. We might at least show respect for women, for the once clearly understood nobility of motherhood, in acknowledging this.

We can be certain that Theodore Dalrymple would and does condemn the behavior of a corrupt "CEO of a Wall Street securities firm"; would entitle it "wrongful". But "nobody" is correct in noticing that condemnation is more severe when it is applied to those who publicly advertise, so to speak, themselves as devoted to virtue, whether they are employees of OXFAM or members of the clergy of the Roman Catholic church, or others.

There is a significant difference between a company formed to make and sell pizza and an organization formed to serve the demands of justice, love of one's neighbor, protection of those in need. We cannot avoid knowing this unless we are unwilling to distinguish between a "someone to be respected" and a "something to be sold".

To behave in a corrupt manner within an organization dedicated to goodness, to truth, to the other virtues is to cause others to lose ability to trust. It is a form of theft; grand larceny most foul. It should be exposed. this allows those who are disillusioned to know that such offenses, once discovered, will not be tolerated.

To limit moral scrutiny to economic life is an error. We owe one another the truth in all things.

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Latecomer
on February 23, 2018 at 11:45:56 am

Nobody:

As to the baseball players and managers:

Clearly, they had to hire someone to manage the construction itself as they are athletes not professional builders. However, the difference is that they DID NOT hire an entire tier of administrators nor did they, as is common with so many of the "foundations" established by an athletes business agents, hire their own family or friends at rather high salaries in order to offset tax liability. OXFAM and others (PLEASE DO READ the links I provided) have an established pattern of "development agency" *featherbedding* - Hey, it's all just one big circle of friends, right?

As for an athletes salary (about which I don't give a hoot) vs NGO salaries, the most salient difference is this:
An athletes salary is determined by his or her success on the playing field; NOT SO for the NGO's. Again, read the links I provided. In the aid-development business, mission success is apparently not a consideration in determining payment(s).

Otherwise, much of what you say is true. There are bad actors everywhere, in every endeavor, on every continent and in every social strata.

Like you I simply wish that the people funding these NGO's (and Dominos, BTW) would learn from their mistakes and from the example of others whose business models have proven successful.

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gabe
on February 23, 2018 at 11:56:06 am

To limit moral scrutiny to economic life is an error.

Recall that the founder of economics, Adam Smith, was head of Glasgow University’s Dept. of Moral Philosophy. While he is best known for his Wealth of Nations (1776), he first published The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). Thus, I disagree with the suggestion that an economic perspective is antithetical to a moral perspective. To the contrary.

Economics addresses the challenge of making choices in a context of constraints and scarcity—which, when you think about it, is pretty much all the time. For example, none of us has enough hours in the day to do everything we’d like to. So we much make choices. And the choices we make reflect our morality for, as Jefferson observed, it is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read.

Is it possible to have morality without economics? Well, it’s possible to try. For example, some branches of Islam forbid a man to have contact with an unrelated woman. So when a women’s building caught fire, the fire department showed up but could not actually rescue any of the women as they perished. The firemen acted morally—according to their moral code. Now, if you think that it’s fine to have a rule against such contacts, but that the rule should be balanced against a rule in favor of saving people from burning buildings—that is, that there are trade-offs even where morality is concerned—then you’re thinking like an economist.

When Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, the moral scholars of his day condemned him for doing so (Matthew 12:10; Mark 3:2, John 9:14-16). The scholars protested that the prohibition on working on the Sabbath were absolute, and could not be balanced against the resulting benefit of the labor. But Jesus pointed out that even the scholars didn’t believe their own theory. The priests in the Temple worked on the Sabbath, yet were guiltless (Matthew 12:5). More prosaically, Jewish law permitted Jews to keep people from dying or even experiencing pain on the Sabbath. Heck, they even permitted Jews to feed and water animals on the Sabbath to relieve needless suffering. So Jesus remarked, "If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man on the Sabbath?" (John 7:23). Jesus did not dismiss the idea of honoring the Sabbath, but acknowledged that there were trade-offs. He thought like an economist.

And that’s the idea here. The issue is not whether prostitution is good or bad in a world without other constraints. The issue is how to judge people in the world where they live—a world full of constraints and trade-offs.

This is not just a philosophical distinction. What are the consequences of Dalrymple’s perspective—a perspective of condemning actions that are imperfect, regardless of context? It encourages inaction. After all, if you never do anything, you never do anything wrong. And if we’re going to judge people only on the basis of their wrongful actions, without regard to their beneficial actions, then obviously we end up with a world in which people will be inclined to inaction. In this sense, Dalrymple has thrown in his lot with the Politically Correct Social Justice Warriors—and with the Islamic firemen who watch women burn to death. Their chief goal is to keep their own hands clean.

And, hey, that’s one view of morality. But there is another one—espoused, for example, by Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

When St. Peter asks to see Dalrymple’s hands, he may find that they’re lily-white and pure. When he asks to see the Oxfam worker’s hands, he may find that they’re dirty from a lifetime of hard use. Which will please Peter better? I guess we’ll all find out eventually.

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nobody.really
on February 23, 2018 at 12:29:51 pm

Well, let us consider the "good deeds" that OXFAM, according to Dalrymple's assertions in the essay:

How *good* is it if only a minor fraction of charitable monies find their way to the intended beneficiaries?
How good, and precisely WHO is the beneficiary, is the disproportionate allocation of these charitable monies to an entire tier of management functionaries?
How good is it to deceive one's donors as to the efficacy of one's program?
How good is it that some number of these functionaries remain unpunished for engaging in what are presumably improper sexual contacts?
"he may find that they’re dirty from a lifetime of hard [sexual ab]use.

"The issue is how to judge people in the world where they live—a world full of constraints and trade-offs." - Absotively!!!
And how would Peter judge them? Me - I would judge as follows:
The poor woman, destitute and anxious to feed her children, would receive sympathy w/o any admonishment.
The OXFAM, presumptively more educated, more refined, putatively engaged in the Lord's work (as Latecomer argues) would perhaps not fare so well. His world is one of power, influence and access to material comforts, which may include higher priced escort services provided by those not quite as dependent upon the "kindness of strangers" (such as this "kindness may be). I suspect that Peter would take notice of the dirt on the OXFAM hands BUT would not be so appreciative of that dirt as is nobody.

As for economics as the sine qua non of the human condition - Yes and No. All activity may be reduced to economics in some tangental fashion; however, nobody. really believes that this is the essential essence of the human experience. Marx (actually both Karl and Groucho) have taught us that, albeit somewhat dissimilarly.

Now I am off to raid my grandson's piggy bank.

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gabe
on February 23, 2018 at 13:34:50 pm

Thanks.

I will be carefully re-reading both responses.

No further comments at this time. One "mish-mash" a day is quite enough.

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Latecomer
on February 23, 2018 at 14:28:11 pm

How *good* is it if only a minor fraction of charitable monies find their way to the intended beneficiaries?

It is always true that only a fraction of charitable moneys find their way to the intended beneficiaries. Indeed, Judas bemoans this fact, noting that the perfume used on Jesus could instead have been sold in order to raise money for the poor. (John 12:3-5). Overhead, overhead….

But as I previously remarked—and you previously agreed—the best way to criticize Oxfam is in the competitive market: Show how other agencies are doing Oxfam’s mission better. THAT is the standard by which to judge Oxfam’s performance. After all, we could also gripe about the extensive overhead—Sherpas and all—used by people climbing Mount Everest. Why, I’ve climbed a hill in my back yard, so doesn’t that give me sufficient expertise to judge people scaling Everest? No. But if you can find people who ACTUALLY scale Everest without requiring such extensive administrative support, THEN you’d have a real basis for comparison.

How good is it to deceive one’s donors as to the efficacy of one’s program?

That’s a complicated question. As a general proposition, I’d discourage the practice. But there can be extenuating circumstances.

If someone is facing unavoidable surgery, does it make sense to impress upon the person their merger odds of survival? Sure, encourage them to get their affairs in order “just in case.” But the best reason to discuss a lack of efficacy is to encourage people to choose a better option. But when there are no better options, the merits of detailing the weakness of your best strategy decline.

Moreover, human emotions are not irrelevant for many outcomes. Thus, managing emotions can be a relevant factor—and that may entail dissembling.

Consider, for example, Feed My Starving Children. It’s a charity that lets people participate in assembling a nutritious meal kit for people facing hunger. It’s a fun, tangible way for groups of otherwise unskilled people to participate in doing good for others. They have assembly centers in three states.

Now, could Feed My Starving Children actually package their food more cheaply by simply centralizing and automating the process? Sure. But they don’t, so that people can experience the joy of tangibly contributing to others—and, perhaps not coincidentally, so that the good feeling this engenders may prompt people to make cash donations as well.

As far as I can tell, this charity does a lot of good. Are they lying to participants by letting people feel as if their labors are useful? Well … kinda. But in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t really bother me. The participants do provide assistance. And the food does reach poor people. And the whole process makes everyone feel good to boot. If the participants had a fuller understanding of all the dynamics at play, they might not feel so good about participating. And they might stop doing so. And might stop giving.

Given these dynamics, is this system so bad?

This is not a trivial example. As I say, economics is the study of decision-making in the face of scarcity. Throughout history, labor has been scarce—until modern times. Now, it’s more common to hear people complain that jobs are scarce. And thanks to automation, jobs may become ever scarcer, even as society becomes ever richer. But in a society that condemns leisure as waste and laziness, people will continue to crave work.

One of the greatest benefits we may bestow on our fellow men may be the ability to make work LESS efficient, so that we can help more people feel useful. In short, the thing that has become scarce may be the ability to make people feel useful; to make them feel as if they still have a place in society, as if they still belong. Thus, Feed My Starving Children may be a model for coping with the biggest economic challenge our society may face this century.

“The issue is how to judge people in the world where they live—a world full of constraints and trade-offs.” – Absotively!!!

And how would Peter judge them? Me – I would judge as follows….

While we might quibble, I don’t mean to say that poor moms or Oxfam employees should be above judgment. But I sense we are in agreement that we should judge people based on the specific circumstances and constraints they confront—not based on moral absolutes.

We should also distinguish between judging individuals and judging organizations in which individuals are employed. And this gets tricky.

Consider the bell curve: It illustrates that, in the real world, we rarely get exactly what we expect. Sometimes we get more; sometimes we get less. And the larger the population we examine, the more extreme the outliers become. Thus—

• When you choose to buy merchandise, you choose for some of it to be lost/damaged/stolen/rendered obsolete.
• When you choose to have children, you choose to have autistic children.
• When you choose to go to war, you choose to kill innocent civilians.
• When you choose to build, you choose for your structures to fail.
• When you choose to deploy a fleet of vehicles, you choose to have vehicle crashes.
• When you choose to release a medication, you choose for some people to have bad reactions to it.
• When you choose to arm and deploy a police department, you choose to have them kill innocent civilians.
• When you choose to hire and deploy a staff throughout the world, you choose to have them misbehave.

In each case, the bad outcome may not be your objective. But you’d have to be an idiot not to realize that, as the sample size grows larger, you’re going to get outcomes ever further out on the tails of the distribution. The only way to eliminate the risk of error is to take no action. In other words, when you choose to act, you choose to risk error.

So it is inevitable that some Oxfam employees will hire prostitutes. And some will take illegal drugs. And some will commit murder. Etc. That’s going to happen in any organization with a huge staff, spread all over the world. The only way to eliminate these outcomes is to eliminate Oxfam.

Thus, our focus shifts from the simple-minded moral argument (“Is prostitution bad?”) to the real, economic-minded policy arguments: Would we rather have 1) a world with poverty relief agencies, even acknowledging that some people working in those agencies will do bad things, or 2) a world without poverty relief agencies? Because those are the REAL choices we face. The choice to have a perfect, error-free organization is not available in this lifetime.

People who bitch about individuals and organizations not being perfect—without any acknowledgement of context—appear to favor eliminating imperfect individuals and organizations. And that means eliminating all of them, because they’re all imperfect.

I, and Theodore Roosevelt, have a different perspective. Let us strive to improve. But let us strive, even if imperfectly. Because that is the only form of striving.

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nobody.really
on February 23, 2018 at 14:38:37 pm

I have only myself to blame. My comment was poorly written, unclear and obviously driven by emotion more than logic.

I did not intend to imply that an "economic perspective is antithetical to a moral perspective". The point I wanted to make was instead that it provides too limited a perspective. Of course morality enters into economic decisions. We have the history of the Industrial Revolution in England - those "satanic mills" - to instruct us on the subject.

Your words reflect your certainty about your opinions. But I think that you have unfairly maligned Theodore Dalrymple, perhaps projecting upon him things that you personally abhor. I cannot find anything in his writing that supports your conclusion - "Dalrymple has thrown in his lot with the "Politically Correct Social Justice Warriors - and with the Islamic firemen who watch women burn to death. Their chief goal is to keep their own hands clean." I view those words as gravely unjust.

You seem certain that those who hold views you have entitled "middle-class morality" would deny a desperate mother a chance to save her starving children; that they would self-righteously condemn her. I reject the idea that true moral philosophy belongs to any economic class. Those words may have been hastily written but they constitute an egregious insult to people of any economic level who seek the true good. Your approach seemed to me quite detached from the human reality; the cost that a person, a mother, making such a decision, to engage in prostitution, would pay, even "in the world in which [she] lives".

I also wanted to say but, again, was unclear, that exposure of wrongdoing, such as that of Dr. Dalrymple can "work together for the good" of all. It can put a stop to wrongdoing; it can provide a way forward for repentance and change; it can reassure the disillusioned. You find him only self-righteous.

You have quoted one of my much-loved passages from Theodore Roosevelt. He describes the person "who errs, who comes short again and again". This encourages me .

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Latecomer
on February 23, 2018 at 14:44:28 pm

I did foolishly attempt a reply to "nobody". Maybe I should change my "pen name" to "Slow Learner".

I will try to abandon the field to make room for your much more substantive and much funnier replies.

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Latecomer
on February 23, 2018 at 15:38:50 pm

On middle class morality:

DOOLITTLE. ….I'm one of the undeserving poor: that’s what I am. Think of what that means to a man. It means that he’s up agen’ middle class morality all the time. If there’s anything going, and I put in for a bit of it, it's always the same story: "You’re undeserving; so you can’t have it." But my needs is as great as the most deserving widow's that ever got money out of six different charities in one week for the death of the same husband. I don’t need less than a deserving man: I need more. I don’t eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more. I want a bit of amusement, cause I'm a thinking man. I want cheerfulness and a song and a band when I feel low. Well, they charge me just the same for everything as they charge the deserving. What is middle class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything. Therefore, I ask you, as two gentlemen, not to play that game on me. I'm playing straight with you. I ain’t pretending to be deserving. I'm undeserving; and I mean to go on being undeserving. I like it; and that’s the truth. Will you take advantage of a man's nature…? Is five pounds unreasonable? I put it to you; and I leave it to you.

* * *

HIGGINS. I suppose we must give him a fiver.

PICKERING. He'll make a bad use of it, I'm afraid.

DOOLITTLE. Not me, Governor, so help me I won’t. Don’t you be afraid that I'll save it and spare it and live idle on it. There won’t be a penny of it left by Monday: I'll have to go to work same as if I'd never had it. It won’t pauperize me, you bet. Just one good spree for myself and the missus, giving pleasure to ourselves and employment to others, and satisfaction to you to think it's not been throwed away. You couldn’t spend it better.

HIGGINS [taking out his pocket book and coming between Doolittle and the piano] This is irresistible. Let’s give him ten. [He offers two notes to the dustman].

DOOLITTLE. No, Governor. She wouldn’t have the heart to spend ten; and perhaps I shouldn’t neither. Ten pounds is a lot of money: it makes a man feel prudent like; and then goodbye to happiness. You give me what I ask you, Governor: not a penny more, and not a penny less.

George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion (1916), Act II.

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nobody.really
on February 23, 2018 at 16:00:18 pm

nobody:

Much sense in what you say.
However, i suspect that you, too, may be susceptible to the tendency to judge based upon an "absolute" standard, or at least, *attribute* to others that same defect in reason. It would appear that you believe that both I and Latecomer are criticizing OXFAM (and others) for their inability to achieve both moral and organizational perfection.

This is not so!

And it is peculiar to view all, or almost all, economic choices such as buying merchandise or constructing a home, with a view toward defect / error as "inevitable" outcomes. This also is not so; nor, as you argue, is it the express or implied intention of the purchaser or builder, OXFAM included. Yes, some measure of recognition of potential defect or error is duly appropriate; indeed, as I suggest, it is REQUIRED in order to then take corrective action to eliminate or mitigate the effects of future error.

Yet, to deploy such "recognitions" as extenuation for the error / failure to correct, rather than providing incentive for improvement, provides only cover for inexcusable behavior.

In the links I provided, you may find a sampling of evidence that would indicate that the problems with Development Aid organizations highlighted therein, and OXFAM can be characterized as such, appear to be endemic to such organizations. Again, however, you seem to assert that "Heck, if all of them do it, then let's excuse them." Where would this leave us? It would leave us in a world with: "... a world with poverty relief agencies, even acknowledging that some people working in those agencies will do bad things,..." as there would be no incentive, either governmentally or societally, to navigate the inherent difficulties and innate tendencies of human beings and to attempt to correct such errant behavior.

My own experience in turning around failing operations has convinced me that recognition of defect and acknowledgement of the causes is paramount and far more efficacious than positing seemingly reasonable excuses.

Do I expect organizations to be models of Christian rectitude? Probably not - but I would like it!
Do I attribute blame to organizations whose employees may fail to live up to certain standards. Yes and No!
Presumptively - NO!!! as it is impossible to properly vet all employees and subcontractors.
Factually / conditionally - YES!!! - if the organization is aware of the errant behavior.

You are fond of citing the behavior of the Catholic Church and sexual abuse.
Taking this as an example.
1) I do not blame the Church for the individual actions of a number of homosexual priests. How did they know.
2) I do blame the Church for not taking immediate and sufficient action to correct this behavior.

3) Does that mean, as you would appear to imply that I must reject the works of the Church because, well because...it ain't perfect!!! So, too with OXFAM and other NGO's.

Hardly - and I think you know better and do not believe this particular bit of your own rhetoric.

anyway, as always enjoy the chat; even some of what I take to be the "satire" in some of your statements.

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gabe
on February 23, 2018 at 16:13:47 pm

This is your reply to my concerns about your citation of "middle class morality" as it applies to questions of dire poverty, starvation, prostitution?

Doolittle is wonderfully funny. We need good cheer and laughter. Your point must be that the phrase has been used to good effect. You lighten the discussion.

It seems unnecessarily dour and prim for me to mention that you used the term to apply to situations that are horrible; not at all funny. Also to insult the motives of persons who insist on seeing the human cost of theorizing at a distance from terrible circumstances.

And yet, laughter is life-affirming. It clears the air and inspires courage to "press on" with some measure of grace.

Best wishes.

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Latecomer
on February 23, 2018 at 16:21:58 pm

Nobody:

Yer bloody 'ilarious, mate!

The Dustman is my hero - a man of introspection and self-knowledge.
Kind of like the panhandler who asks for some change BECAUSE he wants to buy a 24 oz Colt 45 Malt Liquor. Heck, I buy him two - whether he wants it or not!

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gabe
on February 23, 2018 at 16:43:43 pm

You seem certain that those who hold views you have entitled “middle-class morality” would deny a desperate mother a chance to save her starving children; that they would self-righteously condemn her. I reject the idea that true moral philosophy belongs to any economic class. Those words may have been hastily written but they constitute an egregious insult to people of any economic level who seek the true good. Your approach seemed to me quite detached from the human reality; the cost that a person, a mother, making such a decision, to engage in prostitution, would pay, even “in the world in which [she] lives”.

Fine, let’s talk prostitution.

Let’s assume that prostitution is really, really bad for prostitutes. Thus, where we find prostitution, we might want some kind of social intervention. But WHAT kind? Specifically, should we try to ban prostitution?

To start, here's a libertarian analysis: Even if we assume that prostitution is really, really bad, if we also observe that people are willing to act as prostitutes, then that tells us that the prostitutes seem to think that life WITHOUT prostitution is worse. Thus, the thing that we should be condemning is not prostitution, but the fact that people have such hideous lives that they’d rather engage in prostitution than remain in their current circumstances. If we care about these prostitutes, the LAST thing we’d want to do is deprive them of one of the few ways they’ve found to improve their lot. Instead, we should provide them with sufficient aid that they would choose of their own volition to stop engaging in prostitution.

In short, prostitution is not the problem; it’s a signal of the problem. Stamping out the signal doesn’t solve the problem for the prostitutes. It merely solves the problem for people of “middle-class morality” who would rather people starve than engage in prostitution.

Now, what are the weaknesses of the libertarian analysis? I see four.

1. A libertarian analysis assumes that people who engage in prostitution are in a position to judge for themselves the long-term consequences of their own actions. Maybe that’s true; maybe it isn’t. But it’s a consideration.

2. A libertarian analysis assumes that the dynamics governing people’s lives are unrelated to whether prostitution is an option. As a practical matter, this is often not accurate.

If I’m a person with a modicum of power, what do I care that some people are desperate? Mostly, I’d rather that they weren’t. I feel compassion for them. Plus, desperate people have a greater incentive to mug me.

But what would cause me to overcome this incentive toward making life better for strangers? I might prefer to keep people desperate if I wanted to get something from them. Poor people typically don’t have much money, but they presumably have some. They have kidneys and blood that they could donate. They can do labor. And, famously, they can have sex. If people with power (rich people, politicians, pimps) can benefit from any of this, they may lack the incentive to make things better for people who lack power; indeed, the people in power may even make things worse.

Are Oxfam employees “people in power”? Generally they don’t control much in the worlds in the developing worlds in which they operate; they aren’t tied in with the local warlords, etc. And if they don’t exercise power, then their choice to hire prostitutes isn’t that big a deal to me—even if we acknowledge that prostitution is really, really bad.

But if Oxfam employees DO wield power—for example, power over the distribution of aid—then we’re talking about a different situation. In that case, prostitution creates a conflict of interest for Oxfam employees.

3. A libertarian analysis ignores reputational harms among aid recipients. Prostitution, while common, may carry a stigma among people seeking aid. They may thus shy away from organizations that have acquired a bad reputation. This would obviously impair the organization’s ability to deliver aid.

4. A libertarian analysis ignores reputational harms among the donor class. Clearly Oxfam is paying a price right now among those with “middle-class morality” who object to prostitution—or, at least, those who feel the need to signal their objection to prostitution. And this also impairs the organization's ability to deliver aid.

Given the weaknesses of the libertarian analysis, I’d certainly encourage Oxfam to discourage employees to hire prostitutes. But I suspect my reasoning for this conclusion differs from Dalrymple’s.

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nobody.really
on February 23, 2018 at 17:53:30 pm

Sensible - from a certain perspective; then again, at least with respect to prostitution, the reputational deficit may not be confined to "middle class" moralists as even you admit.

Now here is a short link for you on pay scales / practices for non-profit CEO's and the effects of the new tax law:

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/12/20/tax-reform-smacks-down-excessive-nonprofit-executive-pay-commentary.html

Interestingly, I do NOT find myself supportive of the governments actions in this instance and would prefer that the limitations upon CEO compensation be self-imposed from within the organization and / or the donors.

What say you?

Also, have been unable to re-find the article on the special exemptions for non-profit CEO / mgrs. As I recall, it has to do with a special class / form of compensation which involves some measurable risk that the "future" returns in the compensation package may not be realized. I ain't no tax guy (more of an HR Block knucklehead) so I can not cite it from memory.

Also: I do not know this from personal experience BUT I think you may have left out one class of prostitute -high priced escort types who are often rather entrepreneurial. Perhaps, they are only for those who have risen above, morally AND financially, "middle class morality.

You know - politician and CEO types (both profit and NGO's -Ha!0

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gabe
on February 24, 2018 at 10:49:05 am

A person may be driven to self-destructive behavior by fear, hunger, fatigue, loneliness. Understanding and reassurance that all is not lost, that one can begin again, is the most helpful and healing response.

But if the help that is given is to endure beyond the moment, it must be accompanied by courageous willingness to expose oneself to risk. To argue that something is harmful to all concerned, a practice such as prostitution, even if arguments of substance are offered, is to risk severe disapproval at the least; social isolation at the worst.

But the point I hope to make is that it is most helpful, in the long run. Personal rejection is a small price to pay if one has been able to provide a glimmer of the truth. Your best friend is the one who will tell you the truth about yourself.

Also, if prostitution is "really, really bad" in the sense that it causes serious harm (loss of self-respect for one thing; exposure to a form of addiction for another) to all who are involved in any way, then it seems inconsistent at best to consider it "no big deal".

Why use phrases such as "middle-class morality"? Condescension toward a diverse group of person, all of whom are classified by a certain income level. seems absurd. The so-called class may include gifted musicians, artists, scholars, writers whose work does not produce a high level ("upper-class") income. It may include libertarians and conservatives, classical liberals, others, who do not make very much money. But you seem to mean more than an economic level. What exactly do you mean?

Just to conclude:

I think that OXFAM as an organization and in the individual persons who are associated with it, will benefit from Dr. Dalrymple's criticism. They can either justify themselves in a public forum or announce their firm resolve to change wrong practices and the ways in which they intend to accomplish that objective.

I think that your criticism of Theodore Dalrymple is undeserved.

And again, I find intellectual detachment, which I understand to mean separation of activities of the intellect from the wholeness of a human being, disturbing; even at times dangerous. In certain fields of endeavor, it is necessary and valuable (I am thinking of engineering, some areas of medicine such performing a surgical operation ...). When it is applied to persons as objects to be studied, its effects can be deadly.

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Latecomer
on February 24, 2018 at 11:16:26 am

I find intellectual detachment, which I understand to mean separation of activities of the intellect from the wholeness of a human being, disturbing....

Uh ... ok. What would you say about a person who exhibits such detachment to the idea of human starvation that he would dismiss and denigrate people's strategies for avoiding that fate?

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nobody.really
on February 24, 2018 at 12:07:22 pm

Either my words are so poorly written as to be incomprehensible or you do not understand the point I am trying to make.

Or you like to ask facetious questions - just for fun.

Either way, enough.

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Latecomer
on February 24, 2018 at 17:08:19 pm

Nawhhh! Nobody is simply a satirist (either knowingly or unknowingly) and a *wordsmith* whose apparent intention is to confuse, obfuscate and . or conflate disparate phenomena under the guise of an overarching and (generally) mellifluously expressed rationalism.

His alleged *fairness*, his *openness* to almost any and all behaviors, no matter how aberrant, betrays a need for a guiding and consistent grounding in moral philosophy.

And yet, his words are worth reading. He is both literate and learned; however much those traits are necessary, they are insufficient for the pursuit of proper policy prescriptions.

And he IS funny, bless his heart

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Guttenburgs Press and Brewery
on February 24, 2018 at 18:26:15 pm

Thank you.

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Latecomer
on February 24, 2018 at 18:57:00 pm

To Guttenburgs Press and Brewery:

With you as his virtual friend, one who provides learned perspective on many, many questions, and a wonderful sense of humor, nobody may eventually find what he is searching for, that is, "a guiding and consistent grounding in moral philosophy".

I hope that does happen.

I will try to persuade myself to give up the fight. It is now a Lenten resolution . I will be working on development of a "steadfast and resolute spirit".

Best wishes.

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Latecomer
on February 25, 2018 at 08:18:36 am

No offense intended--and none taken.

That said, my question is in earnest. I intend it to bring into relief the economic perspective.

Some people (such as the Islamic firemen) hold absolute values. Some (such as economists) hold relative values. Relativism gets a bad rap--until we juxtapose it with the results of absolutism.

Let me acknowledge that I'm no expert regarding prostitution. Or starvation. But I do observe that at least some people seem to choose one over the other. Now, I can tell you that I decry their circumstances. I can tell you that I decry their choices. Or I can tell you that I delight in one or the other. But, as far as I can tell, my opinions don't matter. And, respectfully, neither do the opinions of anyone else who isn't in position to alter the circumstances and choices of those involved.

Because THOSE are what matters to the outcome here--the opinions, circumstances, constraints, and choices of those involved. And to better focus on that fact, I prefer to refrain from spouting a lot of irrelevant personal opinions. Frankly, I don't want to sound self-aggrandizing, making myself the focus of the discussion, as if MY opinions were somehow relevant to the plights of the people involved.

That said: If you happen to be one of the people who has a lot of control over the circumstances and constraints faced by Oxfam and the people it serves, I hope my analysis can serve you well. And I'll summarize it here:

Generally, removing people's choices is not a formula for improving their circumstances. But when we're powerful, we may be tempted to simply remove the choice that we disfavor from people's list of alternatives. That may make US feel better, but not them. Rather, if we don't like people's choices, we should strive to give them better options so that they no longer choose the option we disfavor.

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nobody.really
on February 25, 2018 at 10:34:47 am

Ingratitude for kindness is never the best option (that is one of my absolutes) and, therefore, in spite of a decision I made only yesterday, I thank you for the time and effort you expended in responding to me.

But, as far as this web site is concerned: I have imposed upon myself a rule; it is, to absent myself from discussions between you and Gabe. He understands your thinking; he has an extensive background in history and in legal studies. In his comments he displays his humane understanding of human nature.

I speak from within an ancient perspective; one "so yesterday" as many now believe. But I believe that Truth does exists; that our ability to search for it (with others) and, if possible, to find it is our most solemn and sacred responsibility. Never of course to attempt to impose it (that temptation to power over others that is a tragic and ever-present human temptation). I can only announce it, so to speak. Explain if, if asked. And, "pray without ceasing" for the best well-being of others, while offering whatever material hope it is my privilege to give.

I have structured my "rule" in the context of the ancient virtues and modern "values" as well; also as in observance of the season of Lent. At this time people of faith seek inner purification through willed austerity of one kind or another. One hopes to strengthen the inner self. I, to offer one example, hope to become more steadfast. If I succeed that will demonstrate that improvement and development of character is always possible; it is never "too late".

Best wishes.

So, again, I will depart from these most interesting and education debates

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Latecomer
on February 25, 2018 at 12:55:42 pm

To nobody at 2/25 8:18:

Another interesting and well argued / constructed commentary.

Let me begin by saying that you and I agree on a good number of positions / perceptions.
I, too, do not place any great weight on my own opinions and as they are offered free of charge, they are worth the price of admission to this "e-auditorium". Nor do I believe that as a general proposition it is beneficial to remove peoples choices (within limits, murder, etc)

Like you I recognize the problems inherent in BOTH absolutism and relativism.
Unlike you, I do not believe that relativism "gets a bad rap" as you suggest.

That is because:
a) One, including yourself presumably, does not live their own lives, or navigate through the myriad avenues of human intercourse, with a "relativistic" epistemological stance. Examination of ones own behavior / preferences may very likely reveal an underlying ethos, personal - yes-, but nevertheless an ethos, a posture that one adapts and deploys when encountering others. It is inescapable unless, of course, one wishes to reside within the everchanging perspective of Carroll's "Looking Glass." Absent a moderate dosage of mescaline, one usually avoids such a confusing environment and consequently both the looking glass and the relativist lens may conceivably lead to an excess of inaction. One is constrained by the *knowledge* that their own opinion / belief / preference is simply but one amongst thousands / millions and should bear no greater weight than any of the countless others.
You argue that, as an example, OXFAM ought to change, if only other / BETTER options were made known to them. WHY? Upon what grounds are we to determine that option B is BETTER? What is the standard? Surely, within your own life you (and I) have made such determinations; hopefully, our determinations are shared by many - but perhaps not. And this is fine as we are here only speaking of "personal options" Yet, when we proceed from the personal to the "communal", to the culture, the society, do we not recognize that for the sake of comity, there must be some mutually agreed upon / recognized *fundamental* understandings, some rules of conduct, without which, we soon devolve into the more *natural* state* posited by Hobbes. Clearly, you are not an advocate of Hobbes - nor am I. You are correct to advocate against Hobbesian absolutism, whether that absolutism be that of the Monarch or a Bishop.
Yet:

b) there IS another option that lays somewhere between the two poles. Some call this moderation, at least when examining the political sphere. I prefer to call it observation, as in the OODA loop (*Observe*, Orient, Decide, Act.)
Let us assume that one does have grounding in a specific ethos (religious, political, positivist law, etc). One will be tempted to view the actions of others through that lens; clearly, this occurs and many may struggle to overcome this perceptual bias. BUT it can be, and often is overcome via *observation*. That great American philosopher, Lawrence "Yogi" Berra commented that "You can observe a lot just by watching" Observe is, in this instance, a rather active verb. It means: moderating one's initial response in light of the actual observed behavior / conditions, etc. This may involve the, at times, unpleasant task, of countering one's own preconceptions in recognition of the peculiar nature of situation at hand, i.e., the prostitute in your example. She ought not to be condemned. This is the orientation part of the loop. (Summing up) Then decide on a) the specific instance, b) long term effect upon one's belief systems (should it change; or is this an exception?) and finally, Act. How shall we treat this poor destitute soul seeking only to provide sustenance for her young? How do we treat future instances of prostitution.

One may be able to maintain an adherence to ones ethical systems and beliefs, as well as a general social standard, even when moderating those very standards in light of specific circumstances. One need not be absolutist nor completely relativist - but one may be true to his / her own core beliefs and still display mercy, compassion and understanding.

In short, my friend, it is the difference between *consistency* and *constancy*, with consistency being herein read to mean "inflexible" and constancy meaning " true to one's core and true to the conclusions derived from actually *observing* the "collisions' of human intercourse and the frailty of such beings.

I suspect that you are not too different in this regard. It may be helpful, purely as an editorial suggestion, of course, to make it plain that you recognize that while circumstances may dictate one outcome that there is, in practice, and "ought to be", some clear standards of behavior for all members of a particular community. Then again, we are skirting around another great deficiency: The inability of the Lawmaker(s) to so craft a law that it is applicable in EVERY situation and condition. The "quality of mercy" may not be strained but it is pretty clear that some perceive the Law to be such a frail reed that it may not be bent. I disagree as I believe that the bending, the reed may become stronger as is our attachment to that slender reed.

take care

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gabe
on February 25, 2018 at 13:07:40 pm

Latecomer:

DON'T you dare censor yourself. Maintain both your faith and your willingness to express those deeply held beliefs AND aspirations. There is much in your posts that is of value to all at this site and oftentimes, unknown to us, we spur others to think more seriously and re-consider our own positions.

Anyway, stay steadfast!

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Guttenburgs Press and Brewery
on February 25, 2018 at 15:14:55 pm

My rule will have to yield, just one more time, to the demands of gratitude. Thank you for your kind encouragement.

I have assembled a collection of six books by Robert Sokolowski, two by Dr. Spaemann, and more than I can count at this moment by Pope Benedict; several other authors as well. My "steadfast resolve" is to master at least some of the teachings, especially those dealing with the question of making distinctions.

If I should be certain, on the day of February 24, 2019, that I have improved in my ability to "sort out" the issues present in a discussion, as they are actually presented, and also in my ability to respond with clarity, I may then and only then try again.

Your last reply to "nobody" convinces me of the rightness of my decision. The subject matter could not, to my thinking, be more important.

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Latecomer

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