Kristof promotes the missionary position

Via @Siddhartha Mitter: “… The Great White Savior really outdid himself with this one. A blame-the-poor classic with particularly overt Calvinist moral messaging, even less appreciation than usual for colonial legacy, public finance and global economics, and that condescending Kristof brand of Savior Feminism Lite that verges on misandry.”

What Siddhartha is talking about; Nicholas Kristof’s latest column. Here’s the intro:

There’s an ugly secret of global poverty, one rarely acknowledged by aid groups or U.N. reports. It’s a blunt truth that is politically incorrect, heartbreaking, frustrating and ubiquitous:   It’s that if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed. Much suffering is caused not only by low incomes, but also by shortsighted private spending decisions by heads of households.

Kristof then finds a Congolese child–it plays well with American readers to focus on children, he has argued somewhere else–whose parents cannot afford to pay his school fees but have cheap cellphones and occasionally have a drink.

And then he brings up Bill Easterly’s favorite economist Esther Duflo to endorse his 19th century views in which Westerners, and particularly white Westerners, decide whats good for poor, third world, mostly black, particularly black people, and then he babbles on about microlending.  I am tired. — Sean Jacobs

Comments

comments

Sean Jacobs

Also goes by Hasan Wazan. Life President.

18 Comments
  1. I commend you on actually being able to make it past the second paragraph. I was so sickened I had to click the little x.

  2. Seriously! Does this man live under a rock? Did they have to use the image of a forlon child looking up at a camera. Arg!!

    He makes a point on microsaving. Other than that he should get off his high horse.

  3. One always assumes that his column can’t get any WORSE and one is constantly shocked, surprised, and nearly perversely impressed by the idiotic statements he can continue making while still having such a wide readership.

    Whiskey tango foxtrot.

  4. I don’t agree with this column, but he makes inter testing arguments. Instead of just insulting him, I’d like to see a refutation of his arguments. The fact is much of the poverty debate today is simply a bland restatement of politically correct ideas. When those ideas are challenged the person is labelled a bigot. Why not try to refute these arguments instead?

  5. “‘You see! You see! That is why Black-people children doomed to suffer: their own parents refuse to pass on the knowledge that they know to them.’
    And some of them only stopped badmouthing the old man when just over a year later he appeared to his eldest daughter Titi in a dream to let her know that the reason he left so abruptly … Was because his first wife who he had been dragged away from in Abeokuta, when they had captured him and brought him enslaved to this island … wanted to see him before she died.
    He really wasn’t happy hearing his children cursing him … His wisdom was theirs to have; but they had eaten salt and made themselves too heavy to fly.” -Earl Lovelace, Salt

    A rebuttal is unwarranted. Kristof is attempting to maintain imperial attitudes towards the poor, the black, and particularly the poor black man.

  6. This story smells like a repeat of the Janet Cooke fiasco. The people mentioned in Kristof’s column are too many cliches to be real. I would take this man’s writings with a grain of salt if I were you. I agree with the above commenter , a rebuttal isn’t necessary. Kristof clearly used every hateful stereotype he could think of and dreamed up this story. Just like Janet Cooke did with “Jimmy’s world”.

  7. Is no one able to rebut? I really want to read an explanation of why he is wrong, and why going to school is not good for black Africans …

  8. A really good rebuttal available here: http://wrongingrights.blogspot.com/2010/05/pissed-off-by-kristof.html

    “Kristof seems to have done some awfully targeted reading of the article in question. While it is true that Duflo and Banerjee did find that the poor in many countries spent significant sums on alcohol and tobacco, this is in fact what they had to say about spending on education:


    […] The reason education spending is low is that children in poor households typically attend public schools or other schools that do not charge a fee. In countries where poor households spend more on education, it is typically because government schools have fees, as in Indonesia and Cote d’Ivoire. However, mounting evidence, reported below, suggests that public schools in these countries are often dysfunctional, which could explain why even very poor parents in Pakistan are pulling their children out of public schools and spending money to send them to private schools.

  9. Those of you who think Kristoff’s article is somehow anti-black, colonialist, etc would do well to read the comments, where you will find a goodly number of white Americans (I’m one) who’ve had almost identical experiences in their own lives.

  10. I actually think the column is spot on. I emailed it to lots of friends. That was universally the response.

    Sometimes you just need to speak uncomfortable facts. He does that. They make many people uncomfortable, and those people squawk about “Great White Saviors” and so forth. But, funny thing about facts: They tend to speak for themselves.

  11. But it’s not a stereotype _ it’s true. Come on, “occasionally have a drink?” Alcoholism is one of the great unspoken problems of rural sub-Saharan Africa.

    I don’t see why everyone is so pissed off that a columnist said how depressing it is that parents in Congo who could easily afford their children’s very cheap school fees spend the money on booze.

  12. Hah, “Savior Feminism Lite that verges on misandry” love it. My sentiments exactly. Though I was surprised to see so little blogging response to the previous article he did on “poverty and the pill” I’d hoped mine would be one of many.

  13. Annoying but worthy of a cool rebuttal. I am no economist but –
    1. The idea of the undeserving and feckless poor is as old as the trees, and as widespread. It is not, as Kristoff’s suggests, a new or unfashionable truth.
    2. Correlation is not causation. Drinking and gambling may be associated with poverty but may not be a cause of poverty in Mont Belo. Where households in Mont Belo with no mobile or drinking wealthier/healthier?
    3. Spending 2-6% on education. Perhaps education is cheap or free? Perhaps other needs – food, health care, travel to work – take more than 95% of poor incomes.

    Finally, I can’t help thinking of the Congolese ‘Sapeurs’ – those Paul Smith suits must require some existential sacrifice. Poverty is a drag and those submerged in it need to enjoy and affirm life too….

  14. “Correlation is not causation.”

    But it’s a good reason to look further, and see if indeed there IS causation, is it not? And if I see, here in upper middle class, mostly white America, that my neighbors who spend/overspend their incomes on cell phones, fancy cars, and various other toys have little savings but lots of debt, while I (who don’t even own a cell phone and drive a 10-year old car) have lots of money in the bank, might I not suspect that there’s a general principle at work which transcends race & culture?

    “Poverty is a drag and those submerged in it need to enjoy and affirm life too….”

    Sure, but does that enjoyment have to involve spending your scarce money on booze, cigarettes, and cell phones?

    When I was poor, I found ways to get my enjoyment & affirmation from things that didn’t cost money, like taking a hike in the mountains. Now that I’m (sort of) prosperous, I find just as much affirmation in that hike.

  15. I agree NK went too far on some things, but why is Nick the only commenter to mention the fact that alcoholism is a serious problem in many poor communities, and that yes, spending money on alcohol that could be spent on medicine or school is not helping anyone??

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