Technical solutions rarely solve social problems

October 13, 2015 by Joshua
in Awareness, Models, Nature

“If we can put a man on the moon, we should be able to solve homelessness.”

“New York City has sparkling glass-and-steel skyscrapers with multi-million-dollar luxury condos, yet ten yards from their entrances are homeless people who go to sleep hungry.”

These observations are almost cliché. You could say them about any city or country.

They show deep misunderstandings about the problems they describe, which keep us from solving them.

The ability to feed the hungry, clothe the unclothed, shelter the homeless, and so on have never been the problem. We have the food, building materials, and so on. The issue has never been if we can build enough buildings to house people. We can. Same with food. So far, the world has always had enough for everyone.

The issue has always been how to distribute what we have—how to get the resources to people who need them. Once again: the issue isn’t if we have the resources, the issue is how to distribute them. Our dominant economic system—regulated markets—work for some things well enough that people who can affect them want to keep them as they are. But we haven’t gotten them to work at keeping homeless from dying in the streets or shivering to death in the winter.

I don’t know the solution to how to distribute the resources, but I recognize the problem is distribution—a social problem—and not ability—a technical issue.

Incidentally, if we increase the population enough, we will face natural problems of total amounts of food. We may already be drawing reserves unsustainably, but that’s another issue.

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