Election campaigns are big business in the U.S. With all the recent attention given to the amount of money being spent on them, it is interesting to look at how the cost of election campaign financing over the last presidential race measures up to current spending on development projects.

According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), campaign spending for the 2012 fiscal year totaled nearly $7 billion. The presidential election campaign alone cost approximately $2.6 billion—the remainder having been spent on financing congressional campaigns.

The first presidential race since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC ruling conferred corporations with freedom of speech rights, the 2012 race saw $1.07 billion raised for Barack Obama and $992.5 million for Mitt Romney through their parties and affiliated Super PACs (highly specialized political committees which make no direct contributions to candidates but undertake independent expenditures towards the election campaign).

In comparison, the President’s new Power Africa initiative, which will help fund building electrical infrastructure for Africa is slated to cost the same $7 billion over the next five years. By contrast, however, powering Africa would bring basic access to electricity to the 90 million children who go to primary schools without it; or to the 255 million African patients who are served in health facilities (hospitals, clinics, etc.) in the dark.

It is argued that access to electricity has the greatest positive impact of basic infrastructural development projects. Given that some estimates indicate that for every $1 spent on modernized grids, between $2.80 and $6 is returned to the broader economy, it is no wonder that there is such a large movement seeking to electrify Africa.

This is exactly what the Electrify Africa Act, which is currently working its way through Congress, is meant to ensure. The bill seeks to address some of the shortcomings of the Power Africa initiative. While the President’s initiative is an important start, it represents 5% of the necessary $300 billion needed by 2030 to give electrical access to the 110 million African households currently off the grid.

In Sudan, students were able to improve their pass rate from 57% to 97% in one year with electric lighting. It doesn’t take much to help ensure that cases like these continue to spread across Africa as it is empowered with basic electrical access for all – but it does come at a cost.

The next time you see an election advertisement or hear about the cost of campaign finance on the news, pick up the phone and let your congressmen and women know that you support increased funding for the Power Africa initiative and that you would like to see more support for the Electrify Africa Act. It takes 30 seconds to help improve the lives of millions of Africans.

– Pedram Afshar

Sources: Open Secrets, RT, NY Times, ONE, National Geographic, Solar Aid
Photo: The Guardian


You’ve probably heard people discuss the burden that poor people place on society, or the need for them to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.” If not, only look to Mitt Romney’s infamous comment from the 2012 presidential campaign, in which he referred to the 47% of Americans who are “dependent on the government” and who could never be convinced to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” for an example.

Psychologist Herbert Gans writes about the labeling of the poor as “undeserving” and the effects that such labels have in society. He posits that deeming the poor undeserving fulfills a wide array of functions for the affluent. Primarily, this phenomenon distances the labeled from the labelers, allowing the situation to be cast firmly as “us-versus-them.”

By casting poverty as something that happens to “them,” but not to “us,” one can tap into a well-known psychological bias explained by psychologist Jeremy Dean on PsyBlog.

He describes the phenomenon using sports teams. When a fan sees a member of their team score, they are likely to praise the player’s talent and hard work. On the other hand, when a fan sees a member of the opposite team score, it’s usually attributed to dumb luck or a missed call. By the same token, when a fan’s team loses, it can easily be chalked up to a rough week or a rowdy crowd.

However, a fan would rarely claim that his team won because another team had a difficult week. In other words, one works much harder to make excuses for people that they perceive as “one of us.” This same principle can be applied to almost any facet of society, including poverty.

When poor people are considered to be fundamentally different from us, it becomes more difficult to empathize with their situations. Unfortunately, it also becomes easier to blame the poor for their poverty and struggles, consciously or otherwise.

Some may not concretely be thinking that women in sub-Saharan Africa should just stand up for themselves already, but it is often easier to sympathize with women who live in societies that look most like ours.

For example, when America discovered that Ariel Castro had held three women captive in his Ohio home for a decade, outrage erupted. People were horrified that something this appalling could happen here, to people “like us.” Meanwhile, similar atrocities are happening worldwide every day and our indignation may go just far enough to get us to make an online donation.

While it is incredibly difficult for one to truly comprehend the obstacles faced by the poor, it is important to remember that “we” are not so terribly different from “them.” The balance between recognizing these differences and the similarities is a delicate and important one, and one that is immensely tough to strike.

It is imperative to acknowledge that everyone has different experiences and struggles, and that the wealthy often do not know how best to help the poor. Simultaneously, it is important to keep in mind that the wealthy and the poor are both just groups of people, who usually have a lot more in common than they think.

– Katie Fullerton
Sources: The American Journal of Sociology, PsyBlog, NY Daily News, ABC News
Sources: Danutm