Entitlements – Fish vs Llamas

”If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man how to fish, you feed him for life.”

I first came across this simple principle in college at a finance career fair event. There was a representative from Citi Bank talking how they were trying to address poverty in Africa through an unconventional method. Instead of directly donating food/aid/clothing, they would donate llamas to impoverished families. They would educate the families on how to get milk and wool from the llamas (instead of eating the llamas), and over time the llamas became an integral and sustainable part of the families livelihood.

This principle can be directly applied to ways I see how we can address poverty here in the US. I would argue that our government should be focused on investing in entitlements that are sustainable and build skills (llamas) and less on expanding recurring one time benefits like social security (fish).

I have listed out some practical examples that our government could do:

1) Offer free education for in demand fields as determined by the department of labor (More educated workforce)

2) Make personal finance classes a mandatory part of high school curriculum (Higher financial literacy)

3) Offer free contraception (Less abortions and unplanned pregnancies)

4) Open free gyms (Lower healthcare cost)

These are just a few examples of entitlements that would have a return on investment. The benefits from these programs would last a lifetime, regardless of who’s in power in Washington DC.

Ultimately, we should start thinking about entitlements in terms of llamas and not fish.  The more we can use entitlements to empower people (and avoid a dependency culture), the better chance we have of raising people’s standard of living.

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