Saturday, November 19, 2011

One Cookie Now, or Two Cookies Later?

Yesterday afternoon all the employees of our school met to hear a presentation by someone from the National Social Security Fund, a program of the Tanzanian government. The fund is like social security in the U.S. together with medical insurance. Participation is voluntary, which is why we got a lengthy description and pitch for joining.

Aside from the fact that the speaker spoke in Swahili (but all of his slides were in English — go figure), the talk was just like something you might attend in the U.S. The concepts were all very familiar.

What was remarkable — and why I'm writing about this — is that the speaker made a lot of effort to persuade us of the prudence of making contributions into the system now so that they can enjoy good benefits later when they reach retirement age. This is a difficult sell in a society where it seems that just about everyone lives hand to mouth, even those who have some disposable income. I don't see much in the way of deferred gratification.

Why does this matter? Instead of investing their personal and collective resources into improving their future lives Tanzanians seem intent on present day consumption. I recently overheard a teacher say that people here are consuming more than they are producing and that's why their currency has been weakening so much. In any case, this is an ingredient for on-going dependence on outsiders to fund their development, who may or may not continue to do so.

Some of our educated colleagues have some awareness of this. But the attitude of spending what you've got is widespread. So I found this talk about the NSSF program, given by a Tanzanian government employee who seems to really believe in it, to be very heartening. -Earl

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