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How poverty changes your mindset (chicagobooth.edu)
777 points by bryanwbh 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 522 comments



I hate seeing people's comments on stories around this topic. I grew up in poverty and food stamps from time to time. My dad was a roughneck and when the oil bust happened in the 80's there was a time we lived out of our car -- my whole family. here was literally nothing to do in the oil patch during that bust. There was literally no work. But people don't understand true hopelessness. My dad did everything he could to find a job during that time... for three months time we hardly had any food I guess because it wasn't easy to get on the program fast back then. Those that come out of a dire situation think everyone else can.

The ramifications of that happening to my dad will probably last multiple generations. He went from a loving father to a loathsome troll of a creature working nights in a oil refinery (I thought at the time) finally. From that my mom and dad divorced. My wife doesn't understand why I have severe dentals problems now in life, or other health issues that doctors told me are from stress. She doesn't understand why I stress so much about money and stay up at night.

I don't know why I'm saying all this the solution is simple but the problem is hard to acknowledge. The poor and destitute simply need help. We live in a society though that thinks someone else is going to take care of the problems. When we do finally give help it's so conditional and shamed that the hole of guilt someone fell in is practically inescapable.


I grew up in poverty as well and my reaction to money is the total opposite. I never felt connected to it all. I want to be a good saver, but my understanding of the green stuff is nearly nil. It's just sort of there and I try not to think about it.

I think it's just the opposite problem. I simply don't know what to spend money on. I feel like I spend a lot of money, but somehow everyone is in deeper debt than I am. I just don't want to have all those expensive things. I grew up living out of a duffel bag and lost everything I owned in that multiple times in my life. I just don't want anything.

Buying furniture for the first time was the most stressful thing I ever went through. When I bought my first bed, I just laid on a bed in the shop and just stayed there having a mental breakdown. I walked out nearly in tears and slept on my floor for a full week before I finally called and ordered the bed. It was $700 and felt like I took a nose dive off a cliff.

The biggest effect is my appetite. No one understands why I'm so underweight. If you ever go a week without eating, believe me, your desire to eat food goes out the window. Those first bites of food makes you incredibly ill. I eat everyday now, but three meals is overkill.


During my childhood, my father's most of the income went into repaying loans. Luckily, we had our own house, so we didn't need to worry about getting homeless. But I remember I rarely got to spend money on any kind of "luxury". By luxury, I mean simple stuff like a icecream cone or a baloon.

The effect it had on me is quite wierd. On one hand, I always wish to earn more so as to not have to go through that phase again, while on the other hand, I never care about spending money. Even now that we have more money, I rarely spend on clothes, fancy food, gadgets or whatever that is not necessity. That phase of borderline poverty has made me frugal for life.


Yeah, I totally get this. I have no idea why people want stuff. I have one computer, one phone, one guitar, and so on. If I could own just one set of clothing, I'd be happy with that.

It isn't frugality for me, it's just that I can't stand clutter and really, what I consider. I think I missed whatever the definition of having things means.


I guess it depends on you knowing what you want. I wouldn't drop money on a spanking new car even though I can afford to and all my peers drive Audis or whatever, but I feel just OK with my over 100k Civic just because I like not having a loan on my head. I didn't get the latest iPhone (still on the 5s) because a beautiful new phone means nothing to me; I'm just fine with a less expensive, smaller and slower model.

OTOH, If I see nice clothes or shoes I definitely do consider getting them if I don't have something similar already, or different enough from existing clothes to give a different look. I won't say no to a road trip, or a weekend trip with my gf/friends. Or to eating at a fancy restaurant occasionally.


:) and, to some extent, this is kind of funny, because where I live having a Civic is a sign that you do have a expensive car, and people treat it like "just more 10k bucks and you could be in an Audi".


Do you live somewhere where a car is not necessary/totally unaffordable? I think the OP is probably living in the US, and navigating most areas is almost impossible without a car. Wonder what the alternative to a cheap civic is other than no car :)


In my city there's a fair public transport, but in the country as a whole, no. Even bigger cities lack good transportation.

But cars are expansive, specially considering the average income, and having a Civic or a Corolla puts you in the top, with Audis being the "I'll never afford to have one of those".


Maybe like a Chevy Spark or something? I actually just got one of those for my wife and it was only $7k with 50k miles on it.


Hah, I will not deny that it's probably very cost efficient, but 7k is only a cheap car relative to a new car. A cheap early 2000's late 1990's civic that runs is somewhere around 5 times less than that.


Yeah but this car was three years old and was certified pre-owned, with low mileage. You're suggesting one that is pushing two decades of service. We looked at those kind of cars too and it was obviously a worse choice unless you love rust and frequent repairs.


I'm not suggesting either. I drive a car from 2001 that has spent most of its life in the US north-east. Rust can be an issue but you would be surprised how many cars don't have major rust problems. However, if I had an option of getting a more expensive car (7k was out of my budget) when I was looking for one, I would have gone with something more like what you mentioned. I'm just throwing out the idea that 7k isn't necessarily in the same price range as an old civic. It's definitely rolling the dice with an old car but I have only had to pay for one battery and one alternator (notice I said pay for... in all actuality I received a free battery and had to have an extra alternator replaced as the shop I went to was garbage but owned up to it).


Yeah, the competitors were about the same price but in sorry shape.

Anyway, the prices kind of scale together. If you bought a twenty-year-old Spark/Matiz it would be cheaper than the comparable Civic. Also, I don't know where the OP lives, but the US has pretty lax regulations that let people drive around old cars for longer than many countries.


> I wouldn't drop money on a spanking new car even though I can afford to and all my peers drive Audis or whatever, but I feel just OK with my over 100k Civic just because I like not having a loan on my head.

Needing a loan ≠ can afford to. Many people do not understand this simple fact.


Really... so you wouldn't take out a mortgage to buy your house?


I’m not entirely sure, maybe I will do that someday, but I’m certainly not comfortable with the idea. And I find it interesting how normal that is and how people don’t seem to think it’s a big deal.


I can afford to buy a car outright, but why would I? Most new cars have terms of zero interest for several years. If I can invest my money elsewhere while taking advantage of a zero-percent loan, why wouldn't I?


Because even leasing a new car at zero interest will end up more expensive than buying an older car outright.


I haven't, but would consider it. But I wasn't talking about a house.

You need a place to live. A fancy car as opposed to one you can buy outright? Not so much.


At some point you own enough things that they own you. You can't do anything without taking all that stuff into consideration. This can make for a difficult situation if you and your partner don't agree.

My ideal living situation is an empty house; my wife feels most comfortable surrounded by things.


"At some point you own enough things that they own you."

What a profound statement. Thanks for sharing.


Maybe you're just conditioned to not want things from your childhood. I remember wanting to have nice sneakers in school because all the other kids had nice sneakers and they'd make fun of you if you don't. I'd spend time in footlocker just looking at the stuff they had or sift through my eastbay catalogs but never buy anything. I wasn't happy that we couldn't afford them but after seeing that we had to take out loans and borrow money just to make ends meet, my desire for sneakers quickly dissipated. Even to this day when I can afford nicer sneakers I don't really want them anymore...or anything else for that matter. I feel like I've completely inhibited desires for most things, except whenever I experience quality that matters, I see the point of spending money, but it's hard to know what they are until you experience them. For example, a nice mattress is a hugely valuable investment and quality actually matters, but I never felt the difference until I crashed at my friend's house and slept in his bed. I'm curious what are some things where a more expensive version of the same thing is actually 10x better than the cheap version?


This is what happened to me. At some point, I realised that asking for something puts more pressure on my already stressed parents. I actually regretted having demanded few things. At first I forcibly stopped myself from wanting to have things, and eventually the desire simply vanished.


If you walk a lot, good sneakers make a huge difference. My knees are... well, but ideal, but much better, since I got better sneakers that cost more money.


I am the sort of person who seldom cares about clothes & fashion. The only fashion I cared about is cargo pants. Cargos because they have a high utility value. Many pockets, which help me carry a lotta stuff around. I always carry a pocket diary & pen so that whenever some idea strikes me, I immidietely jot it down. Of late, I've started buying denim shirts & Woodland shoes coz I work in an IT company, and it's about time I start presenting myself well.


When I walk in a shop, I just see many things that I do not need. Other people worry that they won't get enough vacation by ocean, the latest car model, or the most fashionable clothes... I just laugh at such suggestions. I have a roof above my head, as much food as I need, a computer and a fast internet connection -- what else would I really need?

On the other hand, for a long time in my life, when I saved some money, I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. That was a kind of a problem no one around me had during my childhood. I wish I had found websites like "early retirement extreme" a few decades ago, because I was the kind of person who could quite simply achieve it. (Instead I lost the extra money taking bad investment advice from various "financial advisors".) Other people seem to have an irresistible urge to increase their expenses when their income increases; I don't feel this urge.


Someone else could've said that having a roof over one's head, a computer and a fast internet connection are laughable suggestions - why would you care about them, when you can spend money on traveling around the world and the internet connection is usually all over the places for free?

I actually worry about not having enough vacation, because experiencing other people's cultures and mindsets are the most important things to me. What else would I really need?

To each his own. Some people care about looking good or commuting comfortably. Most people exaggerate these costs - that's another matter.


>I actually worry about not having enough vacation, because experiencing other people's cultures and mindsets are the most important things to me. What else would I really need?

Ah yes, the infamous two weeks where for a huge GHG release, we can experience other cultures and come back home changed.


I'm actually from Poland where I've negotiated at least 6 weeks of paid vacation. When combined with some national holidays I usually end up with 2 months a year of paid vacations. Not counting weekends.

I know my priorities and I've optimized my work/life balance for them.


Man, this is infuriating. Had this been happening in a welfare state such as in most European countries, your family would have kept a roof above their head thanks to proper public housing, and your parents would have received enough money to serve their kids 3 meals a days. Not saying that's living the life, but people in the US just don't understand that stories like yours do NOT have to happen.


I find that a little historical perspective opens me up to the fact that things were different not too long ago, and the current situation is the result of concrete political actions in the not-too-distant past, which implies that concrete political actions in the present could also change the course of things.

The Community Health Act of 1963 was supposed to transfer mentally-ill patients from psychiatric hospitals to community-based centers, but "only half of the proposed centers were ever built; none were fully funded, and the act didn’t provide money to operate them long-term."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_Mental_Health_Act

During the 80s "HUD's budget authority was reduced from $74 billion to $19 billion. Such alleged changes is claimed to have resulted in an inadequate supply of affordable housing to meet the growing demand of low-income populations. In 1970 there were 300,000 more low-cost rental units (6.5 million) than low-income renter households (6.2 million). By 1985, the advocacy group claimed that the number of low-cost units had fallen to 5.6 million, and the number of low-income renter households had grown to 8.9 million, a disparity of 3.3 million units."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homelessness_in_the_United_Sta...


I buy things that become more valuable over time. Investing has become a fun way for me to "spend" that cash I otherwise hoard. Spending money on anything else is very difficult for me.


I spend most of my money on books. I rarely ever spend money on anything else. Living as a kid with my grandma had a huge impact on things I did in my later years. We were poor but always had access to books.


I did that until I felt like I had collected enough books to last me a lifetime. Once in a while I'll still order one that has good information on a topic I am passionate about. I have eclectic tastes and libraries usually don't have the information I need (outside of a particular one in Santa Fe, far from where I live).


Don't you have access to libraries ?


One problem for me, living in Denmark, is that all the books at the library are in Danish. I prefer to read books in their original language, or at least in an English or German translation, which are usually markedly superior to the Danish translations.

If I want a book in English, I either have to special order it at the library and wait for a week to get it, or I have to buy it myself.


Ebooks via irchighway.


So many of us are in debt, but I would definitely encourage you to think about re-shifting your own paradigm if it's comfortable to do so:

If you would like entertaining reading to assist in your own building of a new mental model around money:

https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/

(written by a programmer who retired early and is part of the "financial independence" movement/blogosphere)


I identify with this so much. I grew up a single child to a single mom. She did her best but there was never any "saving". She didn't have a savings account, she had nothing. So now that I'm older my first priority is saving money, which is why I'm in less debt in comparison to my peers I think. I spend a lot, but I do it in intervals, and my goal is to eventually learn how to invest. I think most people my age take to the importance of investing too much, and abstract away the savings because they think they will be investing in the future.

I don't think about money at all either. I realize it's important, but it's importance has never consumed me. If I don't think about it, I actually spend less. If I think about it, I totally panic. I've saved money by not thinking about it.

I also have trouble eating! I just buy a week's worth of food at a time, twice a month, so typically I have only two week's worth of food per month, and that results in about 2 meals per day-- small ones. Sometimes I don't eat at all because of my appetite issues. I just take multivitamins to supplement those days, as well as extra Vitamin D3 and Magnesium.


[flagged]


The GP said that he has severe emotional problems, related to childhood trauma around spending money and also broke down when buying the bed.

Why are you criticizing his choice of bed? You are showing a lack of empathy to the poster's actual point, which isn't "Help me find a cheap bed". It feels like you're just looking for an opportunity to brag about how good at buying beds you are. Even if you're not, your response doesn't say anything about the article or add to the wider discussion in any way.


I can relate to both mindsets. I stay more frugal despite not needing to, so $700 is a lot to me. But the vitriol of saying "thou shall" is what I dislike. The psychological trauma of fearing the spending of any money is real ... but I'd rather have a dose of it rather than none at all.


Make friends with a hotel manager and have them order you a set of the tempur sealy or Simmons foundation (box spring) and mattress specific for hotels. It’s only $500 total (~$250 each), and come with a 10 year warranty (for the hotel). Don’t even need to flip or rotate them.


That’s your takeaway from the story (s)he shared?


Thank you for sharing your story. I feel so much empathy towards you and your family, and I'm sorry to hear about your father feeling so bitter towards the system afterwards. I don't blame him.

When I see people screaming and walking down the streets talking to themselves, I see people that need love. I see people that need to be taken in, not just for a night, but for a year or longer... so they can stop stressing about where they'll get their next meal, or if they'll have someplace warm and safe to sleep at night.

It is so easy for people to judge them.. say that it is their fault for being down on their luck. When you're homeless, you just get used to people assuming the worse... heck you even start to assume the worse about yourself. You say, why is it that no one cares to see that I'm hurting inside. People judge them for not taking whatever work is available for the day, because they assume... hey, one day helps, right... well when you're homeless, the help of one person is kind and does help for a bit, but what what people need in America are communities helping them.

Unfortunately, you will likely have to go to religious services and pretend to care about religion enough to get the help you need, because that is who America has designated as their community support system.


> When I see people screaming and walking down the streets talking to themselves, I see people that need love

If they're talking to themselves, they need more than that. They probably need to be cared for in a mental institution. Unfortunately the overall national trend has been funding cuts, with the irony being that it doesn't save money overall; since the costs are just shifted over to hospitals and other emergency services.

This isn't a new subject. For those without severe mental issues, the end result is the same when we provide housing: it costs less

https://www.vox.com/2014/5/30/5764096/its-three-times-cheape...


> If they're talking to themselves, they need more than that. They probably need to be cared for in a mental institution

The statement that they should probably need to be cared for in a mental institution isn't true. That some or several may need to be cared for is true, yes, but the probability of that need is less well know. Schizophrenia and other schizophrenia-related disorders can often 'mellow out' on their own over time. [1] It is important to give someone a stable and loving and validating environment for them to be able to recover. There are several kinds of people who, while they talk to themselves, really just have their symptoms exacerbated by stress (e.g. schizotypal personality disorder can have quasi-psychotic symptoms triggered by stress).

1. https://www.nationalelfservice.net/mental-health/schizophren... (I will also note that this has been anecdotally determined, though I understand anecdotes are not data.)


To be clear, we're discussing homeless people with mental issues, and not people who aren't homeless. The homeless have less access to resources than a non-homeless person with family and friends.

> It is important to give someone a stable and loving and validating environment for them to be able to recover. There are several kinds of people who, while they talk to themselves, really just have their symptoms exacerbated by stress

Yes, which is why a mental institution is a good starting point for a homeless person with mental issues. Let's not confuse these institutions with the mental asylums of the past. Are there better alternatives for the mentally ill homeless that I'm not aware of? I don't feel that most if not all homeless shelters are equiped to fully deal with individuals suffering from schizophrenia.


Yes, there are. The only real difference between a mentally ill homeless person and a normal mentally ill person is the home. Why wouldn't a stable home be the answer?

A short-term stay in a mental hospital might be necessary while getting the patient adjusted to their medication. But once someone is stable, there is no need for such things. Even though the institutions have changed, they are still pretty horrible places to stay in, with all sorts of lifestyle restrictions that aren't generally needed.

A small apartment is appropriate for most folks once they are stable, along with access to someone to call. Some communities have social workers that visit once or twice a week and help with grocery shopping, bill paying, and general "how are you" sorts of things. Group homes are another option if someone chooses it: Private space with shared kitchen and whatnot, staffed with someone to help with cooking and cleaning. My ex, diagnosed with schizophrenia, would have been a candidate for such a thing. I was his primary caregiver, fair or not, and his doctor didn't want him living alone for his own protection.

Give support for family members as well - this is something seriously lacking in the US system. He had help, I didn't.

A small amount of folks might need some help for substance abuse, but many short-term mental health facilities are equipped to do this. A fair amount of folks would be helped by police that are capable of helping mentally ill folks with training and a marker on their ID so the cops know what to change in their approach.


You have some of the best ideas. I would love to get more involved in helping with programs like these. Substance abuse can be the most challenging to approach. From my experience, some people are on a self-destructive path and they forget how to take care of themselves. Some drugs are almost zombifying in that they are begin to only think about their next fix.

I would like to see more options here for medicine and research. Truly, recovery can be a long process for many and it takes time for the brain and body to heal from trauma. Some of that may be emotional trauma as well. I would love to see more options for preventive mental health services in the United States.


If you are in the US, contact the National institute for mental health. You might be able to contact your local hospital as well - that's where I ran into the social care. My ex had a person visit him for a while after we split up and I had a friend that was employed by a different hospital in the area. If anything, they might tell you where to go to get involved, depending on how much time and money you have to spare. If you are high on the time and/or money and are willing to use some of it for good use, you might be able to organize a volunteer program that works with different agencies. Even if it is just a program that makes wellness visits with or without small care packages would help some folks greatly, if they are up to that sort of thing.

What is available for drug users, I'm not sure. It seems one of the major problems in the states is that substance abuse help is difficult. Some charities help folks by donating things like hygiene items and things like that. As you said, some folks nearly forget how to take care of themselves, having fallen out of the habit for such a long time. The same can happen with some mentally ill folks.

Most importantly, though, these programs need funding. Some of these things nearly need laws to happen (like police training). Having worker protection laws that allow folks to take care of themselves would help. One of the better ways to do this is by contacting your state and local government.


> The only real difference between a mentally ill homeless person and a normal mentally ill person is the home. Why wouldn't a stable home be the answer?

if the mental illness is as serious as schizophrenia, a home isn't enough. The issue isn't just about the mentally ill person's welfare, but also if that person poses a danger to others who live nearby. There is a strong correlation between schizophrenia and violent crime. Without treatment in a controlled environment like a mental hospital, it's hard to see a mentally ill homeless person being able to safely integrate with society when they also lack a family and friends support network.

> I was his primary caregiver, fair or not, and his doctor didn't want him living alone for his own protection.

This is the issue. The homeless will not have the luxury of having a caregiver to be able to live independently at least initially. I'm sure why it's so hard for people to accept that the homeless people, who also have mental issues, just don't have access to the same resources that a non-homeless person with mental issues has access to.


A mental institution is not always a good starting point, especially if they are committed involuntarily. It can actually make things worse as the experience of being committed involuntarily is often traumatic to the individual. Inpatient treatment is not always loving or validating, especially in environments where the inpatient treatment is for poor or homeless individuals. Homeless shelters aren’t always equipped for individuals suffering from schizophrenia, but homeless shelters are not really the loving and validating spaces someone who is mentally ill may need anyways. I know there are apparently programs that House the mentally ill in small apartments or with willing caretaker families That are paid for it.

I’m not saying “you are wrong and I have the answers”, merely that thmakes perception that anyone who talks to themselves needs inpatient and medication may not be necessarily true. They could just need some time in a safe place, while inpatient treatment can actually not be safe and incredibly traumatic.


> If they're talking to themselves, they need more than that. They probably need to be cared for in a mental institution.

Bullshit. There are many people capable of losing touch with reality who live normal lives thanks to medication.


Yes those people probably have homes, jobs, and a family and friends support network. With the homeless, they are missing more than one of those things, if not all of them. Is it even possible to have a prescription when you don't have a mailing address?


And is it even possible to get access to such drugs if you can't afford them and have no health insurance? Genuine question.


Not really in actual, regular, uninterrupted practice. There are so many problems with the US healthcare system at every level of it when you have excellent health insurance, especially in terms of regular maintenence medication for something as garden variety as asthma, that when you get down to the level of real emergency help absolutely medically required, it is usually a severely delayed and often interrupted swampy mess. I've been at both ends of this spectrum of care. Both are unreliable, but obviously, it is far worse-- a nightmare of indifference really, at the bottom. And many meds (like inhalers even) require ridiculously expensive, regular tests. The homeless and impoverished are often given less effective medication or ineffective medication to treat serious ongoing conditions.


You'd need to pay the doctor, and for prescribed drugs. Some doctors treat indigent patients at reduced prices, or pro bono. Also, food and drug chains often sell generics at discounted prices. And some US states prvide drug-discount services.


I guess the institution should be a transitory step in a social reintroduction process, not an asylum where to lock them away. (hopefully a system that does not chronicize them to assure funding streams.)


Those living on the streets with severe mental issues probably don’t want to be in a mental institution. And unless they’re a danger to themselves or others (and not just in the sense of making bad life decisions), they can’t be held against their will. This is a free country.


It seems you think that either mental institutions are unfixable, or you have a very poor sense of the harms of say, untreated schizophrenia.

This may be a free country, but we shouldn't use that to neglect our duty to our neighbors.


That’s not what I’m saying. We most definitely should offer mental care to people who need it, regardless of ability to pay. My point is simply that many of them don’t want it, and we can’t force it on them.


This is an extremely philosophical dilemma.. thanks for pointing it out to me.


What is a more important duty to our neighbors? To lock up and force drugs on homeless people who have no one to talk to but themselves; or preventing them from becoming homeless in the first place?


  > And unless they’re a danger to themselves or others (and
  > not just in the sense of making bad life decisions), they
  > can’t be held against their will.
Technically if somebody suffers from a mental illness, including addiction, they could be forced off the street. In fact, refusing housing and other assistance to live in patently unsanitary conditions could, per se, be construed as evidence of incapacity.

We just choose not to. AFAIU, the Supreme Court decisions in the 1970s that, arguably, precipitated the dismantling of the archaic mental health institutions never even came close to suggesting that such people couldn't be forced off the street. For example, in the famous case of O'Connor v. Donaldson the patient, Donaldson, had actually been living in an apartment of his own in Philadelphia. He traveled to Florida to visit his parents, and it was his parents who had him committed after he shared paranoid delusions about his neighbors in Philadelphia. I've seen people use that case to argue against forcing people off the streets as-if we had no legal choice, but it's just plain wrong. Donaldson wasn't living on the streets; his ramblings notwithstanding he was clearly capable of taking care of himself, and in any event the case was never about his initial confinement but his continued confinement 15 years later.

We choose to let people live on the streets because we've somehow internalized the perverse logic that to do otherwise would result in a tyrannic state oppressing the mentally ill. (Myths about SCOTUS opinions come into being to bolster the logic.) That such an approach happens to require little or no budget outlays while simultaneously absolving us from moral blame is, I'm sure, merely coincidental....


Some, maybe. Others live perfectly happily without being alone in their heads. I know a story or two about people for whom just talking with the voices was the way they found themselves again. Sure there are people who can't deal with another constant presence or who have deeper issues to work out, but saying that everyone who's part of a plural system needs institutional help is part of the feedback loop that makes them reject their headmates and so need institutional help finding solitude. The key is finding a way to a stable life, not finding a way to a single life.


> Unfortunately, you will likely have to go to religious services and pretend to care about religion enough to get the help you need, because that is who America has designated as their community support system.

Ouch, that's kind of an uncalled for jab at religion.

Why don't atheists band together and form communities to show the religious how it's done...?


Many non-religious groups do exist, but depending on where you live they are not the norm. I am happy to try to start my own non-profit, but I also realize that I have to be careful of what time I commit personally right now until I can find more ways to give back.


> because that is who America has designated as their community support system.

This seems unjustified. Your statement assumes (a) Support systems in the community are run only by religious people. This implies (b) Non-religious people do not run any community programs.

Assuming (b) is true (which it may very well not be), the question that needs to be asked is, why do non-religious people and institutions not run more community programs. Not rail against the religious people who do.

Disclaimer: I am not American.


>> Disclaimer: I am not American.

This explains it. You probably live somewhere with a reasonable social safety net. Our government safety net is full of holes, and religious people build webs to catch people who fall through.

Not all of them are bad. Some of them will just help people and not make it conditional on joining their religion. In my experience and from accounts by other LGBTQ+ people, these are the outliers.


We have a little in common, though the events of my own life occurred a little differently.

We moved to a small rural town when I was young out of fears that my father’s work for an oil company’s union (refinery construction and maintenance) would place him out of jurisdiction where we were.

He is and was a very talented fitter/welder and has even taught courses in college. He did however spend most of the best years of his life after his athletic career with some ugly-souled people who seemed to have it out for mankind in general. Somehow he endured decades of that to look after us. I wish he could have been more enlightened to the world as it would have helped my siblings and I out when we were young. Ultimately we were on our own financially and otherwise even though my parents offered whatever support they could.

I’ve spent time living on $5 a week for food. Some flour, sugar, water, butter, salt, baking soda, and on good weeks milk, can go a long way if you need them too. I forget how many times I had to live on homemade soda bread for weeks at a time, but it wasn’t fun—maybe that’s why I can’t remember it too well.

Im doing so much better than a lot of people who have never had a chance. I’m lucky I was a little bright. I’ve also been to school and worked alongside people who have no idea what it is to have no such luck, money, or otherwise—it’s enlightening and sometimes disheartening to speak to people in those positions about that.

I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said. I think if most people took a moment to imagine how bad their own life could be, and compound that by a few orders of magnitude, you might get close to just how it feels to be in such a position and how hard it is to ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’— so to speak. Your points on dignity are a topic too large to address in this forum. But you’re right.


The hardest argument that I hate about the article in question. I will never stop living like tomorrow I could lose everything. I will forever keep some cash stashed a way. I will always keep canned chili in the cupboard. Every thunderstorm or inclement weather event I fill the bathtub up. Some may say "oh that's good that you do that" but to my wife it's border line paranoia.


I've read a bunch of personal finance books and I found that they recommend 3-6 months of expenses in savings as an "emergency fund." Of course, they usually mean in a bank, I don't know how literally you mean "cash." But if you have less than 3 months worth of expenses stashed, you're living somewhat precariously. The general population is absolutely terrible with money, so I would recommend taking random peoples' opinion on savings with a grain of salt. This is the internet, so take mine with a grain of salt too. It's worth doing your own research from experts.

I don't know how much canned chili you keep, but FEMA recommends keeping at least a 3 day supply of non-perishable food on hand. I don't think FEMA has a reputation for having borderline paranoia.


> I don't think FEMA has a reputation for having borderline paranoia.

If anything, FEMA tends to grossly underestimate the impact of the incidents they may respond to; the public tends to grossly overestimate FEMA's capacity and interests in doing what is ultimately, for every animal and man since the dawn of time, their own job and no one else's.


> doing what is ultimately, for every animal and man since the dawn of time, their own job and no one else's.

I think that's a bit harsh. Civilization gives us infrastructure to live safely in very densely populated areas. When that infrastructure fails it doesn't seem fair to just say: "Now it's up to you like it was up to your ancestors. It doesn't matter that they didn't live in a spot where they had 100k other homo sapience specimens within half an hour walk, now competing for resources that stopped flowing in."

It's so insanely densely populated that even leaving this place in a car could take you days.


> I think that's a bit harsh. Civilization gives us infrastructure to live safely in very densely populated areas.

Civilization allowing you to live without regular incidents is different from it allowing you to live safely. The marks of civilization (namely density) become liabilities when things go very wrong. In many ways, it's up to you in ways your ancestors never had to deal with: more things in civilization burn, crush, lacerate, and impale people when they fail than in nature, and nature had plenty of these to begin with.

A sense of safety built on the responsibilities of others is false, I think. Ideally we all do our jobs when the going gets tough, but in reality, you're surrounded by cowards who would rather watch you and yours die than put themselves in danger (see the recent mass shooting, where four deputies basically just stood outside for the duration of the attack), and in some sense, who could blame them?


I grew up in poverty in the US as well, and I agree there’s a heartless tendency for people not to acknowledge it’s real. The tired comment I see most frequently is something like “nobody in the US is poor because everyone has plumbing, refrigerators, and TVs.” First, no, everyone does not. Many people are homeless. Second, it’s very narrow to focus on objective material factors, because that discounts the toll of the nightmarish stress the poor live with constantly, even the ones who have an apartment and a television.


The most shocking place I've visited in my life was San Francisco. Super rich people surrounded by armies of homeless people.


I spent three months in S. Barbara. I hated it for this reason. All I could see were the homeless, ignored. Once, a homeless person's wheelchair tripped on a curb and he fell off into the street. People literally walked over him until I picked him up and back into his chair.

I'd lived in Atlanta for several years before but the attitude of the well do to the poor was obscene.

When I left, I vowed I would never live in coastal California again.


Agreed--this was a huge source of philosophical dissonance for me when I lived there. The issue is just as persistent in the East Bay (specifically, Oakland/Berkeley) and is worse, IMO, because Berkeley espouses a progressive/compassionate/environmentally+socially friendly image, to which it does not adhere in practice.


My childhood was one of extreme poverty. We were never homeless. But my dad worked so much we never saw him. And the toll it took on him was such that my brother and I were basically terrified of him even into our early adulthood. He was brutal, mean, always angry. Our mother died when I was 10 and he abandoned us with our grandparents. I don’t blame him anymore. He had a breakdown. The world finally destroyed him. But life with our grandparents was better. They were kind and in their own harsh way taught us we had to be tough and make better decisions. It didn’t stick with my brother. He’s been borderline psychotic ever since mom died. I think it destroyed him, too. But even now at 30 I count every penny. Every expense is important. Even going on a date with my wife, I’m afraid the whole time. What if...what if..it’s nearly constant. All that to say I think I understand how you feel. And I agree, those who haven’t and don’t have to live like we did just can’t understand it. That’s not a value judgement. It’s just human nature.


Almost the same happened with my father. It's why I think poverty can span generations easily. I am grateful now my mom and dad got a divorce but during that dark time I only saw my dad if either myself or my brother were in trouble or if we happened to be running around the trailer late at night.


American poverty sounds so different from Chinese poverty.

I grew up during the tail years of communism and everybody was dirt poor. The interesting thing is, nobody was financially stressed, starvation and homelessness was not a thing. I ended up developing an abundance mentality and terrible money management skills.

Looking even further back, my parents experienced the height of policy stupidity and barely survived the great famine which killed millions. It scarred them for life, but also pushed them to make more money and live frugally even after achieving financial security.


By the time you are born it's already getting better. Yes it's dirt poor compared to now but is already on the trend of improving. So the stress level would be very different than the "suddenly become poor" people.

Another point is back in those days the majority of population are poor, which means the social structure are build around poor people. Food, cloths, education, haircut, all of them targeted poor people. You don't need to live in the corner of the city and go great length to find products suited for you.


I can relate to this. I grew up in India when India was a closed economy, with anything (commodities or services) either too expensive or limited by license raj. My father, being a lowly government official, did have a steady but meagre income. Groceries and mortgage were always on his mind. But, he also had his habit of never borrowing, in spite of dire need. Never kept a credit card either (to this day). I have learnt that brand of frugality from him.


  "Chinese poverty is different from American poverty because we weren't worried about starving."

  Mentions a mass starvation event in China only a generation before which probably killed the equivalent of 10% of the US population at the time.
You might want to think about that a bit more.


I specifically mentioned the famine, to bring up the contrast between the worst possible kind of poverty and how it affected people like my parents.

Of course, I only see residue effects long after it happened, so maybe time does heal all wounds.


Or maybe your generation had it easier because there was less competition?

8.1% of China's population is still malnourished to the point of stunting[1].

It's only 2.1% in the US.

1. https://data.unicef.org/topic/nutrition/malnutrition/


Famines were sadly very common in China: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_famines_in_China

People often comment on the 1958 famine as some singular event, but it actually was the 6th and last in the 20th century.


I can't tell if you're agreeing with me? Because yes, I'm aware of that. That is why I am so confused by OP seeming to say "in China we don't have to worry about starvation even when we're poor".

It's just so far from true I don't understand why they are getting upvoted (and me downvoted).


My take would be that they weren't starving because they were poor, they were starving because there was no food to be had. Starvation in a famine is different from starvation in a land of plenty where you simply can't afford food.


If there was no food, the entire population of China would've died.

In the case of a famine, it's still the haves and the have-nots.


At the time the poster was growing up, starvation wasn't a concern. My wife grew up around the same time, she was born in 1975. There had been a famine a generation before, but that wasn't an issue she had to worry about. What happened a generation before does not invalidate that reported experience and isn't relevant to it.

Even now, people in China are not concerned with or at risk of famine. It doesn't matter how many famines there were 50+ years ago, it won't make that untrue unless you can point to a credible reason why Chinese people today should fear famine.


Probably the commenter was born after 1962.


Seems like it. Doesn't really matter though.

The most recent UNICEF data[1] puts malnutrition to the point of stunting at 8.1% in China.

In the US it was 2.1%.

1. https://data.unicef.org/topic/nutrition/malnutrition/


> I grew up during the tail years of communism

I'm a bit confused; is China not still communist?


I’m not sure how it would be considered communist today. It’s ruled by a “communist” party but its economic system is nowhere near communist.


If it's possible to instantiate that superclass "FascistEconomy", China is an example of a fascist economy if I ever saw one.


That's the true sign of a communist regime: after the revolution stagnates, the communist pary elites start to take personal control over the state-controlled industries while keeping the populace under theit heel.


I'm from the UK and I'm currently travelling the world for a few months. I have been shocked by how different American attitudes to poverty are to European ones. We may not be very good at actually helping people in poverty, but most people accept that poor people are in need of help.


America was founded by people who fled Europe because they didn't fit in there. I have raised two special needs kids. If you have problems other people don't really understand, it is not uncommon for people to try to help you in ways that are incredibly counterproductive. This is why "Please stop helping me!" is (or was) a TV Tropes page.

America has a political tradition of Don't tread on me. This influences our policies and attitudes regarding a great many things, sometimes in ways that are not positive.

I'm a woman who was one of the top high school students of my entire state and I failed to get the two career couple upper class outcome I expected. I spent my twenties reading boatloads of stuff trying to figure out what went wrong.

I concluded that European women asked society to help them carry the burden of being the one who carries a child to term. American women took the Don't tread on me position and basically told men to fuck off and get the fuck out of my way. The European approach has a much better track record of closing the wage gap and raising quality of life for both women and children.

On the other hand, I spent nearly 6 years homeless in order to get healthier when doctors say it cannot be done, so I am pretty Don't tread on me to good effect. So I don't actually think America is simply dysfunctional and needs to give up its silly ways. But we certainly have room for improvement on quite a lot of metrics.


> America was founded by people who fled Europe because they didn't fit in there

I'm pretty sure most of that influx of people predates the European wealthfare states and modern democracies.


It could (and has been) argued that the welfare state is the continuation of feudal society by different means.


You could still make an argument that the two kinds of societies had different kinds of soil.


I agree. Was in SF recently and the juxtaposition of extreme wealth and homelessness makes me extremely uncomfortable. I know we have homelessness in the UK but this is just a whole different scale in the US


Oh my, this is what I was saying elsewhere in this thread. San Francisco is probably the most shocking place I've been to in my life. So much poverty and yet so much money. YC should do a push to do something with that with its next start up. But I'm guessing people in SF just got used to the poverty around them at this point and probably think it's normal.


What are you talking about?

Have you never been to London? There are homeless literally everywhere, and London is one of the wealthiest cities in the world. The money in London is much, much older as well, so if anyone should have it "sorted" it should be London.


There were 1,137 homeless reported in London [0], a city with a population of 8.8 million. SF has 7,499 [1] for a city of 870k. There are actually more homeless in SF than all of England.

[0] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/25/rough-sleepe... [1] https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/SF-s-new-count-shows-...


> Have you never been to London? There are homeless literally everywhere

I live in London currently. There are almost no homeless people. What are you talking about? It's one of the largest city I've been to where I've seen the least amount of poverty.

I'll also say that London is super safe, you'll almost never see crazy people in the streets or public transport. I regularly take the bus or the subway at late hours and I've never seen anyone dangerous or looking for trouble.

You definitely picked the wrong city.


I live in London too.

You don't get out much. Walk on any high street and you will see plenty of homeless people.


wat. Troll?


You are right, there are homeless in London of course, as I said in my original comment. I had the impression it was a lot worse in SF. I don't know what the stats are on SF v London but I would be interested. And of course, I think it is a disgrace we have homeless in the UK too


Sending "thoughts and prayers" is a lot easier than actually doing anything.


I saw a great comment on twitter:

Thoughts and prayers: the air guitar of helping.


I forgot who it was, but there was a good joke by a comedian on this topic. He was talking about people throwing out that common "we are praying for you" line and he was like "Oh, so you're telling me you're going to sit on the couch and do nothing? Thanks."


Sounds like something Bill Burr would say.


The UK has gone off a cliff in recent years in this regard, thanks to constant TV and news propaganda trying to say that poverty is always the fault of irresponsibility and unbourgeoise attitudes.


I couldn't agree more.

Honestly, the whole bash-the-poor perception is becoming more prevalent in Australia too (I'm from the UK too), it's becoming more and more the norm but as a whole, I find Australia to be very Americanised.


I know the feeling. Luckily my parents stayed together. We picked aluminum cans. Dad found some hard construction work and I did softball scoreboards in the summer. My brother and I still regard fish as poor people food. Commodity meat shouldn’t be feed to dogs much less people. Although the peanuts and cheese were good.

It affects your thinking forever. Even when doing consulting gigs, I still spent sparingly like it all could go away. Even after Dad got a decent job elsewhere, it took a few years to feel comfortable again.


I don’t think there’s necessarily a conflict between having empathy for people unconditionally while still asking questions like: if times were at one point good or OK but you’ve fallen into hard times now, why did you not have savings? People ask these questions because being miserly to save is hard and unpleasant, and then when others seemingly haven’t saved, it’s emotionally difficult helping them. I see people using benefits cards buying food at grocery stores that I would never allow myself to buy. It’s not something that fosters empathy within me.

My family came to this country with absolutely _nothing_ and my parents saved and saved and saved to accumulate a safety net. The point of saving is so that when you lose our job you don’t face imminent castrophe. If you lose your job and you’ve saved you can migrate and find a job elsewhere. But millions of Americans don’t do this. It’s hard to feel bad for them when you put so much hard work and deny yourself so much just to save.

But I’m not saying anything new: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ant_and_the_Grasshopper


All of this modulo American healthcare means a lot of people who follow this script still end up with nothing. This is especially the case for entry-level jobs and other careers that are more available to the newly arrived.

If you work in a median-income job and are miserly for a long time and save up a year's income, you will have around $60k in the bank. Since you don't have a pension, materially all of this will be in mutual funds or the like if retirement is in your plans. But great, you have savings!

Now let anything happen that requires you to visit a hospital unexpectedly. Let's say your appendix bursts, so you couldn't meaningfully have avoided this calamity.

The average cost for an appendectomy in the US is $33k[1]. That's just the surgery, so assume you'll be out $40k or more. Now let your boss be a miser (like yourself) who decides to fire you because you can't come in. Depending on how quickly you find another job, how much it pays, and your ability to avoid another unexpected disaster (car trouble, sick kid, etc.) you could quite easily burn through the entire $60k of your savings from this one incident. So the very next time this happens, you're no better off than the folks who saved nothing.

But wait, it gets worse! Since your $60k was primarily in retirement savings, you will likely end up paying penalties and taxes for early withdrawal. So you will end up spending thousands of dollars to access your money. The rules are designed to kick you while you're down in this respect. And now you have no retirement savings, so people can talk about what a freeloader you are in your dotage.

(The probabilities get worse as you get older. For an example of how bad, check pricing for long-term care coverage or long-term disability coverage. Basically -- you can't reliably out-grasshopper biology.)

Our healthcare system in general makes the grasshopper approach more about luck than is apparent at first glance.

1 - Obviously, insurance currently will pay a large portion of the $33k, as the ACA mandates that health insurers sell a useful product. But this has not been the case except for the last 7ish years, and may not be the case again in the near future. It would be foolish to expect health insurance to function as "health insurance" in America for any extended period of time.


Your retirement savings have creditor protections - if you have hospital bills you cannot pay, you can go through bankruptcy or another non-payment strategy with your retirement savings largely intact.

It sucks ruining your credit with a bankruptcy event, but it beats out draining your retirement plans.


That's a good point. I could probably quibble with the practical aspects of the approach (e.g. job loss resulting from medical catastrophe), but you're right that you could probably preserve some of your retirement assets.

The flip side is this is a contributing factor in everyone's healthcare costs being so high.


This is an absurd strawman. Th emphasis is rightly placed on “modulo”.

You’re saying that because catastrophes happen there’s no point in saving? Yes health insurance was problematic before the ACA, but it definitely served its purpose for simple things like appendectomies. Not every single instance of needing savings is one that is financially ruinous, aka pre-ACA healthcare issue that involved preexisting conditions etc.


> You’re saying that because catastrophes happen there’s no point in saving?

No, nothing in what I wrote says that. Literally nothing I wrote should lead to that conclusion. (Good thing you brought up straw man though!)

The point is that saving doesn't guarantee insulation from poverty, and that in America medical costs are historically a leading reason why that is the case. This is in the context of a discussion around how we treat poor and homeless people.

So if you wanted to take one bullet point from what I wrote, you could do worse than "it's not morally okay to look down on poor people in the US because if you're not relatively lucky, that could also be you" or something similar.

Hope that helps!


>But this has not been the case except for the last 7ish years,

Useful health insurance existed before the ACA.


So did things like being rejected for coverage due to "unexplained weight loss" when I was dating and trying to get into better shape and had lost a whopping 5 pounds over a few months (as noted in the application).

From my more cynical older viewpoint, I was never going to get decent coverage on the private market and that was simply a viable reason to present for rejection.


Sure.

It shared the market with a lot more useless health insurance, and whether the useful plans were actually available to any given individual was not necessarily a function of how hardworking and conscientious they were.


just limited by local availability, cost, coverage restrictions, preexisting conditions,etc. Simple, right?


When you say they had nothing they had nothing or did they have nothing and were also in 'debt'?

In my families historical situation the big issue is you're poor because of debts. You can't move because you're stuck in a mortgage or farm loan. You can't go to college because you owe money. You can't better yourself without help from the outside essentially. Imagine owing 2k+ a month but only making 1800 for a few years that will drain your savings.. imagine then it gets worse and worse and eventually you get laid off.

Being upside down causes the blood to go to your brain and like the article implies makes some people continue to make bad decisions. Say you get out of being upside down for just a small time you then rationalize spending over what you were like before because you think your ship finally came in... but in today's society that can change in a heartbeat.


I can see both points for immigrants it's hard to understand because generally people who immigrate are more enterprising risk taking and willing to find creative ways to change their circumstances.


This makes sense generally. In our case, though, my family was facing ethnic persecution. We came to the United States as United Nations refugees. We were not seeking economic opportunities.


If you live somewhere with a social safety net (I'm from the UK) then there isn't the same social imperative to save: saving becomes a luxury for those who are not the poorest in society (which in reality it is anyway)

This works because we end up sharing the disproportionate costs which sometimes fall on those who are unfortunate (they lose their job, they get sick, etc). It's much more efficient than everyone having to have individual savings.


And it sure is difficult for folks to save when they are working their butts off to pay crazy rent/mortgage and sky high medical/dental so they can stay healthy to work...plus college and grad school loans that got them the low paying job in the first place (although they went to school to have an actual profession which would have covered these expenses but doesn't come close anymore) all in a city where there are some jobs but no affordable housing. If you can't afford your monthly bills, you can't save and you go deeper into the hole. This is the case for many with graduate degrees in the US.


No one forced anyone into taking loans or living in places with expensive rent. Just because someone—erm, our whole culture—lied to you and you took the bait, doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. That’s how freedom works. It requires individuals to know, to teach their kids not to take loans from creeps (aka basically all loans), not to believe nonsense mantras like the value of higher education. Just because Barack Obama made some pretty speech about going to college doesn’t mean he’s right. It means he’s getting votes by making people feel good. Just because you feel like you “worked your butt off” doesn’t mean you actually did anything or that anyone owes you anything.


> Just because someone—erm, our whole culture—lied to you and you took the bait, doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. That’s how freedom works.

This sentence is contradictory: since individuals are told these lies/take this bait when they're minors--ie, not 'free' in any legal sense--they in fact are off the hook. When most minors, particularly those closer to the left-hand side of the privilege bell curve, do not have parents with the necessary social/economic background to teach them 'not to take loans from creeps', they are precluded from assessments such as the above.


Gosh. I didn't expect anyone here to be this unable to imagine/relate that many of our circumstances are not in our control. I know how hard it is to hear that innocent, strong, intelligent, accomplished people could be suffering, even after great accomplishment. It reminds us that we are all vulnerable to being crushed under the same weight ourselves. It's painful to watch if we have a shred of empathy in us, and I believe many do. One thing our culture is terrible at is teaching empathy, and that's because it doesn't offer any- not a shred. It's got this tough-guy cowboy tone that echoes, empty and false when you ask yourself how truly tough one has to be to kill and steal...to enslave... destroy natural resources. It would have been "tougher"to work together to embrace- to empathize -to aim to preserve irreplaceable resources of value, but we do create false narratives to cover for our most horrible mistakes and shames. Our society here in the US evolved from slavery making development possible and affordable - I assume you realize that. This same narrative forms a constantly evolving and deepening culture of abuse that permeates everything we do- how we educate, how we employ, how we treat our family and friends, neighbors and visitors.. and even fellow "hackers" who contribute to a conversation here. It is important we remember this. I'm responding to you so that someone reading your comment who is already feeling without hope knows that there isn't agreement on your perspective. Sometimes, hope in a place like this one is very important. When a people are abused and in turn become abusers themselves, as that is the natural tendency without conscious opposing effort, they eventually think that vulnerability means weakness and militarism means strength-a kind of tank-like war procession of knowing invincibility. This is the kind of thinking that totalitarianism happily thrives in-- and it surely is the opposite of freedom. (since you wanted to get into how freedom works) This kind of thing actually makes you vulnerable to control. Your attitudes are looking for or resonating from an unkind master- they accept abuse as the cost of doing business and that makes sense here in this culture,sadly. Don't you think it would be better to aim to be strong enough to listen, to seek understanding, to collaborate,to empathize,and to care about rather than this false "strong" enough to crush and dominate? That truly is a weapon that is easily turned against its own shooter in a second. When people are talked to in this way over and over, our most vulnerable-- are killed off in spirit by this , or they are killed off literally by the societal force of poverty or sadly, more literally by someone who was too vulnerable and could not bear another second of this kind of lack of empathy and smug cruelty in the face of their crying out to their community to be heard. Your people are in desperate need of help, even in the form of empathy on a forum for those who should be able to empathize with their plight. If that is you, man, I feel you and we will change things, and if it isn't,please give some thought to kindness perhaps especially because it clearly was not offered to you often enough.


Why do you assume someone can HAVE savings?

I live in a Texas city. Rent here for a 2 bedroom apartment is over $1K a month. If you're a single mother of 2, you can expect $500 a month for EBT if you make $9 an hour. So after you get through paying your taxes, social security, medicare, etc... you're stuck with pocket change (that still has to go to electricity, gas for the car / maintenance) and use EBT to pay for your food.

Please spare the empathy bit. When you're working odd shifts, you KNOW the kids will eat the pizza rolls, so you buy the damned pizza rolls.

But let's say single mom gets a $4 raise. Guess what happens? EBT evaporates. Completely. Not only that, but she starts getting charged $160+ a month for the daycare that she sends her kids to so that she can work those odd hours. $3 more bucks? Her daycare subsidy evaporates. She's making $16 an hour, but now she can't afford to pay her bills.

Yeah, please lecture us again on why they can't save money.


Thank you for saying this. Our support structures are an embarassment. The hoops they make the homeless jump through for basic Medicaid are a crime as well. So of course no savings! But we both know there are people who would have that mom rent a studio apartment instead. Obviously none of those people are moms themselves.


[flagged]


> don't choose to have kids when you're making $9/hour or have a chaotic domestic life

Often the choice to have kids is at a more stable point and then things go downhill.


sure, and there should definitely be help for this situation, but what fraction of low income parents is this really?


Of course everyone is going to focus on that sentence when I also mentioned many other poor choices this hypothetical woman is making.

Tragedies will occasionally come out of left field, so I believe you can find real hard luck cases where everything was sunshine and rainbows when the couple decides to have a kid. But based on the people I've known personally the people with messed up lives are a subset of the people make consistently poor decisions. I bet that 9 single parents who are struggling financially out of 10 have some identifiable poor choice you could find if they were totally open and honest about their history. Does she have a 6 month emergency fund, health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, a large enough home, home insurance, a stable marriage, stable employment, flex in the budget? I think if you restrict to looking at parents who fit those criteria prior to the decision to have kids, the sliver who become this down on their luck is staggeringly tiny. And the parents who don't fit these can't afford kids.


> Does she have a 6 month emergency fund, health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, a large enough home, home insurance, a stable marriage, stable employment, flex in the budget?

Are you proposing that only the top 10% most economically secure people should have children? Because if you check those critera you'll find it's a surprisingly small minority of people that meet all of them.

(Something like half of all Americans have no emergency fund at all. Is anyone who lives in an "at-will" state truly in stable employment, either? And so on.)


Not in those terms. But I believe that list is achievable by the overwhelming majority of Americans if they were to make better decisions. The ones who can't afford to save a 6 month e-fund when they're childless are living precariously as it is and sure can't afford the disruption to their budget a kid would entail.

I feel like I'm talking into the wind here. I guess I hold unpopular opinions around here. Is personal responsibility so unpopular? Or do people not believe that decisions we make affect our lives?


Ultimately it comes down to: knowing nothing else about someone's life other than that they are poor and have children, what is your default assumption? Blame the person or blame the system they live in? This is even more acute when we're talking about people in statistical terms - the individual stories and details vanish and you're left with pure statistical artefacts.

The presumption that it's people's own fault that they are poor often comes with a presumption that they're lying or evasive when it comes to explaining why they're in that situation when really they don't want to have to justify their existence all the time.

Doubly so in areas of reproductive choice. Not only is abortion extremely controversial in America, but access to contraception is hardly guaranteed and not necessarily free.

And again, I think you're vastly overestimating how many people could realistically achieve your standards just through their own decisions. Are your standards achievable at all on minimum wage?

(edit: think about this on the larger scale - an America where everyone has 6 months savings and no personal non-mortgage debt would have a financial industry with hundreds of billions of dollars in very different places ...)


6 month emergency fund? Have you seen how many people in the US are living paycheque to paycheque? I know many people who make six figures who would struggle to meet that requirement.

Having grown up as a military brat I know about poor and I know that this kind of self-serving look-down-your-nose "advice" is just rationalization for living well in a society that enables sociopathy


If you can't afford a 6 month e-fund, you can't afford kids. A 6 month e-fund is not even that hard; you have to re-arrange your spending over your lifetime and not even spend less in total over your life.

I'm sorry you had to go through that as a kid. My beliefs on this subject are rooted in an empathy and caring for kids who could have had better childhoods if their parents had their shit together a little more.


Different people take different lessons out of being poor. My parents were poor too. They struggled (and sacrificed) on their own to care for me an my sibling.

Having kids when not entirely 100% secure in your future is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the parents make sure things go okay for the family. But that's hardly the case most of the time, and people over-extend way more than they can conceivably manage/sacrifice-to-handle. That's where family planning should help (by sharing knowledge), not just giving out free birth-control.

People need to be damn sure that they can provide for the kids, or that they will give 110% in order to make it so. But, welfare is sadly pretty-much at a point where it's just paying people en-masse to have children rather than helping people that got into bad situations. That's not moving society forward, or helping the needy; that's creating/breeding generation upon generation of a dependent under-class that will just vote to reinforce said government handouts.


Maybe don't choose to have kids when you're making $9/hour or have a chaotic domestic life?

Most children aren't actually planned. They occur because mother nature has spent millions of years perfecting the art of tricking people into liking sex.

Or, as I sometimes say, our genes are like virii: They don't care how miserable they make you in their quest to reproduce themselves. Coincidentally, genes and viruses are both made of RNA at their root (DNA being two RNA, basically).


Oh, I'm totally with you on the root causes. I'm just resentful that I pay more in taxes to support kids when the parents don't care enough to ensure they have a stable life prior to bringing them into the world.

And while I agree with you that evolution is powerful, reliable birth control is recent enough that we haven't adapted to it. It's quite possible to control when you have kids via abstinence, birth control, and abortion. But it does require long-term thinking and contentiousness, and my point is that these sob stories are mostly missing these personality traits.


I consider such questions to fall under the purview of sexual morality. As such, they are complicated questions that are very poorly served by draconian policies that people who can't afford a kid just should not have one.

Taken to its logical conclusion, I see no reason why that would not lead to a society where murdering kids up to a certain age is the expected norm when the family falls on hard times. If there is a god, I would hope he/she/it would go all Sodom and Gomorrah on it.

When we make public policies, we need to start from a baseline assumption that human sexuality exists and sometimes babies happen and those policies need to respect the privacy of the couple whose coupling created that child and their right to make a hard and complicated decision balancing multiple different interests. Sweeping policies of "just don't have kids" go horrendous places, including forced abortions of late stage pregnancies which are essentially murder because the baby is developed enough it would be viable outside the womb if the mother went into labor.


...or, just accept that if you are going to have kids with no income, both the parents and the kids life is going to be tough. If you're going to make decisions like that, you shouldn't expect the rest of society to pay for it.

You may call that sexual morality, I call it common sense.


Our economic system is predicated on people having children.


I'm not against people having kids.


No, you just want to punish them for doing so.


That's dishonest arguing. I said no such thing, and I don't want to. By and large parents seem to be pretty happy with their kids, and I say more power to 'em.

Quite the opposite. I'm interested in people changing their decisions in such ways that children have better lives. Simultaneously, I'm am very much against my tax bill and my city's crime rate being higher because of completely avoidable problems.


Is there any number of mistakes one can make for which we shouldn't be taking from others to support them?


As much as it's debated in the US, abortion still is something.


But also, she will have to work a second job because no one gives full time work at that pay level. That's the brutal cost of ACA.


That’s not the brutal cost of ACA, that’s the brutal cost of inserting businesses into healthcare via offering them tax incentives for no reason. Simple solution exists:

1) government provides taxpayer funded healthcare

2) government mandates everyone buys health insurance via healthcare.gov

3) government is not involved in at all, including Medicaid and Medicare and does not offer any kind of assistance to business to offer health insurance such as tax deductions


It seems to me that a lot of government laws are created assuming people will continue to do what they have been regardless of how the rules changed. The idea that people will do something different in response to a law, like switching from few full time positions to lots of part time positions to avoid paying benefits, seems to be completely dismissed.

It reminds me of therapist mandated reporting of child abuse making it so those most at risk of committing child abuse no longer seeking therapy, leading to an overall increase in harm. Or the HIV laws in California that resulted in people refusing to get tested. And it makes me think that limiting ones ability to own a gun based on mental health will result in people being less likely to seek mental help. Why is there such dismissal of secondary effects of laws even after seeing them occur?


I didn't even consider that. I was just looking at the decisions she made.


> if times were at one point good or OK but you’ve fallen into hard times now, why did you not have savings?

The size of income is not the only difference between people. People can have different families, get different informal education at home, etc.

If you are poor but smart, and so is your family, and you love and help each other... there is a chance you will sooner or later get out of poverty somehow; as long as one succeeds, they can provide help and advice to others, etc.

It is a completely different situation if e.g. someone in your poor family is crazy. Crazy people can create all kinds of difficulties, whether interpersonal or financial, which can consume all your energy and savings.

I know people who have decent income, but can't save any of it, because they have relatives who regularly get themselves in all kinds of financial trouble, knowing that they can always ask Joe to save them. For example, they don't pay their bills, and then call Joe for help when a collector comes and wants the money back with some extra interest. And Joe doesn't know how to tell them "no" and just watch them lose the roofs above their heads. Therefore, no matter how many years of decent income will Joe have, he will never have savings.

I know people who spend a lot of their attention mitigating various problems that their crazy relatives with too much free time created. The amount of energy someone else spends on building a startup, they spend solving artificially created problems which wouldn't exist if their crazy relatives wouldn't make up things, or if the rest of the family wouldn't believe them.

I guess what I am trying to say is that people are connected; and some of them start connected to decent people, and others start connected to huge heaps of shit. Social capital is also a form of capital, and it can be negative.


Yes, thank you for this. I think I did overlook this. I can see how this must be very prevalent.


If Joe rather has relatives no matter how crazy and draining on his own financial and mental wealth, than to just cut bridges, protect himself and let people assume their shitty decisions, then be it, he made his choice.


It's a fairly common phenomenon to see immigrant households doing better than the American-born population, despite the obvious hurdles of no savings and not speaking English. Every time the census data gets published, you tend to see a few articles pop up about it: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/01/nyregion/01census.html


The ant and the grasshopper is a just a gross simplification.

Both are strategies that can be valid and work in different sceneries. When you spend some money you create a social net, maybe you have more friends or hang with more people that could help you in troubled times. For the "ant" people, the colony (family) is all. Can't trust anybody out of that circle, so saving the money is the correct and only option. For solitary "grasshopper" people, without strong family bonds, spending money and being generous with their money can pay more in the future if they make wise choices about whom to spend the money. Safety net can be made with money or with social bonds. Both can fail and no one is more virtuous than the other. The best is probably having a mix of both.


> The poor and destitute simply need help.

Upvote for the story but "simply need help" is not a policy a government can use to solve the problem. Granted, solving this problem for everyone is nigh impossible but maybe you can give us an example of a policy that would have helped out your individual family to give us some ideas?


Studies have shown that it would be cheaper to simply house people than the wild hoops they have to jump through.

Helping the poor is big business, which creates a backwards incentive structure. No one is willing to press these companies to the wall, but hey, they can have rewards ceremonies and drive nice cars. They must be doing something great with all those accolades even though more dead bodies are dumped in the bay each year, right?


Didn't a US city try that and confirm that you are correct? I mean, it's not just studies but also real world experience. Or to put it another way: the studies were studying real world interventions, for instance this one

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10737824

examined a program that ran for five years with a high success rate.

There is a readable article on this at https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/02/housing-first-s...


When half your country frame it as: makers VS takers.

Then "simply need help" would be a significant policy change.

Lots of other developed countries have made inroads on poverty. Just look.


> When half your country frame it as: makers VS takers.

I have never heard of that term before. What does that mean?

> Then "simply need help" would be a significant policy change.

Again, governments are based on policies and rules. "simply need help" is way to abstract.

> Lots of other developed countries have made inroads on poverty. Just look.

Which policies and rules used by other governments do you recommend?


Conservatives in the deep south I find have belief in this, they think that giving money to people that have none is fundamentally stealing from them through taxation and then giving it to someone that doesn't work as hard as them.


As opposed to giving it to defense contractors or farm subsidies. It's funny how conservatives only focus on tax dollars going to the poor.


Similarly, I find it "funny" (tragicomical) when poor Americans lists expenses and then complain about how much income tax they pay.

To be fair, the poor have a high tax burden in the US compared to other industrialized countries. And they get fairly little for their taxes... Still an Uber driver who complains about taxes being high is sad, because lower taxes will only hurt him.


Not sure that's true. If you're low income enough you don't pay taxes and actually get money back through the EITC.


What is the cutoff?

And yes, I didn't say they were rational players :)

Which the article says, we shouldn't expect.


On the contrary, as a southerner, I see plenty of northerners move down here and spend more fighting property taxes than paying them because their kids are grown and they shouldn't have to pay for schools any more.

Let's not pick "sides" here.


Hehe, similarly, you'll also hear poor Americans complain about taxes.. sure they have a high tax burned relative to rich Americans, when compared to others developed countries.

But complaining about taxes doesn't reduce poverty.


When people who are receiving help are those I remember in grade school ignoring school work to focus on bullying others (myself included), I definitely feel this way. There is no reallocation of social resources that I lack due to previously mentioned experiences, so I feel there shouldn't be reallocation of fiscal resources to help those that participated. (And I use 'feel' because I know this isn't a rational line of thought.)


This response unintentionally demonstrates what I think is a huge part of this puzzle: that government is the default "fixer" of this problem. That's an easy assumption to make, because it removes all personal responsibility while assuaging one's conscience. The Bystander effect in full force. What if we instead start assuming it is -our- responsibility to help the helpless?

Many comments in this thread mention the disparity between the Haves and Have-nots in San Francisco. Imagine the impact if all those Haves decided to use their own time and money to aid the homeless/hungry/needy/destitute? Instead, we fall back to blaming the other side's politicians and policies and we hope that someday Big Brother will take care of everything.


This is the kind of thing that needs an institution (government or not) because otherwise the money goes to the most convincingly miserable looking people, not the ones in need. It's hard to prove, but it seems like most of the "homeless" on the NYC subway are just doing an act like the rest of the buskers. There's money to be had, and they've made a job of figuring out how to get it. If you can be sure that the problem is competently handled by the government, you can ignore people asking for handouts and not encourage that behavior.


I'm not just advocating for everyone to give money away on the street. Some of the worst poverty in the U.S. is in places with huge amounts of brain power (like SF). I'm sure those big brains could come up with better solutions than handouts. Like the countless charities out there that are far more efficient than government.

Do you think the problem is, or can be, competently handled by government? I think government can get results by brute-forcing with massive amounts of money, but history shows that it's still terrible at it (hello War on Poverty). Now, I don't mean to say government should have no role/do nothing. I'm saying that it should not be the -default- entity to take care of things because it allows the citizenry to absolve themselves of all responsibility. Government isn't some wise entity - it's just people. And oftentimes those people are thousands of miles away, working with incentive structures poorly aligned with the issue at hand.

One benefit of transforming this issue into a matter of personal responsibility is that the incentives are much stronger - if it's MY money being used, I'm far more likely to strive for efficiency. If your charity gobbles up my donation with admin costs, I'm "shopping elsewhere". A somewhat-related example of this strategy was a method used in Africa to combat elephant poaching. I can't find the reference now, but basically the government decided to "give" land areas to citizens, who would be responsible for poaching issues. It ended up working much better than when the government sought to directly reduce poaching.


> I hate seeing people's comments on stories around this topic.

Could you explain why that is?


> Could you explain why that is?

Easy by the rest of my comment maybe I didn't illustrate it enough but a lot of people share ideas on how to fix it without truly understand it. Poverty is easy to fix. It's the giving up personal wealth to prevent it that's the hard part. As per the link it basically says the same crap everyone says, the "Helping the homeless is hopeless" narrative. Now saying that once you're screwed you'll never be able to think 'normal' again... c'mon man.


> Poverty is easy to fix. It's the giving up personal wealth to prevent it that's the hard part.

how does giving up personal wealth fix poverty?


It's hard to get people out of poverty than enrich people before that happens. It's easier to bring the extremely wealthy down to a certain level to accommodate for those that don't have the ability to get unlimited tries.

See perspective:: http://www.templetons.com/brad/billg.html

Wealth and safety nets give families chances where those in poverty can't afford to take. "Move across the country and change jobs or risk dying of starvation with your family in the car because once you got there the job's gone" "Spend all your savings going to college at the expense of your kids when there are no jobs right now" "It'll cost hundreds of thousands for chemotherapy but on average patients with your diagnosis get 3 more years typically of life"... these are called risks. The wealthy get more rewards because they can afford more risks. Most who are in poverty are in poverty because they themselves or their family could not afford the risk. If those who are high lend a hand it could help immensely.


you listed a bunch of advantages of wealth that I dont think anyone would dispute. and you talk about taking that away. how is this supposed to help people who are already impoverished? it seems like you want there to be more people in poverty, not fewer.

> http://www.templetons.com/brad/billg.html

riddled with fallacies and calculated to produce envy. totally irrelevant to our discussion.


> and you talk about taking that away. how is this supposed to help people who are already impoverished? it seems like you want there to be more people in poverty, not fewer.

It's about income distribution.

It's true that the economy is not a cake you can split in several parts, so it's not a zero sum game, but I think that inequalities should be reduced, and that means taking from the ones who have, to give to those who have less.

And if you take from the ones who have the most, you are not creating poor people, you are just improving the balance.

And again, it's about the extremes, there is less need to touch the incomes of those in the middle.

I don't understand how taking from the rich to give to the poor would be a bad thing.


> It's about income distribution.

so you've got some people who (for whatever reason) are prevented from making a decent income. how are you proposing to solve that problem by routing an income that is contingent on their inability to generate their own? We have tried that for 3 generations and poverty is worse than ever, inequality is worse than ever, the food stamps go to buy drugs, and the only solution you people have is to take more money from "the rich" and pour it into the same failed social programs.

> I think that inequalities should be reduced, and that means taking from the ones who have, to give to those who have less.

people who generate their own income are going to have whatever they generate less whatever you take. people who cannot generate their own income are going to have whatever you take less your operating costs, and spend it on non-discretionary consumption items like food, rent, healthcare. which are provided by people who don't need your welfare. so you're simultaneously creating a dependent class or poor people and a guaranteed income stream for the wealthy. this is why your idea has always failed.

>And if you take from the ones who have the most, you are not creating poor people, you are just improving the balance.

you'll observe that the ones who have the most are the ones who write the tax code. good luck taking from them.

>I don't understand how taking from the rich to give to the poor would be a bad thing.

1. creates a class of poor people who are dependent on social programs for survival.

2. "Taking from the rich" happens through a political system that is designed to protect the interests of a subset of rich people. so the rules are manipulated to take a lot from rich people without political connections, and route money towards rich people with political connections.


> you listed a bunch of advantages of wealth that I dont think anyone would dispute. and you talk about taking that away.

That is a non sequitur.


I don't understand what you mean.


GP suggested that a redistribution of resources could allow the poorer section of society to engage in the type of risky behaviour that often results in financial success. You then assumed that this means depriving wealthier people of the ability to engage in that sort of behaviour. That isn't a logical consequence. You seem to be assuming that any redistribution will deprive wealthier people of these opportunities which is obviously not true. For instance, GP might be suggesting that only the wealthiest 1% should be required to make a sacrifice for the benefit of the poor.


> As per the link it basically says the same crap everyone says, the "Helping the homeless is hopeless" narrative.

Is that really how you interpreted TFA?

I read it entirely opposite to that interpretation. It explained why helping those suffering scarcity is necessary and why society needs to revisit attitudes and mechanisms to do so.


I read the article and yes indeed got the opposite impression. That's what poverty does though.. makes you see the glass half empty perhaps as per the article implies.


I don't think this adds anything to the discussion except for a facetious tone. The OP explained exactly why he doesn't like reading the comments literally in the next breath from what you selectively quoted.


Not being facetious.

I can't see the explanation you say exists.

I suspect that there's a missing qualifier to parent's comment --something like 'from people who haven't lived what I have lived' -- but absent that it sounds like other people's experiences are of no or negative value.


I find it hard to believe that you are unintentionally missing the context behind the original post, but so be it


As parent post observed in a sibling comment back to me, he/she interpreted the original article at about 180 degrees to how I read it.

I'm curious which way you interpreted TFA, as it may inform why you believe I'm missing the point of the parent post.


> We live in a society though that thinks someone else is going to take care of the problems.

It's worse than this. Now society thinks that government is going to take care of the problems. The past fifty years and the War on Poverty have shown us how well that works. I wish that, instead of spending more untold billions on new programs and bureaucracies, government would switch to facilitating citizens to create, man, and implement the help that is so sorely needed by the poor and helpless. Encourage the citizenry to take personal responsibility for helping others, instead of offering an easy out to do nothing.


> I don't know why I'm saying all this the solution is simple but the problem is hard to acknowledge. The poor and destitute simply need help. We live in a society though that thinks someone else is going to take care of the problems. When we do finally give help it's so conditional and shamed that the hole of guilt someone fell in is practically inescapable.

I really don't understand why this is so controversial in North America. The 'Fuck You All, I've Got Mine' mentality is a sign of a morally dead society.


Sentiments like these are why I can't Fuck with libertarians. Even though I never experienced as much, I know there but through the grace of God go I. And I don't believe in god.


Libertarianism is not about not helping others. Not even remotely. Libertarianism means you can help others as much as you want to.


Which, in the case of most of the people who currently hold our wealth, turns out to be not very much at all. Are you surprised?


Given that about a third of the country would identify themselves as progressives, it's hard to see if they gave of their own free will, there wouldn't be plenty of help to the disadvantaged.

But I rarely (never?) see any rhetoric in DNC politics about party members donating of their own free will to anything other than the Democratic party.


Virtue doesn't scale. Hence taxes for public good stuff because otherwise only the town with a generous Moneybags would have roads or a fire service (and the town with a racist Moneybags would only have a fire service in the white quarter). It's also hard to coordinate - see disaster response.


We're talking simply about charity. There are plenty of wealthy liberals - like Hollywood, Gates, Buffet, Silicon Valley, etc. All the people who donated to Sanders. Plenty of money to give to charity.


Resources are unevenly distributed. Like, why don't the homeless all just pool their resources and buy a house?


Seattle votes heavily Democrat. There's only a tiny fraction of them in Seattle that are homeless.


It's an extreme illustration of a principle that holds at many different levels.


Agreed on both of your points.


"our wealth"?


Some of us disagree very strongly with the premise of capitalism.


Under libertarianism, there's no law against communes. You can set one up!


And if a hypothetical commune became dominant and an existential threat to the existence of a hypothetical libertarian society? The Communist Party of the Philippines operates as a parallel government in many respects, do you think that should be allowed? The Zapatistas?

It's misleading to say that it would be a-ok to start a socialist society in a libertarian society. It (like many aspects of libertarian analysis, in my opinion) ignores the reality of a political situation like the one described.


It's not misleading. Hundreds (thousands?) of communes have been set up in the US. As far as I know, nobody has tried to shut them down. Nobody is stopping you from joining an existing one. You can find them via Google.

More to the point, the notion that communes are a threat to libertarianism is flat out false. Libertarianism is about freedom to associate with and do business with people as you please. That includes pooling ones' interests in a commune.

What you cannot do under libertarianism is force someone to join, or prevent someone from leaving.


The true premise of capitalism is that a person can own the rights to the exploration of natural resources, most commonly land. Everything else is compounded abstraction. I used to think it was more 'artificial' than it really is; but in fact it seems "natural" that people who lived for a long while in a piece of land deserve the right to keep it; and it also seems "natural" that through force you can take and keep land regardless of who 'deserves' its. Not good, maybe, but natural.

My point is that if these things are natural, it is likely that we'd reach a similar structure if we started from scratch.

I don't really think that the true premise of capitalism is going away until we reach a Star Trek post-scarcity level of wealth. I do think we can - and should - combat the ill-effects that come from the exercise of a capitalist system for billions of people.

I think we need to make it better, not a do over


Agreed. I would like to see more people approach Marxism as a critique of capitalism and move forward trying to improve it(capitalism). Unfortunately, there's still a lot of stigma(in the US).


> a lot of stigma

That's because forcible communism's track record is simply horrific. You can create or join a commune as you please, I have no problem with that. But when you try to force people into one, or prevent them from leaving, a lot of people are going to fight you.


I'm not talking about forcing people into a commune, I'm talking about approaching capitalisms flaws using the tools we have available instead of pretending the free market is a perfect system. That's a crazy false dichotomy and is exactly the kind of stigma I am talking about.


The Marxist critique of capitalism includes critique of the capacity for improvement within capitalism; you seem to want people to approach Marxism as a critique of capitalism and then ignore key parts of that critique.


I think Karl Marx is right about a lot things, I think Adam Smith is right about a lot of things- I think our(The US, Global Economy) current system must be incredibly flawed for so much wealth to be concentrated in such a way that a shockingly small group of individuals hold a useless amount of wealth. Redistribution in the form of systems that improve everyone's quality of life is the only thing that makes sense...I honestly don't think how one could see otherwise?


> useless

What do you think wealthy people do with their money?

> the only thing that makes sense

If you want to end human progress. Me, I'm excited about Musk's progress in space exploration, for one example.


The idea that human progress only happens under a free market is totally detached from reality and most of human history. I'm resisting inserting a joke about libertarianism here for fear being a bit too on the nose.


> Libertarianism means you can help others as much as you want to.

What’s the political philosophy that means you can help others as much as they need? Maybe we should talk about that one more.


Marxism.

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" - Karl Marx.


With the operative word being "can" there, it's still libertarianism.


True, if we're talking about poor ol' Hayek and Rothbard... but Ayn Rand discourages it and she's the standard bearer. Interestingly, I always found the aesthetics, philosophy, methods of Randianism quite Stalinist.


Rand doesn't represent libertarianism. You'll get a far more accurate version if you read Friedman's books one economics.


I hate seeing people's comments on stories around this topic

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. - Steve Jobs


A lot of great stories in this thread, a lot of them are quite disheartening US stories of poverty.

Mine was the opposite, really. Grew up as a welfare-kid in Western-Europe with a disabled dad and a sibling. The state provided for us, the three of us made do with about $1200 (roughly the $7.50 minimum wage in the US at a 40h 52w work schedule) or so in today's money, living in the capital city so rent and insurance ate up quite a bit of our budget. Still, we had a great childhood, went to university, always did sports, vacations, had books and computers at home. Everything was always a few generations old, everything was second hand, I still have clothes that are 15 years old. I always worked to buy my own clothes, phone, trips etc, such that my dad was 'only' paying rent/food from age 14, and eventually we chipped in there as well. I feel tremendously grateful for having been born here, socio-economic mobility is a lot higher here than elsewhere (the American dream irony). I've got a postgrad degree, steady job, traveled the world etc. I never wanted for anything, honestly. The government helped us out with tuition fees, insurance, rent, and I happily pay my fair share back in taxes. Most importantly perhaps, I never felt the damage of stress of being poor, we were never scared for our future, if anything, it looked bright. I don't feel any less than others, not ashamed or fearful. I owe a lot of this to the state and my fellow citizens.


Can I ask you which European state are you talking about?


I also want to know. Sounds like it could be Germany, Netherlands, (maybe not UK?), France, Belgium, Sweden/Denmark/Norway/Finland, a few others?


Netherlands


thanks for sharing your story. the state is great


I'm sure how people deal with stress and difficult situations varies from person to person. My personal story and 2-cents:

When I was 17 I went through a period of near destitute. I was living on my own, my father had passed away, and I had dropped out of school. Yet, I found myself with some very good jobs, such as GE Capital, a big Oil and Gas companies IT department, etc.

Regardless of the opportunity, my arrogance, ambivalence, or immaturity (take your pick) cost me a series of good jobs in short order. The result was I had no money, no electricity, no gas for my car, and not much to do. Eating cold beans out of a can in the dark tends to force you to re-think your priorities.

In my case, I got very motivated very quickly and dug myself out of that hole after a few months. I think that's the point Orrin Hatch was trying to make. If I had a fallback, I would have, without a doubt, kept coasting along from job to job. I've never looked at work or money the same way since as I never want to find myself there again.

So long story short, being poor (by my own doing) didn't necessarily motivate me, but looking into oblivion sure as hell did.


I have a safety net and it has enabled me to take risks I never would have if failure meant homelessness for my family.

I think that's why all the trimmings of a "socialist" society are so attractive to me.

I hear what you're saying. You felt motivated because there was nothing to enable your coasting. But it can also work in the other direction.


Unfortunately taking risks to better yourself and having it work out are the exception not the rule. And I have to assume that a non-socialist society supports this better in almost every way, based on historical evidence in my own head. (flawed as that may be)


Not taking risks (doing nothing) will never "work out".

Those who do not have the capital cannot take risks in the first place.


Is it not possible to make something "work out" without taking risks? A quote from the olden (perhaps wiser) days, was "don't quit your day job", has this sage advice been lost?

Unless we are going to avoid widely classifing a "risk" as something "scary" or "hard", then isn't changing jobs risky?


I think the definition of a risk is very relative though. If someone is barely making ends meet (with no signs of improving their situation if they keep their same routine), then taking time to educate themselves (a vocation school, getting resources on how to stretch a dollar, etc.) may seem like a risk. When you don't have education, time, or money every decision you take on your day to day is a risk.

I'm not going to pretend that some people don't thrive when looking at the poverty void -- they are the exception to the rule. There are also those who coast on gov't funding. There's probably many reasons why someone would coast, but if I'm in a system that has so thoroughly forgotten about me since birth (e.g. not having any opportunities for better education for one), why would I want to partake in it? I think the cost of a few people not trying to make changes for the better is by far outweighed by helping those you need support in their most desperate time.

It's not about giving people a safety net when the have moonshot ideas to start a business. It's to have a safety net when they need a bit of time to improve themselves, which when you have little time and money is a huge risk.


>I think the definition of a risk is very relative though.

That was part of my point, though I worded it poorly.

>then taking time to educate themselves (a vocation school, getting resources on how to stretch a dollar, etc.) may seem like a risk.

I think the biggest issue here is kids. I taught at a local community college, and I can say that almost everyone there was taking a risk of some kind to get through school. But the moms that had to leave class early to pick up their kid from one place and bring them to another place and then go to Walmart for work to make ends meet.

I had a student who was homeless, and now has a good job. He worked harder than 99% of the other students. (I taught for about 12 years)

I also had a student that was watching porn and left his baby in the tub and it drowned.

These are the people that would benefit from help, but the problems that I see are that they have help right now. I know this because I was a homeless teen on the streets for a while. And there's help all over the place.

I think people that have never been homeless don't understand it at all. It's a totally foreign world. But half the people that were my friends were trying to get off the streets, and the other half were not. Drugs were pervasive, and one friend was this happy, carefree kid, and a year later when I was back in town, he was on meth and was mugging people.

What people are missing is good parents that could teach their kids how to live, especially when it gets hard. Save money, don't waste your life on drugs, work hard, be decent to people.

Many of my friends were happy being on the streets (I was for a time) because home life was so wretched.

What would happen if all these kids got a chunk of money every month? Drugs and entertainment, I gurantee you that. Why? Because they saw no hope in spending it wisely when many couldn't look further than a day in the future. Misery an hopelessness was their daily life.

Some kids would get some money, and they go to a fancy restaurant for a single meal. One time a bunch of kids spanged (spare changing) for a whole day just to get a night at the Hilton hotel and bunch of them took showers there. (there are showers at the shelter, and they still did this) And yes, the shelter was totally safe (some theft) but it was kids, not crazed adults. I think the adults lives are just an extension of what the teens experience, but a more realistic outlook, and hopelessness is spread out over time differently. (I was homeless as an adult for awhile as well)

The kids that made it out were the ones looking for jobs and housing, even when all they had was a local shelter and general mailbox and phone service provided by a local volunteer house for homeless kids.

Risk plays no part in helping any of these kids, or me when I was there. There daily life is full of risk. There were kids selling drugs, a few prostituted themselves in various ways. (though this gets worse the longer you are out there) I finally got a job, but had nothing to spend money on. I had hundreds of dollars in my pocket at one point, and was still homeless.

Unless you have 10k or more, what "risk" could you possibly take without family or a huge support network? And if you did have that money, but no support, it would be insane to take a risk. I think talking about risks in regards to helping the needing is red herring, a strawman, and distraction.

What these people need is real hope, so that when they change from spending $30 a day at McDonalds, to spending $100 a week at a grociery store, that they truly believe and understand they are making their future better.

I have so much more to say about this, but I will pause. I find many comments about the poor and downtrodden to be based on faulty understanding of these people's reality. It reminds me of white people arguing about what black people experience. Can they? Of course, but they often sound silly and misinformed.


i grew up poor, and it was frustrating to see the stupid mistakes my family and people around me would make over, and over, and over. then people like the researchers in this article say infuriating things like 'their bad decisions are just because they are cognitively tired, and actually many of them could be even considered shrewd!"

being cognitively tired does play a role, but more so because they are cognitively lazy. their bad / lazy decisions are confounded by the fact they are trying to solve problems caused by making bad decisions in the first place. on top of that, most dont value education.

i typed a long story but deleted it. in short, 4/6 of us siblings dropped out of school, those same 4 had a large life insurance policy from the airforce which they blew almost immediately.

we have so many opportunities in this country, but it still does require that we go to school, work, and use our head. i am aghast on how so many people simply refuse to THINK. so many people with money problems have no idea how much money annually they spend on ANYTHING. how can you even begin to talk to someone about getting out of poverty, if they wont even calculate how much they are spending on that 5$ starbucks and 600$ phone.


Also grew up poor, and seen people of all income levels be cognitively lazy. I felt like I really started to get the way success works when I saw successful people waste money. I saw individuals make flippant decisions to throw away 50,000$ on software that their organization will never use. MSDN licenses for 100 people that can't and never will code. I've seen a salary man whose job it was to install software on tablets one day a year, the rest of the year he watched Netflix.

I'm aghast when I see well off people just burn money. There is an entire population of people who find success via a different road than intelligence or intrinsic value.

I've seen things that would make your blood boil.


But there's a difference. That company wasting $50k is the equivalent of a poor person buying the brand name bread instead of store brand. Not a life altering decision. Make that a $5m purchase and the higher ups in the company will probably spend a great deal of time weighing the pros and cons.

I have seen people in fire situations get a one time windfall of $8,000 dollars and spend all of it for a down payment on an expensive car. That's the kind of decision making that keeps you poor.


As income inequality increases, relative percentage comparisons like this become more infuriating than comforting.

The more money you have, the dumber you can be with it and still be guaranteed survival. At a certain level of poverty, you have to operate at peak financial efficiency to live a mean lifespan.

50,000$ properly spent could change the course of human history. It could supply the nearby treatment center for children with behavioral/emotional problems for years!

I could buy a few mig welders, some angle grinders, associated PPE, several hundred pounds of scrap metal, and still have enough left over to pay two unemployed people in rural Missouri to make tiny metal sculptures for model towns for 6-12 months.

The above is my goofballs, no thought business plan for 50k. I'm not even trying and the ROI on that hairbrained stupid plan is better than atleast 10 different decisions I've seen made over 50k.

I'm not even being creative or thoughtful. For someone like me to see someone be told "We don't need this." and them respond "eh fuck it, it's just 50k" is...

It's astounding. It's mind altering. It's the name brand bread vs. human lives metaphor in your face and on fire.

So yeah there is a difference.


You act like spending $50k on something you don't need is the equivalent of lighting the cash on fire. That money goes back into the economy. It provides jobs, it increases money velocity. For the economy as a whole, it's really good that the wealthy or large companies aren't super frugal with their money. After all, someone has a business employing people to make custom leather interiors for private jets, when the standard interior (or first class commercial) will do just fine.


I have very often thought what would happen if I was to suddenly come into a substantial amount of wealth and this is what I would do with a no holds barred method of paying skilled people to do cool things that they do not have the money to do otherwise. There are incredibly talented people that if given 20k to make their Magnus opus they would make the most breathtaking and increadible stuff imagined.


The trouble is finding those people.

Most people I meet are literally stereotypical consumers and couldn't come up with a unique idea to save themselves.


>pay two unemployed people in rural Missouri to make tiny metal sculptures for model towns for 6-12 months.

Wait... what?


Something to consider:

On HN a few weeks back, I read someone's comment that some poor people are poor because they own cheap cars that cost a fortune in repairs because they're always breaking down, preventing them from saving up for a better one that won't need repaired so often, which would allow them to save and get ahead.

Maybe that's not always the kind of decision-making that keeps you poor after all.


I don't buy that argument outright. I have a six figure savings account and six fig investments going on in my mid 30s earned on my lonesome in the low-wage midwest, and I've always been taken advantage of here on top of it (low paid even for here). Frugality is my game because I care not about materialism. I believe one has to have a brain the size of a pea, to be impressed by someone's possessions. I coudln't care less about someone having a Mercedes. The Europeans have the right idea, being a big spender is actually extremely tacky and anti-social in my view.

One of my cars is terrible (2000 Mazda). I waste, but not much. I'm repairing it quite often. A single $500 repair is one (very cheap) car payment on a new one. I'm way ahead keeping the old beast going. I can replace the whole car 3 to 6 times over before I get to the price of a new one.

What I do pay with is inconvenience and my time to drag it into the shop. That's value too, but purely financial costs I'm winning.

Overall in the end, I'm going to pickup a cheap (15K), affordable car to replace it with. Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra range of vehicles. At those prices, the financial gain is outweighed by convenience for me. So we all "have a price". At least until more of those Tesla Model 3's have been out a while, I'll spend more than I normally would on one of those beauties. :)

A lot of people say it's not worth fixing a car that's worth less than the repair. I disagree, it's money in vs money out. Same concept as calories in calories out. Obviously, the comment you quoted would be correct when you start dealing with outliers/extremes. There's money pits, then there's real money pits.


Sounds like the "Sam Vimes 'Boots' theory of economic injustice", from the Discworld novels.

https://wiki.lspace.org/mediawiki/Sam_Vimes_Theory_of_Econom... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Vimes#Boots_theory_of_soci...

I don't knnow how accurate it is, but it does make sense for some things, such as shoes, and thinking about it, train tickets (season tickets are better value for money but very expensive), and essentially anything where bulk/long term is better value, but only being affordable to some people, and I think the space to store things comes into play as well...


I don't think the problem is that they cost a fortune. Overall the money spent is probably the same.

The problem is that an unreliable car is far more likely to cause sudden "emergency" events that require a lot of liquid money upfront and if you don't have that money this might cause a chain reaction so you lose your job and then your home.


On the other hand (at least where I live) expensive cars means expensive repairs and maintainance.


Simply isn't true-if that were the case companies that make millions would never go bankrupt-yet they do. Why? According to you, they'd spend a great deal of time weighing pros and cons...

The fact is you can't always weigh pros and cons and always get a positive outcome. There are many poor people that will always be poor-but entire industries have spent decades making decisions weighing pros and cons and completely collapsed because of things outside of their control. Why can this principle not apply to a portion of the poor?


I'm sure it does apply to a great deal of the poor. My comment was simply that some people make terrible financial decisions. Are you implying that no one is poor due to their own decisions? It's all just things outside their control?


What's your method of assessing whether the bad choices come from being cognitively tired or cognitively lazy? What's the marker you look for?


I resonate the feeling and agree that people need to also take responsibility, however I see people all the time making poor choices, and it isn't just poor people. If you're down on your luck, that $6 coffee ritual may be not sound so bad at the moment. Someone who is exhausted, and probably malnourished (surprisingly common in America), will say to themselves... I'm craving a delicious coffee and hopefully it'll give me enough energy to keep going, and sometimes it does work temporarily.


You're exactly describing how an irrational spending is hard to shake off, even at the moment when you need every dime.

Rational thinking under stress is hard. It can be a trap, and often is.


That's why I try to maintain the same lifestyle no matter how much I do or don't have. Once you adjust your spending habits, it's very difficult to change them. I just think out what makes sense, how far I have to be happy, then build a routine around sensible choices. Half of the time, the sensible choices are the healthiest anyway (like taking lunch to work vs fattening fast food). Nailed it on the head that rational thinking under stress is hard, so people should get their affairs in order when they get a lull in life where they can step back and setup a healthy (financially & otherwise) routine.


I agree with all you said - I could have written it myself.

But I do suspect that, like myself, you are well-educated and probably from a stable home with parents that were good role models.

Someone whose home life was chaos probably wasn't lucky enough to been demonstrated those life skills.

It's sad, but I don't want to pay for people making totally avoidable bad decisions. I don't know the solution but whatever we can do to avoid kids being raised in chaotic home situations would help in the future.


Yes and no on my background. My immediate family can only be defined as white trash, which from a parental point of view I'd define as- simply do not care what happens to their kids. It was an oppressive patriarchy for sure, my dad was concerned with himself and not my mom or his kids. He came first, and that was the end of it. Very ignored, and tormented daily in my house physically and verbally by a sibling. Even facing violent confrontations into my 20s. I had to punch my brother to the floor at 25, who for essentially no reason started swinging at me, in front of our mom. It never ended, till I cut them all off in just the past couple years. Enough is enough once the same patterns continue into middle age, they're incapable of having any semblance of a normal relationship with me. I have repercussions and issues from that, someday I'll have to deal with. Till then I just carry the frustration and anger that I have inside for no easily identifiable reason.

My extended family, grandparents, cousins, etc, are mostly doctors, holding PHDs or otherwise very wealthy from successful businesses. I was motivated out of a sense of feeling unworthy, thanks to my narcissistic dad. For education I was marked as a genius in junior high, that fell apart at 13 though, just no guidance at all. College, I loaded up my stuff myself into a borrowed pickup truck, carried it into the dorm myself, organized my loans myself, organized classes and how to graduate myself. Worked 30 hours a week throughout to pay my bills. I never had help for anything. For someone my age to be raised in cloth diapers as I was, and growing up in a house with no air conditioning, gives you an idea on how it was. I'm a product of the 1930s, not 80s. Had they not had a Commodore they initially bought for taxes in the house, I would've been screwed like these other kids. I've also worked nonstop since 12 years of age. I'm tired, and not even that old today. I'm not complaining, others have it worse, just explaining that no, I'm not one of the well-connected, pampered white boys. It sounds odd, but I barely identify with being white as a social class. The way I see life is that we're born alone, and we die alone. It's just the way it really is, the rest is someone who loves you blowing smoke up your ass.

So for me, good genes, bad immediate family. Most of these poor folks have bad genes and a bad family. So I may have escaped, but I know what you mean with your comment. I will say I'm probably more sympathetic than you are, I will pay for others' mistakes. Due to my experiences, I probably have more legit, heartfelt sympathy for the underclass than these fly-by-night liberal types that do lots of virtue signaling on social media. It may be why I married a Mexican woman, she's very smart and being how I view life, she's my reason I don't just say ciao and put a bullet in my head. She brings some emotion out of me, I love her, and we were both tossed out. It's all good and easy when half your needs are handled for you by someone else. I'd settle to just have someone to talk to that cared about me (my wife fills that void, but I mean in my family otherwise). When times get tough and they're truly on their own, a lot of these people, who are weak, will be goosestepping or whatever is the next easiest grease they can walk on. We're seeing the rise of that already, for another class, who thinks they're forgotten.

To fix the home solution that you mention, I have a bit of experience there. I think the turn key easy fix is making parents criminally liable for their children until 21 or 25 years of age. They'll either pay attention like good parents and raise them right, or at least turn them in to mental health when they're building bombs or amassing an arsenal. It's what I came to, given my experiences and what I hear from my wife, who is a public school teacher.

Of course, that's not a real, holistic fix for a failed society like mine (USA). Most people are interested in quick solutions to problems (take the guns etc), and more parental responsibility should solve a lot of problems at once for a society that clearly isn't civilized and has a smorgasbord of issues to address. If you read this far, congrats.


I did read it all. Your background sounds far less privileged than mine. Good on you for overcoming that by choosing to make sensible decisions.


> but more so because they are cognitively lazy.

Do you have any data, studies, or real references as to why this is, or do you simply call them lazy to feel better about yourself?

You've clearly outlined a trend-are we really to believe that the poor are simply more cognitively lazy than every other population? That is why they are poor? Quite the claim.


It seemed that he was talking about himself or his own family. So I took that as an anecdote. I doubt he relishes bashing his own family but called it like he believes he sees it.

My stance is close to what you're getting at. I don't think they're purposefully lazy most of the time. Though I agree with the OP that some have to be, there's no way. I'm intellectually lazy oftentimes, why wouldn't a discouraged, down on their luck poor person be? Makes zero sense that they wouldn't.

Being paid less and less in my life, while others around me make more, has been extremely demotivating. I can't imagine how the life gets sucked out of people with lesser will-power than others have.

I think it's not a claim that some people simply can't be bothered to go to school and better themselves. They just don't care. It's either stemming from their psychological profile, childhood abuse, or other factors that took down their motivation and self-esteem. They're giving themselves what they deserve, in their mind, accepted their social status.

Many of us do it. I accepted that I'm "working class" long ago and strongly identify with it. Even forgoing clothing that is outside of my class status. I'm a sturdy rural guy that even though I live in one of the largest cities in the US, prefer my blue jeans and work shirts (old fashioned Scottish plaid button ups for a country boy like myself) with work boots (think a black pair of Doc Martens). So I can completely see how others adopt their possibly lower socio-economic status as well. I like mine, it's part of my identity and I'm comfortable in my own skin that way. Maybe they are too, even if it doesn't benefit them.


You being 17 when that happened helped a lot too. If the same happens when you are 40 or 45 getting out of the gutter would be nigh on impossible.


I agree with this. I was destitute when I was 18, but I managed to come back through a series of part time jobs. I've always lived within my means but since my job do not really pay much anyway, it's very hard to save.

Now that I'm 40 and poor again (lost my job due to cutbacks), it is impossible for me to recover. Getting new jobs are much harder and people are pretty discriminative towards my age. Nowadays, even employers choose younger people for part-time jobs, since I'm over the hill agewise and overqualified.


Why impossible? It's just a mindset. People do switch careers at >40 years, it's far from impossible.


The social pressure can be overwhelming, unless you're not super-super strong, mentally. We cannot assume the average person to be so strong.

Why is the social pressure overwhelming? Socially sometimes it seems that it's better to crawl into a cave and never be seen in your poverty, than be seen as a 40-45+ year old doing janitorial work (or other kinds of jobs most people find degrading, despite the fact that to your face they will deny it), by your friends and family. Also a lot of people can't accept the downturn in their lives. That's how you get alcoholism, depression, drug abuse. It's much harder to wake up and say: I've failed all these years, I need to start over.


If we go by anecdotes, I knew only two persons who switched careers at mid life successfully: one was a woman and the other a man and both had a spouse who brought decent money to the household and was supportive.


100% of society can't be brought out of poverty. Here's an example: If we motivated everyone to get a college education, we would have people flipping burgers who are college educated making min wage and living in poverty while struggling to put food on the table.


Why not? If you define poverty as being below the Xth percentile of wealth, then it is tautological that we cannot reach 100% non-poverty.

However, if you define poverty in absolute terms, then there is no fundamental reason why we cannot reach 100% non poverty. All that is necessary is for society to produce enough "stuff" that, when divided by the total population, is still greater than the poverty threshold.

In practice, the much harder problem is distributing that stuff such that everyone actually gets enough to put them beyond the poverty threshold. This is certainly a hard problem, but I don't see any reason to think that it is fundamentally unsolvable.


> Why not? If you define poverty as being below the Xth percentile of wealth, then it is tautological that we cannot reach 100% non-poverty.

This is indeed how it is defined in many wellfare states eg in Europe.

"People are considered at risk of monetary poverty when their equivalised disposable income (after social transfers) is below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold. This is set at 60 % of the national median equivalised disposable income after social transfers."

http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/...

There will always be poor people with this definition.


No. "60% of the national median" is not the same thing as fixing a percentile, and it is perfectly possible to not have poverty under that definition.

For example, in a country with ten people whose incomes are 7, 7, 8, 8, 10, 10, 12, 50, 47212 and 4000000000000000, there is no poverty after that definition (the median would be 10). As you can see, it doesn't even need to be a very egalitarian society!


"60% of the Median" can easily be a zero number of elements from the set.

In this case, median means "sorted by income, at which point have we divided the entire dataset in half". For a dataset with more than 2 elements (so 3 elements minimum), you can construct a dataset for which any below-100% of the median of the dataset is not represented in the dataset.

The easiest example would be using "99% of the median" and [9.999, 10, 11]. Median is 10, 99% of the median is 9.9, the smallest sample is 9.999.

60% of the median income basically means "the lowest 50% income bracket should not have more than 40% deviation". Or rather; the lowest possible income is bigger than 60% of the lowest earner of the top 50% of society.


There is also the issue that even if all of the money were split between everyone--some people would spend all of theirs and some would save theirs. Wealth is accumulated money, not income.


You're being too generous because you're only considering 1st worlders. 71% of the world's population lives on less than $10/day. If we're going to try to flatten out quality of life among everyone then impoverished Americans are going to take a lifestyle cut.


We're not going to have humans flipping burgers in a few years. A lot of these low-wage, low-skill jobs are finally on the brink of being automated. There will be new opportunities to replace them, as there always are. I'm pretty optimistic about the future of the economy - we have a huge number of skill-demanding fields that are growing, and many of them are facing real difficulty, which is exactly what creates demand.


How many people will be employed by the companies that replace all these low-wage low-skilled jobs? What will those formerly low-wage low-skilled laborers do after they are replaced? Buy a college education? Learn robotics?

As those jobs are automated, who will patronize those businesses? eg what fraction of McDonalds customers are high-income high-skill laborers vs lower-wage low-skill?


Few, study and get news jobs, maybe, maybe. There are always more jobs and opportunity for growth (even in a bad economy).

The companies will evolve or die as they always have if their customer base disappears.


I guess my questions boil down to this:

Human cognitive abilities follow a normal distribution. Some low-skilled laborers never had an opportunity to reach their potential, others lack the capacity to perform higher skill jobs... and some people are incapable of even "low-skill" labor.

Is automation maintaining or reducing the number of jobs for less capable people? Are we slowly raising the unemployable-threshold?


Those are good questions. Our challenge becomes ensuring that people are capable. How many of those displaced workers are less capable because of something intrinsic (some mental defect or insufficiency), and how many just need to be trained? I'm not sure if we'll ever reach a point where the "average" person is unemployable, but we can imagine a future where that is the case. But there's such little genetic variation within humanity that it seems likely that our education system could be made much more rigorous and suitable to ensure that everyone comes out of it at a very high level of capability.


But no matter how you slice it, pay is a function of supply and demand. Nothing more, nothing less. Burger flipping is low-wage because everyone is willing to do it, and people will undercut each other to secure that they get the job over someone else. The changing economy may make all jobs more difficult, but there will still be jobs that the masses gravitate to, and those jobs will remain low-wage as a result.


The malthusian argument. People outgrow their capacity to feed themselves.

Good thing it is not true at all, and has been debunked and ridiculed by economists over a century ago.


Debunked by economists who are the joke of the Nobel laureates. Even the Peace prize is more respectable. 100 years in human history? Nothing. The Roman Empire took half a millennium to decay.

The Malthusian argument is a thermodynamic argument. If we grow without bound (either by number or per capita consumption) we will run out of resources like any other biological system.

The only thing that allows us to escape this is human's unique ability to transcend our biological nature - i.e. breed responsibly (Gd I hate that) and consume less.

Mainstream economics is enamored with boundless growth, therefore, we're on a crash course.


Right, because food today is more expensive than food yesterday, since we are growing so much outside our means, we are clearly consuming all the natural resources and devouring each other for that last piece of corn.

Human behavior is not thermodynamics. To the very least, the day were all the resources in the universe have been consumed by its living beings is so far away that it is absolutely irrelevant and inapplicable to our society.

Malthusian economics are garbage.


Sorry, what's the point of the universe? We're bound to Earth by any rational understanding of physics and physiology.

"Right, because food today is more expensive than food yesterday" Love the sarcasm, not the shallow argument (I appreciate that food is, seemingly, cheaper than yesterday).

Human behavior is not thermodynamics. Agriculture is. Food is cheaper today because:

1) N2 fixation thanks to Dr. Haber 2) Large scale potash mining and shipping. 3) Unsustainable use of other necessary agricultural inputs

Point 1) is fairly stable in the medium term (i.e. my daughter's potential children's life span ~ next 100 years to 400 years) because energy is cheap and effectively getting cheaper. Population won't grow too fast as to run out of energy, if it did we're really f.ed, and global energy use has stabilized and might decline.

Point 2), however, is a nasty one. Run out of potash, then you run out of K and therefore food production above carrying capacity. You can turn to (say) oceans to mine K, but that's expensive.

I appreciate the econ argument that "you can't run out of resources because the price goes up until you don't want to use them" but that ultimately trash. You won't go hungry, because you might afford a doubling in price of your groceries. It's the Ethiopian kids whose lives balance everything out.

Point 3) Acquirers are running out so, for example, California's agricultural production is in peril.

See... thermo!

Are there alternatives that are more "sustainable"? Sure. But they all come with (an unknown to me) maximum carrying capacity.

As to human behavior not being modeled by thermo... that's irrelevant. People will shift preferences to eat lower quality, higher yield crops due to prices changes and all.

Of course those prices changes are (partly) due to... thermodynamics!


We could still give everyone guaranteed basic income for example and solve the problem that way. Not everyone needs to work to ensure as a society that everyone has a warm roof over their head and decently healthy food. It's just a matter of will.


That is not an example of anything - "We can't eliminate poverty! If we gave everyone a college education, some people would still be in poverty". There is no cause and effect.


Maybe the main crux is the definition of wealth. Flipping burgers and being college educated would be fine if one could still live a life that's measurably a fulfilling life.


Why is it necessary that burger flippers be poor?


The work they do is of low value because almost anybody can do it. Morally they may not deserve to be poor, but nobody is going to pay them a lot of money to perform that work.


That shows that pure free market solutions won’t fix it, but that seems pretty obvious already.


That's not true. Burger flippers aren't low paid because it is easy, thry are low paid because the supply of people willing to do the work is too high. If other, better opportunities become available for a large number of those employees, wages will go up.

Look at Walmart, they aren't raising wages out of the goodness of their hearts, they need to raise wages to keep good employees. (and probably a little PR and politics too)


Not everyone needs college, there are trade schools and the like that can help you get a better job.

Why can’t minimum wage be raised to provide a better standard of living?


Minimum wage only really encourages businesses to hire fewer people and train those fewer people to do more and be more productive, if not to raise prices. There are many small bookstores and mom-and-pop stores that are going to be closed when the minimum wage is raised because they literally can’t raise prices any more or hire fewer people.

That’s why in some other countries, instead of a minimum wage, which is the government forcing businesses to pay a certain wage, the government itself makes up the difference between the actual wage and a desired wage. So if the government decides that everyone should earn at least $15/h but the market price for flipping burgers is only $10/h, the government itself will provide the additional $5/h. This effectively raises the standard of living without pressuring businesses and also without the adverse effects like pushing up prices or creating more unemployment.


To some degree there will be cases like that, but that is not really what happens on a macro level though. In aggregate, there tends to be no statistical correlation between the minimum wage level and employment levels. Companies try to be efficient, so they try not to have any more or less people than they need (based mostly on demand). The desire to pay as few people to do as much work as possible always exists. Higher minimum wages may put some extra emphasis on this, but it's likely that the extra demand from consumers having more income balances this out.


What's your source for this? If there's no statistical correlation between the minimum wage and the unemployment rate (and I thought I had read otherwise) then I suspect the statistics aren't telling the whole story.

Your explanation of what's going on at the micro level contradicts my experience as a business owner who's been signing paychecks for many years. All businesses have inefficiencies, and in general the larger the check, the more scrutiny the expense will receive. Internally this manifests as having higher expectations for a higher paid employee, and prioritizing automation, offshoring, or other business decisions when labor costs get too high. Externally, when we expand our relationship with a client, we fully expect that it will receive more scrutiny from various stakeholders at the company simply because the check getting written to us is bigger, even if we deliver proportionately more value.


The government in the US already subsidizes businesses that can’t or won’t pay a living wage - with food stamps and such for their workers. Perhaps having government make up the difference in pay, as you say they do in other countries, would be better.


Yep

Keeping minimum wage low is $153B/year "corporate welfare" check.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/04/1...


> Minimum wage only really encourages

No, it also means those people are paid a liveable wage, as opposed to a pittance.


Depends on one's definition of "livable wage." Minimum wage and "decent standard of living" are often conflated but minimum wage was not imposed and has never been intended to provide that. It's always been a wage that was at or slightly above the federal poverty line.

The lowest minimum wage I remember hearing about as a kid was $1.50/hr. I thought that sounded like a lot of money at the time, but I probably was not even 10 years old.

That would have been in the first half of the 1970's when the federal poverty line was around $2,500. So working full time, you'd make $3,000 or about 120% of the poverty level.

Today, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and the poverty level (2016) is $12,200. So still, a full-time minimum wage worker earns nearly 120% of the poverty level.

Source: Table 1, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-p....


True, but minimum wage work typically isn't full-time. That link didn't work for me, but are those numbers inflation-adjusted?


You could call it corporate welfare. Or you could consider the 3 to 4% profit margins these companies have and assume that they might not sustain that number of employees at a higher wage.


This comment implies that these companies going out of business would be a bad thing. In the short term, definitely.

But jobs are just means to an end for most people. Why can't government aim to simply provide those ends?

The obvious counterargument is that the free market is more efficient. But the US government has shown itself to be very capable in providing some services to the entire country. The military has done a great job keep the country safe. There just doesn't seem to be the willpower to create the navy/army/airforce of food, shelter, healthcare and education.

I guess the issue is that it's hard to get elected if you promise to make things better 20 years from now.


Hilarious that you use the word "efficient" and then in the next sentence make the claim that the US military has done a great job at keeping the country safe. Yes, they do a good job. But the US military is one of the most bloated, over-funded organizations in human history.


I'd like to stretch some ideas for the sake of exploration. Curious to hear what you think:

I think you could interpret the US military's success despite "waste" to mean that a federal government can get away with a lot of inefficiency and still beat the "free market."

History already showed us what private military is like. I believe it's essentially feudalism and warlords. I.e. true poverty for 90% of the population. A powerful federal millitary that follows the laws of democratically elected officials gives people in the US historically unprecedented safety.

It's not clear to me why the federal government couldn't build a military-like organizations for addressing food, shelter, health care, and education.

The fundamental issue seems to be that the free market is the best means for deciding resource allocation towards those other goals. So why not simply implement UBI pegged to prices in LCOL areas?


It's not really success despite waste. It's one of the principal factor's bankrupting the nation. Apply that to other major issues as you listed and we are bankrupt even faster.


Because when you raise minimum wage, that means employers of the minimum wage earners need to push up their prices so that they're still making the same profits. (Actually, the same is not good enough, the profits need to exceed the previous years). The price of everything ends up inflating and minimum wage earners end up getting less for their money, despite having "more of it".


That would only be true if the goods minimum wage workers produce are being bought only by minimum wage workers. In reality the price also goes up for incomes above minimum wage so in a sense raising the minimum wage is a transfer of money from higher earners to lower earners.


In reality what happens, is those jobs go away (jobs like retail) and they are replaced with slightly higher paying jobs (like Amazon warehouse worker) except at a rate of about 1 new job for every 10 previous jobs.


Yes, but you're acting as if they're not better off. Minimum wage workers will be better of despite a slight increase in the price of goods.


Anytime you artificially set price floors and ceilings you have unintended consequences. Why put the burden on private businesses?

There is a better answer - keep the minimum wage where it is until it becomes meaningless because of inflation and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit and make it easier for employers to pass it on to workers each month. They already take out taxes, it shouldn't be hard to do the opposite.

The EITC has historically been supported by both Republican and Democratic presidents.


I've been watching a lot of Jordan Peterson lately, and your story sounds exactly like part a lecture he'd give. It's sad that you figured it out the hard way.


You were temporarily embarrassed and broke for a little while.

That isn't poverty.


You also need to take into consideration how incredibly lucky you were. "Pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps" is a myth and always has been.


[flagged]


You've heard the saying, give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime?

It's kind of like that. I coasted through most of my 20s, wasted a lot of time. I decided some years ago that I wanted to work as a dev, so I studied for a couple years and made it happen. But I have a large number of friends from early 20s to 40 (many of whom come from middle or upper-middle class families) that are perfectly happy coasting through life - they work in restaurants, bike shops, strip clubs, or take bouts of unemployment while on food stamps, etc. These are the urban equivalent of the trope of coal miners that refuse to learn new skills. Why are they like this? Because they are comfortable. You can live and be perfectly happily in a major city on 25k/year, living with roommates and on/off government assistance (though you'll never save money or advance). I'd raise the minimum wage significantly to help battle some of this (food stamps or housing assistance for people that work is corporate welfare in my eyes). But much change must come from within, and we have to find a way to motivate people.

So yes, help the poor - by providing education, healthcare, and time and opportunity to learn new skills when they are unemployed. But everything should be designed to encourage people to learn and contribute productively to society. No, it's not easy to make money, no, it's REALLY not easy to become comfortable, and yes, it's really, really difficult to become wealthy for 99% of people. But it's everyone's responsibility to try to contribute to society and we owe it to ourselves to strive for more.


"I think comments like these are more likely propaganda than real experiences."

You would be incorrect. I'm right here, a real person, with real experiences.

"You read the parent comment and think the poor and just lazy and all your have to do is work yourself a slave and suck corporate dick."

I assume your trying to say "the poor `are` just lazy" and that wasn't what I said or was trying to say.

To the contrary, I think it's much harder to dig yourself out of a hole once your in it. In my case, during that period, I went from working in a high-rise to applying at Jack-in-the-Box because it was the only thing within walking distance and I couldn't even get that job.

I for one got lucky and found some opportunity, but that wasn't my point. My point was that, for me, hitting rock bottom, having a minimal safety net (i.e. not sleeping outdoors), was just enough for me to change my life perspective.

If you want to talk about your experiences or opinions, go for it, but don't dismiss mine as "propaganda".


I'm not so sure, it is just that this is HN and that is the one place you will find people for which the "American Dream" did actually work or it is actually looking good.

Survival bias is always going to be strong here.


This is why I hate the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness"[0] with a passion. Really hate it.

[0]: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0454921/


Really? I know lots of people that work hard and are doing pretty good. Not rich, but doing ok.

I also know people who are doing poorly and a good deal of them (not all!) are that way through poor choices (and would admit it).

Of course I also know people who are doing poorly through no fault of their (poor health, caretaker burden, etc). For those folks I'm glad we social programs to help them.


> I think comments like these are more likely propaganda than real experiences.

That's a pretty bad thing to say without knowing for sure.


How is America statistically worse than before? Compared to when?


Compared to a time when minimum wage provided a decent standard of living.


It never really did, nor was it ever intended to do that. It's always been a wage that was at or slightly above the federal poverty line.

The lowest minimum wage I remember hearing about as a kid was $1.50/hr. I thought that sounded like a lot of money at the time, but I probably was not even 10 years old.

That would have been in the first half of the 1970's when the federal poverty line was around $2,500. So working full time, you'd make $3,000 or about 120% of the poverty level.

Today, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and the poverty level (2016) is $12,200. So still, a full-time minimum wage worker earns nearly 120% of the poverty level.

Source: Table 1, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-p...


> I think comments like these are more likely propaganda than real experiences.

So you are calling redm a liar. Do you have anything to back up that accusation? Or are you calling them a liar purely because it suits your poorly-constructed narrative?

> When we all know statistically America is worse than ever before.

"We all know..." is false. What you mean is probably more along the lines of "This is what I think, without having done any research to support my wild claim."

> You read the parent comment and think the poor and just lazy

Where did the GP call the poor lazy?

> and all your have to do is work yourself a slave and suck corporate dick.

See above.

> Nope, it's always the corporate stooge.

Why are you accusing redm of being a 'corporate stooge'?


We've been helping the poor for a long long time and we still have them. Either we are doing the wrong things (though we keep doing them, and asking for more of the same) or it's evidence that kind of help actually incentivizes what it's ostensibly trying to eradicate.


You're leaving out the option where the market is changing and requiring more education from people at the bottom.


On the flip side, I have never experienced poverty, and don't have the motivation of "looking into oblivion" to push me into another dead-end job.

But does that mean I deserve that experience? Should I be put in a situation where I have to fight to survive? I think that is unreasonable.

There exist better motivations. I am capable of work that is much more attractive to me than entry-level labor jobs. The idea that I am less valuable as a person because I am dependent; or that I ought to be compelled by my social situation to do stressful unfulfilling work does not sit well with me. That is where I strongly disagree with Sen. Hatch.

We are capable as a society of helping more than the most destitute. We should promote individual liberty, so that people can do work they are passionate about. I don't believe that those living on welfare should be compelled to do work that they have no desire to do. We should instead work to provide them opportunity and counsel so that they can find their passion and follow it.

Taxation is theft, but the current Republican party (including Sen. Hatch) has used that as an excuse to push an agenda that works against those who are barely getting by, while working for those who have inherited obscene amounts of wealth. That, in my opinion, is worse than the theft itself.


> Taxation is theft, but the current Republican party (including Sen. Hatch) has used that as an excuse to push an agenda that works against those who are barely getting by, while working for those who have inherited obscene amounts of wealth. That, in my opinion, is worse than the theft itself.

I don't understand how you can hold this view in light of what you said before that paragraph. How do you suppose we come up with creative solutions to social problems, and of helping the destitute and others, without any wealth or income? Our taxes are what fund those programs.


I'm not sure you understood me clearly.

I believe taxation is theft, but that that fact is no excuse for allocating spending of tax dollars unwisely.

What the Republican Party, and many Libertarians seem to think is that because taxation is theft, anything that depends on taxation is immoral, and therefore taxes are free to be allocated immorally. That conclusion is fallacious, absurd, and malicious.

You can disagree with me on the fine point of taxes being immoral in the first place, but that is precisely not my point.


> I believe taxation is theft, but that that fact is no excuse for allocating spending of tax dollars unwisely.

So your position is: Oh its stealing money, but lets spend the stolen money better?

> What the Republican Party, and many Libertarians seem to think is that because taxation is theft, anything that depends on taxation is immoral, and therefore taxes are free to be allocated immorally. That conclusion is fallacious, absurd, and malicious.

No they don't. Its a talking point that they've conveniently latched on to since you need to have a reason for doing the terrible things that they do without admitting it explicitly. I'll give them credit for exploiting the worst parts of individualism in the US to convince many (seemingly you included) of the "evil of taxation and government". But it is not an ideology that they believe in. Nor, I will point out, are any of their solutions backed by any kind of experience or evidence.


> So your position is: Oh its stealing money, but lets spend the stolen money better?

So your position is: If I find the source (taxation) to be unethical, I am not allowed to have any opinion on spending?

My point is that that is absurd.

> But it is not an ideology that they believe in

That is my point: It's a vain representation of ideology that is used as an excuse. You don't need to fight the ideology itself to understand that.

Rather than freaking out every time you read the phase "taxation is theft", maybe you could actually read what I am saying, and understand that we are in violent agreement on every other point.

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