Reason’s Kerry Howley says the much-hyped $100 laptop isn’t what people in the developing world really need:
Gifting, we discover every Holiday Season, is an incredibly inefficient mode of exchange. The first week of January is a customer-service-line filled nightmare, our collective attempt to correct judgments people who love us make about what we really want: sweaters two sizes too big, gadgets we have no use for, toys too uncool to engage in public. The developing world, too, has a closetful of gifts it never asked for and couldn’t use: Free food diverted to feed the militias responsible for hunger in the first place, anti-malarial bed nets turned into wedding dresses, newly dug wells abandoned because no one knew how repair them.
The laptop wasn’t welcomed with complete uniformity in Tunis; as CNN summarized some complaints: “What people in the developing world really need are water, food, jobs, decent healthcare and sanitation.” But perhaps what people in the developing world really need is for bureaucrats to stop telling them what they really need. As Americans tear open a host of well-intentioned, slightly-off presents this week, the good people at the OLPC might consider the familiar plea of cash-strapped people everywhere: Please just send a check.