Thursday, January 11, 2007

Human Economic Need

Human economic need (by which I mean the lack of the ability to successfully feed, house, and clothe oneself and those one loves and is responsible for and to advance their wealth) can be categorized into three types. These categories are acute need, personal need, and systemic need.

Acute Need:

This is human need that is born out of some type of catastrophe. A flood has wiped away a person or family’s or community’s home(s) and their means of producing food. Under normal circumstances they get along just fine but something has happened that in the short term puts them at a distinct disadvantage. People in this situation need help. They need to have others come to their aid on a temporary basis to provide them with food, water, shelter and clothing until they can get back on their feet.

Personal Need:

Not put too delicately, this is need that arises because of a gap in individual competency. An individual may be blind or have a mental handicap which inhibits their ability to generate economic value and provide for their needs. As an example, in America many homeless have mental illness which is the main reason for their poverty. This need is best addressed by family support and special accommodations and programs supported by their society.

Systemic need:

This need occurs when the way in which a society organizes itself does not promote but rather discourages economic prosperity. Examples of this may be a land ruled by an extreme communist regime or a corrupt dictator or government that siphons off resources for the elite. People can not provide for their own needs or improve their lot because their societal system prevents them from doing so. There is nothing wrong with the individuals that prevent their success. There is no calamity that has wrecked their system of commerce. They are just stuck in a system that makes it difficult if not impossible to escape poverty.


Jon said...

This is a good framework in which to put a huge portion of human experience, and in which to compare different regions in the world.

One of the key differences between a developed country and an undeveloped country is its ability to endure and recover from acute crises.

In our country, we have such developed systems that individuals are nearly completely sheltered from most acute crises. We never find ourselves without the basic needs--food, shelter, security.

In a developing country, a crop can look good one week, and things look bright. The next week the rains may fail, and suddenly there is a crisis looming that will cost lives.

The problem? Lack of a developed food system, resulting in no shelf-stable food reserves to draw from when the crops fail.

We could have a cataclysmic crop failure in this country and we could ride it out until the following harvest. Food prices would go up, but out of 300 million people, no one would starve to death.

It seems that addressing the systemic issues yields the greatest dividends, both in creating individual opportunity and in improving the capacity to endure and recover from acute crises.

John said...

Excellent point Jon on how two different types of needs compound each other and on the value of focusing our attention on fixing the systemic needs of underdeveloped countries.