OPINION: Complex problems call for complex solutions


Scott Rainey (New)

Scott Rainey

The cathedral burned on April 15th. The roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France caught fire as people around the world stared in disbelief, wondering how such a beautiful, historic building could burn before their very eyes. Taking almost a full day to put out, the fire took with it the iconic spire and nearly the entire roof, it also damaged the organ.

Immediately, people pulled together resources to rebuild the cathedral. This included several French billionaires, who together pledged over a billion dollars for restoration. Following their pledge, they received plenty of backlash from people who noted that the money pledged to rebuild a Catholic church (the Catholic Church is notorious for being low on funds) could’ve been better spent feeding people who need fed or removing debris from our oceans. One twitter user said in a tweet, “Did you know that the $1Billion + that has been donated to Notre Dame would be enough to clean up all of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?”

Similar calls came from U.S. citizens after the President announced that he would pledge money to help rebuild the cathedral as well. They would rather see the money go to Flint, Michigan or Puerto Rico. These calls feel morally superior, but they are misguided. This reflex comes from the thought that money alone is the only thing standing in the way of making things better. If we just throw money at the problem, then it will go away.

Firstly, billionaires are allowed to spend their money as they please. As long as they pay taxes properly, they should be entitled to spend as they want. This includes spending their money to restore something to which they have a close emotional attachment (or for political gain; the article linked earlier alluded to some competition as well, as two of the billionaires are rivals.)

Secondly, the problems we actually want fixed need more than money. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a wildly complex debris system spanning from Japan to California, and there is currently not a way to fully clean it up. Throwing a billion dollars at the problem won’t immediately solve it if we don’t even know how to handle it.

The Flint water crisis is a similar story. Many people point out that Flint still doesn’t have safe drinking water. That is because they are in the process of replacing the pipes, which takes time as much as it takes money. The state of Michigan was required to give the city $91 million to fix their infrastructure, and lawyers are working to make sure that Flint gets the money and is acting in accordance with the agreement.

These programs take time, organization and expertise. Not just money. If just a couple billionaires could pledge some money, the world’s issues would be solved right? Bill and Melinda Gates have been at the forefront of this, as their foundation has $50.7 billion in assets devoted to education, healthcare and ending poverty. Their continued work shows that it takes more than money to actually solve complex problems. The church, however, is a different story.

The roof burned, nobody got hurt and most of it remained intact. Money will cover the damages in time. A piece of history was lost and many people had an emotional attachment to the building, including the wealthy. They are allowed to do this if they would like, and it remains a good thing that people care about art and history.

Scott Rainey is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].