31 January 2015

Humans of New York: Reality has a known left-wing bias


Heard of Human's of New York?  It's a great website, I check it nearly daily for spoonfuls of information about total strangers on the opposite side of the planet.  Each post is just a street portrait and a single quote from that person.

I like to think it reminds me of infinite human diversity, how everyone has their struggles no matter their age, gender, race, child-having status, professions, housing status etc. It helps with perspective. And I need frequent reminding. And often times that's easier than connecting with one's real flesh-and-blood friends.

Brandon Stanton, the photographer, has about 8 million followers on social media. This month (January, 2015) he launched a fund-raiser for a school in Brownsville, Brooklyn. He calls it "under-served" - I think that means high crime, low income.

The fundraiser started when Stanton visited the school after meeting a kid who spoke about his principal who "made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”  Mrs Lopez, it turns out, is on a mission to help her school kids care about their future and keep them out of jail.

She conceived the fund raiser together with the photographer (who is familiar with the power of the crowd and has done this a few times before). They aimed for a fund to send classes on a field trip to Harvard, for three years, because students often can't afford to ever leave their own area. And to show them alternative futures and that they can belong anywhere.

They shot for $100,000 and a couple of days ago passed a million bucksThey've got enough for 10 years of trips plus some student scholarships.

Bloody genius.

Simple - if you show people an obvious situation of disparity in resources and a simple, easy way to redress it, it's obvious. They go for it. This one is such an obvious way to also re-balance opportunity. It's clear they are trapped by the genetic accident of where they are born and are fundamentally unequal to kids born in other areas, with different expectations, wealth and support networks.

Over 35,000 people gave around $20-$50 to this school, and now 10 years worth of classes get to go see the most prestigious Uni in USA. Inferring, that if your $20 can send a kid to look at a different possible future then there's a chance they can get it, too. That's a very cheap way to address equality of opportunity.  Of millions, a solid proportion will say, yes, I'll chip in.  That's what this post title is about - I still reckon many other humans just fundamentally get fairness. It's pre-programmed and doesn't even need explanation. Reality has a left-wing bias. (Quote: Stephen Colbert)

Internet is beautiful when it does this - provides the network infrastructure for small payments, combined with immediacy and storytelling. Stanton's achievement in creating his own personal nation of followers, taps into the power of many. Same as unionism, public health and public schools.

Why then, can't we ever seem to understand the basics of tax?

Looks like there's over 68,000 elementary schools in USA. Brandon can't visit them all in several lifetimes. All provide a service to kids who haven't got much money behind them. All could do with extra-curricular activities, and even just good teachers, up to date facilities and support/ mentoring/ counseling for outside the curriculum.

Who picks the ones that are most deserving? Why should that be something that pops up at random due to the skills and connections of one talented individual? Who maps where the lowest income areas in the country are? 

Tax. Bureacracy. Process. They are not dirty words. Australian commentator and former public servant Greg Jericho wrote a great piece this week titled:

Here's the crux:
Australia’s income tax system is a progressive one. We pay higher rates of taxation the more we earn. There are five tax brackets:
$0 - $18,200 – 0%
$18,201 - $37,000 – 19%
$37,001 - $80,000 – 32.5%
$80,001 - $180,000 – 37%
$180,001 + – 45%
A distribution system so that those with all the opportunities can share some of their rewards for the genetic lottery of where they were born, with those with fewer opportunities thanks to where they were born.

So, yeah. Tax. It's like a million heart warming  internet fundraisers. Every day of the year.

And congratulations Brownville, you guys are fab.  Image c) Stanton/HONY: 



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