Franciscan alumnus speaks on poverty, charity and justice guided by prudence


A Franciscan University alumnus challenged a typical viewpoint on foreign aid and discussed the flaws in the system which prevents people from working out of poverty in a talk on poverty, charity and justice April 9 at Franciscan University.

“We are called to have a heart for the poor … and a mind for the poor,” said Michael Matheson Miller, a research fellow at the Acton Institute and director of PovertyCure. “Justice must be rooted in the virtue of prudence.”

PovertyCure is an international organization that promotes entrepreneurship in the developing world. Miller has directed and narrated their six-episode DVD series.

Miller discussed the harmful consequences that can result from imprudent charity. He said that in many ways, foreign aid by the government has become a new form of colonialism. Free donations can replace local work and take away jobs from people who have families to support, turning the system into a cycle, he said.

He also said the current system can also lead to the American government imposing its worldview on developing nations; this comes with a push for legal abortions. Miller called this a “zero-sum game,” which removes people so that there will be more resources to go around but also takes away much-needed productive capacity.

“This is not just a Catholic issue,” said Miller. He explained that in many countries, this push has led to millions of baby girls being aborted, which then has led to higher rates of human trafficking. “The shortage of girls turns girls into a commodity,” he said.

Miller moved on to discuss the underlying problems of the worldview that lead to these problems. Charity has been replaced by humanitarianism as the dominant idea, he said.

Lastly, Miller spoke about the institutions of justice, such as clear property titles – clearly owned private property – and free exchange with access to markets and a chance to compete. Although the aim of many industries is to help the poor, it ends up excluding them, he said.

“Poor people are not poor because they lack stuff,” Miller said. “Poor people are poor because they lack the institutions of justice.”

Miller ended the talk by saying, “There’s no simple answer, but the church has a role to play and you have a role to play. There will always be poverty and suffering that will require human love.”

He suggested that the best way to help the poor is to focus on their real needs and to aid them in finding jobs.

Students were impressed by Miller’s viewpoint on a subject that is often taken for granted.

“It’s an interesting viewpoint that I never thought about,” said sophomore Kimberly Muscat. “As Christians, we love to give and give and give, but we have to think about whether we’re actually helping people.”

Sophomore Isaac Mannella attended Franciscan University’s showings of the episodes of the PovertyCure documentary for the past two weeks. The videos inspired him to come to the talk.

“How complex charity is in developing countries caught me off guard,” said Mannella. “The videos changed my mind. I’m glad that I’m getting all this information that I can then share with other people.”

Miller received his M.A. in philosophy from Franciscan University, where he also met his wife. Since then, he has lectured around the world.

This talk was sponsored by the Christian Association of Student Entrepreneurs.