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>Being poor is off-brand toys.

>Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

No... this is being "poor", i.e. still in the top third or more of humanity as far as living standards.

Being poor is what the people I visited in barrios in Ecuador do - living in huts made of corrugated aluminum and scraps of wood, with a dirt floor, no plumbing or electricity, access to education, healthcare or clean water. Oh, and also having almost no way of changing your situation, no matter how hard you try. Surprisingly, these people were in general happier than well-off people in America, because they had a strong faith, strong families, strong relationships with others in their community, and were just plain tough.

I guess after visiting a third world country and seeing how hard the truly poor work every day, how much they care for what little they have, and how thankful they are for everything, I feel a little less sympathy for the "poor" in America. I wish they could spend a few weeks in a truly poor country, and then realize what an amazing land of opportunity they live in.

It's an easy argument to make but it isn't quite that simple. I'm sure the poor of the US would love to take a trip abroad, then come back and realise things aren't so bad & make a start on getting themselves out of their situation.

Telling someone to be grateful that they have a roof over their head since most of the world doesn't won't make them any happier about shivering under a blanket because they can't pay the gas bill for heating. Yes, it could be worse, but it could also be a lot effing better, From my own experience, the whole thing tends to dull the mind to an extent where opportunities are no longer so obvious - or so easy to pursue (£5 for a domain name that may not pay off, or £5 to eat for a week and I'm bloody hungry).

True, absolute poverty is horrific and all efforts should be made to ensure that no one has to endure this through no fault of their own, but that doesn't make relative poverty a non-issue where people need to man-up. Of course, you weren't so extreme as to say that, but it gets side quite a lot and I don't really think it helps much tbh.

I'm sorry but I can't help but think that my ancestors (5 brothers that came over from Italy with almost nothing) who were poor from the start, had few if any social programs (other than help from other poor people in the community) to rely on, and were openly discriminated against as "Dirty WOPs" in the late 1800's / early 1900's, made it out of poverty and in the process helped make this country great. Generation 1 - low wage factory worker, Generation 2 - post man then small grocery owner, Generation 3 - first college educated one who started a body shop and then a neon sign business, Generation 4 - my dad, partner at a top CPA firm, Generation 5 - successful tech entrepreneur.

It just feels to me that the poor in first world countries have a victim mentality that keeps them from working with the kind of hard determination that not only gets people out of poverty, but builds up the nation in the process.

Do they need more help to develop that work ethic? Probably. Do they need more handouts? I think that is what's keeping them where they are.

Being poor is having the child of a partner at a top CPA firm tell you that you don't need more handouts.

I think there's something to not giving handouts. I'd prefer a hand. The strange thing is that we look at the poor as if we are a meritocracy. the general distribution of talent, intelligence and ability is likely to be statistically the same for all classes. And since there are more poor people there should be more success stories. Under a meritocracy there would me more processes in place that reached out to the "underprivileged." But what we see is a war on drugs...

Sure is. STAYING poor is feeling like a victim of society and wallowing in that instead of taking a series of small steps in the right direction.

<q> Do they need more handouts? I think that is what's keeping them where they are. </q>

Right. And staying where you are is exactly what you want to do when you're almost drowning.

There are lots of anecdotes like these, but one factor often overlooked is social capital. That's difficult to measure, but consider the difference between a fairly cohesive and inter-reliant sub-community on the one hand (Italian) vs. one riven by gang warefare and in which high grades may get you branded as "too white," on the other.

Not that that proves anything. Discussions like these are 90% a game of "re-enforce my confirmation bias," imho. Believe people are poor because they make bad moral choices? I'm sure you can find lots of great examples of that. Believe people are poor due to external societal forces? Ditto. A question I'd like to see more of in these types of discussions is "what would falsify my theory of poverty?"

I'm glad your family made it but you should realise that it could have gone wrong in a million ways outside of your ancestry's control.

Oh I'm certainly not arguing for more handouts. As an other commenter pointed out, these tend to mainly go on keeping your head above water anyway. For true betterment I agree totally that it's up to that person to make it happen. They just maybe need a bit of help to get started.

> Telling someone to be grateful that they have a roof over their head since most of the world doesn't won't make them any happier about shivering under a blanket because they can't pay the gas bill for heating.

But, the thing is, every US state that gets cold enough in the winter has heating assistance aid available from the utility companies. If you can't afford to pay your gas bill in the winter, it gets paid for you. This seems to be mandated by the public utility commissions.

So, if you're shivering under a blanket because you didn't pay your gas bill, it's probably your own damn fault that you didn't apply for home heating assistance. I've even had the gas company mail me a big letter in multiple languages when I was a few days late paying my bill saying "do you need help paying your bill? Please call us." And in a lot of northern states, it is illegal for the gas or electric company to shut off your utilities in the winter months, as long as you can prove financial hardship.

One more thing I want to comment on that you wrote:

> From my own experience, the whole thing tends to dull the mind to an extent where opportunities are no longer so obvious - or so easy to pursue

The way that is written shows a huge problem in peoples' perception - why do we assume the poor can only get by if opportunities are "obvious" or "easy to pursue"? Working your way up society's ladder is HARD, but people are capable of amazing things when it's their only way out. Throwing scraps to the guys at the bottom of the ladder will only take away motivation to make the long and difficult climb. Don't we want people to look back on their lives with pride on what they accomplished, in the face of difficult odds, rather than disappointment that their lives were spent living off of others' charity?

Throwing scraps down to the guys at the bottom of the ladder is to keep them from setting the house on fire. Ethically, stealing is considered a right if your situation is so bad that starving is the alternative. Don't agree with me? Consider that practically every religion on this planet reaches the same conclusion.

So while I don't think that throwing scraps to the guys at the bottom is going to be effective it still better than all the alternatives that have come before. Those tend to end up as revolutions, civil wars, or worse.

>Consider that practically every religion on this planet reaches the same conclusion.

I consider practically every religion on the face of the planet as unethical, and I doubt I am the only one on this board who do so.

So if you forgive me, that argument has negative weight too.

Doesn't matter what you or anyone else thinks about religion. The majority of the people on this planet believe in some for of religion.

And if the only thing that you don't like about my post is religion than you can piss off too. Because you've completely missed the point.

There's always someone worse off than you. There are people living in sub-saharan africa that would probably trade places with anyone in Ecuador given half a chance.

Being poor is miserable because you look around you, and see how other people have it better. Poor people in America don't see Ecuadorians living in shacks, they see people driving to their big house in a Lexus, and relaxing by taking a dip in the pool.

There is a huge difference. Poor people in America have a much greater ability to change their circumstances - public education, needs based financial aid for education, job placement programs, military service, etc. Poor people in third world countries generally have almost no way of doing so.

True, but it seems to me that Scalzi's article was focused on what it feels like to be poor, not on the actual objective reality, etc., etc.

This. Nothing in the essay says “being poor is thinking that absolutely nobody in the world is worse off than you are”.

You're missing a big piece of the puzzle here, though.

In third world countries, there is an infrastructure to support expectations. You aren't the only poor person, there is direct feedback that "we're all in this together".

However, in the first world, there is a great amount of isolation that can be crippling. We have very fragmented communities, especially in the suburbs.

Poverty is real, and dismissing it because it doesn't seem as "legitimate" as some other place and different social context doesn't help anything. It's very naive to assume that because we've got access to "better tools" we should be grateful.

Read the Bell Curve. See how IQ is affecting the utility of the workforce in the United States. Imagine being born below the magical IQ to be effective in modern American society.

Imagine being useless to the world around you. Imagine waking up every day feeling hopeless.

Poverty has nothing to do with dirt huts. It has everything to do with feeling as though you can control the situation of your life. It has everything to do with not feeling like a net drain on the world.

Mostly agreed, but I'd suggest that, instead of The Bell Curve- which is full of highly questionable and mostly-discredited pseudoscience- you instead read Stephen Jay Gould's "The Mismeasure of Man". The most recent edition, I believe, has an entire chapter devoted to dissecting exactly what's wrong with the arguments presented in "The Bell Curve".

Thanks for the heads up. I agree, the Bell Curve was a bit of a crapper, but also the only reference I could come up with off the top of my head.

All of those are valid points, but honestly unless someone is truly mentally handicapped, there are simple things they can do to improve their situation, and the situation of their dependents.

I look at the "illegal immigrants" to this country who stand out front of Home Depot every day by my house, looking for someone to pick them up for work, and see hope. I imagine this was similar to my great great grandfather standing in a mob outside a factory hoping for a day's work. These new Americans will give rise to a generation following them that saw their parents work hard to provide them with opportunity even though they were faced with incredible hurdles. Hopefully that generation continues the hard work, and keeps this country vital.

The fact that I only see new immigrants doing this though, is what is disturbing. If the rest of the poor were so eager to get ahead, they'd be doing the same - and eventually, succeeding.

Edit: re-reading the nlavezzo's comment, it really isn't as dismissive as I had initially read it, and the reply below is more because this topic really touches a nerve for me. I'm leaving it here because I don't want it un-said, but I don't want to target someone who doesn't deserve it. Sorry.

This encompasses a lot of my reaction when I first read this article a few years back, and before I spent some time volunteering with charities in the US. I was, frankly, angry. Most of the time, being poor in the US is not a matter of sheer survival (except for health care), but simply a very deep hole which is hard to climb out of. But possible, right? So why not just do it?

But these days, this reaction is what really angers me. It's still a fucking deep hole. And the psychological effect of being raised in these circumstances is what doesn't get acknowledged a lot. A lot of the time you have to be taught that it's even possible to dig out of it, let alone how. This is especially true if you were raised in poverty, by parents who were also raised in poverty, in a place where the schools are a joke and you don't know anyone who has been successful. It's very easy to simply despair in these conditions, and not even realize it might be possible for things to change, because as far as you know it's not. And while the rare person might be able to summon the willpower to escape this, I'd like to know how many people truly think they could if they had never even seen what success looked like, except on TV.

Hell, I was raised in an area which was simply rural middle class, not poor by any definition; and almost no one there could imagine that good schools, good health care, or a substantially better life were in reach. The idea of attending any private university, let alone an Ivy, was a joke. And we were luckier than 99% of the world, and knew it! For some... I simply can't imagine.

The dismissive attitude exhibited in so many tech forums towards the poor is just infuriating, both in the "lazy poor" category and the "it's not as bad as elsewhere!" type. If you're in that situation, it doesn't matter that there's someone out there worse-off. What does matter is if you were brought up to think success isn't possible, you despair of making anything better, and you've lost hope. I won't argue back and forth about "handouts" because a lot of the time that's used to be dismissive too. But making it known that it's actually possible to have a better life--that is what needs to be done.

(Tangentially, it's worth pointing out that Scalzi acknowledges the difference between being poor in the US and in the Third World, as in his followup post here: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2005/09/04/quick-followups/ .)

Leaving five dollars laying around with friends over strikes at a crucial difference in that being poor means living outside of the generally accepted rule of law that most take for granted. The difference between a housing project or rural tract in the US and other nations is largely one of degree and similar in character to living in a war zone.

The Wire, though fiction, is a pretty compelling antidote to the attitude you describe, imho.

Or read the nonfiction book "The Corner." David Simon, one of the authors, went on to create The Wire.

This is why I don't like the article. Being poor in America means you might have to take a $8 an hour job working in a fast food restaurant flipping burgers. At least you get enough money to live off of (granted, living at a low standard), and all the junk food you can eat at work for half price. If you work there long enough you'll probably even get health care benefits. Being poor in another country means not even having the ability to find a job.

He is complaining about having heat in only one room of the house, when people in other countries don't even have 4 walls and a roof. In the US we have heating assistance that will pay your gas bill if you can't afford it. You just have to have 2 brain cells to rub together and enough literary skills to fill out a piece of paper and apply for it.

So the folks in the barrios live in makeshift shelters, assembled from whatever materials they have available; they have to worry about where they're going to get clean water and food from one day to the next, etc.

How is this any different from how all of humanity lived for millennia, up until about ten thousand years ago?

I don't mean to sound condescending or dismissive, I'm just wondering why more people don't see these circumstances as an opportunity to develop mature, self-reliant communities, and instead presume that some external catalyst is necessary to improve the situation.

Many do and in very creative ways. The real problem your not factoring in is the role of predators and their affects on survival strategies.

What sort of predators are you referring to?

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