Sunday (Monday) Soapbox: Money Does Not Equal Merit

>> Monday, April 5, 2010

*Steps on soapbox*

I struggled with not writing this, but it's completely irritating me. I try to be patient. I understand that it's hard on several different levels to struggle, and that people, who work hard for what they have, can be impatient with those who haven't worked so hard.

I totally get that.

The problem is that there are many poor people who have worked just as hard who have nothing and no options and no opportunities. There are many people working two or three jobs who still can barely make ends meet, that still can't afford insurance or child care or get a vacation, or pay the mortgage or a car payment or...

There's a pervasive sense, pushed by certain factions and media, that poor equals laziness and sloth, that every penny spent on social services is money poured into the ungrateful account of a non-working welfare recipient, that people who are financially successful are inherently smarter and more meritous, that they deserve to be wealthy. However, to take that as a given, one has to assume the reverse, that people who are poor deserve it as well.

You know what, being poor is not a reflection on who you are any more than being rich indicates you're cultured, educated and good. No one willing to work "deserves" to see their child go hungry (actually, what child deserves to go hungry no matter who their parent is?). Why are we comfortable with the notion that people deserve to die if they can't afford insurance or that families deserve to go bankrupt if one of them gets ill.

There are educated folks out there struggling with unemployment. There are people who have worked hard their entire lives who are hurting terribly through no fault of their own.

I know I'm lucky to be where I am, that I'm lucky to have people I can count on, that, if something happened to me, my children wouldn't go hungry. But I've been where I needed help, where I didn't know where to turn. Not everyone gets away from that.

Being poor is hard enough without everyone who isn't assuming you deserve it. It's stupid, too. History shows, time and time again, concentrating money in the hands of the very few leads to economic ruin and/or political upheaval (frequently violent).

You know, if we stopped spending so much time and effort in villifying people who are already suffering, perhaps there'd be less suffering.

Is that really so bad?

*steps off soapbox*


  • Jeff King

    I don't mind helping those who deserve it... I wish we could safe guard against people who use the system-- who look for the easy way out, those that don't want to work , those who don't want to get off the buts... one day I hope we can weed that out of our system.

    But I am all for helping those that deserve it.

  • Stephanie Barr

    I have no problem with weeding out abuse of a system. What I do mind is the assumption that everyone who needs help is an abuser.

    And that's what I hear all the time.

  • Roy

    The attitude comes from our Calvinist past; the settlers in Massachusetts were very strict Calvinists, as were the Scots and Scots-Irish who made up so much of our early colonial population. Not to mention the Dutch, also very strict Calvinists, who founded New York.

    John Calvin taught that God only saved a certain, limited "elect", and the evidence of the salvation of the elect would be their "success", i.e. elevated position in society, material goods, etc. That attitude wormed its way into the American psyche very early, and it's very hard to eradicate it because of that.

    Not only is it at the root of the "anyone who's poor is obviously an undeserving person" attitude, it's also one of the main sources for for the nativist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant attitude, as well. After all, none of "those" people are northern European Protestants, so obviously they can't be among the "elect".

    Theodore Roszak did a great study on this American phenomenon; I'll have to find that book again.

  • Relax Max

    Well, Roy, I don't know if that Calvinist thing is so true anymore. Few blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans and non-British Europeans identify with that and they are pretty much the majority now. Not so many left from the British Isles nowadays any more. But I think the answer to poverty is an abundance of jobs to pick and choose from rather than trying to make up more social programs. Just my opinion of course. I don't belittle people who are poor. I belittle governments who keep them that way. Let's all work to make our government create an environment that allows employers to hire people.

  • Stephanie Barr

    I've heard the notion that ensuring money flowing to the top works to support the bottom. Know what, that logic's been tried time and time again - always to failure. The rich just get richer at everyone else's expense.

    If you want a company to be able to justify jobs, you need to have someone to sell it to. That's why money going to fewer hands always - ALWAYS - leads to collapse.

    It is the market you have to support. Paying the suppliers doesn't make jobs (just profit for them) unless there's someone to buy the wares.

  • Stephanie Barr

    At least that's what I think.

    Roy, I know what you're saying. I suspect there's also a leftover from the nobility feeling they had a divine right to take as much as the market could bear for themselves. Even those don't have money and power don't want to curtail the power of those who have it because they want, some day, to have it for themselves.

    In some ways, it's a variation of might makes right. If someone has money, it's because they deserved it, even if it turns out they got it dishonestly. You know how many well-known shysters and swindlers end up poor? Far too few. They may have some of their money taken away, they might be well-known cheats and swindlers, but no one ever really holds them to account. Why? Because other people in power don't want anyone examining things too closely or setting a harsh precedent, in case the microscope ever turns to them.

    That doesn't mean all rich people are cheats and thieves - I'm sure there some are ethical and caring rich just like there are lazy and manipulative poor - it just means there are enough of the unethical in power to look out for their cronies. After all, the ethical rich are less likely to be craving the kind of power I'm talking about.

    Think about it.

  • Relax Max

    I don't have a clue what you are blathering about. All I know is if I don't have a job I don't get paid and I can't buy stuff to live on. Now you can make it as complicated as you can, but the bottom line is people need jobs more than anything else in this country. Good jobs. Well-paying job. Enough vacancies to where employers have to pay more than minimum wage. What's YOUR answer? - The government pays everybody? Where the hell does the money for that come from. Forget about your prejudices and David Copperfield mentality and all your axes you want to grind, and let's get good jobs for Americans.

  • Stephanie Barr

    I want jobs for Americans (actually, for everyone), too, RM. But we've tried shuffling money to the people with the big companies. They just pocket it (as Wall Street held on to the money we lent them during the crisis instead of passing it out as credit like they were supposed to).

    We're reaping trickle down theory now. We have to be smarter and put the money where it will do the most good. Microbusinesses, for instance, are far more likely to hire more than big businesses - but they have fewer lobbyists.

    We're going to have to produce something in this country again if we want to build jobs. Service industry has to have people to sell to and we've been moving in that direction for a decade or more. If we embraced, say, green technology, for instance, we might be able to find a world-wide market with local jobs.

    Instead, we provide things like solar array factory-building expertise to build factories all over the world (except here) because Americans are so sure it will go nowhere. In twenty years, we'll be buying all our solar arrays from China and the Middle East. Stupid.

    And you forget, I'm not a fan of Dickens. That doesn't mean he wasn't sometimes right.

    Railing at me because I don't see thing the same way does not make you look correct, just rabid. You've been watching too much Fox News. It'll rot your brain.

  • Relax Max

    You are absolutely 100% right, and I blame the government for that. Why in the world they would GIVE our money to the fat cats WITH NO STRINGS ATTACHED is beyond me. If you give money to banks, then you have to have the stipulation that they loan that money out. And in other cases, you have to get a commitment to hire a certain amount of people.

    I don't know about microbusinesses being the answer but certainly SMALL business are the answer. Not General Motors.

    I don't know if I have been watching too much Fox News, but I know I've been watching too many highly educated people trying to get jobs bagging groceries.

    Congress couldn't come up with an agreement to get a jobs bill going this week because they had to leave for there vacation.

    Railing at you doesn't make me right, true. I am right for other reasons.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Perhaps you are. And you are far more likely to have me hear you if you give me your other reasons instead of attack my intelligence.

    As you just did.

  • Project Savior

    It's always tough on me when I hear the argument that money somehow equals the worth of an individual as in the last decade I've had both a six-figure income and been on food stamps. That would mean I both extremely valuable as a person and worthless in the same decade.
    As far as the abuse of Social Services in this country there will always be some, but trying to limit it quickly hits a point of diminishing returns as we start paying more prevent the abuse than the abuse costs. It's really too bad because the same skills that allow someone to cheat the government of $750 a month could get them multi-million salaries in the financial sector.

  • The Mother

    There is, obviously, no match between worth and money.

    Which explains the 7 figure incomes of professional sports figures.

  • Quadmama

    Whenever people I know go off on how all people receiving government assistance are lazy, I remind them that my family has received assistance in the past. We used the services in the way they were intended... as a stepping stone to get back on track. Having said that, I've run in to my fair share of abusers, who aren't ashamed to admit they abuse the system. It's frustrating when I've been denied services for one of my daughters and yet I see people who know how to work the system.

  • Anonymous

    Not sure why you would struggle writing this. Your basic points are rather obvious: (1) people foolishly mistake current social situations with a person's work ethic and/or intelligence; (2) inevitable 'abusers' unfairly taint the social service system's admirable goals; and (3) trickle down economics doesn't work. Seem to be rather reasonable assertions to me.

    As for jobs, I would add that companies typically hire a person only because the revenue to be generated (or costs to be absorbed) is greater than the employee's cost. That equation is heavily skewed by the skill set being offered to the employer. While some highly educated people are un/under-employed today, many of the people you refer to are those who, IMO, lack the same opportunity to acquire the education and skills (to reach their full 'market' potential) that others have managed to achieve.

    Treating higher education as a free market commodity only further expands the class system and provides more incentive for businesses to outsource jobs.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Anonymous, you make find points. I wasn't ashamed of my viewpoint (and I'm still not) but I've been trying to rant less and be more positive.

    It's the hate, the hating and dehumanization done to people that really gets my goat. So, despite trying to be more positive, I had to rant.

    I wish to heck college wasn't a private thing, that it was free to all who could do the work. Not only would that be good for the populace, provide opportunities, even for the poor, but a better educated populace is good for the economy and the world in general.

    Hyper expensive higher education is a stupid policy for any society that wants a future.

  • Relax Max

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Relax Max

    I wish everyone who wanted to go to college could, too. But if there are no jobs for them when they graduate, their education won't create a job.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Thought-provoking comment. See my Sunday post when I finish it.

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