Training Wheels

Any convenience becomes a necessity. This idea appears in the Unabomber’s Manifesto. Actually, it generalizes thus: anything that is always present, becomes a necessity.

Some examples from biology may clarify this view.

Oxygen was, originally, a poison, and mitochondria are derived from specialized bacteria-like organisms that could use oxygen to create safer forms of chemical energy.

Milkweed sap is toxic to insects. However, monarch butterfly larvae developed an immunity and carry the toxin as adults. Thus birds learn that monarchs taste bad and leave them alone.

The viceroy, and other Batesian mimics of monarchs, benefit from looking similar to an insect that can eat a plant they cannot. They have evolved to copy enough of the monarch’s pattern to benefit from it. Clearly the mimics have no idea of how this selection is acting on them, generation after generation.

So, anything that is always present, becomes a necessity. On to point two.

Don’t do bailouts if you’re not prepared to keep doing them. Like a blackmail victim, by being always present, you become a necessity.

In particular, don’t bail out your adult children. To do so begins serving, and it’s a life sentence.

Training wheels create dependencies that can be overcome. Provided there is social force and motivation to do so.

NGO (Non-Government Organizations) can become training wheels.

There is an anecdote in one of Fred Reinfeld’s wonderful chess books. Apparently a neophyte is astride a spirited horse. In its antics, the animal somehow got one of its own hooves stuck in the stirrup. Said the tyro on looking down: ‘If you’re getting on, then I’m getting off!’ Reinfeld’s point was, in a chess game, amateurs give up space because their opponent decides to occupy and control them – perhaps an open file, or a key square in the centre.

Similarly, timid governments give up being active in areas where others are possibly able to out-do them, even if only temporarily.

Time to tie this all together, eh?

In countries like Haiti, NGOs are like training wheels. They are always there. They create dependencies. The government looks down and says, if you’re getting on, I’m getting off.

NGOs in Haiti have been spectacularly unsuccessful. It’s been four long years of limited progress. Here you can find one example of what it’s like there. Let me give you a few facts from this imho self-serving web page:

  • cholera incidence has dropped 50% (not to zero? Why not?)
  • 817,000 Haitians still need humanitarian assistance

Clearly the Haitians have no idea how the politicians and NGOs are selecting their living conditions for them.

Real governments should take off the training wheels. Responsible governments should be aware of the poisoned apple and not accept ineffective aid over and over again. Organizations that really want to help should, as part of their charter, stateĀ  their goals to include these:

  • to generate self-sufficiency in the aided country
  • to make themselves, eventually, unneeded, in the aided country

Instead, it’s a culture of training wheels, and of delegated responsibility.


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