The problem with poor people is quite simple…


…They don’t have enough money.

My dear (and long-suffering) spouse was on some kind of a panel the other day, where a number of kind good-hearted liberal folks were trying to figure out how to encourage literacy among the poor.

Of course this wouldn’t be a problem if there weren’t any poor. You’d then just have rampant illiteracy among the ‘middle class’, which doesn’t seem to cost anybody any sleep. As long as you have a BA and a white-collar job, it doesn’t matter how pig-ignorant you are.

So dear spouse suggested that maybe poor people would be better off if they had more money. Shock and dismay all round.

Now really, isn’t this the very heart and soul of liberalism? Leave all the core institutions of the society alone — including that most ancient and hallowed of institutions, poor people — but think, think very hard, about clever ways to improve the lot of those… poor… people. Everything is on the table. Sky’s the limit. Think. Think! Think outside the box!

Except the one unthinkable idea: abolish the poor. Which is to say, give ’em money.

Oh, no doubt they’d all buy big flat-screen TVs, and nice new sneakers, and SUVs. But then, that’s what their ‘middle-class’ fellow-citizens do too. Doesn’t that mythical but indispensable beast, ‘the Economy’, feed itself on just such folly? So the Teevee tells me, anyway. Not to mention NPR.

Now you may say that an unearned income is bad for peoples’ moral character. And maybe it is, in some cases. But I know a bunch of people who have enjoyed unearned incomes for the last four or five generations. Some of them are pricks, of course. But most are very decent people — hardworking, if there’s any virtue in that; conscientious; polite; respectful of books and pictures and 18th-century music; attentive to their spouses and devoted to their children.

From what little I’ve seen of life — if you want to elevate the cultural tone of the poor, you need to give ’em a trust fund.

And you have to stay the course. A presidential term won’t do it. A generation won’t do it. No, if you want to eradicate the lingering traces of the Culture Of Poverty(*), you’ve got to take the long view. Three generations at least.

(*) Do I correctly recall that we owe this loathesome phrase to the unspeakable Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who I hope gets to Heaven some day, but spends several millennia frying in Purgatory first?

30 thoughts on “The problem with poor people is quite simple…

  1. …Of course this wouldn’t be a problem if there weren’t any poor. You’d then just have rampant illiteracy among the ‘middle class’, which doesn’t seem to cost anybody any sleep. As long as you have a BA and a white-collar job, it doesn’t matter how pig-ignorant you are…

    Shit, man, I’ve seen people with Master’s and Ph.D’s who are rock stupid — like those clowns who are having school kids expelled and arrested for making pantomime guns with their hands or conducting chemistry class experiments which malfunction and go “bang!”

    Fuckin’ retards, the lot of ’em.

  2. The phrase “Culture of Poverty” was actually coined by Oscar Lewis. His original argument was that people afflicted by it needed even more aid to break out of it, not that helping them was hopeless. But it soon got turned on its head by the likes of Moynihan.

  3. Let’s face it, people who identify themselves by whatever label, whether it be liberal, conservative, libertarian, anarchist or even ugly, have merely taken on a particular role. When someone suggests, as your wife did, that there might actually be, no matter how remote that possibility might be, a way to eliminate the ‘poor’ in poor people, she triggered an instinctive response.

    Now I know the following equation may seem absolutely ludicrous, but I know I’ve experienced similar feelings. It’s the reason why people absolutely lose it when someone suggests a contrary political opinion: it’s a threat to their very existence!:

    Liberal means caring for the poor.

    If there are no more poor, that means there will be no more liberals.

    I ‘am’ a liberal.

    I will be eliminated!

  4. Father forces the chat into a region
    I wax ” Johnny one note ” over

    We have what you might call a job ethic round here


    We need jobs for all comers

    I realize this isn’t paradise

    But as over the horizon as it may be
    To even consider a job for every soul
    As a right

    It at least sets this job obsessed society
    marching in the direction
    Where higher ” solutions ” might follow

    Going straight to universal trust funds
    Or even the modest goal
    to increase the free of charge
    socially provided

    My generation of god damn peacenik drugee college kids
    as it finds itself today
    I submi provide ” living proof ” of where that conjured enterprise leads

    • Oh, that would work too. Of course you’d have to have free child care, right?

      How the jobs-for everybody scheme would work is interesting to contemplate. There are of course people who would find it hard to keep down any job at all — I am increasingly one of these myself. So I imagine them reporting to work, digging a hole, and filling it up again the next day. (In fact this is more or less what my job is at the moment.)

      It’s better than leaving us to sleep on a heating grate and beg in the subway, I admit. But for all the use it is, wouldn’t a social wage be better still?

      Not that either will happen in our lifetime of course.

      One thing about the social wage is precisely the change in thinking it implies. All those dead generations who toiled and suffered so we could have cheap sneakers and flat-screen TVs — to whom does that inheritance belong? If it’s not the common property of all, ant or grasshopper — why not?

      • Oh I agree
        Expectational Trust fund baby that I am

        I know or knew or lounged close to
        the life of
        Undefiled “free labor”

        Marx nicely slashes at the Adam
        On this

        Can’t find where just now

        But to the point

        The dawn of Free labor and nothing but free labor
        is not like the end of Rene Clair’s
        greatest movie

        Frolics of a shop girl 24/7/365 ?

        Just win a lottery and see how
        the morning mirror reflects back a challenge and an endless anguish

        To have only ourself to blame

        To have the option

        To make a life’s worthy work
        or waste
        like tissues
        the 30 k days till death

        • I restrict myself to what the kulack soul will tolerate

          An Incrementally built and increased social wage**

          **( I prefer to call it
          a citizen dividend
          Over a social wage
          Wage being commonly linked
          to the reward for
          ” honest ” if tedious or Vapi
          Or even spirit punishing
          time burning toil
          Again I apply ” kulack blood sweat apnd tears rules” here
          Calling the dividend
          An earned payment
          I’d base it on a system like the the retirement payment of social security

          You’d get a dividend with. E eryone else
          It would be
          N (some periodic and or occasional amount) X LH (lifetime hours worked)

          • I always thought the logical source for it would be a walloping carbon tax, whose proceeds would be distributed on a strict per-capita basis to every man, woman, and baby in the country. Taken back from the wealthy in income tax, of course. So don’t call it a wage or a dividend; call it a tax refund. The kulaks *love* those.

          • Pigou tax
            George tax

            Any tax you like that essentially enhances orate least leaves untouched
            The fruits of socially necessary labor

            Of course I agree
            Per tax payer
            “Tax” rebates are
            A jolly mode of pay out
            Equal payment to all

            But to return to strict

            The existing
            earned income tax credit is precisely the sort of pay out system I’m suggesting

            I simply generalized it and removed the taper down to zero

            Of course we can fund a strapping share of this rebate
            And life’s “work ” reward system
            By monetized borrowing

            But now we are about to enter
            mad science laboratory

            I’ll break off

        • ”Just win a lottery and see how
          the morning mirror reflects back a challenge and an endless anguish”

          first nat. lottery
          my daughter entered [this
          wk] and winning ticket

          was purchased at
          grocery she
          shops at

          so what numbers were
          only soso close

          she would have
          bought new boat
          for padre S

          NM State lottery winner
          lived close by few
          yrs ago

          but burned out
          in 1 year

          did not know how
          to do 58% avg
          an lt return

          did know how to

          ”the dawn of free labor”
          is the demise of
          labor and

          rise of work which
          is btw happening
          as rural is spun

          to urban
          ry and

          supra giant permanent
          petty commodity
          mode ‘solidifies’

          N X LH will not do
          when Mad


  5. During the Nixon administration, the federal government conducted some experiments in which poor families were given money every month, irrespective of anything else they did. The results were interesting. The men in the families either showed no change in their labor force participation or actually increased it (white men showed no change, while black and Hispanic men showed an increase. The women, on the other hand, showed decreased labor force participation (their initial wage work was very low), but they used the extra time to care for their children and/or to obtain more schooling. Needless to say, the economists were surprised by these results, since they flew in the face of the economists’ wisdom, that if you give people money, they will simply take more “leisure time.” No doubt, money gave these families some hope, and this encouraged them to take steps to put their families on a better economic and social course. Needless to say as well, the government soon stopped these experiments. We should give everyone money enough to have a decent life. If we did, then we would see a “hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend.”

    • A typical government “experiment”, in other words, a “one-shot” design open to infinite interpretation and proving nothing much in particular. But, let’s see, I guess it proved that the poor families didn’t grow wings and fly south for the winter and any number of other implausible hypotheses. The behavior of formerly poor winners of large lottery prizes probably backs up the conventional economists’ wisdom better than this experiment.
      Were the payments contractual and set to stop on a date certain or just provided like gifts from the tooth fairy which could end upon conditions not predictable?

      Of course, enough money for a decent life is self justifying under certain economic conditions… perhaps conditions that are not hard to imagine existing in quite a few nations today. But if one removes the huge current third world gifts to the developed world, this “enough” might be rather more difficult to arrange anywhere. A family wage job seems to describe a more plausible goal, with some government or other standing by as employer of last resort.

    • Sure, lead the way professor. How about you give away YOUR money to layabouts, set an example for the rest of us, and we’ll follow. Sound like a plan?

  6. Well, before commenting, it might be good to read about the experiments. Etc. Otherwise, you just give us “bar talk.” And anyone who won a large lottery and kept a shit job should probably be committed. Jobs to ensure full employment is fine, but the nature of the jobs might be important too, including how what is done on the job is determined. Etc. But this is well beyond MJS’s post, in which he is remarking on the tendency of good liberals to propose anything that won’t require them to part with their money.

    • Bar talk is about my level.
      Are the experiments you are referring to the New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment? Something else? A link?

      Your own description of the surprising results fall into the bar talk category quite well, doesn’t it? “No doubt, money gave these families some hope, and this encouraged them to take steps to put their families on a better economic and social course.” Plausible, yes, but many explanations could be offered for the observed behavior. The families knew that he largesse could end at any moment and decided to put the unexplained, unexpected gifts away against future possible emergencies. Or one could emphasize racial/ethnic differences in response and spin all kinds of theories. All very “bar”…

        • We’ll have to have a drink, brother! I don’t have the link now, but it was in the Journal of Human Resources, sometime in the 1970s. Yes, all sorts of things can be spun concerning the results. The theory predicted decreases in hours of work and reductions in labor force participation rates, but neither happened. The programs were for two or three years, with monthly amounts of money going to the families, the amounts varying but based upon the official poverty level of income. The only reason I referred to this is because economists have a jaundiced view of poor people. As I think do the liberals MJS was referring to.

          • Economists are always surprised by experimental results — when they bother to pay attention.

          • @Michael Yates
            Drinks on me. I won a lottery! Of sorts.
            Best wishes to all,

  7. Great, Mr. Smith, Professor Yates, and the free-verse autistic want to take my hard-earned money and give it away. The proles will love your plan, boys, especially the ones on lefty mailing lists.

  8. ======= it doesn’t matter how pig-ignorant you are.=======

    ”Pigs are wise … and clean

    Paulo Whitaker / Reuters
    Here’s the dirt on pigs: They are perhaps the smartest, cleanest domestic animals known – more so than cats and dogs, according to some experts. But pigs don’t have sweat glands, so they roll around in the mud to stay cool. A sign of their cleverness came from experiments in the 1990s. Pigs were trained to move a cursor on a video screen with their snouts and used the cursor to distinguish between scribbles they knew and those they were seeing for the first time. They learned the task as quickly as chimpanzees.”

    What are industrialized pigs thinking about [or have they been stupified]?

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