Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Grim Biology of Being Poor (nautil.us)
302 points by rbanffy on Apr 26, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 235 comments

My wife has worked in the foster care system and in community based mental health counseling. It's amazing to me 1) how little empathy people in the community have for these kids who are very clearly being dealt a crappy hand in life, and 2) how little people realize the ways in which poverty affects a person's views of reality and their ability to effectively navigate the world.

In another HN thread, there was a discussion of how Utah has been far more effective at caring for the homeless and protecting economic mobility than the rest of the country. My take away from that article and discussion was the stark difference in Utah for giving a crap by the community for the less fortunate. It is the willingness of the Utah population to make an active effort to help people in their community on a regular and purely voluntary basis.

Teachers, social workers, and police officers can keep the train on the tracks - but they can't solve problems that aren't specifically related to education, social services, or criminal lawbreaking (despite the fact that everyone expects them to do so).

I don't know how we do it, but we need to start rebuilding community as a social network of interpersonal support rather than merely a zip code.

"I don't have any children, why do I have to pay property tax to fund my towns schools? I'm being ripped off!"

It is possible to have compassion without "a social network of interpersonal support". An example of this is recognizing the importance of costs (like schools) from which I receive no direct benefit (if I do not have children in those schools).

Yes its not as helpful as active volunteering. But the general mindset of "This is everyone's problem" is much more globally beneficial than always thinking "It's not my problem".

A lot of this stems from the Calvinist strain of religious thought that holds earthly wealth or poverty to be a sign of God's favor (or not). If I find myself in discourse with someone who holds to draconian economic views, I often slip in a few casual questions/references to see what sort of religious tradition they gravitate towards (which has nothing to do with belief, even atheists have attitudinal religious positions).

In my experience, dealing with someone who thinks the divine will is manifested in earthly affairs is better avoided. Or to quote William Burroughs' more colorful version of the same advice: if you are doing business with a religious son-of-a-bitch, get it in writing,* his word ain't worth shit - not with the good Lord telling how to fuck you on the deal.*

Please note that my criticism is directed as a particular subset of religious thought rather than religion in general. Every belief system has the potential to manifest in good and bad ways.

That kind of religious thought is not Calvinist in the least. Here's an actual quote from one of Calvin's sermons on the topic:

"The good things given by God are but a path to lead us to him, a ladder to ascend on high, not a tomb in which to bury ourselves. We should not cling to happiness or greet its passing with a hollow laugh, for it is fleeting. Nor should we exult when men applaud us, as if we had already attained our reward for a virtuous life on earth. No, we are determined to press on through good report and bad. Such is the measured and moderate path pursued by the believer. We do not get drowsy, still less intoxicated, when times are good. And we are always willing to abandon everything if God requires. This is not how it is with unbelievers. Prosperity goes immediately to their heads, fills them to bursting; they are so befuddled that not once do they spare a thought for God or the spiritual life. In time they grow hard, and when misfortune comes they grind their teeth and blaspheme against God."

In the end though, it doesn't matter what Calvin said precisely, but how it was interpreted by calvinists.

Adam Smith wasn't exactly the neo-liberal, free-market trumps all champion either.

Given that Calvin's stated and recorded views run precisely counter to those ideas, it would require some pretty significant mental contortions to characterize anyone with those views as "Calvinist".

That reminds me of the recent statement by the NYT's Dean Baquet that they don't "get religion" [http://www.npr.org/2016/12/08/504806512/new-york-times-execu...]. It's certainly true that many current ideas and worldviews have been influenced by religious thought, but if one wishes to speak credibly about such things, getting some basic facts correct should be among the prerequisites. Apart from that, one won't effectively address the issue and is likely to come across simply as an anti-religious bigot. For some, that may not be a concern, but given the current environment of "fake news" and "alternative facts", I'd suggest that it's a counterproductive approach.

>Given that Calvin's stated and recorded views run precisely counter to those ideas, it would require some pretty significant mental contortions to characterize anyone with those views as "Calvinist".

So, just like being pro-war, racist, etc, but considering oneself a good Christian?

>but if one wishes to speak credibly about such things, getting some basic facts correct should be among the prerequisites.

"What Calvin wrote" and "what calvinists believe" are two almost orthogonal topics. Even more so "what calvinists practice in real life".

Moreover you won't find many scholars that disagree with regards to whether calvinism had an influence on seeing wealthy as "good", e.g:


"Now, it's rather natural, if one is a Calvinist, to be constantly looking for any little indications that God does approve of oneself, that God has predestined one to be redeemed, that one is "of the elect" of God. And how might God give any promising little hints? Well, material success is one way. If one has a successful business, God seems to be smiling on one! And as for those poor destitute farmers who just lost everything they owned due to a drought, well, God is all-powerful, and must have decided that they should suffer. And who are we miserable sinners to disagree, and thwart the plans of God?

Thus, the Calvinist develops a European version of India's infamous caste system. In ancient India, foreign conquerors solidified their conquest by imposing a religion on the populace. According to this religion, there were set classes or castes of people, and anyone born into the poor castes must have done something in a previous life to deserve such punishment. Similarly, the Calvinist attributes prosperity and poverty to the mysterious workings of God. (Notice that in both cases these beliefs serve to legitimize whatever the status quo power is. The wealthy and powerful, whether in ancient India or in post-Renaissance Switzerland or 18th century Scotland, are presented as justifiably wealthy. And the poor or "untouchable" are dismissed as unworthy of any better treatment. These are classic examples of ideology.)

Dickens captured exactly this peculiar combination of self-punishment, self-righteousness, and misanthropy in his character Scrooge. Scrooge isn't a simple hoarder. Scrooge's avarice is a result of his secularized "Calvinist work ethic.""

You seem to know what your are talking about. So let me ask you, if it was not Calvin who was the source of this idea, then which religious leader was?

The idea of "getting rich" as a sign of gods favor was probably started in modern USA by the Pentecostal and charismatic movements probably around the 50s. It is called prosperity theology and Calvinists have been some of it's most notable opponents. Famous modern Calvinist preachers like Paul Washer and John Piper have made a name for themselves by criticizing prosperity theology.

That said, even prosperity theology, as perverted as it is in my opinion, still sticks to basic Christian tenets like "blessed are the poor" and the importance of charity to the poor.

That's hard to say since that general idea is probably among the most common elements of religions going back as far as we have records of religion, e.g., Mesopotamia, etc. -- curry favor with the gods through some act of devotion or virtue (though the latter works only if they're "good" gods) and they'll owe you and grant you some token in return. On the other hand, cross them and they'll smite you.

There are relatively few strains of religious thought that decouple prosperity from pleasing gods or God, but the Calvinist strain in Christianity is definitely one of them.

>what sort of religious tradition they gravitate towards (which has nothing to do with belief, even atheists have attitudinal religious positions).

Yep. Religion shapes a culture, and the impact is there even 2 and 3 centuries after people have "stopped believing", in laws, attitudes, ethics, etc.

"I don't have any children, why do I have to pay property tax to fund my towns schools? I'm being ripped off!"

Because an educated populace is necessary to support their prosperity. Those kids will enter the workforce, provide social stability, demand goods and services, and pay taxes that support other people including retirees.

Actually, I estimate that I do pay a fairly high percentage of my kids' education. My house is among the most highly taxed, and my kids are among the cheapest to educate. In reality, I'm also paying to educate other peoples kids.

But it amuses me to think of a system where I pay 100% of their education, but reap 100% of the economic benefits stemming from that education. One idea is a deal, where you agree to pay 100% of your kids' educational costs, and in return, their future payroll taxes are paid directly to you. It's actually a horrifying idea, but it lets people think about the relative amounts of money that we're talking about: A few thousand dollars per year for 13 years, followed by many more thousands of dollars per year for four decades.

I'd never thought about it like that before; excellent point.

>"I don't have any children, why do I have to pay property tax to fund my towns schools? I'm being ripped off!"

We hear a variation of this in FL all the time from retirees. Their children are grown and they've already paid for schools in their previous state!

Ok, thanks for moving here, then.

But they're perfectly content to bankroll their incarceration down the line.

And they will be having their care bills paid in 10 years time by ... the same teenagers going through school now.

What goes around should come around.

I think you correctly identified the symbiotic relationship. If seniors expect their benefits to be fulfilled, they need to invest (jobs, education, etc.) in very people who are paying their entitlement.

Stan Druckenmiller gave a talk about this very subject called "Generational Theft":


The chart from that talk showing the reversal of investing in the young vs the old:


If only it were symbiotic. It's parasitic.

I don't know how "direct" this is, but I generally see my taxes as going to making the strangers I see on the street happier and nicer to be around, because they have fewer problems to deal with.

Maybe this is because my city's main "export" is tourism, so large amounts of everyone's taxes here get spent on parks and cleaning up litter/graffiti and etc., rather than on things that the locals would prioritize. I don't see that as a bad thing: there are a lot of tourists here, and when they're unhappy, they can be awful people. If my city government spends my money to make them happy, then that's a bunch of potential assholes that are instead nice, friendly people! (I can only imagine how much more I would care about this if I worked in hospitality.)

Perhaps one thing to consider is that the person who isn't happy paying for others may not themselves be benefiting from society. Perhaps by a purely financial view they are better off, but that is but one metric of their life. What is going on in their life that makes them prefer every man for himself?

A better way of looking at the results of the tax spending is the money brought in by the tourists (who like to visit nice, clean places) which in turn helps the local economy.

My usual answer to that statement is that the quality of the local school system has a direct relation to property values. Consider school taxes as a form of home improvement!

Another answer: you aren't paying for the current kid's education, you are paying back (with interest) the cost of your own education.

While I generally agree that, yes, you're in essence paying back your own education.

But also you're ensuring that your world has a functioning economy so all that money you've saved to look after yourself in your old age is worth something and there are actually things to buy with it.

If your country goes to pot around you because you didn't raise a couple of functional generations to replace you (even if you didn't have kids) you're effectively screwed, an old person in a Mad Max world

And another answer: Do you really want to live in a society where only the wealthy have any sort of basic education?

Then why does the bill change depending on the assessed value of my property?

Because property tax is an awful, dreadful way to fund public education.

A progressive percentage of earned income above given thresholds (either poverty or happiness) would make much, much more sense.

> Because property tax is an awful, dreadful way to fund public education.

I don't think the property tax is the issue. It's doing school funding at a sufficiently granular level that's the real issue—poor cities / districts won't have the same sort of tax base, be it collected via income, property, excise, sales, or somehow else, as do rich districts.

What you want is some sort of redistributive system. Really large districts (like entire states or countries) accomplish this as rich areas within the district subsidize less wealthy ones. Grants from higher levels of government, paid for by taxpayers in other parts of the jurisdiction, also accomplish this.

That said, money isn't everything...San Francisco has a tremendously wealthy tax base and an unusually small student population due to the city's demographics, but the schools aren't anything to write home about.

Property tax is progressive because rich people purchase more property, and real property tax is critically important because real estate is a permanently finite resource.

Progressive taxes are not linear, they are at least quadratic. The way many property taxes are set up now in the states, they are flat taxes by zoning - ie, residential pays a fixed rate.

I would absolutely argue for progressive property taxes, and that you either need steep progressive property taxes or homesteading rights to avoid the current bubble of land hoarding by the rich, but we don't have those now, and they should fund other things (and at a much less granular scale) than public education.

> A progressive percentage of earned income

Highly dense young-urban-professional work-centric neighborhoods low on kids (SF, LA, SJ) would receive more money, suburban, rural and single-industry neighborhoods (towns in San Bernardino, Fresno counties) dominated by families with children would receive less money.

Because you're good for it, it's convenient to assess and collect, and the property itself isn't going anywhere. I'm not big on property taxes on general principle but it's a somewhat economical approach to implementing the hyperlocal school board approach that Americans seem to prefer despite the proliferation of bureaucracy it imposes.

>Because you're good for it, it's convenient to assess and collect, and the property itself isn't going anywhere.

OK but what does that have to do with paying back the cost of my own education?

The American Dream is basically get born, go to school, go to work and work hard, get a car, get your own home, and settle down with someone you like and drop a couple of kids. taxing property balances out these costs and benefits in a very approximate indirect way without much accounting.

For me it's not very important that there should be accurate accounting of such things. I just don't lose much sleep over tax money going to education because it keeps a virtuous cycle going. I didn't even grow up in the USA, but what my home country lost in direct tax revenue may be made up over the long run by increased international trade.

I really don't see any point in trying to exhaustively account for public goods at the individual level, which only results in more bureaucracy and promotes a penny-pinching mentality that is inimical to the undertaking of increasing public goods and economic development.

>I really don't see any point in trying to exhaustively account for public goods at the individual level

I certainly agree that funding for public education cannot be considered a repayment for some personal debt, which is why I objected to the comment I first replied to.

Think of it like this: your public education was provided not for a fee, but for an equity stake in You, Incorporated.b the more you earn, the more the state gets back, like an investor.

But many people have no public education, and they don't get a break on their property taxes.

That's a pretty usurious interest rate for single people.

Why does my education become retroactively more expensive if I move to a different town?

That only happens if you move to a more expensive town, which could be because of the benefit you got from your education. You could always go somewhere cheaper and poorer and pay less.

Because the US doesn't have a uniform tax rate, due to a federated power structure.

If you don't like it, you don't have to migrate.

Please read the comment I was responding to.

The point of schools isn't to benefit children, it's to instill certain traits that are in the state's best interest for their future citizens to have.

Little of column a little of column b. The state, it's made of people, including those children.

> An example of this is recognizing the importance of costs (like schools) from which I receive no direct benefit (if I do not have children in those schools).

Property tax (and subsequent education funding) is semi-voluntary. One can always downgrade to a smaller/cheaper abode and [somewhat] opt out of the system. This makes even more sense if one is childless.

Let's say two people have a net worth of $1,000,000 each. Person A has a $950,000 house and $50,000 in the bank. Person B has a $200,000 house and $800,000 in the bank. 80% of B's possessions are not subject to property tax.

Your comment reminded me of this, which you might find interesting (if only to understand an opponent's thoughts): http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Libertarian/Public%20Schools/P...

Perhaps understanding, but I found it perplexing. Maybe it's because I was in more AP / IB classes, but I did not find education "indoctrination" and "uniform" (so I think his second concluding paragraph was bogus).

I am also not sure what "state religion" David is talking about in the third concluding paragraph that I was "indoctrinated" into. I will note that the continuous citation of Britain in the early 19th century is problematic to me, as the education set up back then was usually run by the Church of England and other religious institutions (http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/warks/vol7/pp486-500). Not the best example of a free market system here.

I personally am not terribly convinced that a completely private system would work out very well for the under-advantaged in both income and location, particularly the later. This is an issue even in public schools which have no profit motive; how would adding a profit motive help groups that are by definition unprofitable? In America we already have a widening school inequality issue that in part is due to our use of property taxes as funding. (https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/08/propert...).

I do think that mixed systems (something like charter schools) can work if quality control and accountability is in place. (EG: You hear pros and cons, but by and large the charter system implemented by New Orleans seems to have worked.) Elsewise, you're likely to see problems that, at worst, might resemble the "diploma mills" you see in the United States.

David Friedman is Milton Friedman's son and while he's a gifted writer, he also sees himself as the torchbearer of an ideological tradition which sometimes leads him into rhetorical excess.

Additional issues arise if we consider the problem from the standpoint of the child rather than the family. Most families can afford to pay for schooling their children, but very few children can afford to pay for schooling themselves. A private system depends, for almost all children, on parents caring enough about the welfare of their children to be willing to pay the cost of their education.

Most parents, in most societies, do care for the welfare of their children. In part this may be explained by altruism, itself explainable on evolutionary grounds, and in part by the desire of parents to have children capable of supporting them in their old age. These incentives are not perfect-there are parents who sacrifice the welfare of their children to their own welfare. But the alternative to allowing parents to make decisions for their children is not, as a general rule, having the decisions made by the children-five year olds lack not only income, but information and political power as well. The alternative to having a child's parents make decisions for him is having other adults-school administrators, politicians, voters-make those decisions. Parents may not always be altruistic towards their children, but a child's parents are, of all adults, the ones most likely to be. The argument against letting the parents make the decision is an even stronger argument against letting anyone else make it instead.

Here again, the empirical evidence is striking. Under circumstances of poverty difficult for most of us to imagine, British parents of the early 19th century managed to send almost all of their children to school-not for as long as our children go to school, but for long enough to acquire at least minimal skills. In this country a century later, immigrant parents routinely sacrificed themselves to promote the education of their children. We have yet to see any similar level of altruism on the part of those who control the government schools-say a teacher strike aimed at lowering teacher wages in order to leave more money to pay for books.

I'm not sure this guy actually lives in the real world. Surely there is a stronger case against public schools than this hogwash?

This reads like the thoughts of a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

I think Utah's success is not only due to the willingness of the Utah population, but also to their proactive pragmatic disposition.

And let's be honest here, the Mormon influence is a major factor both in instilling the willingness to do something and in creating a pragmatic, solutions-oriented culture.

I'm not a Mormon, in fact, I'm a staunch atheist, but I can't deny the positive effects some religions seem to have when it comes to encouraging community involvement.

So I think part of the answer to the question of "how do we rebuild community" has to do with religion.

Unfortunately, as an atheist, I'm probably part of the problem here.

And not to discount any progress they've made--but you almost have to take with a grain of salt whenever you hear about some big social progress being made in an area that's nearly 90% ethnically homogenous.

These things are a lot easier to do when you're not simultaneously dealing with cultural disconnects. I'm glad it worked for Utah, and it'd probably work in Canada, Vermont, or Sweden. That doesn't mean it'll work well in Chicago or New York.

I remember thinking how amazing the Mormon culture was as a child growing up for a handful of years in Utah, until our next door neighbor went to Federal Prison for Fraud. Then my Parents explained to me the Mormons had a habit of exploiting social services and manipulation that would put the Gypsies to shame.

"Never invite just one Mormon over, they'll drink your liquor cabinet dry. Invite two, so they watch each other like Hawks, and neither will ever touch a drop."

Cults are a trip man.

Its interesting how in some circles it is totally cool to publicly slander a group like the Mormons. Take what you wrote and substitute "Muslim" or "jew" and people would, in one second, write you off as an ignorant racist.

That is largely a matter of history, and not because religious beliefs should never be ridiculed. Jews have necessarily become overly defensive against those who attack their religion, because of the Holocaust, and Muslims have always attacked those who question, oppose, or even just ignore Islam, as a means to reinforce and expand their own religion.

To put that Muslim practice into perspective, look at how Scientology reacts to its critics.

As a religion, LDS relies more heavily on the tithe than on attacking critics. They don't care if you think their religion is nuts, because they have huge, heaping piles of money, and enough local political power in Utah to ensure that government can't be used against them. The tithe creates psychological investment in the religion, which helps prevent its members from questioning it.

I would very much like to have the ability to openly ridicule Judaism and Islam as much as I could openly ridicule LDS, but it just so happens that in practice, Mormons are (as a whole) much nicer and more tolerant people than Jews and Muslims, to the point where I don't fear that they will try to damage or destroy my public reputation, career, or health for no other reason than the expression of my opinions towards their religions.

That large number of people who can publicly slander a religion without retaliation is actually a point in favor of that religion.

It's too bad nobody can even tell a joke anymore.

I agree people are often overly sensitive, but Hacker News isn't really a place for jokes and 6stringmerc's comment didn't seem to be an attempt at humor.

It's just telling which jokes are socially acceptable here, and which aren't.

I am not sure of the reason but I think some people are more capable of empathy than others and I think people confuse empathy and sympathy.

A lot of the people I meet who are less concerned with these problems do so across the board - unless it directly affects them or they've personally lived through those exact same issues they cannot (or will not?) empathize. It takes direct personal experience to change their minds. I think people who won't/cant empathize have a more simplistic view of the world as well - if you are poor you are lazy, everyone starts relatively similarly and what happens to you is mostly (if not all) related to the effort you've put in because maybe that has been their personal experience. I've been lucky enough to relate to this because I haven't had anything directly holding me back (that I am aware of), so my success or lack of success is more directly attributable to my choices and work ethic than people in worse situations than me but that doesn't prevent me from seeing how circumstances dictate choices and opportunities.

I also think that there is as psychological aspect to this in that a lack of empathy also allows people who are not poor or homeless to feel as though they achieved it. Even if they are lower-middle class average people, they've achieved more than someone who is truly poor or homeless but this is just from personal observation, I think you have the same types of "self-made-person" feelings at every level of the socioeconomic ladder.

The psychology behind empathy is really interesting.

I try to avoid inserting politics into any discussion, but this NYT's article suggests that one's values are a determinant of their capacity to empathize...or more specifically, whether a person has individualizing or binding social values. Where one stands on this correlates to whether they are progressive or conservative in their thinking -- and by extension, in their political views. I guess if it was easy to talk about the socio without the political, there wouldn't be a word that combines the two: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/opinion/sunday/who-blames...

The perfect example of not having empathy unless it directly affects you are the endless conservative politicans who don't like rights for gay people until their own kid comes out as gay. It's so frustrating to me, this lack of empathy.

I was thinking the exact same thing but I feel bad about turning everything into a political statement but I do agree. Most of my conservative friends have at least 1 issue they are "liberal" on, because they, a friend, or relative are affected by the issue but it never seems to cause them to re-evaluate their stance on other issues which is always frustrating.

I'm sure there's at least one issue that you lean "conservative" on, yet you've not taken up conservative positions on other issues. Why would your friends behave any differently? From their perspectives, you frustrate them just as much as they frustrate you.

It is entirely possible, but as much as we would like there to be symmetry in all things its not always the case. I'm willing to make concessions on plenty of issues but these days everything seems to be a catch 22 (for example, abortions and access to contraceptives).

One of the interesting things that Utah does is called "Housing First." As with most things, there are pros and cons to the program. However, Utah's analysis apparently exaggerated the affect that this program had on homelessness (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kevin-corinth/think-utah-solve...). Regardless, what you say is correct and valid. Utah seems to care about addressing multiple issues and not just the appearance of homelessness. I hope other cities, states, and/or municipalities build upon what Utah has done.

I'm not sure what the cons are? If as the Utah govenor says it's cheaper to provide housing than the police/hospital/prison costs it kind of seems pretty con free.

In other parts of the country the housing would cost more, but the perhaps prison, hospitals and policing would cost more in those areas too.

It also doesn't take into account the extra money injected by someone returning to work because they've got a fixed house.

The article you point to rightly points out that the data is over hyped which is a shame. But the article then seems to use this to throw out everything that they've done in Utah.

The author appears to have some kind of fairly strong bias which I think he brings to light with this quote:

> Additional focus should be placed on transitioning people out of expensive supportive housing and into housing of their own or with family members when their well-being improves.

As far as I can see, if the maths stack up then just keep building houses.

Living in Romania for a while gave me a front row seat to some of the most horrible societal problems that I've ever seen. What stood out the most for me is that nobody gives a fuck. Well, almost nobody. And that in a country that is extremely religious. Imagine a guy with two stumps trying to cross the street on shortened crutches and people at the traffic light blowing their horns for him to get out of the way.

Empathy is in short supply, and who cares when you have yours how someone else gets through the day. Very, very frustrating.

The harder it is to get by, the less empathy you're going to have for other people. Because you can't afford it. That sort of behavior is pretty common in poor countries.

That doesn't explain why some poor cultures are the most sharing and caring of others...

Why contribute to a society that doesn't care about you?

It's a feedback loop.

One of the things I learned quickly, living in the Bay Area, is the power of giving a crap. You're completely right! Empathy and sympathy, translated effectively into policy, can and do work wonders. You're not going to get these things where people don't care.

That said, there's a potential wrinkle. Empathy, sympathy, and compassion may be necessary but are not sufficient for effective policy. The idea that empathy compels people to find effective policy is incredibly attractive. Who doesn't want to do good? Who doesn't want to help the helpless, who so clearly deserve aid? Who doesn't want to believe that a blossoming of pure intent will help?

Empathy compels us! Compassion compels us! We are moved to act, and we must!

Yet, it's not enough. More than one pure-hearted program in the past has gone awry. Wasted limited funds or political capital. In some cases, gone so awry as to make things worse.

You're absolutely, completely, 100% right. We need to care!. We should think carefully about if giving a crap is sufficient. If it was, I would anticipate that San Francisco's very expensively given craps would have gotten the homeless off the streets by now.

I think my focus is less program-specific than it is interpersonal, i.e. that I as an individual have a responsibility to take part in my community as a member of that community. This means giving my time, my effort, my compassion - not just throwing some money on the table and saying "someone else fix it".

Awesome! Out of curiosity, what does that look like in terms of action? The idea of an individual taking the individual responsibility as a member of their community to help other members of their community represents a wonderful blooming of pure intent, but is perhaps slightly abstract.

Also, there's maybe a potential issue with how community is defined. How do you define your community? What could happen if others possibly have different definitions?

That is, of course, the problem for this answer. We have abstracted away our reliance on other people so effectively (whether in reality or perception) that most people don't feel the need to give back.

I would feel comfortable considering public service as a requirement of citizenship, to some degree. We don't have military conscription in the United States - but requiring a year of paid public service at age 16-18 would be a reasonable option in my mind.

Great! A solid idea. What do you propose people who are not 16-18 do in their regular lives to take part in helping members of their community that isn't sending money to specialists?

It's of course very possible that your experiences and memories may vary significantly from mine, but my experience as a teenager with public service did not consistently inspire empathy for people others in my community. Teenagers are not generally known for their broad-minded feats of empathy, and I was not an exception.

As an adult, I have retained a general distaste for people who seek to tell me what community I am a member of. This is not because I resent being part of a community. It's generally because being told I am a member of a community I may not consider myself a member of is a precursor to being told I have a moral duty to provide some resource. I do not enjoy having my empathy tugged at people who only seem to see me as a member of their community when I have something they desire and who will not regard me as a member once I have provided such.

I feel like you're asking me to understand where you live, what your skills are, and how you can leverage your abilities to help people. I obviously can't and it's not always obvious for people to understand how to figure that stuff out on their own. This is part of the problem with service being an inconsequential part of American culture - there's no "social infrastructure" to identify who needs help and set them up with people who can help them (that aren't, explicitly, social services).

I'm less concerned that teenagers are "inspired with empathy" than I am that we as a country have a large group of young people to put to positive social use. A good friend of mine is German. His 'voluntary social year' was to drive an ambulance. I don't care if they are trail building or helping immigrants learn English - having them to engage in social service will help build a culture of service and get some important (but perhaps, unprofitable) work done.

I'd say this: if you feel like this is something you want to do then just start trying some things.

Organizations that work with youth are super familiar with people showing up all jazzed to do something, then dropping out after a few weeks. Just get out there and try some different things. Sure, it's kinda crappy to do that - but if you don't get yourself into a few different rooms with a few different kinds of people then it's going to be hard to find something that works for you.

Second, your presence and effort and compassion will matter more than your wealth. In fact, I don't even know why your wealth should be relevant. Dress down, buy a Casio, downplay your job - whatever. Say "I do boring computer stuff; nothing fancy like Facebook or Google" even if that's true. If you're working with kids they are going to want to know stuff about you, but you should always choose how (and how much) you share.

Finally, I work in a service oriented job and there are a regularly days that I drive home feeling burned out/abused/ignored. People can be ungrateful and greedy, but - that's not the point of doing this kind of work. I do it because I believe it matters and makes the lives of young people better. Find your reason that doesn't rely on gratitude (because you're guaranteed not to always get it).

What I'm asking you to understand is that I may not subscribe to your definition of community. That I might be entirely disinterested in helping what you consider to be my community.

I've spent significant chunks of my life in parts of the US that have the sort of social infrastructure you seek. I have not found them particularly congenial places in which to live.

Ah, then I've misunderstood the intentions of your comments. I honestly just thought you were looking for suggestions on how to get more involved. Apologies for that assumption.

I think you can choose to define your communities any way you'd like. I don't much care where you draw your lines. If you're investing in your (maker space?) community that's amazing and more than most people do.

Find a community you'd like to be a part of and help out there. There is usually no shortage of work around such organization. If no such community exists, maybe start growing one? A Meetup group can be a good starting point.

I helped run an makerspace for some years (unlike most, it is open for anyone to use anytime, not just members). Keeping machines operating, training people on using them, improving the space, sharing knowledge/tips&tricks, nudging people out of lows when they are stuck with projects.


I appreciate, applaud, and agree with your sentiment. It's such a good idea that I've been doing so for a number of years now.

> I do not enjoy having my empathy tugged at people who only seem to see me as a member of their community when I have something they desire and who will not regard me as a member once I have provided such.

So you helping others is for your own self-satisfaction, and not to help others? You're looking for someone to convine you to be happy with the decision of helping others. That's what all your comments here read like. :)

I'm not surprised you're from the Bay Area, given that.

I'm happy to help others. I'm not happy to feel used.

I don't enjoy having my empathy tugged at by people who only care about me because they want money from me. This experience does not leave me feeling like I have contributed to my community and helped a person. It leaves me feeling used.

It's fine to say no to requests. I don't like how organized the charitable industry is in the US and the high-pressure tactics used to solicit donations. I prefer to donate anonymously or tell charitable solicitors that the more often and elaborately they contact me the less likely I am to contribute to their cause. Frankly I prefer just getting cash directly into the hands of people in need and don't burden myself with worrying about which cause should have priority over others.

I think you're confusing empathy and giving a crap with the appearance thereof. Very few people, in my experience, genuinely give a crap in a way that fully affects their person.

> I don't know how we do it, but we need to start rebuilding community as a social network of interpersonal support

In my opinion, this is one of the problems effective religion solves. I'm betting one of the reasons Utah is good at "giving a crap" is because it has a strong religious infrastructure that encourages members to reach out to others in the community. I remember one part of the article even talking about redrawing church boundaries such that people in middle/upper class neighborhoods are mingling/reaching out to people living in trailer park neighborhoods.

I too am tired of the mentality that government programs can solve any problem given enough money. Social workers can only make their clients feel so loved. Having a neighbor reach out to your family without being paid to do so has a tremendous impact on mental health that social workers can't replicate.

Religions of the Christian flavor (probably Muslim, as well, not sure), at least, have means to unite people who are otherwise not aligned together naturally, since Christianity specifically denies the importance of skill and power, which instantly popup as virtues when you remove religion.

The philosophy of Christianity, however flawed and poorly executed and rife with error, is that nobody is special before God, that your money will be lost when you die, that an obviously superior world is possible and available, that no matter what you do you can be forgiven and receive love. That's powerful. And in the face of the world we live in also very, very strange.

Once that was removed, nothing was put in its place, religious or not.

I think part of this is the poor community in Utah is much closer to the overall community in ethnic, country of origin, and religious terms. When the poor community is 'other' it's harder to view them part of the overall community and thus care about their problems.

We're so stuck on left vs right in this country that we lose sight of the issues. If we focused on issues and how to solve them, we'd be so much better off.

My hat is off to Utah for tackling this problem and making progress.

So true, it's always "us" vs "them". When you take out political tribalism, most rational people can accept others positions/beliefs without hate emerging. In the end we're all just people on a rock floating through space trying to make it. Good for the people just trying to help each other out.

One reason people oppose spending more money on homeless is how expensive it already is with poor results; mismanaged, it seems, by half grifters and half bleeding hearts, and no one with a head for effectiveness.

Here's one of Seattle's big problems: http://roominate.com/blog/2016/anatomy-of-a-swindle/

Here's another Seattle problem: the housing association has a ten year waitlist. The government wanted to change rents so people would be rotated through so more could be helped (since most homeless are just temporary) but the socialist council member got all the people getting a sweet deal together (unlike the others who have to work for a living) to protest and nothing got fixed: http://blogs.seattletimes.com/today/2014/12/seattle-housing-...

Utah has traditionally had plenty of negatives, but a handful of recent innovations (particularly their direct housing initiative) have put them at the head of the pack. I don't think it's fair to chalk that up to "giving a crap" so much as "trying something new".

Ohio seems to be following a similar trend in recent years, John Kasich seems to actually walk it like he talks it where policy is concerned. I would have been fine if a meteor had landed on Trump and Clinton at the last presidential debate and we ended up with Kasich because nobody wanted to start the election season over.

"I don't know how we do it, but we need to start rebuilding community as a social network of interpersonal support rather than merely a zip code."

The obvious, true, academically-established but politically-unacceptable answer is that we need homogeneity.

People give a crap about others in their tribe, who will have their back later, who are working towards the same social goals as them.

People don't give a crap about people of other tribes, who disrespect/hate them and their beliefs, who are working to move the world in an entirely different direction.

Robert Putnam at Harvard did a study around ethnic diversity and social trust/cohesion, hoping to find that diversity helped cohesion. But, he found the opposite - diversity eats away at public trust, far more perniciously than he thought or believed. He delayed publishing for years because this result appalled him so much. But, he's a good scientist, so he did eventually report his findings [1].

So, if you want that genuine sense of community togetherness, you need to:

1. Develop a distinct identity, with a clear definition for who is and who is not in the tribe. People being as they are, you need to develop a feeling of specialness in the in-group, and a sense of otherness towards outsiders. 2. Encourage group-signifying standards, practices, and rituals on members. 3. Do not admit new members who cannot or will not homogenize into those tribal signifiers. 4. Do not permit foreign allegiances among members.

Basically, do what Japan or Korea do now, or what the West used to do in the 50's, and what all pre-modern societies did.


Unfortunately it's hard to admit this, since feel-good wishful thinking about diversity is so pervasive. The idea that "diversity is our strength" is one of the Great Lies of the modern dominant cultural dogma. It's the exact opposite of the truth. Unity (while learning from others) is strength. Diversity is conflict.

And everyone knows this, when it's presented the right way. We all know that it was a great crime when the British and French deliberately drew Middle Eastern country borders to contain several tribes in one country. Iraq is in constant civil war because it was designed to be in constant civil war, by putting together Kurds and Shia and Sunni in one country. The British used diversity as a weapon on the Arabs, and it worked. It's still working. The damage never ends. Meanwhile, Iran is at peace, because it is reasonably homogenous. So is Pakistan, because they persecuted the Hindu population from 15% in 1948 to 0% today.

Diversity is not strength. In the Balkans, in Rwanda, in Chechnya and Syria and Iraq and pre-partition India/Pakisan and modern India and Aceh province and western China and Paris Banlieues and Molenbeek and Malmo and everywhere else, diversity is conflict.

So if you want unity, choose homogeneity.


[1] a starting ref on Putnam's study: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7e668728-5732-11db-9110-0000779e23...

Other reading: Coming Apart by Charles Murray

I don't give money to panhandlers, I think it encourages bad behavior. But to anyone who asks, I look them in the eye, and say "sorry, not today". I'm surprised how few people do this, it takes less effort than actively ignoring someone.

Why is it "bad behavior" to ask people for change?

A lot of pandhandlers panhandle not because they enjoy it, but because they believe they have no other choice. And that is often times the case: they don't have the resources (logistical, financial, social or other) or stable enough health (physical or mental) to find and hold onto jobs. And since they've got to eat, they panhandle.

People with your mindset are usually unable to really put themselves in the shoes of a homeless person. Rather, they think, "gosh, if I became homeless tomorrow, I would go get a job somewhere!" because for them, getting a job is relatively easy. They don't understand what chronic homelessness is like.

There's a very common view that panhandlers and the homeless are principally the same population. It's possible that this view might not be completely correct: http://www.popcenter.org/problems/panhandling/endnotes/#endn...

I skimmed through this and haven't seen anything supporting this claim.

Maybe I missed it. Could you elaborate?

The footnote I linked contains several references and full study texts. The short version is that homeless panhandlers are definitely a phenomenon, but the overlap between the two populations is often significantly smaller than might be naively assumed.

Yes, I read the text cited by footnote 26. I don't see where it says that.

Please accept my apologies, I believe I've been unclear. Footnote 26 contains links to several papers that I believe include the salient data. A brief reading of one shows contents such as:

> Begging provided the main source of finance for this group of people with which to purchase drugs. It was not uncommon for them to earn £50 (Approximately $74 US) during a good day. Homelessness was an issue for around 30 percent of the beg- gars within the City Centre who were actu- ally sleeping in the bus station or car park- ing areas. Most of the remainder were technically NFA though, living in squats on the outskirts of the City Centre or tem- porarily with "friends," but likely to spend some time sleeping rough occasionally. One was living in a hostel and one had a permanent address.

Ah, no worries. I see where the misunderstanding was :)

I've added a few of the links to Pocket -- my reading list for next week is complete! :)

It really depends on the individual. but over time it's pretty easy to sort the grifters from the truly needy.

> since they've got to eat, they panhandle

They don't spend the money on food.

Can you link me to the study?

>"sorry, not today"

How does this not encourage more panhandling (aka "bad behavior")? You're implying that maybe you'll have something for them tomorrow despite the fact that you never will.

Does saying that do anything other than make yourself feel better about not "actively ignoring someone"?

What would be a better thing to say? You don't want to start a conversation or be too rude, but also want to acknowledge them.

Personally, I try to ignore panhandlers to discourage it, but that is kinda like protesting elections by not voting. It feels a bit too much like apathy.

Panhandling is probably bad enough that it discourages itself. There are reasons not to give, but I don't think you reduce panhandling by not giving, so "discouraging" is not a good reason. Hopefully some people will manage to get enough to move to something less bad.

Talk to anyone who works at helping the homeless or impoverished, they will tell you that the vast majority of panhandlers are substance abusers looking for just enough money to get high. They are not doing it to eat (community kitchens are free) and they are not doing it to save up for something less bad.

I would wager that changes a lot by locale. There are plenty of places without such a thing as community kitchen, where if you don't have money at the end of the they you are not going to eat.

And I also don't believe you are doing any favors to poor drug addicts by denying them access to drugs. The whole situation is shit, and there are forms of altruism that are much more effective than giving to panhandlers. But I have much trouble seeing it as "encouraging bad behavior". As I said, it's going to happen regardless.

Why would you say that? One person doesn't make much difference, but naturally panhandling follows the law of supply and demand like anything else.

> What would be a better thing to say?


I'm a foster parent to 3 kids and have 4 of my own. In my opinion, the primary problem with poverty is that everyone wants to solve it with money. Poverty can't be solved by throwing money at it, children in poverty need a stable environment and loving adults to help them grow and become productive members of society. Adults in poverty often need intensive counseling, psychiatry, substance abuse therapy, and a support network of caring individuals. Poverty in the united states will only be conquered by loving individuals sacrificing their own time and interests to help others.

I recall reading about research (So this is third hand information) that one of the most effective ways of solving poverty are simple periodic cash grants. This was specifically about comparing unconditional cash grants to conditional once.

The idea being that this steady supply of money allows one to stabilize. This has 2 direct effects. Firstly, people can feasibly make long term plans. Secondly, the added baseline means much fewer things are 'sudden death'. If your car breaks down, perhaps you can get it fixed soon enough that you don't lose your job. In the same vein, perhaps this money allows you to get a car, making it possible to find work you couldn't get to with the bus.

There are definitely cases where the lack of money in poverty is a symptom, but I'd wager that in the vast majority of cases, lack of money is the root cause.

Whether the humane issues are the cause or symptom of the problem, they need a solution beyond cash, but cash can do a lot of good.

The prime exception are compound cases. I'd say cases where foster care gets involved are exactly those cases. These children need emotional and existential support much more than 'money'. My point is that these cases are exceptional even within the poor class. For the class in general, money could do a lot of good.

What troubles me the most is that even in the face of overwhelming evidence such as the research you describe, a very significant portion of Americans obstinately refuse to consider any and all forms of social aid.

I don't get it. I've tried to listen to their arguments and I just don't get it.

Currently, the would-be recipients of such aid do not participate in the economy and cost the taxpayer billions in unpaid ER visits, policing, jails, property devaluation, etc.

There are exactly two reasons I can think of why someone would oppose helping such people:

1. being extremely sheltered and having no understanding of what it's like to be poor.

2. an "us-vs-them" mentality (black people, immigrants, white trash, etc)

All I can say is that such attitudes truly reveal something about the moral fiber of the individuals who hold them. The older I get, the less respect I have for such persons.

It takes an empirical view, acceptance that simple problems can have complicated solutions, and more faith in research than common sense for these arguments to be convincing.

Lacking any of these, the common sense argument that giving poor people money makes them not want to work has more credence.

All of that disregards the empathy that is required to understand poor people aren't poor by choice.

I don't think it does. There's nothing particularly common sense about "giving poor people money makes them not want to work". "Poor people should get help" is much more common sense, in my opinion, and plenty of people hold that view, as well.

The issue is one of popular belief. People currently believe that everyone is deeply in control of their lives, which necessarily demands that the situation of the poor must be their fault. Similar conclusions flow from high individualism, the idea that nobody can help you but yourself, and that difficult situations make good people. None of these things are common sense, they're counterintuitive, actually, so they require a pre-built framework of thinking to accept.

It's a problem of philosophy, not empiricism. Most people don't care that much about research and, honestly, given the state of psych research right now, they probably shouldn't. But you don't need research to come to the simpler conclusion that a more dangerous environment reduces someone's chances.

It may not be common sense, but it's very much ingrained into the American culture. Some examples:

1. In The Three Little Pigs, the two pigs that built houses out of straw and hay were eaten by the wolf, but the pig that worked hard and built its house out of brick and mortar lived.

2. From 2nd Thessalonians 3:10, "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat."

3. In the spring of 1609, John Smith cited the aphorism to the colonists of Jamestown:

> Countrymen, the long experience of our late miseries I hope is sufficient to persuade everyone to a present correction of himself, And think not that either my pains nor the adventurers' purses will ever maintain you in idleness and sloth...

> ...the greater part must be more industrious, or starve...

> You must obey this now for a law, that he that will not work shall not eat (except by sickness he be disabled). For the labors of thirty or forty honest and industrious men shall not be consumed to maintain a hundred and fifty idle loiterers.

4. The sheer number of Ayn Rand followers in political office [1] when the aim of Ayn Rand's writing is justify why one ought not give a damn about anyone else (much less the poor).

It makes sense for someone in a scarcity economy like John Smith to hold such a viewpoint, because otherwise everyone would starve to death. I lament the fact that even though the US can provide enough housing and food to feed everyone, we do not have the political will to do so. Even though Bertrand Russell was no economist, it seems we have arrived at his most insane dystopia [2] where "half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked" even though we could produce everything anyone ever wanted with a 20-hour work week and everyone working.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/10/new-age-ayn-ra...

[2] http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html

This is relevant here: https://www.povertyactionlab.org/sites/default/files/publica...

MIT Poverty Action Lab. They find that "A multifaceted livelihood program that provided ultra-poor households with a productive asset, training, regular coaching, access to savings, and consumption support led to large and lasting impacts on their standard of living across a diverse set of contexts and implementing partners."

Exiting from poverty is a delicate process, and can be derailed in many ways. These multifaceted programs attempt to overcome the main obstacles, and it seems to work fairly well (at least better than most other interventions.)

> The prime exception are compound cases.

If I can give an analogy: you remind me of a story my father (a general practicioner) told me about when he studied. Apparently, he was among the first generation of Dutch GPs where it was taught as a specialisation. Before the seventies, you simply became a "doctor" first (so, a GP), and specialised from there.

With the rise of GP as a specialisation there also was a rise of studies on the practice. And this had the effect of a number of illnesses being recategorised from highly, highly lethal to mostly harmless.

The reason they had been mislabeled was that the only people who used to write about these illnesses were the specialists. However, the specialists only got to see the cases that were too severe to be treated by the GPs. And this selection bias lead to the false impression that these illnesses were all horrible.

Yes, it takes more than just money.

But "intensive counseling, psychiatry, substance abuse therapy" all require money.

And it makes sense for individuals who, for whatever reason, cannot join "a support network of caring individuals" to still help by just throwing money at it.

But it is true that if everyone just throws money into a pile and no one uses that pile to buy anything helpful then nothing gets better.

I probably could have said it better, the point I attempted to make was that without the support network most of that other stuff doesn't help. I have seen many people get clean, get their life back on track, and then a disaster happens like they lose their job or get kicked out because of a break-up and there is no one to help them. This leads them right back to drugs and other destructive behaviors. One of the most important privileges of being wealthy is that you almost always have a built-in safety net whether that's friends or family. If I lost my job and all my wealth today, there are a dozen people that would welcome me into their home. That's something a lot of people have and take for granted.

As someone who grew up poor and currently has a very small social network (parents passed away, very small extended family in this country, few friends, etc), I worry about this all the time. Who will help me if the shit hits the fan? I have a good job, decent money, and all manner of insurance but its still something that haunts me.

One of the things we see when we examine successful people, especially those in startups, is that they're kids who often have mommy and daddy to fall back on. This allows them to take chances, or take months off school to try some project, or spend days and nights networking, or pulling strings on connections their family provides, or a slew of other inherited advantages. Those without this kind of privilege just go to work and try not to make waves because the risk of failure is too scary to consider like losing your home or being blackballed in your career. Its a whole other world when you know very few people have your back and there's no family wealth to cushion your falls. When I deal with people with this high levels of privilege I find it very hard to relate to them. Its like talking to a space alien with endless wealth. My own experience don't remotely match up.

Poverty is several steps below the situation I grew up in. I can't imagine the hopelessness here. Kudos to those who are actively doing something about it.

> Adults in poverty often need intensive counseling, psychiatry, substance abuse therapy, and a support network of caring individuals.

You have assumed poverty in adults is caused by mental health problems and, in general, that is false. What about the rest of the adults, without mental health issues, in poverty? Poverty is caused by lack of gainful employment. There are a great many people able and willing to work but do not have gainful work and that puts them in poverty.

> You have assumed poverty in adults is caused by mental health problems and, in general, that is false.

No, GPs argument is valid if mental health, etc., issues are correlated with poverty and complicate escaping it, even if they don't cause it.

>You have assumed poverty in adults is caused by mental health problems and, in general, that is false.

You are assuming that they meant that mental health problems are the cause, while I interpreted them as a symptom of poverty.

> Poverty can't be solved by throwing money at it, children in poverty need a stable environment and loving adults to help them grow and become productive members of society.

Of course, this is basically the conservative argument with the added provision that the best people for this task are two parents in a stable marriage.

I have a particularly unique perspective on being poor and usually when I tell people the reason why I got to where I am is because of luck, they often don't believe me or say that luck doesn't play a part.

My father had died when I was a kid. He was a fisherman and his boat capsized due to problems that should've been recognized and fixed. My family at the time was poor, however she was able to find a lawyer to work pro-bono and won a wrongful death suit. Because of that specific suit, I had just enough money (along with financial aid) to afford going to a local community college and eventually getting a bachelors degree in computer science. Even then, I lived in poverty saving most of my money just to afford classes / help my mother and at times sacrificing my health for a potentially better future.

My father also suffered from mental issues and drug abuse. If this didn't occur, I'd likely be still in poverty. Naturally I tell very few people, but it's frustrating interacting in the software world and seeing so few people understand what it's like to truly be poor. To see your parents struggle and go nowhere.

For anyone who wants to understand the mindset underlying poverty (whether cause, or affect, or a mixture of both), I recommend "Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass" by Theodore Dalrymple. He's British psychologist who spent his life working with the poor, and came away with some insightful observations about the culture of this population.


"The reality is that when you’re poor, if you make one mistake, you're done." - this was my experience.

I graduated with first-class honours from a top 10 UK university, paid for by my dad's job at CERN. No companies came offering jobs, except weapons manufacturers and oil companies. I refuse to support either of those industries.

I went off around the world on Working Holiday visas, doing a variety of jobs. Some of those were related to tech, some were not. My résumé grew dramatically, as each job only lasted for a few months.

I tried to start a Ph.D. programme at KAIST in Korea. I had to spend all my savings from 5 months in China to pay 6 months of rent up-front for on-campus accommodation.

Then the professor didn't pay my scholarship. I complained to the international office. They talked to the professor. The professor then talked to me, said I'd been gossiping bad things about him to people in the administration, and kicked me out of his lab.

No professor, no lab, no university, no student visa, no country. Everything fell apart.

A friend there told me to get a job with his brother in India, which I accepted. It was only paying 5000 rupees/month (78 USD/month), but accommodation was provided (food was not). I sent thousands of job applications to try to get out of there, and finally gave up and posted an emotional rant on Facebook. A previous colleague saw it, talked to my old boss in Taiwan, and somehow got me an invitation to work here. Even though my salary is much lower than it would be in a Western country, I'm terrified that if I leave, I won't be able to come back. Articles about homelessness and poverty often show up on Hacker News, and keep convincing me that I should just stay comfortable. I'll never be able to afford a house or learn to drive, and I probably can't afford to get married. But at least I have food and shelter, and that's the most I can hope for.

weapons manufacturers and oil companies. I refuse to support either of those industries

That doesn't sound very pragmatic. I definitely would have qualms about working for a weapons manufacturer, oil companies not that much, but if I'm in need of a job I'd take them.

When you didn't have a job, had you burned all the bridges with the oil companies? From top UK university to 78 USD/month sounds hard to believe (especially if you worked Working Holiday you know that you can make ten times that working odd jobs anywhere else).

Can you take additional jobs? Even if it's fiverr or mechanical turk or some other platform?

If you have an UK citizenship you should be able to do well, not sure about affording a house (I can't either) but renting, learning to drive, etc. shouldn't be impossible.

I read on a sister thread that you were offered interviews but you had to fly there, I would try to save for a ticket and cheap accommodation and try to schedule a bunch of interviews at your target destination. When I was looking for work abroad (I'm from Latin America) I didn't ask to be flown in, and I have a CS degree and a Masters.

Maybe you need help from someone (social worker, psychologist) to identify the issues that are holding you back, if you do have a top 10 degree it's not an intelligence problem.

How do you "take additional jobs"? Companies just don't reply to me. I was able to earn $500 USD to buy my plane ticket to Taiwan because I posted my code about an offline cache of stackoverflow, and someone contacted me to let me do a small project for him.

The UK will not give me unemployment benefits, because I'm a citizen by descent.

This was the story of that job search. I have a job now, but I want to make very clear that it wasn't because I didn't try - it was luck and connections, not qualifications, that helped me.


I just found your resume off your tumblr. Unless you updated it, I really hope you get someone to help you revise it. It's not very palatable, imo.

If you don't mind me asking, where do you have citizenship? What is your degree?

I don't mean to sound unsympathetic, but I'm gonna throw out a bunch of questions because I want to know more details about your story.

How old are you? Did you ask your parents and other family for assistance? Were they unwilling or unable to help you? Why did you go for a terrible job in India (if you're Indian, ignore this question)?

Citizenship by descent, from the UK. Parents who live in France, but work in Switzerland. I would have to pay rent to live at home. They refused to pay for anything now I'm over 18. The article is saying that society ignores merit, and I agree, because it's much more about rich families supporting their children who inherit wealth. Earning wealth seems impossible.

I'm now 27. I was 21 when I graduated (accelerated Masters in 4 years straight from high school). I was 23 when I tried to start the PhD program.

I went for a terrible job in India because there was nobody else who would hire me. I sent hundreds of applications, mostly to Taiwan because I wanted to come here, but also other countries. Most companies just ignored me, or required me to fly somewhere at my own expense for an interview.


What kind of proof do you need?

Dealing with poverty would be much easier if everyone would see it as an investment.

If you consider a young baby as a investment and future taxpayer, it's easy to justify large investments into the poverty reduction. If we improve someones situation so much that he/she pays $100 more taxes per month during his/her lifetime, or alternatively consumes government resources less, it will have huge compound effect over the lifetime.

$100 per month justifies at least $50,000 in additional investment, $100,000 if you count compound effects, externalities and human capital as a factor in economic growth.

> if everyone would see it as an investment.

From a rational perspective a baby born today might never, ever pay back any investment of this sort. His or her potential employment opportunities may very well be eaten up by automation. If fact, this is most likely the case 20-30 years from now as AI and robotics continue to advance in some/many industries.

Instead, we should be seeing all humans as worthwhile creatures and the state as a method for us to live compassionate lives. Policies like guaranteed incomes are the saner solution here because they don't depend on seeing people as investments, often investments they can't pay off.

Not to mention the sick, disabled, elderly, etc who can never ever pay off these hypothetical investments.

Guaranteed income schemes (basic income, negative income tax) are economically sound policies because the makes it possible for low productivity workers to contribute without incentive traps. Politically they are relatively stable because everyone gets the same treatment and interests are aligned.

Appeal to humanity is not sound political approach to get things done. If the only argument is idealistic appeal humanity, poor will get only scraps. We should use mechanism design (reverse game theory) to design society where the interests of the majority are tied into the interests of the poor.

We here in the Nordic countries reduce poverty effectively using wealth transfers. The reason for this is not better morals or humanity. Instead we have created a wealth transfer system were majority of benefits go to the middle class and poverty is reduced because poor are part of the same system. When every kid below 10 is given certain amount of money, not just the poor, it becomes politically hard to cut that money because majority of people like free money.

The economic fate of a random baby born in a developed country is absolutely not "most likely" nil due to automation. I think you are drastically overestimating the rate and scope of AI and robotics.

I'm skeptical we'll need as many workers for $threatened_industries in 2040-2050. I think its a little unrealistic to think we can keep up this ponzi scheme of employment as-is. Even now a great deal of unemployment is kept in check by various tax incentives to corporations paid for by taxpayers. Mary is paying Bob to employ Jane. That's not very sustainable in general, let alone with automation keeps chipping away at jobs.

I believe worklife in 2050 is going to be very different today. The same way my dad worked 10-12 hour days normally and I do 7.5 with Friday 'work from home' which is almost a day off.

I think the problem with thinking of it like an investment is there is a 0% chance of personal, direct, return on your investment. It may benefit society and you may even benefit indirectly due to the benefit of society, but you would not be entitled to direct return on your investment. In that case to me it seems like a non-starter purely as an investment. There would also be very ambiguous (if any) accountability of the ROI with lots of hand-wavey things for ups and downs. You also can't re-invest anything that is invested in this manner, like you can with other investments. You can't rebalance or shift investment around once it's happened. So there seems to be a huge sunk cost the principal is unrecoverable.

Maybe it's just too complex (right now) to calculate an expected ROI so it tends to sit more on the side of speculation than investing. It may seem like a good thing to do, but we're really just guessing.

> $100 per month justifies at least $50,000 in additional investment, $100,000 if you count compound effects

That seems like a total guess without a source.

The chances of return are higher than 0%. They are just causally disconnected.

Consider that muggers are likely to be people in desperate need of money. Investing in kids now reduces you chance of being mugged later.

The same disconnected causality is at work in a ton of other ways. Chronically poor people will not invent a product you are likely to buy. Chronically poor people contribute less tax money, increasing your relative tax burden. Chronically poor people <contribute more> to <bad thing> and <contribute less> to <good thing>.

This is extremely hard to measure with something like single study, but the mechanism is clear and easy to understand. And data does bear this out. Educated and wealthier areas have less of the problems I touched on here.

> The chances of return are higher than 0%. They are just causally disconnected.

You're leaving off an important clause that I had:

> 0% chance of personal, direct, return on your investment.

Which is the most important part. I agree that essentially dumping money at the problem will help, but I disagree that it should be considered an investment in the traditional sense. I'm not sure what to call it other than charity.

It sounds like we both agree it would improve the future in tangible and measurable ways, even for those paying the taxes. I would rather not argue the semantics of the word "investment", not all investments need to be financial.

This is exactly why poverty should be a governmental concern: a societal cost for societal benefit.

The problem is that people don't care about or trust information that proves the investment is worthwhile - and part of that is an active disinformation campaign against anything government-positive by the wealthy/corporate elite that wants to defang the government from interfering in it's profits.

There's also the fact that the riches pay less (in %) towards taxes than the middle-class or poor. When your "betters" don't pay their fair share, why should you?

Does it not strike you as incredibly naive to suggest more spending is the solution to a complex problem like this?

The same thing can be done with almost any liberal policy. Why don't people see raising school taxes as an investment? Why don't people see spending more in infrastructure as an investment? Why don't people see grants for alternative energy projects as an investment? The same argument is made over and over.

They do! We just have disagreements on whether or not that's the best way to solve the problem, and there always seem to be significant diminishing returns as you spend more and more money on these things. If solving complex societal issues were as simple as, "See if you spend $100 more per month, it pays off $50k later," these wouldn't be issues. But it's not that simple.

Everything you're saying is true, and yet, I think that relying mostly on this line of reasoning to justify poverty reduction leads to discounting the importance of supporting disabled people and old people. I think most people believe that just because you cannot work, doesn't mean you deserve a basic but dignified standard of living.

>reasoning to justify poverty reduction __leads to__

This is slippery slope argument.

You are essentially saying that using economic argument for taking care of poverty can be used to justify not taking care of poverty and we should not use it.

It's hard to connection between importance of supporting disabled and old and economic argument for reducing poverty. Reducing overall poverty is net positive also for disabled and elderly.

I thus think that you have succumbed into logical fallacy.

Are you including TVM in that calculation?

I'm grateful to have read such an honest take on a critically important myth.

Solutions seem to be both psychological and political. The situation look grim.

Psychologically, people within many cultures have developed a pressure point around self-gratification (the faster the better). Wanting to reap the benefits of one's full potential is huge nowadays, in a wide variety of ways. God forbid you don't become your best self, otherwise you may be trapped in the social pit the author was given a ladder to escape from.

Politically, the Powers that Be effectively mine the vanity, fear, and resentment that make up modern meritocracy. People's incomes literally depend on portions of the population being terrified by the prospect of being poor and/or disdainful of those in poverty.

Very impressive article and I'm glad that he doesn't offer up Survivor Bias. Nations that work hard to eliminate childhood poverty would, by this reasoning, have a considerable, and long lasting, advantage. It's not just a single generation that will benefit but all the following ones, too.

I agree with the overall theme of this article, but I would also claim that we can't put all of the blame on the biological effects of being poor. The life choices we make still play a part (which is, after all, influenced to some degree by our biology).

As an anecdotal case, my sister and I grew up poor. She's 6 years older than me but I'm doing significantly better than she is economically. We were raised in the same environment, had the same nutrition, went to the same school, have similar genetics. I could relate all to well to the "mom hiding the foodstamps" line noted in the article.

I think the area where our paths diverged was in terms of the choices we made as a way of dealing with the stress we faced. She found comfort in other people, I isolated myself. She got pregnant at a young age, I cut off other people and focused on my studies. She got married, I worked to get get enough financial aid to go to college. She got divorced and is struggling to support two kids, I have a good career but have never had a serious relationship.

It could have just as easily gone the other way for both of us. I could've gotten some girl pregnant, she could've gone to college and become successful. Perhaps that's the random element of chance noted by the article's author, but I still think it came down to the choices we made.

For what it's worth, I don't think I'm better than her at all. It has taken me years to realize that we both did what we did as a way to deal with our mental issues. I'm still fucked up in my own way, but I guess I'm lucky in that I don't have to worry about making my rent payment or putting food on the table (though, as the article's author also stated, I still feel like the rug is about to be pulled out from under me and I'll have to live on the street).

One thing that does bother me, however, is that my sister to this day says, "I wish I could [something]" or "It must be nice to [something]" in response to what I do. It discredits the effort I put into what I have accomplished. Even if luck played a small role, I still put in a whole lot of effort. On top of that she criticizes me for my reclusive nature, which is a real low blow, in my opinion, and has made our relationship as adults rocky, to say the least.

Forgive my rambling. Just seems like this article was something I could really relate to.

The author acknowledges that choices are at play here; what he's arguing is that your ODDS become a lot lower from being poor.

It sounds like you're equating the ways in which you're fucked up with the ways in which she's fucked up. That may well be true; on the other hand, your kind of fucked up might increase the odds of your offspring doing well, whereas hers might not -- so in that way, your "way" was better even if your subjective evaluation of your own condition is not any better than your sister's.

Also, you resent your sister saying "It must be nice...", and I agree, it would be better if she didn't say that to you. On the other hand, aren't you (sort of) doing the same thing if you wish you had some social/personal component that your sister does but you don't?

>On the other hand, aren't you (sort of) doing the same thing if you wish you had some social/personal component that your sister does but you don't?

Maybe I think that at times, but I don't say it to her face (or really to anyone) in an effort to gain sympathy, which seems to be her motive when making those comments. I think that's a pretty big distinction.

I definitely agree with your other points, though. I don't want kids, but if I did I would be in a better position to provide for them that gives them an advantage over kids that grew up in the sort of situation hers have.

The author makes a good point about the difference between merit and luck in social outcomes.

But, here in America we need not have Food insecurity. With a bit of good financial planning, you can live off 2$/day/person or less. There's so much food you can buy for less than 1$/lb: Corn, Oatmeal, apples, banannas, etc. With many of these combinations, you can reach 2000 calories for less than 2$/day.

And who needs a super expensive cell phone plan? I make do with 9$/month using USMobile. Driving insurance can be less than 25$/mo if you get metromile.com There are many ways to be more cost effective. When i was growing up, my parents would clip every last coupon on the magazine, to get the best deals.

The biggest problem for the poor and everyone else too: is Housing. This is a huge hurdle that we still need to tackle. There's millions being evicted from apartments, and most people have to pay way too much housing. But this too is mostly a manmade/govt/voter issue. With the right land use policies and a massive reduction in regulations we could open up the floodgates to housing innovation and allow the price of housing to come down.

"But, here in America we need not have Food insecurity."

Except if you're homeless in which case planning, storing and saving become uncertain.

And given that you've admitted that today becoming homeless is extremely easy, all the rest of your reasoning goes out the window.

A person can live manageably in very tight poverty only if they have stability in all the other aspects of their lives, a situation that has become impossible today (but once was possible, in the America of 1960 or 1970 say) - if you have a medical emergency, if your car breaks down, if a relative needs a place to stay, if your landlord suddenly raises your rent, etc., those careful preparations go out the window. And given this it is neither illogical nor that irrational that today's very poor don't live according to these careful plans since such plans seldom save them from the problems they face.

> a situation that has become impossible today (but once was possible, in the America of 1960 or 1970 say) - if you have a medical emergency, if your car breaks down, if a relative needs a place to stay, if your landlord suddenly raises your rent, etc., those careful preparations go out the window

Why these things were less of a problem in 1960/70?

"Why these things were less of a problem in 1960/70?"

The family as safety net was more intact, job churn wasn't as common, medical expenses weren't insane, rents weren't in constant flux, whole industries weren't being continuously disrupted...

>There's so much food you can buy for less than 1$/lb: Corn, Oatmeal, apples, banannas, etc. With many of these combinations, you can reach 2000 calories for less than 2$/day.

That's a pretty horrific measure.

You can technically live off of rice and WonderBread, but not healthily.

All the foods you list are primarily carbohydrate sources. Humans are incapable of synthesizing proteins and (some) fatty acids. I would suggest it costs a lot more if you consider protein and fat sources and opportunity costs of preparing them.

Whole Wheat flour, Rolled oats, and many Fruits and Vegetables have more than enough protein.

If you ate, 2000 cals of whole wheat flour or Rolled oats (which can be used to make many other things like pancakes, waffles, cookies, crepes, tacos), you would get roughly 80g of protein, which is 60% more than your daily protein (52g) requirement!

There's protein and then there's complete protein. You need to consume enough of all of the essential amino acids to avoid protein deficiency even if you're consuming "enough" grams of protein. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essential_amino_acid

What about essential fatty acids?

omega3 and omega6 is present in small quantities in lots of fruits and veggies. In a pretty decent balanced ratio I might add, as well.

Where I live $2 a day will get you a hand of bananas and a couple ears of corn, which doesn't seem like it'd be enough to subsist on. What would your grocery list for a weeks worth of food on a $14 budget look like?

$2/day on food is a load of shit. It sounds straight up like /r/frugaljerk advice.

I mean, you won't starve, but it would be one of those things contributing to the poverty mentality. Children, especially, need meat, physically active people need creatine, not easily gotten from plant-based foods. Not to mention fruits and vegetables will add extra (even frozen ones)

A 4-pack of fresh tomatoes alone is $2, at the very least.

Not to mention forcing people to eat boiled corn or lentils every days for years is damn near cruel.

I guess you could supplement it by dumpster diving for produce, but at that point you could also make the ridiculous claim of not having to pay for food at all.

He did get one thing right though: the biggest cost is housing.

>Children, especially, need meat, physically active people need creatine, not easily gotten from plant-based foods.

This is entirely false, some meat marketers have duped you. "Creatine is not an essential nutrient[8] as it is naturally produced in the human body from the amino acids glycine and arginine." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creatine

There are entire countries that grow up vegetarian and turn out just fine.

I'm not saying it's a good idea, but I was impressed at some of the suggestions here:


It's still near starving and probably very fucked up in the long term, not to mention socially and psychologically bad as well. I don't think I could pull some of that off on a long-term basis, and there's also the studies that say that being poor predisposes you to buy fatty foods:


Are you suggesting that the poor follow this "advice"?

> With a bit of good financial planning

How do you plan financially if your income (and your life in general) is uncertain? A major point in the article was that poverty leads to an inability to plan for the future, and increased stress as a result.

> Corn, Oatmeal, apples, banannas, etc.

So now you need bowls, utensils, hot water, a microwave, stove. You need safe and comfortable access to these things, you need a way to store food so that it won't be stolen. You might think that these are givens, but I lived in an illegal (but very cheap) apartment for a while with a communal kitchen where my food was regularly stolen / thrown out. The landlord would unplug the refrigerator almost every day to save on electricity costs, so a lot of wasted food and I stopped using the fridge. I was harassed and threatened in the kitchen, by residents who were on drugs/frustrated by life and taking it out on me. This made it very difficult to eat well on food stamps.

> And who needs a super expensive cell phone plan? I make do with 9$/month using USMobile.

You also probably have your own computer and Internet access. Without that, a smartphone could be your only way of accessing the Internet (something that's almost a necessity, especially for the poor) "Just go to a library" right? That's great if your town's taxes warrant a decent library with available computers and Internet access within walking distance (or convenient driving distance if you're fortunate enough to have a car).

> my parents would clip every last coupon on the magazine, to get the best deals.

My parents did the same thing. In their copious spare time, with ads delivered to the door of their home, and the ability to travel to multiple grocery stores, all vying for their grocery dollar, in pursuit of the best deal. Look at the trailer with the plywood extension in the article again. Do you think they're getting a stack of local grocery ads every Sunday morning from the neighborhood mailman? Do you think they peruse them over coffee in the morning saying "Wow honey, the single convenience store in town that survived the recession has eggs $1.09/dozen today!" "Oh? Sounds good! And the gas station is having a sale on milk!"

> Driving insurance can be less than 25$/mo if you get metromile.com

Great if you already have a car and can afford to maintain it and put gas in it. And that insurance probably isn't comprehensive, which leaves the poor more vulnerable to expensive emergency situations, especially if they require a car for work. A minor repair might be complete disaster if they don't have the cash, don't have access to credit, and then lose their job as a result.

> With a bit of good financial planning, you can live off 2$/day/person or less.

Prove it.


"Feeding himself has been the toughest part of the challenge to date. “I’ve not been able to buy enough food,” Mr. Brar said, as he walked through the Downtown Eastside to his latest residence, a small, depressing room inside a sketchy-looking hotel. “I’ve already lost eight or nine pounds.” He buys mostly cereals and grains, instant noodles, some fresh and frozen vegetables, tofu and milk.

Local activists trailing behind him said his luck is about to change, at least on the dietary front. No one need go hungry in the Downtown Eastside, said a man named Dave, himself a local welfare recipient. “There’s lots of free food down here,” Dave said. “The thing is, though, you have to line up for every meal, and that becomes a full-time job.”"

Go into the store and mostly buy only things that cost less than 1$ per lb. Even if you average 1$/lb that would mean you could buy 900 grams per day. Just as an example, if you only bought rolled oats and whole wheat flour (which by the way are excellent sources of protein and fiber, magnesium and potassium - far more healthy than the average person eats), you would get about 3000+ calories from that. Though you'd probably want to mix it up a bit and buy some fruit and veg for a small part of your budget, arriving at close to 2k calories per day. And you'd still be eating more healthily than the vast majority of middle class peoples.

Even here, in the insanely expensive bay area, you can buy Costco spinach for 1.60$ per pound. bannanas 47c/lbs, rolled oats for 0.80$ per pound. etc. There's more examples of foods you can find that are cost effective.

Admittedly, you wouldn't be able to eat at restaurants, ever.

I wish this article was less long winded, but I fully agree with the point. So long as we push the narrative that "You're poor because you just don't try as hard as privileged kids" is not fixing the problem.

To fix the problem we need to address it as a group, and not shove blame on individuals. As a privileged person I can clearly see my world would be better if others had less poverty.

So what's the action item here? I wish there was a "latent voter momentum" website where I could pre-vote in this direction when laws and candidates come up.

What can we do? Nothing really: the main thing to do is to vote better, but we don't do that, we vote for candidates who make the problem worse. In fact, a significant portion of lower-income people are making the situation worse for themselves by voting for politicians who work against their best interests economically.

we vote for candidates who make the problem worse

Phrasing it this way makes it appear that people are thinking "which candidate will make the problem worse? I'll vote for that one." I think you'd agree that the vast majority of people are not doing this. They're voting for candidates who appeal to them and what they feel is in their best interest.

There's at least one confounding factor that may make it more difficult for one to understand the voting behavior of another: candidates represent a prioritized set of values, and that set may not perfectly (actually, very likely doesn't) match the prioritized set of values of the voter. (There are single-issue voters out there, and it would interesting to know what percentage of people are and for which issues.) For example, while a voter may appear to be voting against their economic best interest, perhaps social issues are more important to them, and they'll choose a candidate that appeals to those social issues.

And, of course, there's the biases that are a part of human psychology. We're not perfectly rational homo economicus. People can be influenced to make decisions that are against their best interests (for whatever value of best interest you'd like to propose). From that point of view, we can try to get people to vote better through education and influence. And again, what that means is up for debate: you could say voting better means for their best interests economically, but even that leaves open the question of what that means: short-term outcomes? Long-term outcomes? Economically better for their children? Grandchildren? Their community? The country? The world?

I grant you, it's not an easy problem to fix. Encouraging people to think critically as well as putting in place measures of political performance and more transparency into lobbying and contributions are a few I personally think would make a difference.

Oh, I definitely agree that 1) people don't actually think they're voting for someone who'll make the problem worse, and 2) voters are prioritizing particular values. Single-issue voters are real; I've met many. They all seem to be on the right, however: they have two issues, abortion and guns. There's no shortage of people I've heard say "I won't vote for X because s/he wants gun control", and all other issues be damned. So it's really easy for that party to just harp on those issues and get lots of votes from people who just refuse to think about anything else until they get their way on those. I really do think that, for those voters, candidates could tell them "I'm going to work to ban abortion and eliminate all gun restrictions, and I'm also going to increase your taxes 5-fold while eliminating all taxes for richer people, and I'm also going to help some companies pollute the land you're living on and prevent you from taking legal action against them", and these candidates would still get elected by these people.

However, this doesn't make my initial statement wrong: I said these people are voting against their best interests economically, and it's true. And it's my contention that these people are actually stupid because they do this, by prioritizing a couple of hot-button issues over things that really would affect them personally in a much more profound way than whether other people have abortions (RvW has been around for over 40 years now) or whether they can own machine guns (gun laws in this country are already very lax and no national candidate has proposed doing much to change that for some time now).

I have no idea how you get people to think critically when they've never done it before. The only way I've seen that actually works here is for someone to get a decent education. That just isn't going to happen for some middle-aged conservative living in West Virginia mining coal. Worse, it's not just uneducated blue-collar workers voting this way, there's plenty of seemingly-intelligent people who have bought into very far right-wing politics, for very different reasons than what I mentioned above. Much of it seems to be outright racism AFAICT, like the alt-right websites I've seen lately that rail against interracial dating, pushing racial purity, something straight out of Hitler's Germany.

It sounds like understanding how people arrive at their values and politics is something that interests you. I found Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion[0] very interesting, one of the most important books I think I've read in the past five years or so. I highly recommend it.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Righteous_Mind

Welfare makes people feel bad. People want jobs. People want to be productive members of society. People want the pride and self-respect that comes with supporting a family. You might say that economic self-interest means voting for wealth redistribution, but the cost is feeling like a worthless thief. That would be depressing -- this should suggest why opiates are so popular in Appalachia and the rust belt these days.

> People want to be productive members of society

The problem there is that we are still equating societal worth with the ability to draw a paycheck.

Not sure why you're getting downvote. You are absolutely correct. Does anyone have some insight as to why lower-income people vote this way?

1) A system that can only stably support two parties at a time, leading to really weird combinations of issues under the two parties (imagine a world where voting for a "pro-life" party didn't also mean voting against a social safety net and for the death penalty, for instance—much saner, no?)

2) Propaganda. See any number of studies about people's perceptions of tax policy and various government programs, versus the reality of same. Some discrepancy would exist no matter what, but much of it is the result of deliberate misinformation.

Thank you for answering my question. I'm unfortunately quite ignorant about politics, so it's often hard for me to understand all the nuances of our system.

> we vote for candidates who make the problem worse

How many candidates are there that will pay more than lip service to improving things?

The first few paragraphs of OA brought to mind Path to Power, the first volume of Robert Caro's Lyndon Johnson biography. The chapter on electrification and the impact it had on women's lives in rural Texas is a real eye opener.

Fuck yeah bud. Have you read the power broker?

Started with The Power Broker as I have an interest in planning and had read Jane Jacobs' book.

I've read all four of the Johnson volumes, and I'm hanging on for the fifth.

For those that are not familiar with Mr Caro's work...



I am currently 900 pages deep in the power broker and am very looking forward to the johnson volumes. :)

Ok, but why?

I grew up with a single mom on food stamps, and while we weren't the poorest kids around — I still feel incredibly out of place living in a tech hub that's filled mostly with people with middle class or upper-middle class backgrounds.

I was really shocked when I had the realization that it was a cause of a lot of my social discomfort. Your income level has a drastic impact on your outlook on life and mental health, which is immediately connected to physical well-being. I'm not nearly as comfortable relaxing, taking a vacation, or even ordering a more expensive (and healthier) lunch... despite being privileged enough to have it now.

It would make an incredible difference within a generation if an already first-world country like the US could ensure a basic quality of life that included maternity care, vacation, and healthy food as a standard.

>We tell the poor that they have the chance to escape if they just work hard enough; that we are all equally invested in a system that doles out rewards and punishments in equal measure. We point at the rare rags-to-riches stories like my own, which seem to play into the standard meritocracy template.

I don't know anyone who "tells the poor" that. I think most people understand that capitalism is a rather brutal, territorial game. And being raised in a good household is a massive advantage.

To the contrary, this mentality is alive and well in America. HN's own yummyfajitas usually drops in on these kinds of threads with a lot of links proving that the poor deserve to be poor due to their own poor decision-making.

Why does it have to be so black and white? On the one hand personal responsibility goes out the window and nothing is anyone's fault. Poor? Not your fault. Addicted? Not your fault. On the other extreme personal reponsibility accounts for everything. Poor? Your fault. Addicted? Your fault.

There must be a balance between the two.

A voice of reason! I don't know why these discussions become so polarised, so quickly. Most of the time, it seems if two competing theories have supporting evidence, then there's probably some truth to both of them.

Nature or nurture? Free market or regulation? Individualism or collectivism? Career or family? Fat or carbs?

The truth, or optimal choice, always seems to lie somewhere in the middle... some combination of the two. Yet, more often than not, we immediately devolve into partisan camps fighting for one side.

Because American society has been sorting itself into camps of radically different worldviews over the last several decades, as is easily observed in the decline of Congressional bipartisanship. American Nations by Colin woodard is the best history book I've read on the origins of these competing worldviews. Email me at gmail if you want links to unpublished and rather turgid but substantively fascinating research on the topic by a former intel analyst (not me).

> The truth, or optimal choice, always seems to lie somewhere in the middle...

That sounds like the fallacy of the middle.

And remember that "middle" is relative. Your middle is someone else's far left.


It's called the "just world fallacy": everything that happens to you is because you deserve it.

Easy worldview to have if you consider yourself well-off.

I read a book by a French philosopher about this very subject. The main character remained optimistic even though he and his professor friend encountered a world of trouble. It described a brutal, yet somehow ideal world filled with endless horrors and tragedy. Can't recall the title, but the story itself was quite candid.

Candide by Voltaire

That is practically America's motto: work hard, get rich. The poor are fed a steady diet of shaming and ridicule of this very sort constantly in this country.

Most people don't even connect that capitalism is related to the condition we are all in.

> Most people don't even connect that capitalism is related to the condition we are all in.

Like there are any provably better long-term alternatives to capitalism.

Plus, "the condition we are all in" is pretty good relative to the past. No one will ever be happy. Even if the poor all had Ferraris in 10 years, they would still be unhappy if it turned out that FIAT decided to mass produce them and make them a super cheap and accessible car. Apparently you can only be happy by having more than others.

"Like there are any provably better long-term alternatives to capitalism."

Let's all give up and drown ourselves in our gruel then.

By the way the most equal societies always top the tables for happiness and wellbeing.

What is the most "equal society" with a population over 30 million, and that is also ethnically diverse?

Many poor people believe they need to go work hard somewhere like Walmart and that somehow they will come out the other side better for it when their work is just feeding the rich upper class with cheap labor for more gross profits. Poor people need to work on their own businesses. Auto mechanics, janitorial, construction, etc where the input of labor will become joined with more and more business sense. Blue Collar Millionaires on CNBC is a great show that provides some examples of this.

> I don't know anyone who "tells the poor" that. I think most people understand that capitalism is a rather brutal, territorial game. And being raised in a good household is a massive advantage.

Do you know any poor people? Ask them. I guarantee they've been told this in some form. Hell, ask anyone who is underprivileged.

You haven't been around many conservatives whose parents and grandparents were gainfully employed in lifelong careers then. They preach that only the lazy fail to prosper, and that society does too much for them which is why they don't succeed.

You're being disingenuous. Conservatives do say the lazy fail to prosper. However, that should not be interpreted to mean that all those who fail to prosper are lazy.

Oh I know a lot of people who think that way. Try reading FreeRepublic.com regularly if you want to experience a social conservative echo chamber. Not responsible for any gastric disorders that may ensue.

I'm not in the business of pretending that racially motivated prejudice is worthy of nuance. I know what I lived through.

How did you go from "only the lazy fail to prosper" to race?

The term "welfare queen" wasn't coined to describe a white woman who's down on her luck.

Well that's not too hard: it's because the right-wing party and its helpers push an ideology that rich people are better people who worked hard for their money and deserve it all, that wealth "trickles down" to poorer people, and that the reason these people are poor isn't because of plutocracy, but rather because of immigrants and minorities "stealing their jobs". We saw this in spades in the recent election.

I'm getting downvoted because this site is a haven for alt-right and libertarian people who believe this stuff. One of the key people in YCombinator is Peter Thiel, a noted libertarian right-winger and Trump supporter. And the tech industry in general is a hotbed of right wing politics and the closely-related libertarianism, which is why all the news about misogyny in tech workplaces is no surprise.

As others have pointed out and demonstrated, you can just as easily draw the opposite conclusions about HN. Such perceptions are in the eye of the beholder.

People's assessments of the community's ideological bias are wildly contradictory, so they can't all be right and—since HN is the same for everybody—they don't vary with HN. What do they vary with? This is easy to answer once you know to look for it: they vary with the the ideological preference of the observer. Moreover the correlation is in two dimensions: 1) direction: left-leaning users think HN is right-leaning, and vice versa; 2) intensity: the stronger one's ideological commitment, the more strongly it feels like HN is opposing it.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14205096 and marked it off-topic.

You think HN is a haven for the alt-right? Or even the regular right for that matter? Libertarians I'll buy but HN is definitely left-wing. Were you not here for the whole Trump election? Did you not see all the shit Thiel got for supporting Trump?

Libertarians make a community appear to be more left-wing to right-wingers and appear to be more right-wing to left-wingers.

That's why they get so much vitriol from both sides. The similarities make them look like traitors to your side, and the differences make them look like the enemy.

Tech people can't really be considered left-wing, because if we were, there would already be a union with teeth and we'd have UBI figured out. But we're not right-wing either, because we love immigration and hate (local) monopolies like Comcast and AT&T.

By all measures, politicians should be drooling over us as a voting bloc. But the popular kids never really cared about the nerds, and that's why only our relatively high incomes have any real sway politically.

Also, they get annoyed at our ability to penetrate the screening layers of bullshit to identify real problems and come up with workable solutions to them. Politicians fear (rightly so) that we would replace them with very small shell scripts.

As an example, the current political cycle has elevated health care insurance as an issue best able to make the voting populace distracted and afraid. It takes any one of us just seconds to look past the method of processing payments to see that the real problem in US health care is embedded more deeply in the mechanism for setting prices, and in the marginal cost for providing care.

We're more apt to realize when a publicly-asked question has not actually been answered after parsing out the political response. And we have this crazy, weird attitude towards power where we sometimes just give it away, dispersing it to the four winds, instead of milking it as a cash cow until we die. That makes traditional politics very wary of the tech community. They literally cannot understand how our minds work, and they have very little idea what we might actually want. They also have some inkling that a large fraction of worldwide prosperity is now utterly dependent in some way on us, and they desperately need to keep us under control before we (probably accidentally) transform the planet into some form of sci-fi techo-topia that is simultaneously inspiring and horrifying.

Oh, I don't disagree that there's lots of left-wing and progressive people here too, just as on any tech site. But there's a ton of extreme libertarians and alt-right people too; maybe not a majority among the users, but still a very significant presence, and exercising downvotes.

Maybe the downvotes are because of the fairly aggressive political stance? I happen to agree with you, though I felt the tone and substance of the original post was not all that helpful; I probably would have downvoted it too, if it were not already at the bottom, and if additional content hadn't been added that is making it feel like a more worthwhile discussion.

Often people do downvote that with which they disagree, but that's not the intended purpose of the vote; keep that in mind when reading your own 'score'; it may not be the opinion but the content or tone that people are rejecting.

HN has a lot of right-wing people when it comes to capitalism & the meritocracy of America.

I think those are the libertarians.

Your post (the one upthread that the immediate parent is discussing, not the immediate parent) currently is not net downvoted. Please stop slandering the site with false explanations for the effects of the common misfortune that reflexive downvoters often vote more quickly than more thoughtful readers.

>Your post (the one upthread that the immediate parent is discussing, not the immediate parent) currently is not net downvoted.

That's not true. It went up briefly, now it's back to -2.

>Please stop slandering the site with false explanations

I call them like I see them. I see no evidence that this is "reflexive downvoters", I see this behavior all the time both here and on other tech news sites. It's not isolated to this site by any means; it's endemic to modern tech culture, especially in SV.

> It went up briefly, now it's back to -2.

And it's not net negative again now.

> I call them like I see them.

The motivations you describe are not things you can see, they are motivations you read without any solid basis into numbers.

> I see no evidence that this is "reflexive downvoters"

It's pretty common for posts on HN on controversial topics (on pretty much any side) that are substantive enough that they do the end up with a negative score after long to quickly downvotes. It's pretty clear that there is a pattern of people who jump to Dow vote positions they disagree with regardless of substance or quality making a mark quickly, but frequently being neutralized over time by other voters.

It's true that there is a visible alt-right and larger visible right-libertarian (and objectivist, also) presence here; there's also a conventional modern liberal segment, a conventional modern conservative segment, and various less-conventional (Marxist, anarchist, left-libertarian, and other) left wing groups. Pretty much all the unconventional groups are a greater proportion of the visible contribution to the site than conventional groups, but the site isn't particularly a haven for any one of them (or to just the right-wingers or left-leaning groups).

The downvoters you got are probably largely political disagreement, but there's no little basis for the belief that it was particularly disagreement from alt-right and/or libertarian sources, and even if it was, it's pretty clearly not because the site is particularly a have for those two groups, because that's simply not true.

I don't agree that the tech industry is a hotbed of right-wing politics. In fact, I'd be surprised if I've ever worked with a single person who regularly votes Republican.

One interesting factor at play, though, is the environment you live in.

In the valley, I see how hard it must be to get by because it would be impossible to live on a low salary here, let alone on public assistance. And because I make decent money, the value of a dollar is not all that high to me.

If I lived in an EXTREMELY impoverished (or even just average rural area) and was making minimum wage, suddenly every dollar I come by is much more valuable. And forms of public assistance that are not indexed to cost-of-living are much relatively valuable in such an area. Suddenly I'd start resenting all these people not busting their ass like I am to make minimum wage, and it looks like they're living off MY tax dollars!

Childhood poverty is a solved problem in nearly all rich countries.


Please don't use HN for ideological battle. It contradicts the mandate of the site.



We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14205652 and marked it off-topic.

This comment's a bit flippant, but yeah, I've found a consistent ability to produce a steady string of never-addressed "but, wait, what about...?" questions on my part as a defining quality of writing from the libertarian-leaning intellectual set. That Friedman's writing would prompt a reaction like frgtpsswrdlame's is entirely typical of the genre. I continue to be unsure which explanation for this behavior is most charitable.

There's a reason why Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" starts with a protagonist who's healthy, adult, fully educated and credentialed, and also a straight white dude.

It sells a fantasy that lots of people find palatable, like one of those "get skinny with no effort!" device or drug commercials.

I'm pretty sure conservative politicians understand better than their counterparts in other parties how to win elections, which is an aspect of the world they care deeply about.

This is libertarianism, not conservativism

> Conservatism typically comes down to some enormous misconception about how the world works.

No, it just uses those as sales pitches. Conservatism has always been about reinforcing the position of existing elites, but you can't really market it to non-elites on that basis.

> Conservatism has always been about reinforcing the position of existing elites

The elites play both sides of the field. Why wouldn't they?

I would suggest that the elites who deploy conservative propaganda are not practicing conservatism any more than they are fooling themselves.

Conservatism as a distinct thing was born in the defense of pre-existing elite position by appeal to nationalistic and religious tradition, innate superiority of certain classes of people, etc., in the face of the rise of classical liberalism. The propaganda has changed slightly over time (though it still often boils down to the same factors), but the defense of the position of the entrenched elites is the constant over time in conservatism.

Everything else is window dressing.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact