Ask Dayo Olopade Anything: Who’s Better For The Environment?

In our final video from the whip-smart Olopade, author of The Bright Continentshe outlines why Africans are often greater conservationists than their Western counterparts:

Meanwhile, a reader sounds off:

I’ve been liking what Dayo Olopade has said so far, but this latest bit on fat and lean economies is extremely problematic in my view.

Everyone likes to make fun of everyone rushing out to buy a slightly better iPhone, but if you look at where people spend their money, it’s mostly on healthcare, housing, and education. This is true almost the world over, whether the economy is “fat” or “lean”. I’m sure she wouldn’t have problems with anything like this, but if you’re going to make an entire classification for economies then you need to complain about more than the iPhone.

There’s actually some good economic literature looking at this on the other side, with a seminal paper titled “Economic Lives of the Poor“, which talks about the types on consumption decisions made by the very poorest people, those living on less than 2$ or 1$ a day (they talk about both groups, and not just in Africa). The thing is, these poor groups also tend to spend their money in ways that we would call inefficient, like 10% of their income on alcohol and tobacco and 10%on weddings and funerals (varying by country of course). So these people who are quite possibly starving are spending 20% of their income on things that aren’t necessary. And they often buy sweet food instead of something that provides calories more cheaply (7% of their income on sugar!).

But see how uncomfortable this position is? Who the heck am I to say that this spending is making their life worse? If you or I were in their position, wouldn’t we like a little bit of chocolate every now and then, just to make the day tolerable? Wouldn’t you get drunk when you could, just to forget the awfulness of things?

Look, I’m not trying to equivocate the a new iPhone with starving, but saying you know what other people should buy better than they do is a very slippery slope, and one that I will never be comfortable with, no matter their good intentions.

For all of Dayo’s Ask Anything videos, go here.

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