What is it like to live on $1 a day?

Two college students attempt to find out. As a result, Living On One, the film and the organization, are born. Just a short intro clip below, but I encourage you to check out more. Economists have been making important strides in addressing poverty (from Muhammad Yunus and microfinance to Esther Duflo and Ahbijit Banerjee), but solutions remain far from optimal.

At times, one wonders why we waste time debating whether the 0.1% of Americans should be paying 20% or 30% in taxes.





  1. RSMattson · · Reply

    The comparison in this documentary is meaningless. These are three to four tall white men from the United States who for at least twenty years have had access to proper nutrition and good healthcare. They would need to have been born by a malnourished and impoverished mother, who by the way would have lived on $1/day, then hopefully survived past the age of five on not just improper caloric intake (as mentioned in the video) but lack of proper vitamin provision. They would have had to have been denied a minimal amount of education during their childhood and forced by their own poverty to work hours a day in heavy manual labor either in the fields or a factory. To make it a truly hard life they would have to be girls, where they would be treated as less than human and denied many of the basic rights that those of us with a Y-chromosome enjoy just by default. The comparison is meaningless and this documentary is a waste of time. Young people will watch this and feel guilty then do some charity and feel about themselves again.

    I’m not sure if this is for your class to read or just one you posted on your own, but I think this documentary should be analyzed with “opportunity cost” in mind. These young men are highly trained, highly gifted, and highly intelligent film makers. They invested time, energy, and money into making this film which will make an amount of money that I sincerely hope will go more towards charity than overhead payments (I’m assuming they are all wonderful, honest people which I have no reason to doubt). But would it not have been better to have taken that time, money, and energy, gone to Guatemala (one of them obviously can speak enough Spanish to get by) with some filming and editing equipment, taught them to use it, and then asked them to explain their lives from their perspective to the world? That removes the lens that these young men have put between the audience and the Guatemalans, and it allows the Guatemalans to ask for what they believe they need as opposed to what some white college educated dude thinks they need (which are not necessarily the same thing). As a bonus they could have left the equipment behind with some minimal training. These kinds of programs have existed in Argentina and Bolivia with government support and have produced some tangible benefits.

    Maybe those benefits are centered on a small group of people, but I would prefer my development programs help a small amount of people rather than make yet one more video catharsis people in high income countries. We who live in high income countries, we will not understand what it is like. Ever. Not even a little bit. Just because we do not understand does not mean we cannot do something to help. But there is enough out there to learn about the numbers, and anyone with a healthy imagination can at least skim the surface of what its like. We know all of this, so why not focus as much resources, talent, and money as possible on that?

  2. Wow, and very with you here. The comparison is off for the reasons you mention – the conditions they are “experiencing” are not equivalent for reasons of education, rights, and many other factors. As you said, “We who live in high income countries, we will not understand what it is like. Ever. Not even a little bit. Just because we do not understand does not mean we cannot do something to help.” Also agree with you that if the money they raise goes more to their overhead and less to the cause then the cause loses its credibility. Same with their chosen emphasis – why not put those resources to more directly helping a small group of individuals? Or ask them directly what they need?

    I interpret their intent from the perspective of raising awareness. Many people have not considered what living in this conditions is like, nor can they fully. But perhaps even a partial understanding can change some students’ attitude or perspective on the issue. I 100% agree that cutting a check to feel good about yourself is far from enough, that folks on the outside shouldn’t act as if they know what these people need, and that more directed programs would (and do) provide more tangible results. And maybe someone who becomes more aware of the situation, and does their homework, directs their resources in more productive ways – but it’s impossible to do that without awareness of the problem in the first place.

    [Want to add that I agree as well about the “lens” they have established between the audience and Guatemalans. Why not use their medium to get first-hand accounts? Not sure, tbh.]

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