Skip

Miniature earth
October 8, 2006 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Miniature earth is a flash movie of the results of the 'State of the Village' report by Donella Meadows in the 1990's.
posted by darsh (29 comments total)

 
and how many elephants are there?
posted by wumpus at 1:00 PM on October 8, 2006


I assume they'd have to be miniature elephants, anyhow.
posted by nevercalm at 1:05 PM on October 8, 2006


using a human pop. of 6.3 billion, and an elephant pop. of 660 000, there's not even 0.01 of an elephant. That is so sad. I need a steak to cheer me up.
posted by wumpus at 1:05 PM on October 8, 2006


Best post of the day.

The problem, though, is that it doesn't scale precisely as a thought experiment. If the world only had 100 people and I were one of them, I'd probably be the richest person in the world, or certainly in the top three. I could bring ten of the worst-off people in the world up to a subsistence existence alone by contributing directly to their welfare. I could rent a second apartment, buy them food, move them in, help them find jobs.

The end of the video lists several organizations to which one can contribute to help the world's poor and disenfranchised. The problem here, however, is that this assistance is not rendered directly. As much as 90% of my donation might be eaten up by administration costs (this is not an exaggeration; the United Way eats as much as 95% of donations via administration costs which include six-figure salaries for a number of high-level execs).

So the idea that by donating to one of those organizations will improve the lives of the poor in Mali is naive, I think. Find a way to help people directly and accountably. Know where your money is going and demand to see the results and the accounts.

A donation made indirectly and/or unaccountably is, like as not, going to buy some rich white guy an iPod.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:08 PM on October 8, 2006


the United Way eats as much as 95% of donations via administration costs

Whoa! Is that really true? Nothing about it on the Wikipedia page, even under the entry Criticism and Scandals.

/apologies for the derail, but this should be addressed
posted by LarryC at 1:21 PM on October 8, 2006


Double (triple, actually). Same site, just moved to a new url.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:25 PM on October 8, 2006


No, it's not really true. A cursory view of several chapters of the United Way shows that program expenses make up the huge bulk of costs, and administrative ones most often less than 10% of them. solid-one-love either mixed up his numbers or made them up.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 1:26 PM on October 8, 2006


Excellent, Monju, this jinx to the elephant posts needs removal.
posted by LarryC at 1:27 PM on October 8, 2006


solid-one-love either mixed up his numbers or made them up.

Neither. There was a Vancouver Sun article about ten years ago that broke the story. I have it in my cuttings archive somewhere, but that box is buried in the basement and it's not worth my time to pull it out, scan it and respond to your criticism.

Yes, it's really true; as I said, "as much as 95%"; your link to chapters where it isn't 95% does not refute that assertion.

In any case, double, triple or heptuple, still the best post of the day.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:35 PM on October 8, 2006


solid-one-love, I link to sources. Let's see your source and we'll call it a discussion then.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 1:38 PM on October 8, 2006


Yes, it's really true; as I said, "as much as 95%"; your link to chapters where it isn't 95% does not refute that assertion.

Sophistry ho!
posted by Mid at 1:40 PM on October 8, 2006


Yes, you linked to a source that did not refute my point; that you can show chapters where admin uses less than 95% does not refute the assertion that chapters exist where it is as much as 95%. There is this NYT article which suggests that administrative costs were 62% at one branch. The fact that I cannot link to a source that shows 95% graft also does not invalidate my assertion, because the web is not the be-all and end-all of reference.

In any case, it's a red herring; I listed a (true) example of how unaccountable charities eat donations. Whether it's the United Way, Uncle Bob's Christian Ministries, or whomever, and whether it's 62% or 95%, my point remains and is unassailable.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:43 PM on October 8, 2006


There's no sophistry there, Mid. It's Rhetoric 101. If you can't play with the grownups, feel free to step on over to Cute Overload.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:44 PM on October 8, 2006


95% is an absurd number. Unless and until you can link to a source, there are plenty of other sources out there that flatly refute your claim. For example, this NYTimes article from 2002 criticized the United Way of America for its accounting methods which hid the fact that nearly 20% of each donated dollar went to "administrative" costs, and that some donations were double-counted. 20% is bad enough; you don't have to make up numbers.

On preview:

There is this NYT article which suggests that administrative costs were 62% at one branch. '

No, the article says that 62% of each unrestricted dollar in donations went to overhead. If your donation was part of a specific program or was earmarked for specific charities, it avoid being preferentially targeted for overhead costs. The bottom line is that critics estimate that somewhere around 20% of donations nationwide go to overhead costs. Still a huge number, but nowhere near the 95% you cite.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:50 PM on October 8, 2006


95% is an absurd number.

That's what I thought when I read the article.

Unless and until you can link to a source, there are plenty of other sources out there that flatly refute your claim.

No, there aren't. If I say "most foons are wagles" and you point out a half-dozen links that show foons that are not wagles, that doesn't refute my claim in the least.


No, the article says that 62% of each unrestricted dollar in donations went to overhead.


This is, I think, an irrelevant distinction.

20% is bad enough; you don't have to make up numbers.

I'm not making up numbers, and since you agree that even 20% is bad enough, you are therefore not disagreeing with the nub of my point. So we can agree to disagree on minutiae, I hope.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:55 PM on October 8, 2006


Non-profits are required by law to report their numbers and which are openly available at a number of places including Charity Navigator.
posted by stbalbach at 1:57 PM on October 8, 2006


This is, I think, an irrelevant distinction.

"Apparently I am wrong. Quick, look over there!"
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:57 PM on October 8, 2006


"the web is not the be-all and end-all of reference"

Isn't it?
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 2:01 PM on October 8, 2006


I'm not wrong, Monju. And if you want to focus comments on other members, take it to MeTa.

Stbalbach: the nub of the NYT article is that massaging the numbers is de riguer.

In any case: charities waste more of your money than you think, whether they have to report their numbers or not doesn't make them accountable, and direct and accountable assistance is the best way to go unless you want to be making some fatcat's Benz payments.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:06 PM on October 8, 2006


I'm not wrong, Monju.

Claim: "The United Way eats as much as 95% of donations via administration costs which include six-figure salaries for a number of high-level execs."

Facts: United Way of America claims that 12% of its donations nationwide go to administrative expenses, while critics put the number at closer to 20%. In some local United Way branches, unrestricted donations are preferentially targeted for administrative expenses, because the remaining donations are earmarked for specific program expenses. In one branch, 62% of unrestricted donations went to overhead, although less than 20% of donations to that branch overall went to overhead.

And if you want to focus comments on other members, take it to MeTa.

WTF are you talking about?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:11 PM on October 8, 2006


solid-one-love, from Charity Navigator, percentage of each dollar the goes directly to aid programs

Red Cross = %91.5 (%5 admin, %3.1 fund raising)

Feed the Children = %90 (%2 admin, %8.1 fund raising)

I could go on. The point is, don't make assumptions.
posted by stbalbach at 2:13 PM on October 8, 2006


Monju, I'm not American, and the last I heard, the Vancouver Sun was not an American paper. What the US branch of the United Way claims about what it does is less than irrelevant to my assertion.

WTF are you talking about?

"Apparently, I am wrong. Look over there."
"You don't have to make up numbers."

As it says under the preview: "Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the
issues, topics, and facts at hand -- not at other members of the site."

Maybe I'm just a little sensitive because I'm being attacked in MeTa for misliking the elephant crap all over the place, but you needn't direct the discussion at me simply because you disagree with what I say.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:15 PM on October 8, 2006


Geez, solid, don't have a meltdown. I just think your numbers are wrong; it's not some sort of personal attack.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:25 PM on October 8, 2006



posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:26 PM on October 8, 2006


While the photography and filmmaking were prettifyling, I wonder whether this was really an effective way to communicate the numbers themselves. It seemed to flow kind of willy-nilly - it'd be just as interesting to have a pdf full of pie charts with these numbers. And I wish the take action stuff at the end had been a little more robust. But thanks for the link!
posted by DenOfSizer at 3:08 PM on October 8, 2006


A look at United Way's 2005 financial statements shows, for example, $6.5 mil "general & administrative" expenses and $52.9 mil "total program services" costs. Reading the fine print, however, you find that "program services" are nothing more than:
- lobbying costs
- exmployee trainng
- P/R
- internal IT, extranet & web site costs
- "community building"
- "support" of their own programs
- "branding"
- etc,
In other words, 100% of their costs are what would be considered "general & administrative" on a corporate financial statement. It appears that the only funds actually distributed are those provided by the government (with UW being the 'custodian' of funds). They even charge the government for being the 'custodian' (which has the effect of lowering the total costs reported on their finacial statements)!

Pretty amazing, isn't it?
posted by Ochiee at 5:10 PM on October 8, 2006


All I know is that Donella Meadows was a bright light and a lucid voice in this increasingly fucked-up world. She could cut through the crap and focus attention away from the spin and toward the real problems and real solutions. She left us too early and with no-one ( I know of) to take her place.
posted by Hobgoblin at 5:27 PM on October 8, 2006


If the world's population were reduced to 100, it would look just like every other coy attempt to reduce a staggeringly complex system of relationships to a digestible confection amenable to folksy bromides.
posted by slatternus at 8:03 PM on October 8, 2006


Yeah, Ochiee, that was the gist of the article I was referring to.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:11 AM on October 9, 2006


« Older Aloysius. AKA Mr.   |   The Elephant in a living-room-sized space Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post