Tuesday, December 20, 2011

- Choosing Life In The Dependent Underclass



There is a very interesting article on Poverty here by Megan Mcardle, the essence of which can be found here:

If poor people did the stuff that middle class people do, it's possible--maybe probable--that they wouldn't be poor. But this is much harder than it sounds. As John Scalzi once memorably put it, "Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old." Which often means, he might have added, spending your whole life doing the sort of jobs that middle class people sometimes do when they're 14. It isn't that people can't get out of this: they do it quite frequently. But in order to do so, you need the will and the skill--and the luck--to execute perfectly. There is no margin for error in the lives of the working poor.


I find it a particularly interesting piece because she criticizes both the liberal and conservative belief that if we get the policy levers just right, this is a problem that can be fixed. 'Poor people make choices' she says irreducibly.

But for myself I'm not convinced of the hopelessness of the situation. If you really believe that poverty itself is the problem and not the hardship that springs from it, then make it it worse and fewer people will choose it. Of course, this would involve hardening your heart to the increase in suffering that would result. But if 'bad' choices are made worse then fewer people will choose them.

Or you could as easily raise the 'upside' of doing things right. If you were to increase the gap between rich and poor not decrease it, then the greater benefit of being 'rich' would be attractive to more people. And if poor is made worse, then more people will choose the former than the latter. This is really beyond debate.

Many people rise from poverty. It's not easy, but it's still more possible here than it has been at any time in human history. Even with the recent reversion to the mean that's come from the Obama policies designed to prevent success and increase government dependency. And true to liberal form, his goal of 'reducing the gap' between rich and poor will be more destructive to the people he's trying to help than those he's trying to hurt.

But I do think Megan is right about one thing. You can't force people to be middle class. You can't (or at least shouldn't) force them to work hard and fret about their child's education. You can't compel them by force to be upwardly mobile. If they don't want it, they don't have to have it.

This obviously doesn't fall across strictly racial lines, but I think there is a case to be made that some portion of every population would simply rather be slaves.

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