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Flash Game Simulates Living on $9/hr. (playspent.org)
421 points by driftsumi-e on Oct 4, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 375 comments

I find that I live a much more active life in this game than I ever have in real life. Back when I was making $9/hr, I can't remember a single week where my dog died, I got injured at work, the neighbor kid broke my window, I decided to see a therapist and one of my co-workers came down with a terminal condition.

I only made it to day 13, but already I've spent more in that game than I did in real life over the last month. I realize it's trying to make a point, but all it's really doing is making me suspect that it's fibbing a bit. More realism might turn out to be more convincing.

Right. And here's a different flash site, which shows that literally hundreds of millions of people worldwide increased their real income over the last twenty years:


Somehow hundreds of millions of people in China and elsewhere went from far more deprived conditions to first world status over the span of a few decades. Nothing in that game compares to the horrors of the Cultural Revolution or the mass starvation of the Great Leap Forward. So clearly it is possible for an entire civilization to pull itself up by its bootstraps through capitalism. [0]

Finally, as noted the game stacks the deck against reality. It starts you out as a single parent with no savings and evidently no family members who will help you out...without any acknowledgement of the fact that broken homes, divorce, out-of-wedlock births, a lack of a high school diploma, and a failure to save are the major causes of poverty. [1], [2]

If the game started a few years earlier and asked "do you want to complete high school" and "do you wait till you're financially stable before marrying & having children", the overall message would be very different. Indeed, the authors would likely be accused of having unfashionable political sympathies for simply advising that people mimic the behaviors of middle class Asian immigrant families.

[0] http://www.amazon.com/Third-World-First-Singapore-1965-2000/...

[1] http://www.ncpa.org/pub/ba428

[2] http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2010/pdf/bg2465.pdf

> "It starts you out as a single parent with no savings and evidently no family members who will help you out...without any acknowledgement of the fact that broken homes, divorce, out-of-wedlock births, a lack of a high school diploma, and a failure to save are the major causes of poverty."

Some people find it useful to walk a mile in the shoes of those affected by the policies they support. Whether you might ever choose or have to wear those shoes personally is rather beside the point.

A dialogue tree that allowed the player to navigate life choices at an intellectual remove from real human life would simply reinforce our societal tendency to dodge the question of "what do we do with the struggling" by asserting that "I know better than them."

edit: effect/affect

> Some people find it useful to walk a mile in the shoes of those affected by the policies they support.

Exactly which policies cause folks to get divorced (ie, get married young), have kids at a young age, and quit high school?

Apart, of course, from the policies intended to reduce the effects of those decisions....

Yes, there absolutely are policies that encourage people to climb to a perch from which it is incredibly easy to fall: social pressure against out-of-wedlock births; ineffective sexual education; social stigma against and a lack of services providing female reproductive health in general, contraceptives, emergency contraceptives and abortion; the structure of our health system disincentivizing preventative medical care in general; bankruptcy 'reform'; predatory lending practices; social stigma against the trades; corporate abuse of the safety net to depress wages; college grants and their unregulated effect on tuition; the college loan system in general; regressive taxation; child tax credits; safety net rewards based on family size; the jarring transition between qualifying for social safety net programs and not qualifying; military rewards based on family size; subsidized sprawl and a lack of public transportation; zero-tolerance laws and policies; substandard school districts; etc.

> ineffective sexual education;

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've actually had significant interaction with young unwed mothers.

Almost every one of them got pregnant intentionally. Yes, many will tell you a story at first, and "I couldn't afford it" does let them save face, which is pretty much all they've got left. But, after a while, it comes out that they knew exactly what they were doing.

So, why did they want to get pregnant?

A minor reason is that being a parent gets you some immediate respect.

However, the big reason is one of the saddest things I've ever heard.

"A baby has to love me."

> regressive taxation

The US doesn't have a regressive tax system. In fact, much of the volatility in tax revenues, which is killing CA, comes from being too progressive. (FWIW, EU countries tend to have a much flatter tax system.)

"progressive" = fraction of income going to taxes increases with income. (Marginal rates are almost irrelevant, revenue is the only thing that matters.)

Are you taking into account payroll taxes, sales tax, property tax, etc., when deciding that the US's tax system is not regressive?

Yes, the US tax system is more progressive even including all of that. However, it is true that we spend less on social programs that benefit poor people.

Yes, but ssi is different - it is basically forced savings with a twist, not taxes.

The twist is that the less you contribute, the higher your return.

In what way is it different from any other tax? A percentage of your earnings goes into it, you have no control over what happens after that point, sounds like any other tax.

> In what way is it different from any other tax?

What other taxes are paid back to you later, in rough approximation to the amount that you paid?

That correlation is really weak, though, so I don't think it matters. In any case, why should it make a difference what happens to the money after you pay it? The nature of a tax is in how it gets collected, not what the government does with the money afterwards.

> That correlation is really weak, though, so I don't think it matters.

The payback is entirely a function of the contribution stream (amounts and time).

> In any case, why should it make a difference what happens to the money after you pay it?

Because money collected for specific services rendered isn't much like money collected for general public services.

For example, many cities do garbage collection. While that money is collected by govt, it isn't much like property or sales tax.

Suppose that I'm looking to live in one of two cities. One has govt garbage collection and will charge me $100/month and the other has a private franchise providing garbage collection, again for $100/month. Would you really claim that the first city has higher taxes?

> The payback is entirely a function of the contribution stream (amounts and time).

SS isn't just the basic retirement stuff. Other payments are available which vary based on disability, personal resources, and location and status of residence.

Even the basic retirement stuff depends greatly on how long you live. If you die just as you retire, your inheritors don't get any of your SS benefits.

> Suppose that I'm looking to live in one of two cities. One has govt garbage collection and will charge me $100/month and the other has a private franchise providing garbage collection, again for $100/month. Would you really claim that the first city has higher taxes?

Yes, as long as the $100/month is not optional. Gas taxes go to build highways that the driver uses, is that then not a tax? Tons of taxes are earmarked for specific purposes.

"climb to a perch from which it is incredibly easy to fall"

This is a succinct way to put it, and a good list. Can you say more about "social pressure against out-of-wedlock births"? You see this as another thing that encourages unsustainable lifestyles?

It encourages people to get married when perhaps they do not wish to do so, thus increasing divorce.

> It encourages people to get married when perhaps they do not wish to do so, thus increasing divorce.

There's divorce, and then there's divorce.

No kids, not much of a problem. Economically, they're better off together, but ....

Unwed parents are a disaster for both society and the kid(s). It's pretty much a guarantee of long-term poverty.

Having kids is almost always a choice, a choice that has huge consequences.

It's great that you're providing a stable home, however that's the exception for unwed parents. Typically, the father wanders off and provides no support. None of the mother's options at that point are as good as a stable marriage/long-term relationship with the kid's father.

That's how the statistics work out. We can argue about why that happens, but it's absurd to suggest that it doesn't.

Parents' choices, and having kids is almost always a choice, have consequences.

> Unwed parents are a disaster for both society and the kid(s). It's pretty much a guarantee of long-term poverty.

on what basis?

My partner and I had our 3 children out of wedlock. Who are you to say that unwed parents is a lock-in to food stamps and crime?

Next you'll be blaming unwed parents for the break down of the fabric of society.

You are way out of line.

If you are living exclusively together long term you are effectively married even if you don't have a paper saying so.

Some states call it common law marriage, but even if they don't you are still effectively married.

Marriage is not a piece of paper, marriage is a family structure.

Relatively few people who have three children out of wedlock are "Smalltalk hackers". Just sayin'.

Problem is that not all those are "decisions" people make. Many of those are not decisions but arise out of life circumstances.

However many times people do chose to do the "fun" thing and instead of strive for a good job take the easy way out. That easy way is short-sighted.

Unfortunately we are seeing life from the walls of the castle, staring at the peasents saying "shame on you for not being royalty". However over the years I've grown to think that maybe 60%+ of the cause of people being poor is their fault. I see my friend partying every fucking night. She has no money. I have plenty of money yet cannot party because I have responsibilities. Yet when shit hits the fan, I have a buffer while she goes into a "shit my life is going nowhere" regression.

Sure her circumstances did not allow her to get the same living environment as I did, she is not a mathematically-inclined person, but she went to college, got a worthless degree after 4 yrs, and now complains how she has no money. She barely works, when she does its not for long periods of time, and is older than I am.

So yea, my sympathy has been declining. Shoulda finished high school. Shoulda gone to a community college and studied your ass off. Shoulda worn a rubber till you were ready. Now it's too late, and you are standing there with your arms in the air begging for help.

> Problem is that not all those are "decisions" people make. Many of those are not decisions but arise out of life circumstances.

Almost all pregnancy is the result of a decision to have sex. Yes, contraceptives fail sometimes, but that doesn't explain teen pregnancy rates. And, in the US at least, contraceptives are free, and have been for decades. Yes, even in rural/backwoods US.

> but she went to college, got a worthless degree after 4 yrs, and now complains how she has no money.

I think that schools should be on the hook for student loans. Yes, including non-profit and state schools.

And no, grants shouldn't be increased. 4 years of effort should have some lifetime economic benefit.

I'd venture to guess that the choices you mention did not always carry the sort of consequences they do today.

You're right, policy decisions don't cause more people to have kids at a young age. They do however, have an effect on joblessness [1], just to name one facet of the economic environment that now exists in the US.

[1] http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=z1ebjpgk2654c1_&...

You're right, policy decisions don't cause more people to have kids at a young age.

'Abstinence only' sex education causes more people to have kids at a young age, because it prevents more people from learning what options there are available. Add into that the issue that young people have always been difficult to stop fucking each other throughout history, and combine with the highly sexualised modern society, and 'Abstinence only' sex education is, frankly, evil.

Then you're a mile away and you've got their shoes.

In a lot of ways the deck has been economically stacked against lower-middle class and working poor Americans, while at the same time macroeconomic trends benefited low-skilled workers in developing countries like China. Workers there were able to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" thanks in part to rapidly rising wages as production moved to lower-cost countries.

I have no doubts that the globalization of economic inputs produces higher global growth and a greater overall level of welfare, but I also have no doubt that this process produces winners and losers. One subset of the losers has been low/medium skilled Americans, who face stagnating wages and many of the challenges this game portrays (in an admittedly over-dramatic fashion). We can either accept this as the cost of doing business or work as a society to compensate the losers, but in either case we should acknowledge that there are some larger forces at play that make it harder for certain segments of the population to reach their own bootstraps.

Losers? I'll be the first to admit that I am ignorant about the situation in the USA, but do you really think that people such as these are losers considering the standard of living they can still afford? Mobile phones with $70 bills? Honestly? Hell, a mobile in itself? (My mobile cost £20, and I have yet to use up my initial top-up of £20 5 months after buying it).

I honestly feel disgusted by the fact that I am expected to feel sorry for people such as these. I managed to get to the end to the month all fine and dandy, and could see many things I could still do to improve my cash flow.

My kid may have not been given some meaningless luxuries that other kids got (I never went to school trips and the like myself), but my charisma and public services such as the library and the like would be more than enough to ensure he turns out a fine man.

Hell, if I wouldn't even have had a kid in the first place, until I could ensure that I could raise properly. Expecting me to feel sympathy for an individual who can't afford a kid, suffering from their own selfishness, is out of order. It's comparable to expecting me to pay for the treatment of some fool who didn't put on a condom when he knew he was have sexual intercourse with a - unique woman.

edit. Forgive me, due to my anger I lost focus on what I was initially trying to say. Basically, standard of living has improved dramatically. They may not be able to afford premium goods such as sparkly ipads and ps3's, but they can still afford a great deal of stuff.

Except adequate healthcare, housing, living in good school districts...

It's cheaper to have a mobile phone nowadays than it is to have a land line. That's why mobile has really taken off in places like, say, Africa. Just because someone has a cell phone doesn't mean they're not struggling.

Given a choice between living as a corporate CEO (or even upper middle class professional) in the 1950s versus part of the welfare underclass today, I would almost certainly choose the former. Even sans cell phones.

Would you really? If so, I think you're more interested in social status, and in relative wealth than in absolute wealth.

Let's just consider health care. One reason health care is so much more expensive now compared to the 1950's is the roughly 60 years of technical innovation that has happened since then. In 1950, there were still outbreaks of polio. Cancer was a far more certain death sentence. MRI's didn't exist. The birth control pill was not yet available. There was no dialysis. There was no laser surgery. Heart surgery was very primitive: there was no bypass surgery, no replacement of heart valves, and no pacemaker. By and large, people died of diseases that could be treated today, and many of those treatments are available today even to the poor and uninsured. (In a move unthinkable in 1950, my state even subsidizes access to birth control for low-income single women.)

In terms of ease of living and freedom from worry or want, relative social status trumps absolute wealth once you've passed a certain base level of well-being. Which I think the 1950's falls into.

I'm having trouble finding hard health data. The closest thing is that in 1972, life expectancy for the bottom half was 77.7 and for the upper half 78.9, while in 2001 79.6 years for the bottom half and 85.4(!) for the top half. Which amounts to about the same for the top half in 1972 and bottom half in 2001.

The top half life expectancy would be lower in the 1950s than the 1970s, but at the same time today's welfare underclass is probably significantly worse off than the average person in the lower half. I expect those would end up being a wash, and life expectancies would be comparable, though probably with a slight edge for the underclass of today.

That's a trade that I think would be worth it, given all the exceptional benefits of relative wealth and status. Yeah, no iPhones, but drivers, maids, home-visiting doctors, nice single family homes in fun areas, economic security, and ability to eat out or go to shows whenever you want makes up for it for most people.

The problem with metrics is they always measure less than you think. Polio, for instance, is more likely to cripple you for life than kill you.

You only have to go back to the year 2000 to give up iPhones. Going back to 1990 you give up the Internet. Going back to 1980 you give up Mac and Windows. Going back to 1970 you give up microwave ovens and personal computers at all along with cable television. Going back to 1950 you give up birth control, open-heart surgery, commercial air travel, and color television.

That's just technology. There's a huge cultural gap, too. In 1950 segregation was the law, there was little to no access to foreign culture, atheism was distrusted and associated with Communism, pre-marital sex was taboo, and women by and large did not work outside of the household, especially not when they had children. None of the music that I listen to even existed back then. None of it would even be possible.

I don't mean to valorize the 1950's generally, at all. Yeah, white privilege was encoded into law, but if you were a member of the ruling elite, that actually benefited you. The point about gender you make is well-taken.

There are two separate issues: consumer goods and actual well being. I think you overestimate the difference in consumer goods between the ruling elite in the Fifties and the contemporary welfare underclass: the latter rarely, if ever, can take advantage of commercial air travel and have severely limited access to open-heart surgery. And barrier birth control and abortion were readily available (albeit significantly more expensive) to the rich in the 1950s, while in the modern day they (especially abortion) are somewhat difficult, though far from impossible, for the underclass to access.

But quibbling over those details can make us ignore the more central point. Access to consumer goods is only part of the picture, because power is a very strong and often superior substitute good for most of them. Roombas are accessible to the middle class today, but they are inferior to an actual person cleaning the house for you, even with an antiquated vacuum cleaner from midcentury. The vast majority of the population can text each other now, but a well-off member of management could very easily have a secretary do the same through a messenger boy. The latter is slower, but in some ways easier: he (invariably a he) had at will access to an intelligence superior to the most advanced AI now, without the burden of having to hit tiny keys, save phone numbers, or remember to charge his phone. A member of the upper class in the 1950's did not have to worry about employment; about housing; about having interesting work; about getting fired for drinking on the job (hell, your company would pay for your booze and cigarettes); about worrying how to pay the bills the next month; about sending your kids to a school with regular shootings; about visiting the social worker to prove you had sent out pro-forma applications to jobs you're incapable of performing so you can get your welfare check.

Some tradeoffs are less clear. The middle manager in 1955 had to worry about global thermonuclear war, but not about catastrophic climate change or poisoned soy sauce from China. We have hormonal birth control, but also HIV.

All of us are members of the professional upper middle class, so we're certainly better off. But an unemployed single parent living on the bad side of Hunter's Point? If I were forced to choose, yeah, I'd definitely go with the rich straight white guy in the 1950s with massive social privileges. Even with fewer gadgets and less sophisticated technology.

I think the tipping point is honestly Internet access. A member of the welfare class today has free access to the sum of human knowledge. No one had that in the 1950's.

And frankly, the poor have much better access to health care thank you think. I know from personal experience that a poor, uninsured person can still get necessary or even largely elective surgeries that may not have even existed, and surely would not be performed with the same level of safety and quality, in 1950.

Oh yes--and abortion was actually illegal in the 1950's.

  > pre-marital sex was taboo
Pre-marital sex happened in droves throughout human history. Whenever it's been taboo, that just means that it was behind closed doors and hush-hush.

  > There was no dialysis.
Read up on the dialysis situation in the US before pimping it as progress in medicine.

I'm no expert on dialysis, but ff we would be so much better off without dialysis even existing, then presumably no one, nowhere has legitimate reason to use it. Unfortunately, I think untreated kidney failure might be worse. Many medical treatments are not so much "good" as "better than death"--many cancer treatments, for instances, take the tactic of slowly killing the patient in such a way that the cancer dies faster than the healthy tissue.

  > we would be so much better off without dialysis
  > even existing
I never said that. I was referring to this:


Just saying that it's not all peaches and cream.

I really don't see what that has to do with my argument.

So why is it that the US has much more expensive health care than anywhere else while not providing the best service?

Yeah, so you're right that electronics have gotten cheaper right along with Moore's law.

How about everything else? There's no such thing as a stable factory job anymore, if you can't code and don't have other white collar skills, you have a choice of Wal-mart and the gas station to work at. Neither gives you health insurance. You won't make enough to live in a nice school district.

Sympathy's the wrong way to look at it, although you could probably do with a little more empathy. The real point is that when enough people are struggling to get by, it hurts the economy at large and hurts you.

What's really odd is that the folks who talk the most about the problems for lower-class American workers will get most offended the moment you suggest that competition for cheap labour from millions of illegal immigrants might have something to do with it.

It's not the Lump of Labor fallacy to say that the economy has a limited appetite for low-skilled workers. In Australia, where illegal immigration is quite limited, it's not a choice of Wal-Mart and the gas station for folks without white-collar skills, there's also farming jobs, cleaning jobs, and best of all, tradesman jobs like builder, electrician or plumber. You'll need an apprenticeship for some of those, but can quickly work your way up from earning very little as an apprentice to earning six figures as a competent and fully-qualified tradesman. But in America, all the job categories which I mentioned are dominated by illegals, so it really is true that the uneducated have a really rough time.

This just simply isn't true as a matter of fact.

If you look at states like Georgia (and i've seen similar articles about parts of the UK), there's a massive shortage of farm workers, and regardless of what the supply of illegal migrant workers is. Even after Georgia began holding farmers directly liable for employing illegal immigrants, local workers have not stepped up to fill the gap.

Besides, American immigration policy, rightly, allows white collar workers from other nations, especially Canada and Mexico into the country via NAFTA. That is, frankly, a good thing. All we're doing is keeping out a labor supply that is currently needed.

If you want to level the playing field for native low skill workers, require farmers and the like to pay all the taxes and health benefits for all their workers, illegal or not.

There was a documentary aired here in Australia which follows several out-of-work UK natives as they're given the jobs that (legal) immigrants do. These are jobs like picking asparagus, working at a packing plant, and carpentry. Out of the 8 or so natives only a handful actually show up for work, and of those only one or two actually do the work to a reasonable standard and would be considered employable.

I've also seen reports in the news where Australia needs more seasonal agricultural workers, as Australians don't necessarily want to do the work. Most recently there's been a trial program to get pacific islanders in on temporary visas to work these farms. And traditionally it's been backpackers that have worked these fruit-picking and misc jobs.

So it seems to me that a lot of the population of the "developed" world, especially the native people, don't want to be doing those menial, labour intensive, and repetative jobs themselves. Also I don't believe that the immigrants that do these jobs now want their kids to be doing them. Therefore I would say that we should work harder to try and automate these kinds of menial mind-numbing jobs as best as we can.

I worked on a farm in high school. I was making $12/hr in the 90's -- pretty decent money.

Sitting on your behind is easier, regardless of pay.

Given that the median farmworker (crops) made $8.98 in 2010, your experience would seem a little extraordinary. The better-paid median ranchworker made $10.56. $12 in 1999 had the same buying power as $15.71 in 2010.

Sources: BLS http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#45-0000

I started doing hay (which involves throwing and stacking 40-50 pound bales in a hot barn) at $6.00/hr. After a year or two I was doing a variety of jobs that were a higher value to my employer. Also worked for an awesome family who worked us very hard.

There were fewer illegals in the 1990s, though, right?

Why do you believe that?

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that in the 1980s the net advance of the undocumented population was at the 130,000 per year, increasing to 450,000 per year from 1990–1994, and further increasing to 750,000 per year from 1995–1999, and staying at 700,000–850,000+ per year since about 2000

(see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegal_immigrant_population_of... )

NAFTA was the catalyst the created the waves of immigration from Mexico.


"Free trade" destroyed many US factory jobs, but it vaporized Mexican agriculture. Small proprietor farms were out of business overnight by the flood of cheap US corn.

The human element in illegal immigration is usually completely ignored. People don't pull up stakes and walk across a desert because they think that working in a poultry slaughterhouse is a great life. They do so because it is a better life than complete destitution that they face at home.

That Wikipedia page agrees with him.

Well i mean, sort of, but not really. The influx in immigration took place in the 90s and stabilized, and is now falling due to the economic collapse in the US.

Either way, i think we're well served by including some specific claims (and that's why i cited the wikipedia page)

hugh3 is talking about first derivative of the number of illegals, and you're talking about the second derivative.

Another thing to consider is the basic IQ requirements of modern high quality jobs. You don't need to be a genius to be a Doctor or Programmer but good luck finding them with subs 80 IQ's (~16% of the population). It may have been more dangerous and paid less to build the Model T but it was also reasonable to send just about anyone to that type of work. Now add to that Illegal immigration which results in fairly intelligent people doing manual labor for low pay it's even harder for people that are a little slow to compete.

I think the "dey took our jawbs" line is a little bit of a red herring here. Sure, there's an impact, but automation and outsourcing are both bigger impacts, and for all 3, they're here, we better deal with them.

I feel like a path to citizenship would bring the wages for these jobs back above-ground and create a fair marketplace for labor where people could compete.

What's the other option, "ship them all back to latin america"? If you think that's a good idea, I'd invite you to think about what that enforcement action would look like, and if it fits into your concept of "America".

EDIT: Watches blanket downvotes without counter-proposal or likely even reading my comments. Whoever that is should run for the House.

I downvoted you for presuming he prefers "ship them all back to latin america". That sort of douchebaggery does not belong on Hacker News.

(I agree with most of the rest of what you say in this post.)

Fine, edited to modify the presumption wording.

Frankly, it seemed like the next obvious step from his initial complaint. We're talking about underemployment and he brings up immigrants out of nowhere as a scapegoat? Was that a prelude to an argument for amnesty? It's not my fault if it sounds bad.

And accusing me of quote "douchebaggery" while being high and mighty about what belongs on hacker news is a little rich.

Hey, I'm just musing on the causes of unemployment. For the record, I do support deporting illegal immigrants back to wherever they're from, and I'm shocked that this is even controversial in this country.

I'm not actually even an American. I'm merely temporarily here on a visa. But once you've spent as much time and money on US visa renewals as I have, you don't have much sympathy for the line-jumpers who enter the country illegally.

Well, thanks for justifying my presumption :)

I went to a school that was big into the wine industry and they said many farms in New Zealand and Australia use machines to pick fruit. That doesn't leave as much room for low skilled workers on farms.

I would agree with you if three other things were comparably inexpensive:

1) quality education (including post-secondary, which would otherwise need to be saved-for) 2) portable, quality basic health care 3) inexpensive, safe, spartan-but-quality housing

No amount of TVs, computers, mobile phones, or iPods will make up for the fact that these three necessities are often pretty expensive in the U.S.

Hell, if I wouldn't even have had a kid in the first place, until I could ensure that I could raise properly.

Kids have a way of happening even when you don't expect or want them. Combine that with social pressures against abortion, and your stance becomes a luxury.

Also, I'm a bit disturbed that you see field trips at school as a luxury rather than part of a solid, well-rounded education.

>Also, I'm a bit disturbed that you see field trips at school as a luxury rather than part of a solid, well-rounded education. //

It's a luxury because one can't afford it, not because one sees it as a frippery.

My lad wants to do an after school club that the school has been promoting, wants to go to a uniformed group with his friends, etc.. These things would be good experiences, provide useful educational opportunities and best of all be fun. We can't afford them. They are luxuries in the sense that he won't be unloved, malnourished, unfit or uneducated without them.

'Educated' is not a boolean true/false. Missing out on field trips would not make someone 'uneducated', but it would decrease the breadth of their education.

Example: I'm a city boy, born and bred, but I spent summers on my uncle's farm. Due to that experience, I understand much better how rural people think and why, and the kinds of things that are more important to them.

If I had never spent time on the farm, I would not be 'uneducated', but those experiences have significantly improved my understanding of the people around me - I am much better educated for having these [lengthy] 'field trips'.

Replay this experience in shorter amounts more frequently in the form of field trips and you'll get a variety of different things to help broaden your experience and who knows, you may see something you're passionate about that you might not otherwise see.

So I guess it's a value judgement - you may see a well-rounded education as a luxury. I see it as a necessary building block for a healthy adult life.

>Missing out on field trips would not make someone 'uneducated', but it would decrease the breadth of their education. //


We do however always go out and about when we have family time. Thankfully the UK tax payer pays for the upkeep of key national museums - visiting them is one of the few things one can do for free. We do have a bent towards natural history, that's usually free too!

>So I guess it's a value judgement - you may see a well-rounded education as a luxury. I see it as a necessary building block for a healthy adult life. //

Oh believe me I'm all for well-rounded. I'm not at all arguing against the enormous value of such things. You say they're necessary things. But my resources don't stretch to paying for them and the society around doesn't value them enough to make them available to all without direct charge.

I'm doing what I can to provide a well rounded education as I see the enormous value a broad education has brought me. For example I studied Art History for only a term before studies for my degree got in the way but I found it immensely valuable as a catalyst to my own enquiry and as a lever in to understanding societal development.

However, I don't think you can really argue that such things are "necessary" for "healthy adult life". Possibly "a doorway to a fulfilling adult life"?

Depends on the field trips. Most of the places that the field trips go probably have free days. The only difference is that you wouldn't be going with the class. For example, once per month the Portland Art Museum is free from 5pm-8pm and less frequently there are 'free for family' days on the weekends. Going on field trips doesn't mean that you aren't exposed to culture.

Having unprotected sex is a choice. Not taking birth control is a choice. Not getting an abortion is a choice. Making the decision to not have a kid until they are ready is one that anyone can make. Saying that it is a 'luxury' to decide to not have unprotected sex and take birth control is beyond ridiculous.

So, all those women who were brought up without strong parenting due to busy work, overcrowded schools due to underperforming kids and bored youth groups with no programs are going to avoid unprotected sex? That's not considering the amount of drugs, crime, etc to 'escape' life.

I'm not saying that those women (or men) are stupid, I'm saying that they are brought up badly due to the neglect. You're taking so much 'choices' for granted when they are actually educated choices. For example, finances (how much will a kid cost? Bigger car? Food? Rent?), job security (are the parent(s) comfortable?), time constraints (do they have time to spend with them?). Ironically, they may end up neglecting their own children despite best intentions (eg Working overtime on minimum wage so the kid can get into college for example but the kid ends up a drug addict).

The way USA's poverty is a form of a Spartan kid's bath. Many will suffer, a few will make it through and be strong. All the more while other countries provide social programs (Social governments) or strong families (Communal communities) to make it easier and more aware of the responsibilities of having a kid.

Yes, because teenagers are well-noted for their life experience, level of education, and decision-making abilities. And abortion is freely-available everywhere, with no social stigmas attached.

Throw into that mix 'abstinence-only' sex education, and your 'choices' disappear. If you don't know about protected sex, and it's clear that all this "choice" you mention is just illusion for a great many people.

You can't say "why didn't you use a condom?" if you block the information about condom use. Hell, in some parts of Africa, the Catholic Church is spreading information that condoms cause AIDS. Where's the choice there? Where is the 'luxury' there?

By the way, I didn't say the sex was the luxury, I said your stance was the luxury - this expectation that kids come along when you plan them. If you actually speak to parents, you'll find that kids frequently come along despite using high-reliability birth control, and sometimes never come along despite desperately trying for years.

What really is beyond ridiculous is your cold, calculating opinion of how humans operate, combined with this expectation that all humans have access to the information you have.

"That is my principal objection to life, I think: It's too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes." ~ Kurt Vonnegut

I think your mistake is to think everyone is capable of knowing the consequences of their actions. Letting all people suffer the full consequences of all their actions, when it would cost little to get them off the hook, seems wrong to me, and to many others.

Life isn't fair, and it never will be. But we, as intelligent human beings, can do a lot to make it more fair. I think that is an overall win for everyone.

> I think that is an overall win for everyone.

Except for when you make life more fair by handicapping the high performers. See Kurt's Harrison Bergeron http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Bergeron

That is a very odd interpretation of Harrison Bergeron. You believe that it's about taxes and the welfare state? I find that hard to believe considering Kurt was a self proclaimed socialist.

If the rest of society is ready to make sure nobody faces the consequences of their actions I see no incentive for anyone to care about the consequences of the choices they make. "Why should I care about whether I make the right decision or not when everyone is ready to bail me out?" Maybe people should stop making excuses for themselves and take responsibility for what they choose to do everyday.

I thought the point of stacking the deck was to show that broken homes and a failure to save are root causes of poverty, and not readily-reversible ones. That said, people generally don't choose to lose their adequately-paid job and spouse any more than they choose to be the target of a Cultural Revolution lynch mob; certain behaviours increase the chances of it happening but bad things happen to people who make good, or at least explicable, choices too.

Sure, China had terrible problems with revolutionaries, before reforms leading to a remarkable rate of economic growth that nevertheless still leaves the average person in living conditions that would appal the average debt-ridden member of the American underclass. Mostly they "pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps" by being able to work for (or employ people on) the sort of wages that would leave Americans unable to eat, never mind have houses, cars and mobile phone contracts to owe repayments on. So they didn't do it in isolation[] and their model doesn't work for the US unemployed. Perspective is useful, but deeming freedom of choice and support for the poor in a rich democracy to be adequate by comparison with a poor country rapidly recovering from internal chaos is like judging the adequacy of a government by how many gulags they operate. By the standards of first world countries, the poor in the US get a relatively rough deal.

Singapore, since you cite it as an example, is a million miles away from a society where people pulled themselves up by their bootstraps from capitalism. For a start, the government cleared the slums by building 85% of the country's housing stock and fixed the rents and prices far below private-sector levels. They might be extremely business-friendly, but governments in democratic states don't get much more paternalistic than Singapore's.

[]Arguably the American poor have benefited far more from the resulting availability of cheap consumer goods than they lose from cheap Chinese labour pulling down on the bootstraps of the US manufacturing industry. But the availability of those jobs is still reduced.

There is a saying I really like:

"The poor are poor because all of their choices in life suck."

There are of course two completely different ways to read that. I find that the first interpretation that jumps out at people speaks volumes about their world-view.

Yep. The self-made man would say it a certain way, and the sad truth is that most people lack the mix of ambition and discipline to look for, find, and work on ways to change their situation. For every rags-to-riches story there are a million rags-to-rags stories to match.

Another person here mentioned people using check cashing services instead of service-charging banks. You know, as opposed to shopping around for a smaller bank or credit union that doesn't do that (another thing strangely lacking as an option in the game). What makes this even more pathetic is that the bank charge is usually LESS than the 3% they are paying from their paycheck to the check cashing service! Top it off with the tendency for poor people to withdraw small amounts of cash from ATMs and take the service charge hit (which, since it's a fixed price, increases the percentage loss the lower the amount you take out) and you can't but shake your head in disbelief.

And don't even get me started on the massive amounts of money stupid people spend on lottery tickets...

It's little things like this that make (and keep) people poor, and these things are so easy to avoid with a little planning and discipline. Wealth is a long term strategy that few consider seriously.

And once you have wealth, you need to protect it from your grandchildren, because it's a well known phenomena for the first generation to make the money, the second generation to keep the money, and the third generation to piss it away. Not to mention the incredibly stupid modern practice of splitting the inheritance between your children rather than passing it in its entirety to ONE child.

> Not to mention the incredibly stupid modern practice of splitting the inheritance between your children rather than passing it in its entirety to ONE child.

I'm not sure if this is a troll. What is incredibly stupid about the common practice of splitting inheritance equally between your children? What do you propose as a more optimal way to choose the single child who receives everything?

There is a word in Japanese "tawake", which means "stupid" or "foolish", but the literal translation is "splitting the rice field".

Every time you split your fortune, it becomes far less powerful. As generations pass, your "fortune" splits and splits until you've got a bunch of insignificant sums among your descendants.

This is why the powerful families choose ONE child who will receive the inheritance, while the rest must make their own way. The common practice is for the firstborn to take the inheritance, but the best practice is to wait and see how each of your children deal with money before deciding.

My guess is he must be the firstborn. I can't think of any other way that sentence makes sense.

Actually, I am the second born. I am making my own way.

Which interpretation do you think is the truth?

Like most truth, its not a binary choice, but a continuum along which individuals fall. (But that doesn't make for a very lively discussion, now does it?)

China is far from first world. They have modern cities, but their GDP is less than $5000/year pp. They employ slave child labor to make your cheap plastic shit. They work 14 hour days. It sucks.

The coastal parts of China are first world economies, but parts of China are still effectively 3rd world. It's silly to claim that Chinese workers make "cheap plastic shit". They make high-end electronics, they make industrial equipment, they build ships, they make aerospace components, they even build orbital launch vehicles, communications satellites, and manned spacecraft. There are plenty of sound, factual criticisms of the Chinese government, economy, industry, culture, etc. without having to make things up.

>> They employ slave child labor to make your cheap plastic shit.

>They make high-end electronics, they make industrial equipment, [...] and manned spacecraft. //

Are you saying they don't employ minors in China at poverty wages in the manufacture of "cheap plastic shit"?

That would be news to me.

It's a whole different way of thinking though. I'm probably at the exterme end of it: my siblings and I have decided that we will form a trust in which we will all be equal owners and any company we start(or wealth we acquire individually) will be owned by the trust.

The upside? It distributes the risk and almost ensures that none of us will ever go broke.

The downside(for some people)? When one of us flips the company, the wealth will be equally distributed between my siblings, irrespective of whether they actually worked at the company or not.

This is super interesting. Did you know of anyone else that set up these types of family trusts, or was it just your dad and his brothers? Did you do anything to make it legally binding, and how long have you been doing it for?

Has it pushed you to take more financial risk due to the fact that you have fallbacks? Are there any other things that are shared in the trust, or just companies that you own?

So many questions.

Are there any other things that are shared in the trust, or just companies that you own?

It's really not about the companies nor is it even legally binding in most cases with these arrangements(there is a lot of argument for/against making it legally binding). This idea dates back generations when joint families were more common.

Also see this if you haven't: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3071593

Has it pushed you to take more financial risk due to the fact that you have fallbacks?

This plays out every single day in one way or the other.

Example 1: One of the core points which I grew up hearing from my dad is that my money isn't really mine--it's the family's. Where as in American culture we largely teach kids independence from an early age, my dad never made me feel like I have to work as a teenager to have pocketmoney. His money was mine. What if he didn't have money to give me? I'd be expected to be sensitive enough to understand and work - so I can help the family(not so much myself).

Example 2: Last year I was in school and my (normally well to do dad) hit a rough patch. Our entire family finances were fucked. So I picked up a few coding gigs, worked my ass off and made the checks go straight to my dad.

Of course, my school friends thought I should be loaded at the end of the project. When I told them 100% of the money went to my dad, they were shocked. Some even tried to tell me "bro you're stupid!" :) May be. But that's my culture :) And so far I love it!

Example 3: Earlier this year, I just packed my bags one day and moved to NYC to live with my brother indefinitely. As I understand, this is not common in American culture. And even when a really close friend lets you do it, it is seen as "owing" a favor. But in our case, I did not owe my brother a favor or explanation on why I was going to live with him in his one bedroom apartment. In fact, I'd have to give an explanation to my family if I decided not to live with him. It's expected that if you live in the same city, you live together if you are family.

Oh btw, I have a full-time job now but my brother pays 100% of the rent. And I'm saving up cash from my job so one of us can potentially quit in a few months and take a shot at the start-up game again. None of this is planned or negotiated well in advance. My Dad could call me tomorrow and ask me for 100% of the money in my account and I'd send it without reservation. He'd do the same for me--though out of respect for being the father, he has more right to question me about why I need money than my right to question him. =)

Few months ago I had a major financial disaster when a client turned out to be fraudulent, putting me over $10,000 in the red. That's a lot of money for a freelancer. This is when I was able to call up my dad and pretty much the problem was immediately taken care of(he's doing a lot better now financially than last yr).

In a few years, my dad will be retired. He won't be getting a social security check from the gov and he barely has savings for retirement because he mostly invested them in his kids--knowing they'd take care of him after retirement. So he'll be getting money transfers from all of his kids every month after retirement.

That's our social security =)

That sounds great. Your family also has an advantage over those who go it alone because you can be more efficient with finances (we don't each need our own mortgage, interest payments, etc.) and you have more opportunity to take chances. While some subset of the family is trying a new startup, the rest can be earning money for the next round.

Would you mind disclosing your nationality?

Born in India, raised in America.

Why 100% split? Why not a fractional share with a dollar cap, like social security? That could rednce the effect of freeloading, while still providing security in case the richest of you feels less generous in the future.

I suppose that could be done but financial security is only partial goal. The other goal of unity and equality is probably a little more important and that breaks pretty quickly if there is significant disparity between our standard of living.

This reduces the chance that any sibling will have a lifestyle that is relatively more affluent than the others. And when we get a freeloader, it encourages the other siblings to not give up on his life. It may be easier to give up if you can tell yourself "well he is getting what he deserves".

This assumes a great deal of good faith, obviously. It can easily go bad and turn into resentment if (a) we get a freeloader and (b) he remains a freeloader all his life. But even in that worst case scenario, the hope(from our cultural upbringing) is that there will be less resentment(for the financial unfairness) and more sadness/empathy for the sibling who went the wrong way all his life.

My father's brothers have been on this model for couple decades and it has mostly worked out. They've had multiple freeloaders at one point turn into super productive contributors a decade later(and after lots of hardwork by the non-freeloading siblings towards the freeloaders).

This model is most easy when you are still young and life is simple(as it is for us now). It becomes very challenging after we all have wives, children and grandchildren and different local interests and politics. It usually leads to (somewhat bitter) splitville where assets are divided. This is one area my siblings and me are most weary of and want to do a better job of than our prior generations.

I find this really interesting as well. I'd really appreciate a longer account of your thinking and the details, if you wouldn't mind. I've mulled over a similar idea, but done nothing with it.

Read this if you haven't: ) http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3071593

I agree with your main points, but did your closing sentence need to get racist?

It's not racist at all. Quite the opposite. It's culture-ist.

It suggests that the success of Asian immigrants is not due to their race at all, it's due to their culture. And that this culture can be emulated by people of other races to achieve similar success. That's the exact opposite of the racist view, which would be that Asians are richer than black people because Asians are better than black people.

I think the culture argument is bullshit. I assure you, there are a lot of dumb and lazy Asians out there. The US has been good at importing the grad students, the hardworking creme de la creme, that's all.

That statement may have a bit of racial stereotyping as we can be sure that not all (100%) Asian immigrants were so frugal but I don't see any malicious intent ... I get the impression that the statement is positive. I know I've been impressed by the work ethic of many immigrants I know (Asian and otherwise) compared to those who sit and wait for their government welfare checks. I understand welfare for those who are truly needy, but there needs to be a way to lift them up so that it's not permanent (with perhaps the exception of those with disabilities that prevent it).

I guess I don't mind providing people the bare minimum to live without strings attached. I'd actually agree with Hayek and Friedman that we should attach fewer strings and just make them cash payments, because that's less distorting; all the book-keeping and social engineering to try to get people off welfare, and to not "waste" the welfare money when they're on it (Section 8 housing, food stamps, etc.) costs more and distorts the economy more than just paying them would.

I don't think great things in civilization get done solely out of people needing to work the bare minimum to survive anyway; if that's all they were going to work, just paying them $10k subsistence is not a huge loss to society, and even pretty cheap by the standards of the other stuff we spend money on. Actually it'd be a pretty sad commentary on civilization if it were only the threat of literally being homeless/starving that inspired people to work; that's what it was like in subsistence-farming days, but surely a wealthy country can move beyond that, and make the baseline something higher, even if only "ramen + crappy apartment"? Plus, I think we'd make it back in how much it'd increase entrepreneurship if people felt more confident in a safety net being there if they failed (people from lower-class backgrounds w/o a family safety net, in particular, are very afraid to leave steady jobs if they have one).

There's a happy medium achievable between the straightforward blunt instrument of cash payments and systems whose targeting is so complex nobody understands their costs or benefits.

I'm unconvinced by neoclassical arguments by Friedman et al. on "distorting" for two reasons. Firstly there's nothing inherently wrong with introducing further "distortion" into the market unless you subscribe to the evidently false proposition that no person's ability to optimise their spending habits with respect to their budget constraint can be improved upon; that you're making individuals and society worse off for buying them healthcare when they expressed more interest in a hire-purchase agreement for a state-of-the-art pickup truck. I believe quite the opposite: people receiving government money aren't entitled to spend it on anything they want, and even with imperfect information a technocrat, will often be better at allocating some of that cash than the average welfare recipient.

Secondly, given differences between incomes, propensities to consume and the ease of introducing new supply into the market, a simple flat subsidy can distort markets more than targeted payments. Converting payments such as government funded health insurance to cash would have the effect of inflating the prices of ramen and particularly crappy apartments (since welfare recipients can live without the health insurance, albeit for less long, and there's not enough decent apartments in many areas). Given the relatively fixed supply of housing, people who already owned rental property would capture more benefit than any other industry, ironically because they chose to use their capital in a relatively unproductive manner. On the other hand, hospitals might be worse off, losing part of their customer base and seeing cost increases (notably unskilled labour). Since the government has the choice in how they distort the market, I'd rather they subsidise healthcare professionals than slum landlords.

I totally agree with your point about bare minimum safety nets encouraging innovation. Even those poor who are never going to launch world-changing startups might consider a stab at freelancing in an area they're more capable in than dishwashing once the risk of not having regular income is removed.

Lets assume that ten percent of Americans choose to take the ten grand/year you suggest.

Thats 30 million times ten times one thousand. Thats 300 billion dollars. That is ten times the cost for the war in Iraq back in 2001 and 2002 (both years). How on earth do you think the US could pay that considering that it has a deep deficit in the first place?

Well, in the first place, that's 8% of the federal budget, which seems like a pretty small price to pay for ensuring that everyone has a basic existence (minimal food/shelter). There are certainly stupider things we spend 8% of the federal budget on.

And in any case, one purpose is to be a replacement for the current piecemeal programs we have, which aren't cheap to begin with. Food stamps + Section 8 + EITC currently costs about $150 billion per year, plus some additional amount in bureaucracy and litigation due to complex rules, plus some additional economic damage caused by market distortion due to the fact that food stamps + section 8 aren't normal cash (EITC is better for that). That leaves maybe $100-150b, some of which is probably also redundant with existing welfare programs (I just picked three big ones), or about 3-4% of the federal budget.

If you want to keep it budget-neutral, how about an across-the-board 3-4% cut to all other budget categories in return? Or, we could just, as you point out, remove the temporary "overseas contingency operations" (Iraq/Afghanistan wars) supplement to the regular DoD budget, which is $125b in 2012, returning the DoD to its baseline budget. If I had a line-item veto pen I could pretty easily come up with another few hundred billion in savings if you'd like (cut agriculture subsidies, cut Medicare Part D, transition TSA/air-traffic-control to being fully user-fee-funded, do another round of domestic military-base closures through a BRAC-like process, etc., etc.). :)

I know you're just using it as comparison, but didn't the Iraq War start in 2003? And if this[1] is to be believed, the total cost of the war is ranging around $3.2-4 trillion. That's thirteen and a third years of your $300 billion scenario.

And it's not like that $300 billion just disappears into a black hole. Because poor people need it to live they are spending it immediately, which multiplies out across the economy, certainly more so than a war does. And I'm not even counting the human life cost of war. So yes, just giving people $10K a year isn't that bad considering what we have done.

I just love the thinking though: "we've spent all this money to kill people for no reason and now you expect us to feed Americans?!?!"

[1] http://costsofwar.org/

I think you answered your own question. Spend the money on on people instead of the military. I am a fan of TVA type government workfare. It is not close to perfect, but it is better than the MIC. I would rather have contracters skimming graft off of construction and litter cleaning and boarding schools (my pet solution to inner city collapse) and science labs and music and dance troupes,than off of bombs and desert deployments.

Well said ... plus, it would only cost half as much because we could get rid of the highly-paid bureaucrats administering the system (assuming they were capable of keeping a job elsewhere versus going on welfare themselves).

we already provide the bare minimum...we have welfare, social security, unemployment benefits, hospitals that are required to treat your broken arm even if you can't pay for it...all sorts of help from churches and other charitable organizations. i don't think there is any threat of anyone in the united states starving to death unless they are anorexic, addicted to drugs, infested with tape worms and too stubborn to see a doctor, or lost in the woods for a long time. what you're thinking of is a star-trek sort of world. we're a long way off from that. we're still in the jungle baby. just be glad you're alive and breathing and stop trying to convince uncle sam to take even more of my money or i'll just stop working and play call of duty all day and let you program all these websites for me.

I'm not sure what kind of world you live in, but: 1) the U.S. is quite wealthy overall and can easily afford to maintain a basic minimum standard; and 2) does not currently do so in any sort of effective way.

You're correct that we do spend a lot of money piecemeal to get some semblance of a safety net, which is one reason even libertarians like Hayek and Friedman suggest it would be better to just actually provide a direct safety net, in a much less distorting way, instead of this crazy mixture of special-case and bureaucratic safety nets. The main people promoting those seem not to be libertarians but nanny-state conservatives who want to somehow make sure that someone's food stamps are spent on food and not beer. To me, as a more libertarian-leaning sort of person (albeit in teh Hayekian sense), if they're getting $100 in assistance, I don't give a damn what they do with it past that point. Give it in cash, and if they squander it on vodka instead of buying food, well then that's their problem at that point.

I don't really believe your threat. Is the only reason you work because you couldn't live a $10k/yr subsistence living otherwise? You're not actually interested in creating things, exchanging value with people, etc.? That's certainly not the case for myself or most people who care about technology; I couldn't imagine sitting around playing call of duty all day, living off ramen in a cheap hovel in a bad neighborhood, if that option were offered to me tomorrow. Taxes certainly aren't much of a deterrent; once you add up all the exclusions and whatever I pay an effective 20% tax rate or so, and I'm not even in one of the lowest tax brackets.

> I get the impression that the statement is positive. I know I've been impressed by the work ethic of many immigrants I know (Asian and otherwise) compared to those who sit and wait for their government welfare checks.

That's partly because being an immigrant in itself filters out the people to lazy to leave their home country.

The U.S.'s immigration policies also take a highly biased sample of Asian immigrants, generally the highly educated, and those who already have enough money to do things like pay out of pocket for a U.S. masters degree (which gets you a student visa, which makes it easier, though still tricky, to end up with other kinds of visas). Geography alone gives us different socio-economic cross-sections of Asian versus Mexican immigrants, for example.

In cases where that isn't true, Asian immigrants aren't generally any more successful than other immigrants. For example, the Hmong population in the U.S., who mainly came as refugees from the Southeast Asian wars, has a very high poverty rate even 35 years later (around 30%, versus a U.S. national average of 10%).

Racist? LOL, I'm Asian and I did not find it offensive--in fact, quite the opposite. I totally agree with him.

Racist in the other direction.

I didn't see racism there. There are a whole lot of white folks embedded in their own failed culture in the U.S.

Edit: never mind - I read the wrong post.

What's racist about that sentence?

Man, the Chinese were in the 2nd century until just a few decades ago, when they finally decided to imitate white America.

That is either sarcasm or a very ignorant comment.

No. The Chinese lived brutal, peasant lifestyles in the 20th century. It takes a very dedicated kind of ignorance to not know this.

I played for an entire month. Not only did my dog die, but my grandfather did too (the funeral was a $350 airfare away). Then my best friend from school got married a few days later (another $350 airfare). I got sick twice, and my mother got sick once. Oh, and a neighbour's kid broke my window too. And I spilled bleach on my nice new shirt.

If this was billed not as a poverty simulator but as an "Unluckiest person in America" simulator, I might see the point. Perhaps the game should just start off "You go to look for a job, but you get hit by a bus and die".

I made it through the month with $150 to spare without sacrificing my child's education or my health. I just didn't turn down free stuff (hey, there's nothing wrong with being poor) and didn't make stupid decisions, even though the game tried to set me up (forcing me to choose between getting paid per hour or per piece without an estimate on how much per-piece would give me? I'd at least do a back-of-the-envelope calculation in real life).

EDIT: Just tried it again and went with the hourly wage. The game said my supervisor cut it in half. Nice going, game.

Also, who starts smoking when they can't afford it?

Also, who starts smoking when they can't afford it?

People who are depressed, whose friends mostly smoke, and who can't see how they'll ever get out of this financial hole that seems deeper every month. Assuming it costs $80 a month to start smoking, the difference between $0 and $80 at the end of the month looms larger than the difference between -$100 and -$180. In the former case, you're going broke smoking. In the latter case, well, you were already broke, so hey, no change: still broke.

[Edit: I didn't actually play the game. I'm just responding to your comment about it. :) ]

I started a while back because of work stress, depression and anxiety. It's a very short-term fix, but by the time it stops "helping", you're dependent on nicotine to the point of continuing just to avoid the extra pain of having to quit, on top of everything else.

The final impetus for me was realising that I was spending something close to £200 ($300) a month on cigarettes. Nearly 4 months now, and I reckon in a year or so I'll have enough to replace my macbook :)

That's a lot of smoking.

I've been a smoker for 9 years now, and I still smoke at most 2 packs per month. I buy the most expensive cigarettes that are still mass-market, and still I only pay ~$20 per month for my habit.

If I were poor, I'd have to look more closely at that $20, but for anyone in the middle class $20 is the price of a good meal if that.

With the game, I found myself questioning a lot of the priors such as---why when I'm living <5 miles away from work, do I lose my job the moment I don't have a car? Can't I walk?

Why do I even have a car in the first place? Also, why do I have a mobile phone on monthly contract? Was pre-paid not available in my area?

It's just a game but it seems pretty unfair even for small choices.

> and I still smoke at most 2 packs per month

That's atypical, the typical smoker smokes between a half pack and a pack a day. I'd even say you're not really a smoker, you just dabble in smoking.

>That's a lot of smoking.

A pack of 20 in the UK costs about £6, which is about $9.

It's going up in the next budget.

"Also, who starts smoking when they can't afford it?"

I guess you've never, um, opened your eyes and looked around.

Maybe the game needs some other measures to track or force you to react to, like morale, or depression level, or boredom, or popularity, or addiction?

> I made it through the month with $150 to spare.

So you ate up $850 in savings and have no way of paying rent the next day.

The game isn't realistic. It condenses in one month what could happen in the span of a year or more, but the result is the same though. you end up broke.

Things I didn't do/have when I couldn't afford them in real life: children[1], pets, smoking, a car, entertainment[2]

[1] ok ok, I know that sometimes this is unplanned or you already have children before you have no money

[2] often had to turn down things I wanted to do because I couldn't afford them

Agreed. I was especially pissed off with this game when, after choosing to pay higher rent so I could live within walking distance of work, it still made me keep my car, which hit me with a resultant $500+ in monthly costs between insurance payments and a mechanical breakdown.

Same here. I would also sometimes add "food" to that list, though very briefly.

Although, I must add, I was soft-poor.

True, I have often eaten the cheapest food I could find and once or twice went without eating for a day.

But, I always had a safety net: while I may have been low on money and even without money on occasion, I could always have borrowed money from family knowing that they would give it to me if I asked. But, I was saving that for if I ever really really needed it.

Exactly the same situation as me. That's why I clarified with "soft-poor", which isn't really the same, but not too different either.

A lot of the smokers that I know started in their early teens. They saw smoking as a way to be cool.

Do you have kids?

I quit when I got a collections call for an overdue car payment. I never had a choice to not miss a payment.

Being poor sucks, but this game is trying way to hard to make that point and actually backfires. The contrived situations make me less likely to emphasize with someone who is in that position.

The scary thing is that those situations feel contrived to you. But to someone who is actually in that situation this is much closer to reality than you want to believe. Sure, it's been crunched in in time a bit. But the end result is about the same. You can't pull yourself up by your own bootstraps when all your time and energy is spent desperately treading water.

It didn't happen to you, therefore it doesn't happen?

Went to the therapist? wtf! All the poor people I know (grew up poor) wouldn't go to the doctor if a cancer tumor was growing out of the side of their head. Too expensive. This thing thinks we would be going to a therapist? Maybe if someone else pays for it, but even then: can I just get the cash instead if you're giving it away?

Does this game remind anyone else of "The Oregon Trail" game from way back? Though I'm sure it was a little harder for the settlers back then.

What a joke. In the month, I got sick twice, had two 'best friends' get married, had a grandfather die, needed a root canal, wrecked my car (even though I chose to pay the max rent and live 5 miles from work, it told me I still had to to have a car), had my sink break (and the landlord refuse to fix it), got caught hiding pets in my apartment (why do I have a pet? I can't afford a pet, that is just a bad decision.).

I get it, they are trying to make a point. However, the point they are making is crap. It is very hard to live on $9 an hour. However, making $9 puts you in the top 1% of all humans who have ever lived. There are lots of social programs that will help a little. They don't make you rich, but they help a little.

The first thing I ask anyone who complains about being unemployed or underemployed: "Do you have a TV? Do you have cable or satellite tv?" You wouldn't believe how hostile people are when you suggest that they might benefit from turning off their tv and using that time to study or learn a new skill. As a child my family was on food stamps and welfare. My mother raised 4 boys on her own. As it turns out, I am now in the top 1% of wage earners in the US, but I don't have time to watch TV. I have never taken a real vacation. I suffered through 6 years of Army Reserve so I could pay for college. Every free minute I have is spent working, hustling, studying, experimenting.

I don't believe the hype. If you are willing to work your ass off, if you show up to work on time and aren't high or drunk, and you don't steal, it is very easy to get a job, today. It's easy to get 2 jobs. Working 80 hours per week isn't something that you want to do, but it's a walk in the park compared to the conditions our ancestors lived in.

It's really hard to take care of kids when you are a single parent and you can't get childcare, especially if you don't have family that is willing to help. Maybe we should do more for people in this situation, not to help them, but to at least give the kids the opportunity to do better. For everyone else, I say stop whining, throw away your tv, and stop being so entitled and lazy.

Very good comment Justin, much respect from me. A small point though -

> I have never taken a real vacation.

I used to be like this. I'd work, literally, about 362 days per year and take 3 off.

It didn't max out my productivity, it didn't max out my income, it didn't max out my quality of life, it didn't make me better able to serve customers and clients.

Really, I was just suffering because I had an identity of "being hardcore."

I still do, to some extent. But I'm taking more time off lately and doing better than ever. I work less, but my decisions are sharper.

To wade in, try taking off 2-3 days and go somewhere nice that's only ~100 to ~200 miles from where you live, or less. That's a short pleasant train ride, a 30-60 minute flight, or a few hour drive. Hang out in a cabin by a lake, or the beach, or whatever. Refuse to work unless you get hyper-inspired.

You might, actually - get hyper inspired. Then it's okay. But if you step back and get some perspective instead of constantly grinding it out, you might actually increase your income, productivity, ability to serve and deliver for your staff and customers, and your own quality of life.

It does require giving up an identity of "I'm hardcore and suffer because that's what I do" though - and I don't say that in a snarky way. I've got that identity. But again, I suspect it might actually be counterproductive to income, productivity, service, and quality of life.

I just played a round of this game (ended with $322), and I felt like it was a compelling demonstration of why I'm not poor.

I know they wanted to present an argument of "oh, all these bad things happen that keep people poor", but I really saw a bunch of small decisions that, when made poorly, accumulate into having no money.

> I know they wanted to present an argument of "oh, all these bad things happen that keep people poor", but I really saw a bunch of small decisions that, when made poorly, accumulate into having no money.

I think the latter is much closer to reality, at least for people who are on their way to poverty. Or maybe a mix of both. There are problems that are equally probable to rich and poor, but the former can sometimes just throw money at them until they're gone, and the latter have to deal with them the hard way.

I get they're trying to make a point, but it was poorly done. I chose a job as a restaurant worker $8 an hour and I don't get what its point was when someone is trying to unionise the workforce and says something like "people in low income will often avoid opportunities to better their income" or some crap.

All I'm left with thinking is if your wage is <$3 from your employer, there's slim-to-nil chance you're going to unionise. Your employers response is simply FIRED, because there'll always be a dozen more people looking for a no-skill job.

The other things that pissed me off were the gimmicks. Like I got a speeding ticket and by contesting it in court I got charged a $40 court fee, which where I live doesn't happen. If a cop gives me a speeding ticket, it costs the police to bring the motion, not me. Furthermore my landlord increased my rent illegally and the option was "take it" or "move", and then illegally increased my rent again when a roommate moved in. What I don't get is why when I'm broke, don't have internet etc, why I wouldn't go down to the library and find out how to file a tenancy board complaint to have the guy nailed.

As I too ended with over $300, this was just an illustration in how stupid people make stupid decisions. One of these was making a game that doesn't correctly illustrate people with low wages problems.

I'm gonna have to agree with this.

I grew up in a poor town in Ukraine. Up until the age of 9 or so, I was on a steady diet of potato soup. No videogames meant my only source of entertainment was reading or drawing. New cloth? Forget about it, haha. A candy bar (mmm Bounty) was something to buy on a holiday. Walk to the school and get ostracized/bullied by kids who somehow resemble wild animals.

The entire last 8 years in USA felt like a walk in the park. No food? Pshh, food stamps, food banks, whatever. Food takes about 5-10% of household's income anyway, compared to like 50% of the income in Ukraine. No housing? Millions of relatives with giant houses, homeless shelters, etc.

It's even easier to lose weight just because of the access to millions of gyms, dance clubs, and healthy food.

What's my point? I don't know :)

That perhaps 'poor' is a relative term?

The game is unrealistic, just like any games, but makes a good statement.

Personally, I would have liked a little for the game is provide room for improvement (over a period of time) but also provide some attachment to ones choices. It should have been made like Oregon Trail.

What the game does not really provide is the emotional baggage that comes with many of these decisions.

For example, when asked what to do with the pet, I took him to the shelter (financially the best choice). In real life, I am not sure I could make that decisions (disclaimer I do not own any pets in RL).

Similarly, with the best friends wedding in another state: In the game, flying to that wedding is a bad choice, but in RL, you would try to borrow money and go anyway.

When you are poor, it is really hard to delay gratification, even though that is the best choice in the long run(and we all know what happens in the long run).

Game should have been over a period of one year or so (roughly the period of the Nickel and Dimed and Scratch Beginnings).

Back in 1986, I had 2 jobs, 1 delivering packages full-time and the other cleaning windows and offices nights and Saturdays.

I did not go to college right out of school and I had no marketable skills. I was able to save $16,000 in 2 years, all of which was counted against me when I applied at the local community college.

And, yes, I had no TV most of that time! No computer either. Never ate out or travelled. Lived in crap town where all it does is snow, rain and cloud over. Drove cars that cost less than I now gross in a week.

There are people all over working just as hard and with kids and maybe not so many educational possibilities. Life can be tough.

But even these folks used to be able to save a little bit of money and earn interest on it. If you only save $200 a month for 30 years at 6%, you end up with $200,000.

Even if they have any money after paying all the taxes, they can't earn any interest on their savings anyway. The same $200 a month leaves you with only $77,000 at .5% after the same 30 years.

What we're doing is punishing the very virtues that made it possible for even the least skilled to move out of poverty back in the day.

Having kids when you are young and poor is just a dumb idea, really. Not saying people shouldn't be able to, but it just seems stupid to burden yourself with dependants before you are financially stable.

I seldom hear poor people whine. Pride is usually one of the few things you have left. And don't equate the poor with lazyness and addiction. If you grew up poor you should know better. I do hear people with money complain about car payments, regulation, taxes etc. all the time.

I guess your comment is well-ment in a can-do attitude kind of way, but lacks pragmatism and basic understanding of psychology. It's easy to take away the things that enable you to do something and then blame the individual. In my experience most of the time things considered better actually are and what doesn't kill you messes with your head.

Especially in America, the people I hear the most talk about "when they are rich" are usually the poorest people I know. We've instilled a type of optimism and "anything is possible" attitude that most people blame themselves for their situation.

While not specifically about the american dream I do remember finding this ted talk by Alain de Botton quite interesting http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_a_kinder_gentler_ph...

I like the concept a lot but the game is just too rigid to be realistic. It's essentially a propaganda piece and the choices it gives you are no-win by design (so that the game has opportunity to lecture you on the plight of low-wage workers). Real life is not so restrictive.

It seems a bit involved to get across what could have been an infographic.

I'd really like to see someone take a more serious and/or interesting approach to this concept. This game plays like an old "choose your own adventure"; you have "choices", but everything is pre-determined and there are only a handful of available story routes, which in this case are designed to make it difficult to complete the game while selecting any of the presented moral options and then to show that you'll only have a few dollars left in exchange for abandonment of all principles.

I had no problem getting to the end of the month with cash left over. Of course, I also work for a factory so I know an awful lot of $9/hr workers and how they live, so it wasn't that hard. You have to make a lot of hard choices. No, it's not easy.

While this is a bit overdone, there's a lot of truth to this thing. I've seen the results of an unplanned child, days people come in sick because they really can't afford to miss work, and things like that first hand.

Some of the people really have dug themselves into holes all on their own, but there are other folks who are just trying to scrape by with the crappy hand they've been dealt. It depends on the person, really and I could give you examples of both.

>>It's essentially a propaganda piece and the choices it gives you are no-win by design (so that the game has opportunity to lecture you on the plight of low-wage workers). Real life is not so restrictive.

Agreed. From a design standpoint, it's structured closer to an advergame that way - get your point across (scraping by on a low wage while dealing with what life throws at you) and quickly before the player loses interest. The events of the game over the course of a month are more indicative of what could happen spread across a wider span of time.

I think there is some value in presenting statistical data as a narrative. I love Choose Your Own Adventure!

There are three things I find annoying by this game.

I shouldn't be driving a car if I don't have money for it. I should sell the car and always take bus, since later in the game it says I have that option.

I had to choose if I should stay with an hourly paycheck or work by the piece. I choose piece because then I thought I could put in some more work, but then it just said I couldn't work that much. Well if I had known that I would have stuck with an hourly check, that's math you can actually work out in real life before making that decision.

It says I have a college degree but that wont help me, and then it says I'm probably too uneducated to help out my children with math homework.

All in all some interesting facts about the american low-income society, but the choices and different aspects of it are very strange. You could do a lot more to save money as well as make more money than is presented here. Well basically, kind of annoyingly simplified.

I'm currently teaching a college algebra class in which students learn to solve the kind of problem presented. (It would be very interesting to know where "train problems" got their start, though...)

The vast majority of my students cannot solve that sort of problem by themselves after seeing several examples of similar problems worked out. Yes, this is the last math course some of these students will have to take. No, they are not all liberal arts students.

Given how quickly unused knowledge decays, I don't think it's terribly unreasonable to assume that your average student with a bachelor's degree won't remember how to solve a train problem.

Given how quickly unused knowledge decays, I don't think it's terribly unreasonable to assume that your average student with a bachelor's degree won't remember how to solve a train problem.

Well, that just sounds like an indication that we're handing out far too many Bachelor's degrees to people who don't deserve them.

Out of curiosity, are you allowed to fail these students, in this compulsory course?

Part of the problem is that students are told how to solve these kinds of problems rather than being taught to reason their way through the problem.

I looked at it and 'reasoned' they will meet when the combined distance of both trains is 300 miles. No math required for that step.

I believe most adults and kids could then figure out 50 MPH + 70 MPH = 120 MPH and 300 Miles/120 MPH = 2.5 Hours or am I giving people to much credit?

Many of them do fail. But they don't go away. It's not uncommon for people to take it three or four times until by luck or sheer force of will they finally pass with barely satisfactory grade.

Of course, this might be confirmation bias on my part. I never again see the ones that drop out.

Yeah, if you choose hourly (I did) then your boss just cuts your hours in half. But then later I lost a whole day of pay when I called in sick, but I don't really see how I couldn't make up that time seeing as I was only working 20 hours a week.

And what state are we living in in this game? Is there a state where a single parent making $9/hour doesn't get subsidized health insurance? If so maybe this fictive character (in pretty poor health it seems) needs to move. Apparently, all of your friends and family (at least your dead grandpa and friend getting married) lived out of state, so what are doing staying put.

Fun game, great info, but I agree with the over simplification. IRL, I can't pick an apartment without building an elaborate cost-benefit spreadsheet, so the slider bar abstracted away too much for my enjoyment.

He cut your pay in half, not your hours. It's stupid.

Why is it stupid? It happened to my aunt about ~3 years ago. She was making about $12.50/h doing phone ordering (very senior, trained everyone, etc.); the company was sold/acquired and she was offered her old job at $9.25/h during a fairly large layoff. Since she lives in Michigan where the unemployment rate is well over 15%, she decided not to roll her dice at job hunting. She took the 26% pay cut and went to work for the same supervisor the next day. At least her house is mostly paid off, although it's worth half what she bought it for ~15 years ago -- this was her retirement savings.

I think the point of the game is that many people just can't comprehend how easy it is to have bad things happen in a very substantial way... with very little notice and being mostly powerless to do anything about it.

Why are "keeping the job I have" and "job hunting" mutually exclusive decisions? Keep your job and apply other places.

If she's getting paid by the hour, every time she takes time off for a job interview costs her over $30. In a state with 15% unemployment, she'd have to roll the dice multiple times, and the likelihood of finding a higher-paying job isn't great; the likelihood of finding a higher-paying job in only a few shots is very low.

Because no matter what you do, you get screwed. At most, it should inform you of the choices.

It informs you of the choices. It doesn't inform you of the unforeseen consequences. For all the flaws in this propaganda game, that isn't one of them. Neither is the "screwed no matter what" part.

It didn't tell me how much I would be making with either choice. I would at least know how many parts per day I produced, and it would be easy to calculate the daily rate from that. Not to mention that, in real life, you would probably be able to switch after having had your rate cut in half, or the supervisor would tell you "do you want to keep half your hourly rate, or switch to a per-part rate?".

There's nothing unforeseen about that.

The game is also advocating playing on the lottery as investing in your future.

That's not even the right message to send out.

I didn't buy the lottery ticket in the game, but now I'm curious -- I wonder if they bothered to code up a one-in-a-million chance that if the player buys a lottery ticket they'll actually win. That would be pretty cool.

"You won the lottery! You gain forty million dollars! OK, you were lucky this time, but the point about poverty still stands, okay?"

I don't think much encouragement is needed there. I hear the phrase "If / When I win the lottery..." cited too often as a cure-all. That weekly or daily lottery allotment would be better spent elsewhere but unfortunately isn't.

Non-linear utility of money, especially when negative money is involved.

My major reactions while playing the game tended to follow a theme:

    Game: Mobile phone bill's due.  
    Me: I have a mobile phone??  
    Game: Landlord wants pet rent for the dog.
    Me: I have a dog?? 
    Game: Car payment's due.  
    Me: I have a CAR???
    Game: How about some $60 internet?
    Me: How about the $20 non-broadband type?
    Game: You lost your car, so you lost your job. 
    Me: No, see, that's why I paid extra to live close.  We call them bikes.

A "let's gain empathy by playing being poor" game seems like a horrible idea overall.

If it was a decent game and let you learn and succeed by smart choices, it would only give you a feeling of superiority to poor folks.

If (as it does) it inflicts you with pre-existing poor decisions and random "the gods are angry" punishments, it seems to impart a feeling that poor folks are somehow hopeless and cursed, which isn't really helpful either.

Wouldn't it be a lot more helpful to teach teenagers and pre-teens real-life strategies for independent living? Things like showing you how much money you end up paying to rent furniture or lease a car?

Maybe something like the old board game Pay Day?


Or the old Sierra game "Jones In The Fast Lane".

Something like that (more sophisticated, with more detail, and more opportunities to make dumb and smart decisions) should be compulsory playing for young kids. Much like astronauts training for their missions, I reckon that by the time kids get old enough to make their own life decisions, they should have done it in the simulator hundreds of times.

I'm being somewhat facetious, of course, you can't make a simulator anywhere near as detailed as real life. Still, I think life-simulation games have a part to play in teaching children good values like delaying gratification and so forth.

I am a huge fan of this line of thinking. I love your astronaut example which I hadn't heard before. Nor had I heard of Jones in the Fast Lane which is exactly the kind of game rarely seen today.

I'm a career game programmer and web developer. In the last five years, I was on two game shows in the last five years and before each one, knowing I only had one shot, I made software to help me simulate the experience and work out the strategies I would use. I did well in both cases and am convinced that simulating things really helped.

So I'm really sold on simulation being a great way to impart practical knowledge. There's a lot of stuff out there that could really use that treatment and I agree with your enthusiasm for it. Let's get in touch and see if there's some way to push this forward.

Email in profile. I can't promise to be able to provide anything other than moral support, though.

Me: I have a mobile phone??

For many people, mobile phones have replaced land lines, and are often cheaper with pay-as-you-go plans. This isn't 1998 anymore, mobile phones are not a luxury. Also, if you can't get a call form work that your shift has been changed, and you miss a shift, you lose your job. And with most people having mobile phones, having a land line and not getting a chance to check your answering machine is not likely much of an excuse.

Game: Landlord wants pet rent for the dog.

Dogs have been a part of humanity for much of our modern evolution. If someone gets laid off, or hits hard times, asking them to give up their dog to save some money is like asking them to hand over a family member. So yes, while dogs are an expense, they have a lot of psychological and emotional benefits for evolutionary reasons.

Me: I have a CAR???

Yes, because you couldn't find work nearby, and the only place that was hiring wasn't bike-able. So you bought a beater that's barely street legal, but you had to finance it through some shady car dealership. Unemployment had run out, and you had a job offer, and you knew it was risky, but what other option did you have?

It's a question of magnitude.

A phone is a necessity. A TracFone, where you can make a $10 phone and $20 of minutes last three months if you're careful, is reasonable if you think a mobile phone is a necessity. This person apparently had a $65/mo smartphone on a $1200/mo income. That's crazy talk.

Ditto the car. If I had a beater I bought from my sister for a song, I'd have believed it. But it hit me up for a $325 car payment. That implies that I bought something decent new. That's a total WTF. A car might be a necessity, but a job that requires you to have that car might as well be on the moon. You need a job you can walk, bike, or bus to. Sell the toxic car yesterday.

As for the dog . . . yeah, I know some people are attached to their dogs. And if you own your own place, and the only cost is its food and occasional vet bills, I don't see anything wrong with it. But when you're skipping food and medical care and best friend's weddings trying to make ends meet, and the dog is costing $100/mo in pet rent . . . it needed to be gone a long time ago.

I think that kind of captures my overall response to the game, really. It's clearly written from the perspective of someone who doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to do what they have to in order to make ends meet. You need to prioritize and cut. It can be done. Not to brag, but I have in fact done it before. But it does require treating the situation as the emergency it is, and taking appropriately drastic measures to establish positive cash flow.

This person apparently had a $65/mo smartphone

No, they just had a $65 bill. That doesn't imply a smartphone, that could easily be racked up in minutes or text messages. Pay-as-you-go phones are only cheap if you don't use them.

But it hit me up for a $325 car payment.

That doesn't imply you got a new car. That means you got a 24 month loan on a $5000 car with 20% interest. Like I said, shady as hell, but what are you gonna do. You need a car.

it needed to be gone a long time ago.

I think a lot of people would starve before they gave up their dog. It's a living being, it's not a netflix subscription.

who doesn't have the intestinal fortitude

I don't think you understand how expensive it is to be poor. It's much cheaper to be well off, because you have the option of making the right decisions, instead of being constantly put in no-win situations like these.

> "I don't think you understand how expensive it is to be poor."

So when Dove says "I've done it before", you're calling her a liar. Here, have a downvote.

A high-interest loan on a $5000 car is not your only option; try buying a cheaper car. Spending $65 racking up minutes and text messages is not your only option; if you need to save money, hang up the phone.

These are not "no-win" situations. They're just situations that are not going to go well if you make bad decisions.

So when Dove says "I've done it before", you're calling her a liar.

I think sometimes people think they've done it before, but by their statements, make it clear that they don't have the quite the perspective they're claiming. I regularly see people conflate early life independence (college, ramen, etc) with familial or generational poverty, which are not the same thing.

try buying a cheaper car.

This puzzles me. $5,000 is about the cheapest you're gonna get without having trouble within the first year. But assume you go cheaper, say, $2500. You still have to finance, because you don't have that kind of pocket change.

Now, the price is so low, nobody wants to give you a 2+ year loan on something that's hardly gonna make it out of the parking lot. So you get one year financing through the shady dealership themselves, again at 20% or something ridiculous.

That puts you at almost $250 a month for a car that's probably pushing 30 years old, with no guarantees. Did you really just save money?

Spending $65 racking up minutes and text messages is not your only option;

A one hour phone interview or discussion with your kids teacher can run $20 with a Tracfone. Imagine your brother was arrested, and you couldn't figure out where he was being held. This isn't a matter of chatting with your friends.

You can downvote me, I can take it, but it's amazing to me that people think that these scenarios are out of the ordinary.

> "people think they've done it before, but ... conflate early life independence"

That's not what's going on here. We've been married almost 10 years, have a kid, and presently live below the poverty line; we've also had very close friends in extremely dire financial situations. Please stop making assumptions about our experiences.

> "$5,000 is about the cheapest you're gonna get without having trouble within the first year"

How much trouble is $325/month worth? If you get an $800 car from the classified ads and it works for 3 months, you're already ahead; if it works for a year and only requires $500 in work you're way ahead.

If you're as poor as the above scenario presumes, you shouldn't be spending $325/month on a car. Either get one you can pay for up front (yeah, it's going to be a POS; welcome to poverty), find a way to finance a solid car from a reputable source (a brand new economy car, at a crappy rate with nothing down because you have terrible credit, will run you less than $300/month; the 3-year-old model is less), or find a way to get a ride/take the bus/ride a bike and save some money.

You can push and tweak and justify all you want, trying to explain why the spending in this scenario is realistic -- but when the spending is higher than what I spent when I was poor and also higher than when I was financially very well off, I just don't buy it. It goes back to the initial point -- if you're really that poor, what are you doing spending $500/month between your car, phone, and pet? If you're really poor enough that making it through the month with enough food is a struggle, those are unacceptable expenses (which most of the truly poor people I know would have already cut.)

I'm not saying it's easy to be poor. I'm just saying, it's a lot harder to be poor when you make a bunch of crappy decisions.

An $800 car, with taxes, titles, fees, registration and plate transfers, will come to upwards of $1100. In which case, no, you're not ahead. That's of course, presuming you have the $1100 in the first place. Your other option, if you don't, is to finance with no money down.

find a way to finance a solid car from a reputable source

Didn't this whole thread start because people were flabbergasted that someone would dare finance a new vehicle while they were poor? And here you're suggesting that as a reasonable option.

Point is, $325 car payment is not a crappy decision when you have no other reasonable choice.

find a way to get a ride/take the bus/ride a bike

You live in Aurora, Illinois. New job is in Carol Stream. 30 min drive, two and a half hour bikeride. It's January. There's no busses.

I think your expectations for the options available are much more unrealistic than the simulator. A car payment, a family pet, and a cell phone are not luxuries. They are not crappy decisions.

Let's take the one you seem to be the most callous about, which is having a dog. I'm assuming your not a dog person, so you don't have the same kind of attachment to a dog that others might. Food for a mid-size dog is about $40 a month. Assume the dog's already grown, you can skate by on that, assuming there's no major vet bills.

Now the idea that people will hit hard times, and immediately drown their dog in a river, or bring them to the pound, is ridiculous. The site didn't make it a matter of people getting a new puppy for christmas when they already can't feed themselves, and for people to jump on the idea of having a pet that you're responsible for, and not immediately throwing them to the curb at the first sign of trouble, is unrealistic. If you're having hard times, $40 is a small price to pay for companionship and unconditional love.

All told, $430 ($325+$65+$40) a month is $5,160 a year, for three things that you can make a real strong case for. I simply cannot see spending that money as some kind of frivolous luxury of the irresponsible poor.

Look, we could all just live in squats, eat dumpstered food, not have cell phones, and only get clothes from a free box. Maybe then, when we run out of money, people on the internet will finally be sympathetic.

The issue is more like, the game consistently presented options on the expensive side, with no ability to make any sort of reasonable spending cuts or prioritizations. It's not the car, in isolation. It's not the dog, in isolation. It's not the phone, in isolation. It's not the $60 internet, in isolation. It's the combination -- the supposedly hella-poor person with a higher car payment than I've ever had (despite spending more to be close to work), a higher phone bill than I've ever had, a higher internet bill than I've ever had, and a pet who's costing an extra hundred bucks in rent. And the game doesn't allow the player to cut any of these things.

I have no problem with a reasonable car payment. A $6000 car with a 3 year lease and a poor 10% rate is $200/month, which isn't so bad. Even a brand new $12000 economy car on a 60 month lease doesn't cost $325/month unless you jack the rate all the way up to 18%. (Note that the game said "car payment"; presumably gas and insurance are separate.) If you're in that situation and you've got a $325/month car payment, that's a prime candidate for a cut.

The same is true for $65/month phone bill, $60/month internet, and $100/month pet rent. It's not that you can't have a car, pet, phone, or broadband if you're poor. It's that taken together they comprise a set of luxuries you can't really afford in that situation. Maybe you can afford one or two -- maybe the dog is really important and you can't bear to give it up, but you can find a way to get by with slower internet. These are all candidates for being cut, yet the game treats them all as stuff you're just stuck with.

That's why I have a problem with this particular "simulation". I myself am borderline poor. I've got a lot of family and friends who are poor. I've helped some move back in with parents. I've some move into, out of, and between shelters and various forms of transitional housing. Some of us have had really tight budgets before and have had to make some really tough decisions. I know what it's like. And this "simulation" devotes over 40% of my monthly budget to things that I'd consider prime candidates for cutting back on, and doesn't provide the option to cut back. That's not realism. That's propaganda.

you can find a way to get by with slower internet

The simulator gave you the option to go to the library instead. It also gave you the option to put the dog to sleep for $50, or just let the dog suffer. It seems to me you're ignoring that the simulator gave you a lot of cheaper options, it just wasn't afraid to point out that the cheaper options seriously suck.

unless you jack the rate all the way up to 18%

Not uncommon for someone with ruined credit.

a pet who's costing an extra hundred bucks in rent

No, a pet that's costing an extra $0 in rent, until the landlord finds out about it.

Long term poverty creates a requirement that you bend and break the rules. You don't pay parking tickets. You don't pay phone bills. You go without insurance (health or even car). You don't get your car street legal. You don't take your dog to the vet. You don't tell your landlord you have a dog, because then he'll charge you extra. You dodge creditors. These bad decisions aren't always made so that people can still go to strip clubs and snort coke.

All that shit catches up to you. I'm not gonna argue whether your poverty experience is universal enough to discredit this simulator, but the fact is, I'm kinda amazed that you don't factor any of that into these equations. To make it like there's no such thing as no-win situations when you don't have two nickels to rub together, I'm trying to wrap my head around that.

To me, the simulator seemed to get something that you don't seem to. That shit creeps up on you, no matter how good of decisions you make. That it's really easy to say "Hey, there, poor person, why do you have a car, a phone, and a dog? Why aren't you living a life of total austerity so that your bootstraps last longer?" but that's a way more unrealistic perspective than any shortcomings of the simulator.

I'm glad nothing terrible has happened to you, and you've had complete control over your life. That has not been a universal experience for me or the people I know.

> "I'm glad nothing terrible has happened to you, and you've had complete control over your life."

I'm disappointed that you continue to make assumptions about my life. I'm disappointed that you continue to call me callous and uncaring and other bullshit like that just because I think this simulator is crap. I'm disappointed that you've gone off with the "strip clubs and snort coke" strawman. I'm not going to post a sob story for you, but I am going to again request that you stop making assumptions about me and those I know.

You're right that the simulator did occasionally offer cheaper options. What it didn't do is offer good cheaper options when they actually do exist. The simulator was so caught up in trying to point out how much being poor sucks that it made being poor extra-sucky by sticking you with only "expensive" or "bad" options and making you choose between them.

As an example, you seem to insist that the $325/month car payment is completely legitimate and not at all a reasonable thing to cut back on. As if the only options are "new car with an 18% rate", "car financed in a shady way", or "looks like you can't get to work". I've pointed out a number of in-between options, which you keep finding ways to ignore or dismiss.

Similarly, the options given for dealing with the dog, the internet, and your phone were unrealistically constrained to "this option costs a lot" and "this option sucks", when there are decent options that cost less. These particular scenarios are not no-win scenarios, the game just doesn't let you choose winning options.

"Shit creeps up on you", you're right -- but the better decisions you make, the more easily you're able to weather it (and the less likely you are to get into true no-win scenarios.) You call solutions I have actually used "unrealistic", and then argue that the simulator realistically shows you how hard it is to be poor. You defend bad decisions and treat good decisions I've actually made as non-options. Which goes back to Dove's earlier point -- "It's clearly written from the perspective of someone who doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to do what they have to".

No, they just had a $65 bill. That doesn't imply a smartphone, that could easily be racked up in minutes or text messages. Pay-as-you-go phones are only cheap if you don't use them.

I suppose that's true. But I'm also speaking from practical experience. That TrakFone I mentioned is the phone I actually use as my main phone (no landline), and I pay less than $10/mo for minutes. You just have to be careful; if you need to have an hour long conversation with your mom, try Skype.

I have no doubt you could contrive a situation in which someone needed to talk on the phone enough that they absolutely could not pay less than $65 for it, but I would consider such a case extraordinary. My practical experience is that phone service can be had for much less, and that such a high phone bill is indicative of unnecessary luxury.

That doesn't imply you got a new car. That means you got a 24 month loan on a $5000 car with 20% interest.

I think your interest numbers are way off; the car loan being in part secured by the car itself, I have never seen a loan for it at such a percentage. One can always do better at their bank.

But leaving that aside, I would consider even a $5000 car an unreasonable expense in such a scenario. I again speak from personal experience here. Our first car was $1500, obtained from a relative. We paid cash, and it gave us little trouble for the several years we owned it. A poor friend bought a car from me for $300, on a gentleman's agreement to pay $50 a month. It had a number of cosmetic problems, but ran fine. My sister's first car was free, a gift from a friend. My sister's second car was $2400, and I contributed $2000 of that. My brother is a budding freelancer, and has my second (presently unused) car on long-term loan for free.

I could go on. My point is that every car I have encountered in a similar financial situation has been bought for a song from a friend, financed largely by family, or borrowed. Or simply gone without -- a rather high percentage event, and hardly hell. Generally nowhere near $5,000 and certainly nowhere near a triple-digit monthly payment.

I acknowledge again that you could contrive a scenario in which such a car was necessary, but I do not think this is the normal case. A large fraction of people can get by on public transportation, cycling, or walking. Of those who cannot, a large fraction can beg or borrow a junk car from a friend or relative, or pay gas in a carpool. Of those who cannot, a large fraction can buy a reliable used car with reasonable financing from the classfieds. Once you discard options you cannot afford, you'd be surprised the number of creative ways to attack a given problem.

I don't pretend that reduces the remaining folks to no one, but I do assert that it is a rare situation. I very strongly disagree with presenting such a scenario as the norm, when it isn't. That really accounts for my incredulity in the game; taking on that car payment on that income is something I would consider only after I had exhausted alternatives as extreme as icebiking, moving, finding a different job, moving in with parents, and learning to repair a free non-working car. And maybe spent weeks trying to come up with any other solution, however creative.

I don't think you understand how expensive it is to be poor. It's much cheaper to be well off, because you have the option of making the right decisions, instead of being constantly put in no-win situations like these.

I will respectfully disagree with you. Though income does afford many efficiencies, being poor is not necessarily expensive. I have found it to require humility, elbow grease, integrity, wisdom, and self-control. I particularly disagree with your sentiment that as a poor person, you do not have the option of making right decisions. I think that's exactly backwards. As a poor person, you do not have the margin to make wrong decisions!

I don't know what your experience is, but I have helped many friends in dire financial straits--as often with practical advice and physical labor as with money. I have even supported a family myself on low (or no) wages. And I used to be quite the personal finance blogosphere junkie, too, so I've heard a lot of stories. I think I have sufficient experience with poverty in the bare sense of "low income" to hold the justified opinion that, in general, it isn't permanent and isn't hopeless.

No-win scenarios are a part of life, that I don't deny. And they can happen to anyone, rich or poor. And folks in trouble deserve our compassion, that I'm on board with. But I think presenting poverty, at least in the US currently, as an inescapable parade of bad options, is both disingenuous and harmful. Some small number of people may be in hopeless scenarios, but for most, there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Saying there isn't only deprives them of the motivation necessary to get there.

To expand on this point a little bit: many of the things the game assumes a $15k/year worker has are more expensive than similar things we had when we were making 6 figures. Of course it's going to be hard to make ends meet if that's the lifestyle you're trying to maintain.

Just the things mentioned above -- car payment, smartphone, and pet rent -- make up over 40% of the hypothetical person's monthly budget. If you're in that situation, make some cuts!

Back when my earnings were in a similar ballpark to this game I lived in a very inexpensive apartment, I had no pets, I had a pre-paid mobile phone that cost maybe $8 a month on average, I had dialup internet, I did not have cable or a TV set, I did not own a car, and I owned very little furniture (bordering on none). That's how you keep costs down, you live within your means until your means improve.

Mine started with

    Game: Your child wants to join the sports team
    Me: I have a kid?????
Why would I have a child if I can't afford to live on my own?

Perhaps you are a woman who got knocked up and had parents that wouldn't approve of an abortion?

There are so many reasons.

The moment I saw the rent was $850 per month I laughed out loud, because my brother makes minimum and lives in a $400 per month setup with apartment mates (who he found on Craigslist). And this is in Massachusetts in a city. I had to stop playing the game shortly after that since it too strongly ruined the suspension of disbelief.

This would be a lot better if it were more realistic, it banks on you not being able to make smart decisions to ram the various factoids down your throat. It would be a much better experience if the basics were spread out over multiple months with the occasional clustering of events.

This 'perfect storm' of trouble is just setting you up for failure, the deck is stacked against you much further than it is in real life. You are also not given the full picture up front, nor are you given the option on which services you subscribe to.

Also, if you can't afford a mobile phone you probably shouldn't have one, and if your landlord does something illegal an alternative option is to tell him to go f*ck off rather than to pay or move out. Good luck evicting me if I'm up to date on payments and the contract stipulates terms that I've lived up to.

That said, it's probably a useful tool to get people to put themselves in the shoes of someone that has it worse than they themselves do.

Games are always rigged. Usually in favor of the player, this one is against. I think it supposed to illustrate this one month when problems cluster.

I know a poor person who has 3 kids and car that falls apart. Some of the decisions she makes are strange. This game allowed me to take a peek at crazy world she's living.

If you had the education and forthought to read and comprehend a legal contract, you probably wouldn't be a low income worker. Don't look down on those who have difficulty in life, it's a roll of the dice with a little skill sprinkled on. I'd argue success is more due to your upbringing and factors outside your control than we give credit for.

> you probably wouldn't be a low income worker.

I was one of those once, and I remember the time very well.

The bigger problem underlying all this is that people are lured in to making very bad choices the downsides of which only become apparent once they're hooked.

People that I employed were unable to do basic bookkeeping, balance their checkbooks, work out how much their various loans (for stuff they didn't strictly speaking need) were costing them etc.

This is first and foremost an education problem, low wage people are created, they are not born that way.

If you fail to educate a large portion of your populace to the point where they can do any of the above in their sleep then you will end up with people that are structurally in trouble in a country where wealth is potentially abundant.

If you outsource all your labor to even lower wage countries then you end up creating an even larger problem for those lower on the totem pole and you make the rich much richer still.

Problems like these don't just fall out of the sky, they systemic and single individuals have limited ability to influence the total picture, but they typically have a lot more control over their own life than they usually want to admit.

I know some people that are currently downright poor, they both smoke like chimneys, and have health issues to boot because of that, which further cuts in to their ability to spend their money where it should be going.

Beats me.

Interesting. Some friends and I were talking about this the other night. I have a few friends who actually "made it" but still haven't learned those essential skills. I wonder what may happen if one day they happen to face tight budget. They probably wouldn't last long.

Some background: My mom made about $8000 a year, and my three siblings and I we were lucky to have temporarily free housing from a richer sibling. So, with food stamps, welfare, my absent dad's union health insurance we got by.

Eventually, I found my way into a gifted program at a small, urban city school. That, at least, put me on an academic track. My class size was about 400, and the gifted group was about 15. By the end of the 12th year, I would guess that, of my gifted class, probably 40% had dropped out. The class merged with the honors students in 11th grade because of attrition. However, I made friends with some honors students who were of working class and poor backgrounds.

Again, by sheer luck, I happened to get accepted at a state college. After meandering around for a couple of years, I happened to made the right decision by banking on computer science, even though I had never used a computer until I was 15 and didn't own one until my junior year of college. Those years of constantly fighting with the student aid program were some of the most stressful years of my life. Now, I make over 100K as a high-end developer. I have done well for myself.

However, most of the other gifted and honors students haven't fared so well. I do have a few friends that have also done well using Computer Science as a gateway out of poverty. However, those friends sadly still haven't figured out how to do basic bookkeeping or balance their checkbooks. But, in all honesty, I did not figure that out until I was 28 or so.

Anyway, without savings, with poor life skills, and a lot of debt, even those smart kids are probably likely at risk. If ever the software development market turns down, if they're out of a job for an extended period of time, I wonder what will happen to them, as well.

I never understood the American English term "balancing the checkbook." Is that simply keeping track of how much you're earning and spending and making sure the former is higher, or is there more to this skill?

edit: thanks all!

That's basically it.

There is/was a small ledger in the front of most American checkbooks where you (ideally) log the deposits into your checking account and the checks that you wrote and calculate the balance after each transaction. Some people integrated their budget explicitly, logging 'transactions' to represent future/monthly obligations, savings targets and the like, but that wasn't at all common IME.

Practically speaking, this was a more necessary skill back in the days before direct deposit and debit cards. When a check might 'float', having been written but not cashed, for days or weeks until the recipient cashed it and the bank that accepted the check worked out the transaction with your own bank.

Nowadays what people mean by the term is simply the discipline and wherewithal to understand how much money you have in your account, what your obligations are and what you can safely spend.

The term comes from a paper process. Traditionally, balancing the checkbook was the act of reconciling your personal record of the checks you wrote (your "check register") against the statement the bank gave you at the end of the month, giving you a chance to correct errors on either side.

It is used in a more general context to mean keeping a budget, as someone who would check the bank's work and make sure their own accounting matched to the penny presumably is doing so to ensure he is living within his means.

It's that plus comparing what you wrote down to the bank statement at the end of the month to make sure that you didn't make any mistakes (and make sure the bank didn't either.)

> Again, by sheer luck, I happened to get accepted at a state college.

Sheer luck? You were a hardworking person in a gifted and talented program in high-school. Luck had nothing to do with your college acceptance.

Certainly, I would love to take responsibility. But, generally, the data shows otherwise. Of my 10-20 closest friends, many of whom I consider smarter than myself, many are still in working class poverty, working as bartenders and laborers. In fact, only about 25% of adults in the US attain college degrees. Most of those degrees are attained by people already in the middle class. Furthermore, many are in uneconomical specialties like Literature.

At some level, I suppose I was a better decision maker, but overwhelmingly I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Some 'luck' factors:

- At 17, I became friends, by accident, with a boy in another area whose dad was the VP of an engineering company. His dad saw my interest in science and encouraged me to go to college.

- At 18, while working as a temp, I happened to make friends with a retired engineer who encouraged me to college.

- I went to college in the 90s, at a time when Computer Science was a much more achievable major. Now, it is much more competitive.

- In the 90s, Computer Science had much less inspiring occupational outlook. I believe chemical engineering was all the rage then.

- I stumbled into Computer Science by accident. I happened to be a Physics major who had a sad, late night addiction to MUDs. And, I decided to start my own MUD and code it myself.

Well these people encouraged you to go to college, but their encouragement didn't add to the likelihood you'd be accepted.

You worked hard and were in a good program--that was the decider.

May I ask.... did your 10-20 closests friends apply to a state school and get rejected despite having grades better than you (its not enough that they're smarter than you, their grades have to show it)?

I may be speaking out of turn though... I'm from Virginia, and here state schools are practically guaranteed acceptance. If you can't make it to the university level initially, you can always make it into a community college and after 2 years of passing grades the state university is required to accept your transfer.

No. You were a clever guy who fell on hard times. That's quite different from someone who is destined to be a low income worker for life due to early events they can never recover from, whether their own fault or not. That foundational education you received stays, whether good or bad.

Having said that, yes it is an educational problem, but it's also the randomness of life events. Families breakdown without notice and without a childs control, lives end, jobs are lost, shit happens just like good things happen too. Some people get a string of bad events, others a string of good events.

Don't look down on their lack of skills, you had the ability to comprehend them, they didn't, maybe you had access to facilities and the time to learn, maybe they didn't.

In the end, who knows what the true reasons are, just do what you can to help a fellow out and enjoy your good fortune if that's how things turned out, but try not to judge and over simplify an exceedingly complex problem with one step solutions (although I agree, good education works).

You seem to be saying that people are simply a product of their (random) environment. I think that too is oversimplifying the problem. How can we tell the "clever guys on hard times" from those destined to wallow at the bottom? Just saying that the everyone that doesn't succeed in life was "destined to be a low income worker" reeks of confirmation bias.

> just do what you can to help a fellow out

Don't worry, I do my bit.

if your landlord does something illegal an alternative option is to tell him to go fck off rather than to pay or move out. Good luck evicting me if I'm up to date on payments and the contract stipulates terms that I've lived up to.*

I have never ever experienced a landlord trying to raise my rent mere days after I moved in, like they seem to do in this game.

It's not uncommon if it's cheap housing that's only semi-legit to begin with. When I lived in Santa Cruz, I heard all sorts of this kind of shady behavior going on with sublets, which due to housing shortage was the only thing you could really get for <$1000.

But what are they gonna do? They can't legally evict you under those circumstances, so just keep paying the originally-agreed rent.

You might be able to prevail, yeah, but many people are a bit scared of finding themselves on the street, unable to find another apartment, so aren't willing to play hardball. With an unofficial sublet (no signed lease, etc.), landlords don't necessarily resort to proper court-supervised eviction proceedings; "eviction" can take the form of "change the locks and dump your stuff on the curb, and deny that you ever lived there", which probably rarely happens but seems to be a common worry of people renting irregularly with no paperwork.

Then you'd have to find somewhere to live, and undertake the time/expense of suing. The best protection is probably a bit of a mutually assured destruction angle if the landlord is breaking the law through the irregular rental in the first place (in Santa Cruz many of the rentals are off the books because they aren't even legal rental units--DIY converted garages and attics and such).

Not sure how big that "informal rental" section of the economy is, though, so maybe this isn't a common situation. I'd guess it's highest in NYC.

The usual money-grabbing scheme I've seen is to require some excessive security deposit, and then contrive ridiculous reasons for keeping large chunks of it.

One flat I shared the rental agency tried to withhold £150 for the changing of 1 (entirely ordinary) lightbulb, and cleaning a single drawer of a chest of drawers (a tiny amount of dirt under the drawer lining paper, and not apparent).

It's such a persistent theme that I tend to write off the deposit as part of the costs of moving, and consider it a good deal if I see 50% of it again.

This is true. Here, the deposit is usually a months rent. I lived in a house for a while and when we moved out the landlord didn't want to return the deposit (about €1200 I think it was) even though there was no real reason for it. There is some kind of government run agency here to deal with disputes with landlords and they got the deposit back for us, but it took a long time. In the end the landlord had a choice of going to court or paying up and he paid up.

When you are living on the edge, the perfect storm can come around far quicker and more often than you'd imagine.

- study loan: don't get one in a field where job prospects are bad, better to go do work instead

- cell phone: don't get one if you can't afford it (ditto for a regular phone)

- kids: if you can't afford them, use a condom (yes, that's harsh, but that is something that really beats my understanding, people already living on the edge that decide to have one, two or even more children)

- in general: if you can't afford something, don't buy it.

Your prior decisions will determine to a large extent whether or not you can survive on a very basic salary when hard(er) times hit. Getting a room-mate and sharing the cost of things that you are unable to afford by yourself are good tricks to get around some of the more practical limitations that a low wage job gives you.

I used my low wage job (mailroom boy) to expand my knowledge about computers which eventually landed me a higher wage job. My typical meal back then consisted of plain macaroni with ketchup, because the rent took away 5/7ths of my income, and the electricity bill another 1/7th. That left me with a grand total of 100 'credits' to feed myself for a month. Not a whole lot. I made pretty sure that there were no kids, phone bills or debts to go with that, and I did whatever was within my means to cut short that phase of my life.

> - kids: if you can't afford them, use a condom (yes, that's harsh, but that is something that really beats my understanding, people already living on the edge that decide to have one, two or even more children)

I totally agree. If you only make $9/hr, maybe you shouldn't have kids. If we ever get around to controlling reproduction in the US, income level seems like a great place to start to me. (The game also tried to make me feel like a bad parent because I 'let' my kid get teased for eating free lunch and 'risk my child going hungry'. Where's the "Eat your damn food and mock people who have to pay if they try to mock you" option? Also I didn't pay $15 for a field trip which forced them to stay at the school that day when I know kids at my elementary got their field trip fees waived.)

"kids: if you can't afford them, use a condom"

It is totally possible to predict when you'll become poor and therefore decide not to have kids. It beats me why do people ever get poor when life is just a sequence of such obvious decisions.

I'm talking about those situations where you are already poor and decide to have kids anyway.

I personally know a number of people who are on social welfare and planning having a second or even third child. I find this is extremely irresponsible. They can barely afford the children they already have and want to get the state to pay for more? I'd much rather my taxes went to schools and hospitals and better public transport than for paying for these peoples stupid decisions. What kind of life will that child have?

If you cannot afford it, do not have children. I can totally understand if you had the children before you, eg, lost your job or whatever. Things happen, situations change. The problem is the people who don't already have children. Also, if you cannot afford it, you need to be extra careful not to have an "accidental" pregnancy.

If people on welfare stopped at 2 or 3 kids we and they wouldn't have any financial problems with it.

This generation's moonshot public works project should be a low cost reversible renewable year-long sterilization technology.

Also, harsh as seems, it would help if newborns on welfare were taken to orphanages and treated well there instead of generating funds for their genetic ancestors.

> This generation's moonshot public works project should be a low cost reversible renewable year-long sterilization technology.

At least for women, that already exists (IUD, implanon). The problem is, for any medical technology there's side effects, and people still need to consent to it.

Having children makes people happy. As in deep, deep happy. It's really not as mysterious as some make it out to be.

This is generally not true: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/06/28/having-kids.... Although it does seem to be true that most people think having kids will make them much happier.

Seems to counter itself with a statement like: "Parents still report feeling a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives than those who've never had kids."

Obviously if one equates happiness to lower amounts of worries and responsibilities than sure.. But that seems kind of.... superficial?

Note: I am not in anyway saying that those who choose to not have kids are superficial, it is their choice -- just as it was mine to have a kid.

Sometimes birth control fails! Like it did with me and my girlfriend a few months ago. My poor ass is now job hunting!

Many ancient religious proscriptions have their basis in correlations to healthy living. There really are reasons to consider abstaining from pork and sex before marriage.

Anyway, everyone's life is half chance. Make the best of it and enjoy the ride.

Time to grow up!

Congratulations are in order anyway, so here are mine, and I really hope that you get that job. My children were all planned and even if I did fall on hard times (twice) in the intermediate the fact that we cut down to the bone as soon as trouble hit helped us survive. Things that don't kill you will make you stronger.

If you can't take that risk: Abstinence (or just different sex practices), abortion, adoption or tough if out.

My capitalist instincts would suggest another option: sell the child to a wealthy couple who can't bear their own.

You can try that, but the market for that is probably very strange. For example, I can imagine that demand goes up with price, because no one wants a cheap child. And for some combinations of properties of the child you'll probably have to charge less than nothing (i.e. pay the adopters).

Of course, someone who really believes in the market would harvest the child for organs. (Sarcasm implied.)

Quite true. My daughter is the failure case for condoms combined with birth control and a wife who was told "you can't have babies." I'm just glad it happened two months after we got married instead of for the 3 years we shacked up previously.

Good luck, boss!

Sage advice, and yes it IS possible to follow (and I know it is too late for you now but here it is anyway): 1. Do not have sex if you do not want a baby. 2. Do not get married unless you can support a baby.

Life finds a way!

Make a solid investment in her, and she'll pay you back with interest.

Still: congratulations! Babies are great.

kids: if you can't afford them, use a condom


The game background implies the player had a good job, could afford kids, but fell on hard times after cranking out some pups.

The player was pretty dumb not to have more than a thousand dollars in savings at the start of the month, then.

The player had been unemployed for a while, benefits ran out, savings depleted.

Where the player went wrong was letting things get so desperate that choices were limited.

So the game screws you over before you begin. It's like a car racing simulator where you start out three feet from a wall, travelling at 120mph. And every time you crash, the game tells you that this just goes to prove that driving is dangerous.

Or like playing QWOP and concluding that running is hard.

"cell phone: don't get one if you can't afford it (ditto for a regular phone)"

This is kind of a tricky thing, right? Phone access is still essential for job hunting, and payphones aren't terribly common anymore either. Borrowing a friend's phone is sometimes possible, but for getting a callback? Not so much.

Same thing goes for internet access (which, of the two, I think would probably be a better investment once a job is secured). Even so, low-wage jobs are often very dependent on scheduling and thus require a phone to get updated about shift changes.

(note also that yes, you can get net access from unsecured wireless networks [increasingly shunned due to piracy and access concerns] and public libraries [which may not be convenient to get to])

Simply not getting a phone (generalize to point of contact if desired) is not really a good option.

You can get a prepaid phone. Without a monthly contract a phone really only costs as much as you use it.

If you're only using your phone for job calls, this should be fairly cheap.

The per-minute rates are generally high (on the order of $0.30/min) and the prepaid time generally expires (in 10-30 days for low-dollar loadings). If you are actively searching for work, you need to have enough time loaded to handle a telephone interview and to be put on hold from time to time. Once that's covered, you need to top up the time at regular intervals in order to avoid losing what you've already paid for -- and that leads to a non-refundable "savings account" with your provider. Prepaid is not significantly cheaper than a low-end contract, and can be more expensive.

Your job choices here were waiter, warehouse worker, and office temp.

Who gets a telephone interview for any of those things?

At least I know that no warehouse job I ever worked required a telephone interview.

Based on the ignorance of your statements, I would have to guess that you're either of an upper middle class background with very little exposure to poverty or that you have an overt political agenda.

I'm really trying to see the intellectual validity of your statements. I'm really trying to understand if you truly believe what you're saying. Would you actually make those same decisions?

Sorry, this isn't against you. I just see these type of comments often, and they only seem to make sense to me, in some abstract 'know-it-all' 'hindsight 20-20' sort of way, as if all of these life decisions are black and white and obvious.

You're very funny, and you have no clue what you're talking about.

I would suggest that, perhaps, he has much more of a clue than you'd like to admit. Maybe not about you specifically, but I too have noticed that, in the general case, those who lecture the truly poor have never been truly poor, or in many cases even mostly poor, at all. Full disclosure: I was once one of those assholes.


I, personally, have never been in a state of poverty. I've been very lucky. I was lucky to be born male and white in a country (and a state within it) where there were opportunities available to me. I was lucky to be born to parents who were reasonably educated but had enough discipline to take care of a kid (my father did, anyway). And I was lucky that a number of my own decisions, foolish in retrospect but in all seriousness a good idea at the time, did not come back to bite me in the ass.

I would suggest that, when talking about how people should not make those decisions, perhaps you could entertain the idea that they see no alternative. I've certainly been guilty of this before, both politically when in a certain libertarian phase (I got better) and in my professional life, when I drove myself to frustration wondering why person X did this thing that I instantly realized was stupid. Perhaps no alternative is within their view. (Even if you've been there, surely there's the possibility that you have certain advantages, in being able to see "the big picture", that others lack?)

Sure, there's no doubt some of the lazy "welfare queens" that the American right likes to demonize; I'm sure some exist. But I have come to something of an understanding in my own life that those in poverty are much more likely to encounter Morton's forks than others, and I find it more difficult than I did during that libertarian phase to self-righteously castigate such folks for making bad decisions when they have few, if any, good choices to make.


From your other posts, it seems like you're not one of the people who's born on third base and thinks they hit a triple, but a lot of folks who write as you do are indeed those people--and the simple fact that you're able to do what you do, to have ended up in a position where you can perform the mental gymnastics necessary to be a (I assume, good) programmer, that maybe, despite whatever else, you weren't exactly birthed in the batter's box.

Just something to think about.

I played the game, and came out $199 ahead...and that when faced with absurdly limited options (say, the rowdy roommate would see a Mosin/Nagant ($29!) instead of the landlord when told to leave, so no extra $100 cost there). No risky sacrifices (medical bills paid, job attended to), no luxuries until affordable (and sentimentality is a luxury).

I should have taken copious notes (maybe I will on another pass) and comment how, instead of viewing it all as crushing poverty, it is indicative of living in a luxurious society. Opt for the $1 hamburger, and be told "that's why so many poor are overweight"? WTH? If it's got that many calories then cut it in half and eat it across two meals! If you're obese, you're not poor; talk to the half of the world's population which lives on less than $2/day.

So, coming out a couple hundred dollars ahead, I could run this "poverty" scenario for 4 months and have enough to buy a refurbished MacBook Air and join the Apple Developer's Program, with which I could bootstrap an iOS App-writing business. Seems some others played, came out over $1000 ahead, and could jump in to app-writing in one month flat.

Read between the lines in the game, and see the opportunities that abound. Sell the car and take the bus. Focus the kids on learning entrepreneuring instead of sports. Take in a decent paying roommate (and throw out the rowdy one bodily if need be). Use the library for education and internet businesses. Eat the $1 hamburgers featuring caloric abundance. Heck, save the $1 and make two 1.5lb loaves of great bread (coming to my blog soon!). Organize with other "poor" to leverage opportunities (carpooling, babysitting, etc.).

First-world problems indeed.

ETA: Downvoters, take a stand and tell me why this post is wrong.

I tend to agree with your attitude. As a teen I saved up around $50 over a year to afford broken components to fix up to assemble my first PC. I learned how to do this from books I got from the library. I used that PC to teach myself a lot more and it catapulted me into a career. I moved from a developing country to a developed one. I now support my mother and grandmother financially.

It's tough being poor, the only way out of it is focus and self discipline, if you're lucky you can focus on something you enjoy. Fortunately we live in a modern world where obtaining information is relatively cheap and we have a market economy that does reward merit, not perfectly but it's certainly the opposite of slavery. The industrialized world is so good that our only real problem is too many options, like alcohol, cigarettes, unhealthy food, online games, consumer bling and consumer debt options. Unfortunately this means we still need self discipline, but there's certainly no lack of opportunity out there.

You are mostly right, and it interesting that the US has a well-funded open access program for instilling focus and discipline. But it puts median-intelligence people to work on violent acts and afflicts them with PTSD, instead of making them health and productive.

Are you sure about the amount of opportunity, though? Maybe ten other people tried what you did but never found the right part or book that made the plan come together.

I wanted to get into electronics first, but my problem was that most of the books I could get my hands on were out of date, mostly dealing with old components like PNP transistors. The broken radios and other gear I could strip for parts had NPN transistors. Computer books were also quite out of date. I did get to learn about a lot of the concepts from the older books. Magazines were more useful, old copies a few years old dealt with hardware I could lay my hands on. It took a lot of hustling to do the rest. I think it helped that I wanted to better my situation, and wanted to create things.

Totally agree with you here (except one thing). The world in this game is binary in nature. If you don't do that, then this will go wrong. Things like that, that is not how I would see it working.

The one thing that I don't agree on is that

So, coming out a couple hundred dollars ahead, I could run this "poverty" scenario for 4 months and have enough to buy a refurbished MacBook Air and join the Apple Developer's Program, with which I could bootstrap an iOS App-writing business. Seems some others played, came out over $1000 ahead, and could jump in to app-writing in one month flat.

You are not coming out a couple hundred buck ahead. Tomorrow the landlord will require rent so minimum $800 in that, even if you are in a good job you have $200+$300, so you owe a little back rent of $300. But I doubt every single month will be so bad. I mean, my pet, friend and grandfather can die only once right?

Fair point (I viewed "game over" as "game over", not "on to next month"). But then again, I'd opted for the 50 mile commute (saves $100/month!) netting cheaper rent (alas, didn't note how much). And as you note, that kind of cumulative badness doesn't happen often, and when it did I got thru with enough cash to carry on.

Conceding the MBA point, I can still keep the basic idea by trading the refub Mac for a dirt-cheap PC and putting that to work likewise.

Can't get into the Apple app store with a PC. It takes money to make money :-/

I'm selling blood to buy a refurb MacBook Air to write apps.

Not kidding.

Regarding the hamburger thing--you might be getting enough calories, but you'll be missing out on a lot of important vitamins and minerals that are only available in fruits and vegetables, which tend to be expensive. Vitamin supplements have not been shown to increase health, which is probably because 1. Nutrition is so complicated, we do not 100% know yet what people need to be eating to be healthy, and 2. just because you're eating a vitamin, doesn't mean it's being presented to your body in a way that it can be biochemically processed. A simple example is calcium--if you're deficient in vitamin D, your body won't store it in your bones and you'll just piss it out instead. Eating properly is a difficult skill that even many highly-educated people haven't mastered.

And if you're eating like shit, which poor people are forced to do, it'll be that much harder to make intelligent decisions about your budget, let alone learn how to code. Your brain will not be operating at full capacity when you're feeding it shit.

Regarding your point about the bus--public transit is often quite bad in the United States. There might not even be any public transit available. Okay, fine, so you think someone poor should just move? What makes you think they have enough money saved up to move?

As for organizing with the other "poor"...here's a fun answer about one hacker's encounter while living in a neighborhood full of those "poor" people: http://www.quora.com/Crime/What-should-you-do-if-someone-put...

Also, as for the people living off of $2 a day...come on, their standard of living is much lower. If you're a subsistence farmer, you're also growing your own food and you don't need the intermediary of McDonald's. You are your own boss. Poor people in more developed countries don't have the option of growing their own healthy food.

And considering how even the middle class can fall through no fault of their own, your continued insistence that anyone can make it out of poverty just through personal grit and determination sounds woefully, overly optimistic: http://articles.cnn.com/2009-06-05/health/bankruptcy.medical...

My biggest problem with your answer is that you think "poor" people know better. I'm convinced that if I ever became poor I would work my way out of it, as my father did, but I had some damn good role models growing up who taught me the importance of financial responsibility and independence. I know what to do.

Many people not only do NOT know what to do, they don't even know they're ignorant. I think they could use a little help.

Well, the big one is the clear assumption that any statistically meaningful portion of the poor population is capable of being a developer of any kind.

Software developers are less than 1% of the US workforce, and it's sure not because the pay sucks.

But they can take up other endeavors but we do have to take into account some things beautifully summarized in this "list of n things"[1]. I know cracked.com is not one of your "serious sites" but this is all from the first hand perspective.

[1] http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-things-nobody-tells-you-about-...

And HN is at it again, downvotes for linking to the site? Or saying "can take up other endeavors" how did this not add to the conversation? This is a first hand article, very very relevant.

The linked-to list reiterates the same mistakes some here are trying to counter. It complains about one having to do things which are fundamental to financial success. Examples:

"having a checking account while poor doesn't just mean you have to be responsible and good at math -- you have to be perfect. Meticulous, flawless record keeping is the difference between surviving and having the bank seize your next paycheck."

Well, yeah. Don't write checks for money you don't have. Duh.

"A standard 14-day "payday" loan charges $15.50 per $100 borrowed. ... they offer to extend your loan to 180 days. It makes the payments miniscule. Oh, and you'll be paying back $1,275 at 403.10 percent APR."

The offer is there, and you can use or refuse it. If it wasn't there, you wouldn't have the option. Don't like it? pretend it wasn't there.

"having no credit will stop you from getting a loan or an apartment just as fast as having bad credit."

Some of us have learned that loans & renting are a bad idea. Other opportunities are available - yes, they are available - and will get you farther ahead faster.

"making sure to pay your * bills on time."

Well, yeah. Plan ahead, and don't sign up for what you can't afford.

"Your Next Expensive Disaster is Always Around the Corner"

Yup. Plan ahead. Yes, really, you can.

"You're Always in Survival Mode"

Yes, you are - even when you're sitting comfortably on a nice pile of money in a nice paid for home, there are plenty of things that can go utterly horribly wrong. Be ready.

Upshot: author complains bad things X Y & Z happen when he does A B & C. Well, yeah. Don't do A, B, or C, and no you don't have to do them.

Well, yeah. Don't write checks for money you don't have. Duh.

It's not quite that simple; there are many stories of banks reordering transactions for the sole purpose of generating bogus overdraft fees. That is, you have $50 in your account, deposit $100 at 1PM, and use your debit card for $25 at 2PM and $75 at 3PM. The bank would process them in reverse order, causing an overdraft for the $75 payment, another overdraft for the $25 payment (because the $75 payment took your balance down to zero), and only then apply the deposit (probably leaving you below zero after the fees). I never understood how that wasn't considered blatant fraud.

Of course, the simple solution is to use a credit card and pay it off every month. (And in a real emergency, it's better to pay interest on the card than get a payday loan).

If you qualify for a credit card. I seem to remember friends from Canada who couldn't even open a bank account when they moved to the US, let alone a Visa.

>Some of us have learned that loans & renting are a bad idea. Other opportunities are available - yes, they are available - and will get you farther ahead faster.

What are those alternatives? Living in a tent under an underpass?

If you don't have the money upfront to pay for something, you will have to take out a loan. Many people have no goddamn choice but to take out a loan. Sometimes bettering yourself requires taking on the risk of a loan--for example, college students.

I referred to myself, not sweeping generality. Under-elaborated point is _anyone_ can find something narrow/unique they can offer[1]. Smart kids can bootstrap a software business from zero. Less-so ones can make stuff or do stuff others want. The comment was an echo of laments that high-tech is too expensive to get into, when the entry to something as high-end as iOS apps is under $1000.

(Eternal problem with discussion-board posts is the difficulty of cramming complete coverage of a point into a couple paragraphs.)

[1] - Had a girlfriend who was a visiting nurse. She had a bedridden (!) patient with no apparent prospects who still managed to run a, um, pharmaceutical distribution operation from his gurney. While not advocating such extra-legal activities, it did convince me anyone can make a good buck if they put their mind to it.

> Heck, save the $1 and make two 1.5lb loaves of great bread

Assuming you have the time and the oven, neither of which are guaranteed but both seem to be universally assumed.

(Also assumes you're urban poor and not rural poor. Urban poor has access to Wal-Mart and Albertson's. Rural poor has access to a gas station grocery and hunting/fishing if they're rich enough to afford the accoutrements and the time.)

"Rural poor has access to a gas station grocery and hunting/fishing if they're rich enough to afford the accoutrements and the time."

A week ago I watched the movie "Winter's Bone", which depicted grinding rural poverty. As the protagonist (teen girl) split logs for heat, cooked inexpensive meals, and hunted squirrels, I realized I'd grown up very near the same way - and never considered myself "poor", despite our huge garden, wood stoves, etc.

You say "rich enough" for hunting? Hunting license is $9 here in GA. Gun-show rifle was $30. One 7.62x54R round is $0.25. For under $50 and a weekend morning/evening, you can get several hundred dollars worth of meat. Fishing is similarly cheap if you're so inclined. Just because people spend thousands on a sport doesn't mean you have to for sustenance.

As for other sustenance needs: 50 pound sacks of bread flour are $16 at Costco, 100 packets of food garden seeds are $10 at Dollar Store, chicks are cheap at the local farm supply store, and pots/pans for cooking over a fire are a few dollars at Goodwill.

I've lived very close to that lifestyle. Living on a near-zero income is not unreasonable...quaint even.

Time: there are hours of wiggle room in the recipe. You'll find time; I do. Actual active contact time is about 10 minutes.

Equipment cost: I checked yesterday and found suitable crockery for $5 at Goodwill. Build a fire in the back yard around the pot, drop in dough, take out 45 minutes later. I'll be sure to buy, try, and blog per your concerns.

If you're rural poor and it's better to be urban poor, guess what? Time to move to the city!

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