A man behind a beast

Bangladeshi working with oxen

It might be easy for someone from the west to categorize the man in the photo. It might be easy to assume that, despite perhaps a potential for the intellectual heights of a professor, his opportunities in life are limited by his environment. But this view may lack clarity.

To feel sorry for a man in a photo based on presumptions of status and reach is more than likely an imprecise calculation. The man of letters may acknowledge the third world inhabitant has the capbilities of being his peer, yet considers his voice to have 20x’s the impact. But the numbers don’t support this.

The population density in Bangladesh is 1265 people per sq kilometer where as in the US it’s a meer 37. So say an influencer in the US thought they had the ear of 85,000 people. Since the population density in Dhaka is 23,234 per kilometer, the man in the photo would only need to circulate through 3.66 square kilometers to touch a similar audience. This is the spatial equivalent of a handful of city blocks.

In fact, if social capital is defined by the number of people in a network, than this man must be quite well off.

Furthermore, capable people who do the work of city councils or community organizing could very feasibly act in ways that impact and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of their fellow city dwellers. A small elevation of sanitation standards would provide significant and immediate health impacts. Should the man in the photo have the capabilities, he most certainly could and does do work to ameliorate the circumstances of those in close proximity.

Perhaps the distance between the reality of his economic and social circumstances are more than geographic, it is hard for the westerner to see him in his proper function. But without this insight, it is erroneous to pronouce this man’s life-work a market failure.