On Challenging Your Patriotism

by Guinandra Jatikusumo

Disclaimer: the case below does not originate from my own thoughts; it was Professor Arneson of Univ. of California San Diego who, as far as I am concerned, first introduced it. I would also like to attribute the work to Professor Miller of Cornell University. 

You are a citizen of country A. You were born there, you have been raised there, you went to country A’s schools whose courses are taught in the A language, you have lived there for your whole life (you do travel overseas sometimes). Your parents had the same situation as you do: they were born there, they were married there, and they are living in a house in a village there. Most of your local friends and relatives are natives of country A. You can sing its national anthem without any mistake, you can fluently speak and write in its language, you have studied and memorized its constitution. Because of your upbringing, you know mostly everything about country A: its history, its economic conditions, its form of government, its food, etc.

In the same world, there is another country called B. You have never really ‘lived’ in country B. To illustrate, you visited country B once for a 3-day vacation. You do not speak its language, nor can you write in it. However, because of unlimited access to online encyclopedias, you can easily look up the details of country B: its demographics, its history, etc.

The difference between country A and B is as follows. In terms of poverty level, the poorest people in country B are poorer than the poorest people in country A (your country). John Doe being poor in country A (your country) does not necessarily imply that John Doe would be poor if he lived in country B. In other words, without any intention to deride anybody, country B’s poor people are the poorest among the poor. Being poor in country A (your country) would be a bad dream, but being poor in country B would a bizarre nightmare.

Suppose that one day, the altruistic part of you makes you want to give some financial aid to those in need. However, you can only choose either to aid the poorest people in your country, country A, or the poorest people in country B. For simplicity, we assume that the poorest people in country A and B possess the same character (they use financial aids for positive purposes, they are equally capable of utilizing financial aids for improving their lives). We also assume that distance does not complicate money transfer, and governments do not tax financial aids given by you to the poor people. If you were to be in this condition, who would you give your financial aid to? Your poorest compatriots of country A, or the poorest people of country B, whose poorest people are poorer than the poorest people in your country?