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Why do you think people are poor? (harpers.org)
323 points by pron on June 21, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 279 comments

New York Times obituary of Earl Shorris, the author of this 1997 article, who died this year:


New York Daily News obituary:


Obituary in The Nation:


A list of his articles published in Harper's:


I remember reading an article at one point about a study done on high school students. I can't remember exact details, but there was a program where students in areas with bad high schools could apply to be sent to better high schools. If I remember correctly, admission to the program wasn't merit based, but first-come, first-serve. The study compared the students who got into the program, and the students who applied but didn't get it. The kicker? Their performance in school (I don't remember the metrics, though I agree its a relevant difference whether its GPA or standardized test scores or something else) was about the same.

The takeaway point? The ones applying were the ones who were motivated to learn (or had family who encouraged them to take education more seriously). Those that want to learn, will learn.

Not to be discouraging, (as I read this article and found it incredibly inspiring), but the students in these classes are the exceptionally motivated, who stuck through this education despite the difficulties. The hurdle that must be overcome for this to have widespread implication is how we get more people to find that motivation.

This is part of Freakonomics (http://www.amazon.com/Freakonomics-Economist-Explores-Hidden...). Though you could have obviously seen it elsewhere.

In the book, it was referring to lottery based admission to the better schools. The result was that it didn't matter whether the students won the lottery or not. They performed equally well (on whatever generic criteria you use to judge academic performance in hs, most likely state standardized tests). The point being that students who cared enough to want to be in the better school would do well no matter where they were.

Do we know that virtuous intent is what separates those who apply versus those who don't?

That might just be measuring the stability, resources, and values of the family. I can easily see how a kid with a supportive family can do well, even under challenging circumstances.

But is that fair to the kid who was born into a more chaotic environment?

Or, a family where the parents make a rational choice not to send their kid to this school? Perhaps they can't afford increased activity fees. Or perhaps they worry about their kid being a fish out of water, competing with kids from more privileged backgrounds?

Or, a family where the parents are actively anti-learning -- either through internalized racism or sexism[1], fear of their kids becoming alien to them, or a belief that the rest of society is so racist that education isn't helpful?

[1] A friend of mine from rural Quebec was dissuaded by her mother from getting a college degree, because, quote, "we're not made for great things".

That may very well have been where I saw it. Thank you.

Maybe, but the lucky ones who get into the good schools because their parents can donate a building or two, will also do well no matter how lazy or stupid they are, so life's still unfair.

It's possible to go to an excellent school and fail to learn anything if you don't want to, especially if you have been culturally conditioned to hate school.

At least a good school does provide the opportunity, from stories I've heard from people who have worked at or attended bad schools it would be an environment where it would be basically impossible to learn anything even if you wanted to.

At least a good school does provide the opportunity, from stories I've heard from people who have worked at or attended bad schools it would be an environment where it would be basically impossible to learn anything even if you wanted to.

OK, this is just one anecdote, but...

I grew up in a fairly rural, poor part of North Carolina, went to generic, poor to below average public schools, came from a dirt-poor family that most people would describe as "white trash" or "redneck" or whatever... my father dropped out of school in 8th grade, and my mom finished H.S. but never college.

But, despite not going to a "good school," or growing up in a household full of academics, or living in an affluent neighborhood or anything, I always managed to keep learning, and things turned out fairly well for me (to date). I went to college, gaining (over the years) 3 A.S degrees, and not quite bothering to finish my B.S. I've worked professionally as a software developer for the past 12 years, and have broken the 6 figure / year salary margin (while still living in NC, mind you).

When I look back at my own travails, I agree with the sentiment that "people who want to learn, will." If the classes I was in were boring as %!#^ (and they were) I went to the library and checked out books. Even my poor ass rural public school managed to have a library, and there was the local public library. And even though my family was poor, we went to things like the once per year "library book sale" at the main public library branch, and bought books for $0.25 / each... I'd go and bring back boxes of books on science, math, electronics, software, etc. And I read, and I hacked on shit in my spare time, and read more, and pursued the stuff that interested me. Honestly, I'd say my school (I'm talking elementary school through high-school here, not college) had little to nothing to do with what I learned, and my outcome in life.

Again, just one anecdote, and admittedly a personal and biased one from one limited perspective... but I don't put much stock in the idea that it's "impossible to learn anything" pretty much regardless of what school you attend.

I guess it's one reason I get annoyed when people talk about "Horatio Alger stories" as though they were a myth, or believing in them was some kind of logical fallacy. I %!#^ng lived that story, so I know first-hand that it's possible to ascend from poverty to a decent lifestyle through a lot of hard work and determination.

I'm curious what your parents taught you about personal responsibility. My theory is it's less about whether you grow up in poverty as it is about growing up being taught you're a victim, that everything bad in your life is the result of other people hating you or taking what should be yours, etc. If you feel everything that you have or don't have is the result of things other people are giving you or taking from you, you learn that you are not in control of your destiny.

However the reality is that almost nobody in the world or evn your town even knows you exist, much less is actively working to keep you down. If you grow up being told that life is (largely) what you make it, you will tend to do what it takes to achieve what you want, rather than remaining mired in self-pity and victimhood.

I'm curious what your parents taught you about personal responsibility. My theory is it's less about whether you grow up in poverty as it is about growing up being taught you're a victim, that everything bad in your life is the result of other people hating you or taking what should be yours, etc. If you feel everything that you have or don't have is the result of things other people are giving you or taking from you, you learn that you are not in control of your destiny.

My story is similar to mindcrimes. I don't remember my parents ever blaming anyone else or being victims. My moms lessons were fairly simple. Work hard, don't get a girl pregnant, and go to college.

My dad was a quiet guy who just worked hard. If I complained about something not being fair he didn't care. "Life isn't fair. Now what are you going to do?" I can still clearly remember him and my mom fighting over food stamps. We qualified, and my mom wanted to get them but he refused. Instead he got another side job.

The other thing he always did was put outcomes squarely on me. It didn't matter if it really was another persons fault, he always asked what could I have done differently to change the situation.

I'll quit rambling now, but let me say y level of perfectionism and work ethic clearly came from my dad. It's probably not always healthy, but it has worked out pretty well so far :)

I'm curious what your parents taught you about personal responsibility. My theory is it's less about whether you grow up in poverty as it is about growing up being taught you're a victim, that everything bad in your life is the result of other people hating you or taking what should be yours, etc. If you feel everything that you have or don't have is the result of things other people are giving you or taking from you, you learn that you are not in control of your destiny.

Oh yeah... that. My parents absolutely hammered a sense of personal responsibility into me, and a "you control your own destiny" sentiment. My dad also instilled a sense of work ethic through demonstration (although, if you'd asked him when I was 14, he probably would have disagreed!). The thing is, we were poor, but my dad always worked and worked hard... and he was an entrepreneur, even a serial entrepreneur even though I doubt he knew that word. In between stints of working on dredge boats and doing auto-mechanic work, etc., my dad started business after business: building and selling crab traps, bought a dump trunk and did "hauling fill dirt," then "building docks and bulkheads" and then it was cutting down trees and hauling pulpwood to the mills, etc., etc. He finally "made it" so to speak, doing a business pouring and finishing cement (foundations, slabs, etc.)

So in that regard, I had a strong sense of personal responsibility (I think my parents essentially were libertarians, even though they had probably never heard that word either) and a demonstration of work ethic and the entrepreneurial drive.

However the reality is that almost nobody in the world or evn your town even knows you exist, much less is actively working to keep you down. If you grow up being told that life is (largely) what you make it, you will tend to do what it takes to achieve what you want, rather than remaining mired in self-pity and victimhood.


> However the reality is that almost nobody in the world or evn your town even knows you exist, much less is actively working to keep you down. If you grow up being told that life is (largely) what you make it, you will tend to do what it takes to achieve what you want, rather than remaining mired in self-pity and victimhood.

"The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light."

Stanley Kubrick

That's very inspiring, but the reality is that many people are victims, and there are many who try to keep you down even if they don't know you exist. Society has a power structure, and those in power try to stay just where they are. One of the things working in their favor is that you, apparently, don't know who they are.

The bottom line is that you can do a lot to better your fortune, and there might be some quite powerful forces working against you. So your life outcome is a combination of your effort, social circumstances and a lot of sheer luck.

Being a victim is a state of mind, not something that happens to you.

Nope, it's usually something done to you.

Whether or not victims could overcome their actual victimhood through some intense effort on their part is a different question.

So, was Genghis Khan a victim or an oppressor?

Try reframing from an oppressor-victim category matrix to simply co-competitors because that is evolution's perspective.

Moreover, the oppressor-victim matrix provides competitive benefits to its promoters because it induces complacency in those who adopt it as correct.

Society's power structure doesn't matter. If it did, pivots wouldn't work - ever.

Stop reading so much Occupy BS.

Thats simplifying the matter down to a single key axis. Which is always an issue when dealing with the human condition.

You will be right within a certain subset of human lives, but for others - say a favela dweller in a Rio slum, or a taxi driver in dharavi - both of whom are motivated, willing to learn and doing everything they can to get ahead, their outcomes can be vastly different.

Heck I don't know if this has been covered on HN yet, but a few months ago 2 MBA grads decided to see if they could live on the poverty line decided by the Indian govt. Something like rs 28 a day - a about than $0.5 today.

They even went below the poverty line, at which point just being able to afford transport was impossible because they had to scrounge to maintain basic calorific intake. If they had to go beyond a certain KM radius, it was impossible because of the constraints they faced.

And these were guys who had to cut down their food intake, and when they did shower, they did so by cutting their soap in half iirc.

Their final comment was that if they had fallen sick during their below poverty line experiment, they would have had it because they would have had no recourse whatsoever.

Ah found the link - http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/20/living-like-the-ot...



Actually, they have a great website of their own with a lot of data which probably deserves a post of its own on HN, now that I've seen it.

The argument has never been that it is impossible to rise from poverty. The argument is that it is demonstrably massively unlikely.

The argument has never been that it is impossible to rise from poverty. The argument is that it is demonstrably massively unlikely.

So the question then, as I see it, is "how do we make it more likely?" I mean, if I can overcome all sorts of obstacles that are frequently cited as reasons people remain in poverty, and I am not anybody particularly special, then why shouldn't anybody else be able to? What separates a kid like me from my elementary school class-mates who are still living in poverty? And that's not exactly a rhetorical question, but it's one that I honestly don't know the answer to. The only obvious thing I can come up with is some degree of intrinsic motivation, some drive or pull that I felt, that compelled me to make the sacrifices to improve my life. But even if that were true, I'm not sure how you'd explain that.

"intrinsic motivation"

Well, I came from a fairly modest background in rural Scotland (mind you, not what anyone would call "poor") and one thing that has always been very obvious to me is that my motivation was not intrinsic - my parents, siblings (all of who have done pretty well), teachers and school friends were very positive and encouraging.

Looking back on it I find it remarkable at how positive my school friends were towards me having an obvious route out of the community through academic success - they had hard lives of working in deep-sea fishing, offshore oil or farming to look forward to. I never encountered any resentment or bitterness - people seemed genuinely pleased that I was going to go to university.

However, it was relatively late in life (30s) that I actually realised that this kind of supportive background is not the norm and many people, especially from modest backgrounds, face actual hostility and discouragement from when they try to "get out of their box". As my wife, who although she is now a succesful lawyer, came from a background where academic success was not encouraged has commented to me - success was easy for me because it was expected of me from an early age.

Sadly, for many people nobody expects them to succeed and so therefore they don't. For me this is one of the real tragedies of our society.

Based on your story it seems you were lucky enough to have a stable family who gave you what support they could to pursue independent study/tinkering outside of school.

I am in the UK so it may be somewhat different here but I certainly know people with similar stories to yours over here.

However there are plenty of families over here who live in poverty where either both parents are unemployed , or dad is a drug dealer and mum is a prostitute. In many of these cases the children are simply not encouraged to learn anything, never provided with books (the parents might not even be able to read themselves).

There is often a bias in these communities against anybody who is seen to be working hard to learn anything educational and this is carried into school.

Based on your story it seems you were lucky enough to have a stable family who gave you what support they could to pursue independent study/tinkering outside of school.

Semi-stable might be a better term. My parents divorced when I was 16, and through most of my childhood my dad wasn't around through big chunks of it, because a lot of the jobs he took (in between attempts at entrepreneurial initiatives) involved working "on the road" a lot (mainly dredge-boats). But yeah, we were poor, but mostly not so poor that we couldn't afford food (although we had stints on foodstamps and what not, to be honest), and we did have enough money at times, that yeah, I managed to accumulate a decent little home library through yard-sales, library book sales, etc., and I had a little toolset, a soldering iron, and the ocassional trip to Radio Shack to acquire components (along with whatever components I could scavenge from old discarded TVs acquired from around the neighborhood, etc).

However there are plenty of families over here who live in poverty where either both parents are unemployed , or dad is a drug dealer and mum is a prostitute.

Yeah, thankfully my own situation wasn't quite that bad.

In many of these cases the children are simply not encouraged to learn anything, never provided with books (the parents might not even be able to read themselves).

Luckily for me, my mom was (and is) an avid reader and she read to me a lot as a kid, so I could already read when I started kindergarten, and I was always reading books from a few grade levels ahead of my grade. I remember once, in elementary school, trying to check out a book that was reserved for a grade higher than my own grade, and they wouldn't let me, and I raised such a fuss that my mom eventually came down to the school, talked to the school officials and got me permission to check out higher grade books. So yeah, in that regard, I had some positive things on my side.

> So the question then, as I see it, is "how do we make it more likely?"

We'd have to change the structure of society. Its a class structure, and there's only so much room at the top. The wealth of the upper class comes from extracting rents from the lower class. This happens on a global scale (core countries exploiting the periphery) as well as a local scale (landlords with good credit collect more in rent than they pay on the mortgage).


If this were true, then when the colonists from "core" countries left a colonized area, then that area should have seen an increase in wealth because those rent monies would have remained in the colony. The history of numerous areas, such as Haiti, Kinshasa, and Zimbabwe say that this did not happen.

The wealth of the upper class comes from courage, determination, intelligence, organization, and productive use of time.

Furthermore, following your rule, Mark Zuckerberg, who is formerly a long time renter, should be less rich than his former landlords.

Actually, in most cases, former colonists immediately stuck the decolonized nation with massive debts conjured up for the "theft" of the national assets. That's why Haiti is still poor: they've been in debt to France for the "theft" of "French" assets in colonial Haiti ever since their revolution.

Sorry for the late rebuttal...

Actually, according to Wikipedia, Haiti paid off their debt to France that resulted from the Haitian Revolution in 1883: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/External_debt_of_Haiti.

Free of their French "landlords" the Haitian "renters" should have seen increasing prosperity since they were sitting on one of the most agriculturally productive (in terms of sale price for crops grown, not total amount of all products grown) regions of the New World. So, what went wrong?

So, the core(rich) countries include South Korea, Japan, Western Europe, and the United States. What exactly is the periphery? I don't think that there exists the geographic bias you imply.

fwiw, the terminology comes from Immanual Wallerstein.


"how do we make it more likely?"

Sometimes it's not just a matter of being intrinsically motivated, and no matter what you sacrifice, you never seem to have enough.

"Many young people, who have the ability to attend post secondary institutions, will not get that opportunity because of limited family financial resources." - http://rotarycs.org/local.aspx

This is my anecdotal story. Not only did I fit into that category, I was also not initially intrinsically motivated. But the good people at the Rotary Club accessed my high risk of dropping out and gave me a "Stay in School" scholarship.

Having people believe in me and put $5000 on it - well, I can't say enough good things about them. I believe I would have given up on school in grade 7 (and I still missed a large chunk of it (long story)), but instead here I am with a BSc in Computer Science with "Great Distinction" instead. I imagine I would still be a min-wage Courtesy Clerk at the local IGA if I hadn't been given this opportunity.

Part of the trouble is that only 3 of these scholarships were given out when there were plenty of other kids who could have used them too. Not necessarily hand outs, but a hand up. These scholarships come with mentoring and support to develop motivation in the student to not only stay in school, but to do well at it.

It's not that I think they owe me a scholarship and mentoring, but just that it's not really my fault I was born in to a situation where I would have otherwise had virtually no idea and no means of escaping. I suppose maybe I could have tried worked for it all by myself and for myself (and I did pay for the rest of my schooling myself), but I can't imagine how I would have known to without intervention and I'm not sure I wouldn't have worked myself to death before getting anywhere.

I wish I had more profound and coherent things to say about this, but it's a subject that is pretty close to home and I could start rambling pretty quick.

Take a look at Harlem Children's Zone for one model that seems to be helping break the cycle for some. If that can be grown/cloned a couple of orders of magnitude, there may be hope for the country.

Rural schools can have one advantage - everyone goes to them. In big cities, schools are a lot more stratified - no-one goes to a poor (black / latino) school unless they are poor.

You could look at the richer kids, do what they did (read books, learn stuff), and succeed. In a ghetto school, the only rich kids are drug dealers.

And how did your peers do?

On average?

Good question. I'm not sure I've kept in touch with enough of them to truly answer that (and keep in mind, I'm almost 39, so it's been quite a few years since I've seen or talked to the majority of these people). But, I know at least one or two of my classmates did go on to become medical doctors, while more than a few are working various blue collar, manual labor jobs back home in rural NC. To quantify what the "average" outcome for those folks is, would be pretty tough to do.

You have done extremely well, but you're forgetting that most successful rich people, those born to the right parents and in the right neighborhoods, are boring as %!#&, and many of them are not only unmotivated to learn, but quite stupid as well. So it's only the poor who have to really want it. The rich are simply born with it. So economic success is still very much hereditary (though you don't inherit it with your genes).

That's a magnificent job of stereotyping you've got going there. I can think of lots of "rich people" who have done quite well; Bill Gates springs to mind.

I'd love to see some evidence showing that middle class folks aren't financially mobile.

I mean seriously? Rich people (oh you qualified it with a "most") are stupid, unmotivated, and boring. I should know not to feed the trolls, but on HN, I can't let this type of stuff slide.

I said most of them are boring and many are stupid. Just like poor people; just like average people.

I was simply replying to the commenter who said that most poor people he grew up with were boring and didn't want to learn. He then made the implicit or even explicit claim that if only poor people were less boring or more eager to learn, more of them would succeed. While perhaps true (though there are forces at work that make it hard for them), this isn't required of rich people. They can do well while being boring, lazy and stupid.

I certainly don't think the rich are somehow more boring or more stupid than the poor.

I learned once that when you're in a hole, further digging does little to help you extricate yourself.

He's right, you know. I've failed to meet anyone more boring or glib than a set-for-life Harvard student.

Why is it, then, that despite the school someone goes to not mattering in outcomes once you control for external factors, rich people still disproportionately prefer to send their kids to private schools, and are willing to pay 20-30k per year over a decade to do so?

I could totally believe that it's totally irrational on the rich parents' part: kids and health are places where people lose much sense of rationality and perspective. But it's still worth considering that the people who are typically most invested and knowledgeable about their kids and the benefits of a good education do usually go for private school if they have the means to.

It's because it does matter to the outcome, if you consider the outcome to be more than just GPA. GPA is not the best indicator of whether it's a worthwhile investment. The selection of a private school takes in to account additional factors like the environment you learn in, the connections you make, the college prospects you get and also the mere existence of religion.

Could you expand on the "mere existence of religion?"

Private schools are often affiliated with religious groups (Catholic, Jewish, etc.) For many people who choose private education, the existence of religion classes in school is a large factor.

In the case of this particular study, it seemed that the quality of the school as a factor was overshadowed by the desire to learn, as shown by the attempt to get into a better school. This does not mean that the quality of the school does not matter, simply that desire to learn matters much more.

because a private school would not have confined my friend's child to special education because she spoke Spanish in class one day to a friend.

Perhaps rich people are getting the result they believe they are supposed to receive? As in, their behavior is modified in minor ways they do not perceive but all towards the goal of increasing the success of the children they enroll?

It really comes down to parents. Children are not autonomous for the early formative years and how the parents treat them, from setting their morals and encouraging good behavior sets the course for most of their life barring abrupt unforeseen external forces.

I have only one issue with private schools, I do not believe any politician should be allowed to send their children to one.

That is odd.. so politicians should have less freedoms than the citizens they serve? Good luck finding someone to elect. It is bad enough political organizations go dredging through their personal lives. It amazes me people are still willing to serve in public office.

I will give you the reason, I tire of them incessantly telling other people public schools are well and fine for other people's children but they find all sorts of reasons to prevent their children from attending.

So, they need to sleep in the bed they make. If they don't offer parents the choice of what schools to send their kids too on the basis that their schools are perfectly fine then why don't they stand behind their words and send their own kids there.

Yes I support vouchers, I think schools should have to compete for the money. The money needs to follow the student, not the school. In the nearly forty years we have had a Department of Education the only thing that has gone up is the cost per pupil, scores certainly have not.

Because going to a private school gives your children the opportunity to network with the children of other wealthy people.

Your kid can't be captain of the squash team if there is no squash team.

I did find the lowering of barriers that would impede access to education like providing free meals, free transportation, and access to free babysitting to have been really helpful. In a way, it's like lowering the activation energy required to get motivated students into an environment where they can flourish.

I feel that the desire for an education is intrinsic. If you want to learn, you will (as evidenced by the study gms was talking about). Simply having access to all those goodies won't lead to motivation. Unmotivated students in that cushy environment would just lead to them being happier and more content, not make them work harder.

Don't focus on what it doesn't do for the unmotivated. Focus instead on how it can improve the motivated. A smart, hardworking student who is hungry won't learn much. A smart, hardworking student who is exhausted after walking miles to school in winter on an empty stomach will learn even less.

In the mid-80's I went to an NYC public school that used to be one of the best and by the time I went there, it was... Well let's just say it was quite subpar. The school had an honors program where I spent almost all my time, and I didn't really think it was anything special, just OK. Never had to work hard to get A's. Then Senior year they realized I couldn't graduate without taking Music Appreciation(!) and the only way to do it on time was to take that class with the "regular" students.

Bedlam would have been calmer. It was simply impossible to learn anything in that class. There were students constantly screaming, throwing things, walking in and out of the room all the time, etc. Maybe 5 people out of 35 paid any attention to the teacher. Hell, once he realized I was one of the better behaved ones, he guaranteed me an A just for coming in and cleaning the blackboard every day and then sitting there quietly. I'm not an idiot; I did it and got my A.

I could go on, but suffice to say that one experience opened my eyes to the difference in classes in the same school. I shudder to think how some of the really bad schools were.

I understand that its easy and important to pour resources into educating the already motivated. The justification is clear, they want to be there, they want to learn, they "deserve it".

Yet, unless I'm misreading your comment, it appears as if a majority of students in the worse schools appear to be in the "unmotivated" class. Heck, even in my middle/upper-middle class suburban high school, that same divide between the "honors" and the "regular" kids was there.

I think the bigger societal issue is finding some way to get this majority interested in learning. That would have a far larger impact than giving more to the already motivated (if only due to sheer numbers). I realize this is a HUGE issue to tackle and unfortunately, its something that I have no answers for.

Neither do I. I think it starts with group psychology: even among the non-honors students I knew quite a few who were working as hard as they could and wanted to learn. But in the larger group, they are put down because they're not doing what everyone else is doing, so the first problem is how to break the cycle of groupthink and allow people to do their own thing.

One thing we (favorite teacher and me) observed (this with 30+ year-old memory) is that one or two students in the large student body being recognized academically motivated others to work hard to get the same recognition. I graduated before I could see how far this went, but it was showing promise.

If you have a desire to learn but no possibility of learning (no teachers, no materials etc.) then you won't be educated.

There is always something to learn.

At some point, a long, long time ago, people had to have made discoveries and learn from that without teachers or materials. The education we have come to take for granted didn't just appear out of thin air.

You might be reinventing the wheel, but it's still a great achievement. The lack of teachers and materials isn't going to stop anyone who wants to learn.

Really? because the article directly contradicts you. These people were totally capable of learning, and demonstrated a willingness to learn, but they were not educated.

How do you define education? Something as simple as learning how to interact with people is something that anyone in the presence of other people (which is most people on the planet) can do. Maybe you can't learn computer science in rural Africa, but that's not really what I'm talking about.

Again, the article contradicts this idea. As the course went on, aggressiveness and threats were used less often in arguments, and the debates became more civil. Interpersonal interaction was one of the skills that these people did not pick up in all their years "on the street", but learned in the class.

So you would say that aggressive and uncivil contact was not a learned behaviour?

If I was without teachers and materials and I discovered the square wheel, does the fact that people with teachers are aware of the round wheel discount everything I achieved? I think not. It is still amazing, even if others can do it better.

I guess I'm just not quite seeing where you are coming from. It's not a question of what kind of materials are available, it's the idea that learning is impossible without them. The fact that these people could carry on any kind of interaction, even if done poorly by our society's standards, speaks to me that learning does occur despite what is available.

> So you would say that aggressive and uncivil contact was not a learned behaviour?

I would say it is uneducated behavior. Yes, everyone learns naturally; that's what it is to exist. Education is eduction--the drawing out--not mere "learning".

But you only have so much energy and learning takes energy. I know from personal experience that the more stressed I am, the more time and energy I had to put in to getting enough calories this week the less I have to spend on learning. Being hungry or sleep deprived makes everything harder. It can be challenging just to summon the energy to make basic day-to-day decisions, much less reach out and learn new things. It's why free school breakfasts and lunches do such good things for educational outcomes.

The easier it is to learn the more people will be able to get over the hump. It won't ever be everyone, but it's basic behavioral economics: the easier it is to get the same payoff the more people will do it.

>Those that want to learn, will learn.

I'm not sure how you came to that conclusion. In fact, it seems like the study you mention supports the exact opposite. Those that wanted to learn (as evidenced by being first to apply) didn't show signs of being better able to learn given the same environment and resources. Wanting to learn isn't enough, but requires an environment in which to flourish.

The difference between "applied first" and "applied last" in motivation is probably dwarfed by the difference between "applied last" and "didn't apply".

If it was being used for a study, though, it was probably a lottery out of those who applied, not first-come, first-served.

Apologies if the wording wasn't clear in the original comment.

The students who applied for the program performed about the same, regardless of whether they went to the "good" schools or the "bad" ones.

I'm not arguing that an environment which promotes learning isn't better. I believe that having the resources and support probably motivates people to learn more. I was just saying that for the already motivated, it didn't make much of a difference.

Freakonomics story.


I can't find the exact reference but I believe somewhere in the book they talk about the mere fact of entering your student into this lottery to go to a better school meant that the student would have better outcomes (regardless of whether they "won" the lottery or not).

The idea being that it was the mere "intent" of a parent wanting better for their child that had the most impact on student performance.

Yeah, there's a nice summary of some of these types of papers here:

http://www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/2007/RAND_WR460.pdf (section 2.3).

Some people wish to extrapolate that lottery results proves that a (statistically) lower quality pupil going to a a good school is without benefit.

"The ones applying were the ones who were motivated to learn"

Wasn't it their parents that were applying? Doesn't that change the conclusion you drew?

My question to your takeaway point would be, if these people are so motivated that they do better in courses, why do they stay so poor? Either merit is being suppressed by social forces (most definitely), or merit isn't the only requisite thing for social ascent.

Life is a series of scenarios, each leaving the person slightly better equipped to deal with future scenarios or slightly worse equipped.

Small disadvantages multiply, as to small advantages.

And so we get a lognormal distribution where small positive differences (arguably ultimately due to luck; genes, environment, continent, family network etc) combine to give enourmous advantages.

That said, regardless of your starting point it pays to try to position yourself to gain as many positive points as you can - with luck you can ride that same multiplicative unfairness to achieve better than linear progress.

Power law (Pareto distribution), not lognormal.

But you're partly right. Simulate random exchanges at random prices and the wealth distribution will come out Pareto.

However, we cannot conclude that because [a] random exchanges lead to a power-law dist and [b] we observe a power-law in reality, that [c] the real wealth distribution is tantamount to random.

As far as I'm aware the debate of lognormal vs power law distribution on wealth is unsettled.

EDIT: google search suggests power law tail - log normal bulk.

You are maybe thinking that it is difficult to identify powerlaws? (EDIT: s/identify/statistically verify/; s/powerlaws/TRUE powerlaws/)

But look: http://globalrichlist.com/how.html The bulk is indeed powerlaw.

Maybe you are thinking that a sufficiently winsorised US income distribution is lognormal.

To the contrary I think people are too eager to find scale free and power law phenomena.

There are several papers discussing log-normal bulk and then power law tail.


http://fmwww.bc.edu/ec-p/wp671.pdf and more

For what it's worth my initial statement was meant to hold beyond income and wealth and generalize to say achievement and productivity and so a lognormal assumption was fitting as the distribution to pick. It also chimed well with grandalf's statement on how advantages multiply.

To paraphrase William Gibson: everything is here, it's just unevenly distributed.

The universe tends toward clumpiness.

She's completely correct that it's the culture of the rich which make them rich.

What she's completely wrong about is that it's their morality that makes it so.

We, the rich, the middle and upper classes, are the ones who fund prisons, we are the ones who do not share our food with our neighbors, we are the ones who refuse to mix with them and share our culture.

It's like Terrence McKenna said - "Culture is not your friend". Culture is a tribal way of life - it's a gang sign, whether that sign be dressing in red or blue or wearing a suit. It's our culture which judges that those who perform certain jobs are more deserving of comfort than others. Yet without that farmer growing his crops how would you eat? Without that garbage collector removing waste, how would you stay healthy? Without that secretary, how would your business function properly? It's these value judgements which really hurt us. Someone will always need to do those jobs (until our machinery is smart enough, anyway) and, as it stands, they will always be deemed by the rest of us to be undeserving of the comfort that we have just because we do something essentially far less fundamental.

Just as power corrupts, so inequality breeds resentment and poisons society. There's a word for the solution I'm hinting at but it's too dangerous to even mention.

> Yet without that farmer growing his crops how would you eat? Without that garbage collector removing waste, how would you stay healthy? Without that secretary, how would your business function properly? It's these value judgements which really hurt us.

So, our society (which may or may not be structured around our competing cultures) has a mechanism for valuing these goods. We have the principles of economics - supply and demand. The things you mentioned are all objectively good to have. They're essential, even. But we've become very good at generating these goods. We've studied crops and health to maximize the good that these things provide, and we can now generate them with fairly little skill and effort. The reason that people who perform these ESSENTIAL tasks earn so little is that the supply of people ready and willing to do them is so great compared to the amount we need them to produce. If the supply of people who could perform these jobs decreased, or the demand for the goods they produce increased, the workers could demand higher wages.

I don't disagree that there are many factors that can and are used by "the rich" to keep "the poor" down, but I disagree that how society values these basic goods is really a significant source of this discrimination.

I don't know what the exact unutterable "dangerous" solution you have in mind, but I can assure you, that's not it. The concept of inequality is bred into the human psyche (our hardware or software), you cannot get rid of simplistic social constructs such as communism, etc. Even if technology advances to the level of creating robots to do all menial tasks, our concepts and need for inequality will not go away (for a more pop but stronger version of this idea see Mr. Smith's monolog to Morpheus in The Matrix).

Now, there is a solution that will work and is dangerous: Huxley's eugenics/genetic engineering solution described in Brave New World. And we're fast approaching that solution, I think.

>The concept of inequality is bred into the human psyche

If it's inherent then why are there examples of societies which lack it?

The concept of a society with a strong form of equality is, I think, an utopia, and AFAIK, no such society exists. Even if you look at primitive societies, there are better hunters, the tribe leader has more wives than the regular guy, the shaman is revered, etc.

One can say that's not what this discussion is about, i.e. it's the potential for equality, the right to be equal rather than the radical definition above, but then the discussion becomes muddled, how to measure inequality, economically (e.g. the Gini index), by asking people, etc. "Inequality" then becomes a very complicated word like "democracy" or "justice".

I think it's interesting to draw a comparison with democracy: "true" democracy, i.e. radical democracy, is likewise impossible to maintain. The closest form in Athens degenerated to tyranny many times. And probably Athens was the largest collection of people where such pure democracy is feasible, i.e. it cannot be scaled up to a whole country. Judging from the lack of other examples in human history, one can see that the order of things in Athens was not the natural state of society.

So, I maintain that pure forms "liberté, égalité, fraternité" are not practical and cannot be achieved.

Now, one can argue back, saying "Yeah, yeah, we know that, but surely you can rank countries on how much they have achieved these, e.g. surely no one would debate that the US is more democratic than Saudi Arabia." This, of course, is true, but (i) means that we should leave behind "a brotherhood of men, and no possession, too" crap behind and (ii) leads us back to the question of measuring inequality.



>One can say that's not what this discussion is about, i.e. it's the potential for equality, the right to be equal rather than the radical definition above, but then the discussion becomes muddled, how to measure inequality, economically (e.g. the Gini index), by asking people, etc. "Inequality" then becomes a very complicated word like "democracy" or "justice".

Personally, I think that it's very simple to define. We know from research that having more money, past the point of no longer being in poverty, does nothing significant to increase happiness. So, in my opinion, equality, in terms of money, is about nobody having to live in poverty and discomfort.

The democracy we are used to is Representative Democracy. When a few people hold all of the power, and we just get to vote for our dictators, what kind of democracy is that!? Personally, I think that Direct Democracy deserves more attention and experimentation. Some countries have been running it for years and their quality of life is among the best in the world.

You should realize you can actually say "socialism" on this site.

Bzzzt! Different word. Socialism does not address inequality of power.


More accurately, anarchism, difference being:

>Anarchy is a condition of life without the intrusion of governance and the mechanisms and institutions of the state.

>Anarchism is the political philosophy which has anarchy as its goal.

I'm genuinely curious. Could you email me the word? My address is in my profile. I promise not to share it.


Indeed, that was my guess. I'm confident anarchism is not a good solution to any problem, but I fear you may yet get your wish. I doubt you'll like the result. (I'm sure I won't.)

There are many misconceptions about anarchism. It's not about smashing things up or living in a state of chaos. It's merely a lack of hierarchy, where everyone is truly equal. It's simply about putting no man above another. We can still organise in order to get things done. We can still have customs about what's right and wrong. The only difference is that we have true equality. I don't see what's so scary about that. The system we have now - that's scary!

Because the system makes sure people stay poor.

How many of you were taught in school that if you pay yourself a minimum wage and make up the rest as a dividend/bonus you can avoid paying a significant amount of tax (legally)?

Or how many of you were taught how to become "employable" so that you can earn the same amount of money and pay considerably more tax, unavoidably - because you aren't in control of your own finance.

How many of you were taught to open a bank account as a good way of "organizing your finances" (read: filling the pockets of fat men).

How many of you were taught anything about running your own business and being in control of yourself and your securities?

There's a reason this isn't taught in public schools folks - it's because the people at the top want more for themselves and less for you. They don't care about you - except when you're gullible enough to believe you're making a choice when voting season arrives.

The poor are poor because they think "that's just the way it is," and continue about their lives. It's only when you realize that's not the way it should be, because you're being fucked, that you start to do something about it and make yourself.

Then there's the moral effect. You either see the need to do something to change the system, and remain poor - or you accept it, and realize that the best way for you to make more money is to keep poor people poor (and gullible) - thus prolonging the system.

There's a lot to be said for that. If somebody had really sat down and hammered me on the power of compound interest and taught me a little bit about the capital markets, when I was, say, 14 or so... I think I would have made a lot of decisions differently and would probably be better off today. Although, to be fair on this point, I'm not sure it would have helped, because I can't - in retrospect - say that my 14 year old self would have taken those lessons to heart. You think about time differently when you're young... the idea of saving for "the future" and building wealth slowly... would I have appreciated the idea of Dollar Value Averaging back then? Hmmm... hard to say.

But anyway, I agree with you in principle, sparkie. What we're taught about how the world works, when we are young, is tremendously influential.

I only really discovered the advantages of creating my own business when I was around 23, I'm 25 now. I also got into a significant amount of debt in order to get a degree to make me more "employable" - and I'm still paying it back.

I'm perhaps most irritated by this because I'm mostly self-taught (in computer science) and university did very little for me. I should've studied business instead, but probably like you suggest, I would've considered that idea incredibly boring at school leaving age.

Boredom aside though, I do wish I'd learned more about business and life in general during school. I'm still trying to learn my way around the system now, but there aren't enough hours in the day. I'm sincerely grateful for the people who've taken the time to explain things to me anyway.

Maybe what we need is less of a udacity for coding and one for business, expressed in a way anybody can understand but not as rigid as a bschool or mba program? Reading the Thiel lectures for instance is very educational but without the basics how do you apply something like that?

That's what I do: http://personalmba.com. Business is not that difficult once you know the basics.

The best place to start is my book: http://personalmba.com/book/

Hope you find it useful!

You're the guy behind PersonalMBA? Awesome, I have the book and I love the site. I haven't put as much time into it as I should, as I've been too busy with the nitty-gritty, day-to-day "stuff" of doing a startup.

I do fully intend to get through the Personal MBA stuff eventually; but right now, I'm spending more time with the stuff from Steve Blank, Eric Ries, Ash Maurya, etc. :-)

> I also got into a significant amount of debt in order to get a degree to make me more "employable"

There lies the rub between many of us and higher education. Making you more employable is supposed to be a side-effect of college, not the end goal. I found that the people who went to school so that they could write down that they did so got exactly what the came for and not much more, while those of us who were there to learn got what we came for. It's an old idea, but true that what you get out of education depends on what you put into it.

why do you think business school would have helped you?

From my experience with business people? those with degrees seem to be generally of less skill than those without. (maybe it's just that if you are good and have a business degree you are high enough I don't encounter you? Possible.)

I don't see this correlation in computer science; I have no degree, but I certainly don't think less of people that work alongside me that do have technical degrees. Usually (but not always) it's obvious that they learned something that I missed.

Well, any school obviously helps you learn if you don't have a mentor or otherwise to help you sieve through the information. It's not like I can just walk into a library, go to the business/accounting section, and become an expert once I've read every book on the shelf. You need a way to manage what you're taking in, and courses help with that.

It doesn't need to be an academic course though, gaining the experience through work is good too, and I'm guessing that's what you meant about the "less skill" of graduates - their lack of actual experience.

Unfortunately for someone who didn't really know any accountant or business person until recently, I had no knowledge or confidence of getting my foot in the door, but if I'd studied the subject back in school, I would've been more competent earlier.

>Well, any school obviously helps you learn if you don't have a mentor or otherwise to help you sieve through the information.

I don't see how that's obvious at all.

I mean, I have a reasonable understanding of the creation side of business, and I can do straightforward sales; That side of things is easy enough to learn via trial and error.

Now, obviously, that's not /all/ there is to business, and maybe b-school teaches you about the bits I don't understand. But from a pure "you shall know him by his fruits" perspective, antidotialy, people with MBAs tend to be less successful (at sustainably growing the business... not at getting paid) than people without.

But yeah. as a small business that gives customers products or services in exchange for money? the most valuable thing you can learn is something about the product or the process that creates the product. The most valuable thing a small company has is the owner's labour. I mean, even with the ridiculous $150K/year salary numbers I hear friends throwing around these days... if I was working for someone else? I would have quit yesterday. (well, I would have gotten another job first, but... that has never been difficult for me.)

Compound interest only works when the interest paid exceeds inflation. Your money is simply rotting otherwise and would be better invested in something that's appreciating at a more rapid rate. Maybe that's wine or stocks or a house.

Your parent's generation had savings accounts that paid actual interest. Today you get a token 0.25% on a good day. With the prime rate being so low there's not much to be made by leaving your money sitting around.

As much as it's important to save money, it's also important to not save too much. Living a life of frugality in the hope of having a happy future is the deferred life plan and for many it never pans out.

Spend what you need to have an enjoyable life now and if you can save, by all means. Life within your means and spend wisely, but don't be such a cheapskate in the hopes that your accumulated pennies will somehow make you a billionaire some day.

Agreed. I only pointed out compound interest as an example of the kinds of tools that kids aren't really taught about (well, I wasn't, at least).

The thing is, I did actually pick up a book on stock investing as a teen... one more of my "library book sale" pick ups, but I skimmed through it, but the value of investing and taking advantage of the capital markets didn't "click" for me back then. Also, considering this was in the 80's, far before there was E-Trade or Sharebuilder or anything of that nature, the markets didn't seem very accessible to a poor kid growing up in rural NC.

At least that's one advantage we have today... something like Sharebuilder is a nice way to dip your toes in the water.

For better or for worse, we're in the era of "DIY" investments. You can't just dump your cash in a bank account, mutual funds, or write a cheque to your broker and expect to make money like was done in years gone by.

Now you need to be educated. You need to know the tools at your disposal and how best to make use of them.

My advice to anyone looking to invest is to first read up on gambling. Any book worth reading spends a good chunk of time explaining one thing over and over: bankroll management. For investment this is the same idea. Don't over-commit.

I'd also advocate reading on gambling scams as there's far too many dodgy investments out there promising impossible returns or companies with a "business plan" that's so full of holes it whistles when it moves.

Perhaps people who grew up in an environment filled with mistrust and the constant risk of thievery would be better prepared for investing in the stock market than most.

Hmm.... investing in wine sounds like a great idea. If it appreciates, you can sell it, and if it doesn't, you can drink it.

> How many of you were taught in school that if you pay yourself a minimum wage and make up the rest as a dividend/bonus you can avoid paying a significant amount of tax (legally)?

You shouldn't do that, it's not permissible under current tax rules… IRS requires that officer shareholders be paid a reasonable salary, and if you're making enough money to pay dividends, minimum wage will be hard to justify as "reasonable." I'm not sure how paying bonuses will help with tax avoidance as those are taxable like regular wage income.

IRS only applies to US companies. Each country has it's own different loopholes that allow you to pay less tax if you're earning more. The big corps pay far less tax than they should.

Note to term, "tax avoidance". "Tax evasion" is illegal, but there are plenty of legal ways to avoid tax, many of which I'm not aware of myself, but will be grateful for anyone willing to share.

And that's a big part of it - people don't share the knowledge - it's "insider" knowledge, and you aren't in the club. The fewer that know, the more money those who do, can make.

In Canada, the minimum wage + large dividend payment system is allowed and encouraged. Encouraged because it's a transparent way of declaring your income and earnings without using any complex loopholes to bypass the system. Encouraged because:

1) Having your own company is more risky as opposed to a Permanent employee role in the government's eyes, hence more opportunities to pay less taxes

2) Companies are far more likely to work towards creating employment than individuals working for companies, benefiting the economy

3) Dividend income is taxed at a reduced bracket to stimulate investment, regardless whether you're investing in your own company or getting dividends from a large public corporation by being a shareholder

10 years of filing corporate taxes, having every accountant follow this practice, and an official audit with no complaints shows the Canadian Revenue Agency has no issues with this system.

Hey, thanks for your input. The Canadian system seems similar to the UK. Every accountant is doing this, but there just doesn't seem to be an openness about it. It seems you only know how to do this if you're an accountant, or know an accountant - which was the point I was trying to get across in my original post - you aren't told this in school - they only tell you how to get a job, where none of it applies.

It's extremely open. If you're in the position of running a company, either you find out it's a good idea, or you get an accountant, who will tell you it's a good idea.

Sure, they don't teach you it at school, because most people at school won't start their own companies.

1) Wealth is not zero-sum.

2) You're recommending that we defraud our federal government in your original post.

Just stop.

Perhaps relevant: yesterday's news. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18521468).

Those are just few of the tax avoidance schemes that come to light - which it should be noted are not necessarily illegal. The reality is that the rich and famous are involved in these schemes - earning big money and paying less tax than hard working, honest men.

The government doesn't take the necessary steps to put an end to these kinds of schemes in any haste - probably because they're involved in many themselves, along with their friends. If everyone was doing it, the schemes would be closed. I therefore recommend everyone do it, when legal.

I suggest you read the article more carefully. The comedian in the article is being investigated for using a tax shelter to evade British taxes. If you read more about the K2 tax shelter, you will learn that British tax authorities consider it to be illegal (obviously, taxpayers using the K2 do not) and are launching enforcement actions.

The article doesn't say K2 is considered illegal, rather, it clearly states "legal, but aggressive." It does say the scheme is under investigation, but it's not declared illegal yet. The icebreaker one is.

My linking to the article wasn't just to point out these specific schemes, but more to just highlight the scope of tax avoidance/evasion. There are many loopholes that get abused, some get fixed, although not always in a timely manner.

I'm not recommending you defraud your government, or do anything illegal - I'm recommending you do the same thing that every big corp does - pay the minimum tax they are required to by law, and no more.

People are led to believe that the richest pay ~40-50% in tax, or whatnot depending on where you are - but that couldn't be further from the truth - they generally pay less (as a percentage of their total earnings) than the middle or working classes.

You know, when these bankers pay themselves a $9 million tax free bonus at the end of the year - are they defrauding the government?

Work it out, say a banker is on a nice $1m salary, which he pays 50% in tax, but pays zero tax on his fat $9 million bonus.

You seem quite naive. I'm assuming you're fairly young.

1) Top marginal tax rate is 35%.

2) Bonuses are taxed as income as well.

3) The rich pay the majority of taxes. (http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/taxes/story/2011-09-20/b...)

The world isn't out to screw you.

I'm less naive than I was a few years ago since learning somewhat how the system works.

1) Perhaps you missed the part where I said IRS only applies to US? Tax rates do differ in different countries, if you weren't aware. That's one of the major tax avoidance methods - do what you can offshore, wherever you benefit by paying less.

2) Again, depends where you are. While all bonuses may not be tax free, they are usually taxed differently to income tax anyway - such that less tax is paid. Why do you think people pay bonuses rather than just increasing salaries?

3) I wasn't claiming otherwise - my claim is that the rich don't aren't paying more as a proportion of their total earnings, which is what is claimed to be the case by the system.

Whether the world is out to screw you or not I'd debate. It's more like the world is out to get as rich as possible, and you get screwed as a side effect.

1) Perhaps you missed the part where I said IRS only applies to US? Tax rates do differ in different countries, if you weren't aware. That's one of the major tax avoidance methods - do what you can offshore, wherever you benefit by paying less.

If you live in the US and you make money, you owe US taxes on the money, regardless of where the company is.

2) Again, depends where you are. While all bonuses may not be tax free, they are usually taxed differently to income tax anyway - such that less tax is paid. Why do you think people pay bonuses rather than just increasing salaries?

As others have pointed out, bonuses in the US are taxed as ordinary income, and they're taxed at the same rate or higher (!) than ordinary income in the EU. Take a quick Google trip through a search of "banker tax EU" to come up with some real doom and gloom there.

3) I wasn't claiming otherwise - my claim is that the rich don't aren't paying more as a proportion of their total earnings, which is what is claimed to be the case by the system.

This is simple. Rich people have more long-term capital gains and less ordinary income. It is 100% not because of bonuses.

You have now suggested two forms of tax evasion: falsely allocating income to "dividends" and using offshore tax shelters. Please stop trying to give tax advice.

Bonuses are income. They are taxed as ordinary income (or the equivalent of ordinary income in E.U. nations). Bonuses are not given lower rates; if anything, certain types of bonuses are subject to higher rates than ordinary income. Companies pay bonuses because bonuses are discretionary, while salaries are contractual. In other words, giving a bonus one year does not commit them to paying the bonus again the following year.

If you're taking my points as advice, you probably deserve to be screwed. I'm not trying to give it.

Falsely allocating dividends, using offshore tax accounts are what big companies are actively doing, and many getting away with it. And yes, these include your favorite tech companies and such. (http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/334737/20120429/apple-avoid-...)

The banking secrecy in some countries is the real enabler of tax evasion though - because corporations can simply fudge the numbers to reduce the tax bill.

Distributing profit as dividends is not "falsely allocating income". The only issue is whether you have to pay yourself a reasonable salary or whether minimum wage is sufficient.

Almost everything you wrote is false. Not all bonuses are income, they may or may not be taxed, they may or may not be subject to higher taxation than ordinary income. You have a very US-centric view of the world.

Of course my comments are US-centric. Hacker News is a US-centric forum.

Distributing profit as dividends is "falsely allocating income" if you are not paying yourself a reasonable salary, to the extent that you have redirected salary income to dividend income. Once you do this, it is no longer up to you to decide what a "reasonable salary" is. The IRS (or the local tax authority, if not in the US) will decide that number.

Most forms of bonuses are income in: 1) the US, Canada, China, Australia, the UK, France, Spain, and India. There are various exceptions, but the general rule in the nations where most people conduct business is that bonuses are income. As income, bonuses are taxed at the same rate as income is ordinarily taxed in those nations. In some nations, certain types of bonuses are subject to a higher rate of tax than the ordinary income rates. If bonuses were not taxed, or were taxed at lower rates, most income would be paid out as bonuses.

Do you really think the average business owner makes more as a business owner than they would as an employee? I don't have the statistics at my fingertips, but I'd find that surprising. I know I'd be making 3x-5x what I'm making now if I was working for other people.

Yeah, running a business means that you have a possibility of making a whole lot of money, and yeah, if you have the contacts to get investors to give you money in a situation where you get paid well if things go well and the company closes (with no fallthrough to you) if things go poorly, sure, you are doing pretty good; but that's not how most real businesses work.

I think you're doing it wrong. I quit working for a company about a year ago and am on course to make 2.5x what I made last year.

A small business should never be run in such a way that the employees are making more than the owner. How would any business work that way?

People typically pay a premium for a temporary service rather than employing someone full time. That is how you make money. It is why I pay a plumber a crap ton when my pipes break because it is still cheaper than employing one full time.

What business are you in that causes you to make a third of what you would make as an employee doing the same thing?

You need to take your total compensation into account when figuring how much you're making now vs. how much you were making as an employee. Consider the following things an employer pays to/for you in the US:

-OASDI contributions

-401k match


-Generous portion of health insurance premiums

-Vacation, holiday, and sick time

In a tech business with an office and Valley-level benefits, the all-in cost for an employee is ~2.5x their base salary. Here [1] is an old article by Joe Hadzima talking about how this is figured.

[1] http://web.mit.edu/e-club/hadzima/how-much-does-an-employee-...

>A small business should never be run in such a way that the employees are making more than the owner. How would any business work that way?

I don't see anything wrong with that; as the owner, the upside accrues to me, so it makes sense that I'd be willing to work for less compensation in the short term. (I've been in situations where my compensation was negative while employees were getting paid. If you can't get investors, it makes a lot of sense, I think. For me, even living in silicon valley, after $40K/year or so, the improvements to my life brought by every additional dollar diminish rapidly, and as I'm in silicon valley, 3x-4x that is not unreasonable compensation for my skillset, even sticking with year+ long gigs; this is how I funded my company until recently.)

>People typically pay a premium for a temporary service rather than employing someone full time. That is how you make money. It is why I pay a plumber a crap ton when my pipes break because it is still cheaper than employing one full time.

That is not how I make money. Selling hours... is difficult to scale. My goal is to get into a situation where my capital (plus a little bit of scalable labour, or labour I can easily hire out because I've worked in the field my entire life and I can recognise good people) multiplies every year. You know, own some means of production. Become, as the communists would say, bourgeois.

This is part of why my marketing message is so consistently "we don't provide a lot of support" - I'm happy to accept a slightly lower (but still ridiculous, by investment standards) return on my capital if the labour bit becomes more scalable.

So yeah, that's why I'm willing to take a loss on my labour (or even on total compensation) - for the chance to have a business that grows without being limited by my labour.

I'm renting, essentially, unix servers, so while my capital equipment depreciates at a terrifying rate, my capital is my primary tool for generating revenue. (and as far as investments in capital go, the margin on VPSs is pretty high. A server will pay for itself in under 4 months, on average.)

I mean, the whole revenue of the company is about a quarter million a year right now, which is about what me and my full timer would get paid, combined, if we both went and worked for a local big company. (the lion's share of that is eaten by power and new hardware.) I know why I'm here; revenue doubles every year, and this is the sort of business where capital cancan make money with minimal labour, I mean, potentially I'm sitting on something that can double my capital investment every year. I mean, if I don't screw it up.

But yeah; if you are looking at a business that scales? this long period of not getting paid a whole lot is pretty normal. You go out and buy a retail store? a restaurant? etc, etc, - it's going to be a long time before you earn back the initial investment.

It's really only contracting/consulting where you make more from day one; and that's a great way to get your hands on some capital, but from my point of view, long-term? it's not nearly as attractive as having my capital do the work.

Now, I think I'm stabbing in the right direction, but it has yet to be seen if I'm doing it wrong. Certainly, if I sold today for 1x revenue (not at all unusual for small businesses) I'd have made less money for more work than if I had just done consulting for that time period and put the money in T bills or whatever. But if current trends continue; it doesn't take very many years before we're talking about real money. (now, such doubling never continues forever. But I don't need forever. I'd be dang comfortable with another 3.)

> How many of you were taught in school that if you pay yourself a minimum wage and make up the rest as a dividend/bonus you can avoid paying a significant amount of tax (legally)?

That's the one I don't get. At tax time, it's still income. It's not like that bonus/dividend is magically untaxed because it doesn't show up bi-weekly or monthly.

The rest of isn't taught because The Man wants to keep you down - it's because teachers aren't taught those things either (at any level) and most of them have enough on their plate just trying to satisfy state requirements. You make it sound like a grand conspiracy of old, rich white people and it's not.

What the wealthy do have that most of us do not is the access to resources and a bit more free time to use those resources because they're not scrambling for a dollar like the rest of us.

I generally agree on the rest of it, but I'll add this: sometimes you're so far down a hole that the existence of light or that someone gives a damn about you is not even imaginable. Sure, you may have people that will get your back in a tight spot, but that's a far cry from knowing people who can make your life materially and spiritually better and would willingly do so.

>There's a reason this isn't taught in public schools folks - it's because the people at the top want more for themselves and less for you.

While I agree with you that schools should do more to encourage people to own their own business, do you really think school curriculums in the US are decided by a shadowy cabal of the wealthy?

Whether to teach business and entrepreneurship would be almost entirely up to the local school district. There are thousands of them and each one is independent--that's a pretty far reaching conspiracy. I know members of my local school board, and I can assure you they aren't part of the "people at the top" trying to keep the poor man down.

The real reason people more people aren't self employed is that we've managed to link health insurance with employment.

Read/Watch "Manufacturing consent". It doesn't need to be a wide spread conspiracy. Once you get some kind of environment established people lower down the tree will perpetuate it themselves with no outside stimulus.

It sounds like you're talking more about things that could help middle class people. Very few poor people have issues that could be helped with "pay [themselves] a minimum wage and make up the rest as a dividend".

Sure it'll help the middle class with out current system, but the point was more about how all people should value themselves. Rather than selling your time in exchange for money (i.e., being an employee), you are better off exchanging your value for money. This should apply to any class really.

The reality is different for poor people, but my point was more about "what could be", rather than "what is". Trying to think about it in terms of the current system is flawed, because the current system is designed to enrich people.

If everyone was avoiding tax then the tax would need to rise, or the laws would need to change - this may or may not be a good thing to the masses - but it's certainly not a good thing to the rich - which is why they make sure it doesn't happen.

You got downvoted for saying it but honestly I would expect this philosophy of selling value to apply more to the poor since they're typically not able to make themselves look "employable" anyway. If you're selling a service or a product no one has to know if you attended a top university.

If you really think it is tax that is making people poor (ie, your number 1 & 2 suggestions) then you may wish to consider other factors.

I hate these "it's the system" arguments almost as much as I hate argument ignoring the systemic issues entirely.

It's clear that in your world view, a bunch of rich, white "fat men" (read: Republicans, according to you) are controlling everything from banks to schools to everything else. I feel sorry for you. The world is not the gigantic conspiracy you've created in your mind.

What you have suggested is tax evasion. You must pay yourself reasonable rates, otherwise, you will be treated as evading employment taxes. For a white collar job, that means significantly more than minimum wage.

The penalties (higher back-interest rates and fines) for tax evasion are quite severe. Jailtime is also a possibility.

I've not suggested tax evasion - stop exaggerating.

The only point I've mentioned is one of tax avoidance, which is in common practice. I've not advised you to do it either, just making a point that it is done - the system is unfair - people avoid tax (legally), whilst you are paying your honest share.

And please, Americans - are you able to think outside of your own country and it's laws?

It's about brakes, accelerators, and random (mis/good)fortune.

Brakes are the things that slow you down. Accelerators are the things that give you a boost.

Any one of us has these both imposed on us and has some degree of influence over them, though to what specific extent varies a lot.

The point of the essay (confession: I skimmed it) is that an effective education is among the more powerful accelerators which can be applied. It's actionable (lifting a concept from a thread here) in the sense that both individuals and communities / society as a whole can engage productively in efforts to increase the availability / efficacy of education.

It's a fact recognized by the father of capitalism, Adam Smith, and the founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson.

It's hard to write this, and my opinion is probably biased because of it, but this article is nothing but a giant load of horse shit and is a carefully constructed as "feel good" to reinforce the preconceived notions the author had going into it. A little bit of background; I grew up poor, people randomly leaving food on our doorstep poor, my parents giving the bike I had bought with my own earned money to my brother for christmas poor, moving every couple of years because my dad would make a bad enough name for himself in an entire town/city that he couldn't get a job poor. I was rejected from his classes (I was actually living in Queens at the time) when they were first available. I may have been one of the two 16 year olds turned away, but I'm pretty sure I was older than that at the time, I may have been one of the people who was "too poor" to take the class. I distinctly remember being told that I "wasn't what they were looking for" and that they "wanted the classes to be as beneficial to all attendees as possible." So, given that, my opinions may be a bit biased.

What I learned, clawing myself to where I am (I currently make more than twice what both my parents combined ever made), is that independent of the person, you HAVE to get the out of the situation they are in. Being "poor" or below the poverty line, life is not what you would expect. There is nothing extra, there is not even enough to sustain yourself. Each month, you make decisions of what bills to pay (food, electricity, gas, rent) based on which is most likely to be shut off. You spend money you can't afford on things you don't "need" because you need just something, anything, to make it feel like you are actually alive and not just some "thing", only there to feed on the remains you can come across. Learning about the humanities doesn't change the fact that you're working a minimum wage job 3rd shift and rarely making it to your classes at high school (just often enough to keep from being expelled) just so you don't end up homeless. It doesn't change the fact that you try to cheat and go through the lunch line twice to get two free meals just so you can have something to eat that evening (breakfast? The programs that give kids breakfast ends at middle school).

I escaped from poverty because I am significantly above the average intelligence level and I managed to make the right decision at the right time. For a point of reference, not the last time I talked to my dad, but the time before that, he was letting me know he may not have a phone for a while because the lady's cell phone plan he was on had passed away almost a year ago, and now that it was up for renewal and she was dead, he likely would not be able to put it in his name. I was paying someone I knew $30 a month to sleep in a sleeping bag in their closet when I joined the Army (shipped out January of 2000). I blew the ASVAB out of the water and had my choice of MOSes with all sorts of bonuses as well. But none of that mattered. What mattered was that I was removed from the environment I was in. I was able to see how other people lived while being provided for and then having some extra money on top. When my enlistment was over, I moved on and have done great things and I am now in a wonderful place in life now. But I'm unique in that aspect. A large number of people I served with would not be able to once they were discharged and I hope most of them stay in, because it's a better life for them.

Just as having middle class or better contacts, friends, network and confidants can help you maintain or better your station, being poor and having poor contacts, friends, network and confidants will help you maintain or lose ground. If everyone you know is working for minimum wage, you don't ask where a good place to work is expecting good work, you're expecting somewhere that will actually give you full-time hours, or enough to barely sustain yourself.

Downvote me, rail against me, disagree, defend the article all you want to, but the article is full of as much hope and potential as the government programs that are available to help the poor go to college, all the way up to covering the entirety of their tuition. It sounds like such a great idea, but the reality is that fully covered tuition means jack shit when they are working 70-80 hours a week just to make rent and keep the lights on. It's feel-good drivel by people who never truly understood (and never will understand) what it's like to be at the poverty level or below.

I don't think you're as much at odds with the author as you claim. What I read in the article was him trying to teach a different way of looking at things, a new angle, which is what I read you got out of your enlistment.

Yes, this quote from the reply jumped out at me: "What mattered was that I was removed from the environment I was in."

The author is saying the same thing, though perhaps more to do with mental models than physicality.

I'm not saying it didn't have a positive effect on the people who were able to participate. What I'm saying is that it showed a positive impact for a carefully chosen group of people who met a very narrowly defined set of characteristics. There's nothing in the way it was done that provides any specific insights into people at or below the poverty level, what keeps them there or what can be done to provide help improving their situation. All it served to do was to highlight that smart people in a bad situation want to learn and are improved for having learned, the same as smart people in a not-bad situation. I called it a "feel good" piece because the only meaningful conclusion it reaches (because the narrow selection constraints prevented it from being broadly applicable) is that poor people are people, too and look how great it is we helped some.

Success of this program can be explained by the social connections made during the course - teachers were all having better quality of life - also students were shown different way of life through the lectures. If teachers were good as it seems they have backed their lessons with real life stories. In a way, the daily lessons were their out of the situation they were in.

The problem with poverty in the US is not 'no money' the problem is not knowing how to live without it. If you have math and problem solving skills you can avoid a lot of huge money sinks everywhere from the grocery store to transportation etc. You can decide to keep your apartment cold enough that your neighbors help heat it. But, when your desperate the idea that you will suffer now to get ahead becomes unacceptable, anything to feel better now because the future is not something you want to think about.

PS: Mental illness runs in my family so I have plenty of poor relatives, and a few rich ones. It's not hard to find two people that make about the same amount of money living vastly different lives. Just compare grad students with other people living on what they make.

Graduate students are typically well above the poverty line.

Graduate student stipends run from $15,000 to as much as $40,000 (for 20 hours of work!) The median wage in America is around $26,000. Many graduate students make more money than the average worker.

This is a perfect example of how out of touch we, the professional class, are. Most of us have no idea how little capital (social, financial, and otherwise) the working poor have at hand.

Graduate student pay: http://www.cas.usf.edu/business-services/data/osu-survey.pdf

Median wage statistics from the SSA: http://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/netcomp.cgi?year=2010

Many graduate students don't have a stipend. So, the poverty line in the US is ~12,000$ per year. But, I have know graduate students to live comfortably on as little as 9,000$. Granted, they often had a lot of social capital and some family connections. However, just knowing they had a ticket out often made living in a van or whatever acceptable.

But, I can also point out a friend who graduated from collage in 2002 without debt working at Denny's for 9$ an hour at who also supported his wife and 2 children. (He did get a 13$ / hour internship his senior year, but it was only 20 hours a week so he kept the Denny's job.) What's important is he knew it was no sustainable, but he saw a light at the end of a tunnel that made 80-90 hour weeks acceptable in the short term.

PS: While poor is often transitory, poor and uneducated, hopeless, addicted, and desperate is rarely transitory.

I've never heard of a $40,000/year grad-student stipend. The median stipend, AFAIK, is $20k/year for about 50 hours/week of work (when you actually factor in teaching, research, everything beyond the "student's" curricular responsibilities).

Fuck, I grew up upper-middle class and I agree with you wholeheartedly. What good was the course to the woman who got fired from her fast-food job for trying to unionize (which is blatantly illegal but happens all the time)?

What would have been good for her? 1) A liveable wage. 2) A society that doesn't fuck her over for wanting a liveable wage. 3) A society that doesn't fuck her over for trying to get a liveable wage by unionizing.

I love you man. You speak the truth, some people won't be able to get it, because it's against their DNA. I'm growing sick of this herd of pompous self-satisfied kids pretending to understand everything without actually listening and helping anybody but themselves.

Isn't this exactly what the article said?

> I escaped from poverty because I am significantly above the average intelligence level and I managed to make the right decision at the right time.

LOL. Dunning-Kruger comes to mind.

To be honest I read Rich Dad/Poor Dad, stuck with cash because I was too lazy to manage a portfolio (which worked out well stress-wise) and didn't bow to pressure to borrow for cars and houses when my peers were because I'm stubborn and don't like debt- it's looking back that I can put it into advice.

Sad that he tells the students "This will be proof, I hope, of my idea about the humanities".

It's Viniece Walker's idea, the woman he met in prison, who earned the idea with her struggles.

I wish more people of privilege were aware of how often they "forget" to give credit where credit is due, especially when credit is due to someone of less privilege.

Well, he did preface the entire article with that fact; it's not as if he doesn't give credit. There are any number of reasons not to go into the details of the inspiration during the course itself, and anyway, there's nothing whatsoever to indicate that he didn't mention it at some point.

To imply that this most selfless, compassionate, and generous person not only forgot to give credit but did so as a result of some inbuilt insensitivity to wealth disparity is an egregious misrepresentation. I mean, did you read what the guy's work was about? Is this really a nit to be picked?

If you read the actual book, you would know he earned the trust of prisoners by confessing his own sins to them. I don't think he states in the book what terrible thing he confessed. Whatever it was, he earned their trust and respect. He in no way held himself above them.

[September 1997]

[Edit] and still relevant...just pointing out the date.

Thanks for pointing that out. As i was reading the article i was having flashbacks to Bunny Colvin attempting to 'socialize' his students in Season 4 of The Wire. It's reassuring to know that the study and science probably inspired the television show, and not the other way around.

And still relevant.

We became poor after deciding to adopt agriculture and systems of debt - previous to that, your wealth was momentary and related to your immediate friends, the seasons, and location, so the concept didn't really exist as we know it.

As civilization gained wealth, some people became rich, but they were only rich relative to everyone else's poverty. The wealthiest people of Rome had, in most respects, less than what someone on Western unemployment benefits may have now. They could do better on basics(which are important), but the technology of today was unfathomable.

But one of the technologies we haven't found is a way to escape the status differentials, complexities, and failures of our debt system; solving that problem is the key to solving poverty.

I have no clue. I think I know why I'm not poor

1. Luck to be born in Germany 2. My parents did everything despite their low incomes to get me to university and support me with everything I've ever tried - and got me out of stupid situations I got myself into 3. Luck to get a job in the early 90s for programming web sites when very few people could do that, although the job offer was out there already for 3 months. Because someone at university told me during holiday about something called "WWW" 4. Luck that my girl friend left me - somehow - and I wanted to get over that by working a lot 5. Luck that I got VC financed and become CTO of a startup during the dot com boom

In order to accumulate resources, one must use the resources available wisely, consuming just a portion and investing the rest to produce more resources.

Individuals and societies that don't do this grow poorer.

But your investment returns are someone else's uninvested consumption. Aggregate demand is like a field of crops, and our society seems to have chosen to eat its seed corn.

Not all returns are someone else's consumption. If that were the case, there would be no industry.

You can invest in a business that makes things for businesses or things that are actually investments for consumers.

An education is not (usually) consumption for a consumer. Neither is a car that more than pays for itself with the time it saves. Using the same car to go traveling around the country instead of getting an education is more consumption than investment.

Our society has chosen to water down the natural incentives to make prudent investments. Saving money no longer pays meaningful interest. The government gives you large incentives to buy a much bigger house than you might otherwise buy or rent. That "extra" house is consumption.

Not all returns are someone else's consumption. If that were the case, there would be no industry.

It is a good approximation of reality, created by the fact that people have varying preferences for consumption versus investment.

An education is not (usually) consumption for a consumer. Neither is a car that more than pays for itself with the time it saves.

In neither of these cases does the provider of the car or education receive monetary returns for the car or education beyond the actual price. When I said "investment", I should perhaps have specified capital gains: interest, dividends, or asset appreciation that return monetized value to the investor.

So an education is metaphorically investment for the student, but not for the university. Even for the student, there is no asset owned that can be sold and no legal contract of debt or equity that "their education" has to pay for. There's just a hope of a better-paying job. Hence, "metaphorically" an investment.

Our society has chosen to water down the natural incentives to make prudent investments.

Well no. Our society is struggling to keep its head far-enough above water to avoid a deflationary spiral.

The maker of the car does receive a return. Its the price paid for minus all the costs of being in the car business.

A return is not guaranteed, of course. But if there were no return possible, no one would go into the car business.

You say for student there is no asset that can be sold. Not true, at least when the student chooses his education wisely. He can now sell his time for more money. Education is a "factor of production" of his work, which he then can sell.

When I first spoke about investment, I did not mean the narrow meaning you've understood. I was talking about why people are poor and I discussed consuming resources versus using them to produce more resources.

Investing in one's own capabilities or making your own garden are investments that don't involve giving money to someone else and waiting for a return. Successful businesses and successful people make such investments.

When I first spoke about investment, I did not mean the narrow meaning you've understood. I was talking about why people are poor and I discussed consuming resources versus using them to produce more resources.

Ok, but in that case, most poor people simply don't have much to invest in themselves. Most of their efforts are consumed each day in just getting a living (by implication: most people are poor).

That's not true. We were all poor once. Yet here we are. I grew up poor myself.

Where people are not free, where the government or thieves take their resources, they cannot accumulate anything. And in countries that are still largely poor, that is exactly what happens.

But, when people are able to escape these countries to where they can be free, they are then free to improve their situation. And many do.

I see lots of people blaming "the system" and whatnot for not teaching you to be rich..... and getting you into debt. And to be sure, the financial industry has been given too much rope to hand out credit without enough risk.

But I seem to recall seeing many other forums about university, mortgages, etc, where people who's parents paid for their education, helped with a house, etc, are ridiculed - and I don't mean super rich dynastic trust fund babies....

It only takes a generation and some common thinking for a family to stick together and get ahead, and ensure their children never need to borrow money from a bank to get an education, or buy a house. You don't have to be rich... but why can't we live, you know, a generation ahead? I know a guy who told me his parents paid for all his stuff, his house, etc, and therefore all his work and all that (good tech guy) was just being saved up for HIS kids, ad-infinitum. They aren't trying to be rich - they just stay a generation ahead.

How many people, 10 years into their working life, have a year's minimum expenses in liquid cash, a cushion, just in case? How about 6 months? Most don't even have 2 weeks.... most live hours away from disaster if they don't get paid on time, and they blame everyone else. Get a couple months ahead and you no longer think about when payday is.... it's not relevant. Want to be an entrepreneur? great. Do it. People don't understand what money is for, or how to really use it to their advantage. They learn abou their "credit rating" - that's it.

My rules: - There's nothing wrong with cash in the bank (really secure, liquid assetts). People tell you you are losing out because of inflation..... most of those people got smashed when the stock market crashed. I'm not knocking investment, I'm just saying, cash is okay. I've weathered the ups and downs of the financial world without worry or concern while everyone else was freaking out. A good credit rating is good - but it should be a side effect of good financial practices, not a goal in and of itself. My credit rating probably isn't great - it's not bad because I've done nothing wrong, but I haven't borrowed large sums and paid them back, that kind of thing.

Credit cards should work for you, they are not a privilege. They should protect you from risk of theft, and help you balance out and manage cache flow. They should never be used for money you don't have. There are other ways to go about that (and in a circle of friends with similar practices, you borrow from friends - imagine a society based on the same)

Avoid debt. Debt is okay - but don't get over your head... stay far, far away from that kind of debt. Debt carries a psychological burden as well.... for me it feels great knowing that when I get paid, my money is mine. If I borrow some money, pay some interest so I can keep some liquidity rather than spend cash on something big the interest payments are worth keeping my security cushion adequate - but if push comes to shove, I can just pay it off - that's what I mean.

You want a simple credit card without fees or nasty interest rates. You want protection and no nonsense. You want cash in the bank, always growing - I don't mean retirement savings, I mean a cushion - it should grow all the time. After 20 years of working you should be in a position where you could have no job for a year or more without screwing up your life. (not saying you SHOULD do that, you probably shouldn't - but you should be able to - that makes negotating salaries and dealing with employers much, much easier).

It's really simple. Avoid debt. Build and keep adding to a cash cushion. Dip in once in a while, no problem, but keep it growing. It'll hurt at first, but before long you'll LOVE it. Be as aggressive as you can. Liquidity = opportunity. (Imagine having a rented home and lots of cash in the bank rather than an underwater mortgage when the housing market crashed. Most people tragically sufferred - you would be in a position to take advantage of the situation immediately.

>It only takes a generation and some common thinking for a family to stick together and get ahead, and ensure their children never need to borrow money from a bank to get an education, or buy a house. You don't have to be rich... but why can't we live, you know, a generation ahead? I know a guy who told me his parents paid for all his stuff, his house, etc, and therefore all his work and all that (good tech guy) was just being saved up for HIS kids, ad-infinitum. They aren't trying to be rich - they just stay a generation ahead.

You are talking about unbelievable sums of wealth that are completely unavailable to the working poor. This is great advice for people who are already unbelievably privileged (probably most of us at HN) but it does jack shit for people who are living pay cheque to pay cheque because their pay cheque is barely enough to sustain any standard of living.

I can see your point, given the audience here - but I'm in no way unbelievably rich. I'm not working poor, but I'm still freaked out at how I'm going to retire and pay for my kids education, etc.


People who live cheque to cheque, if given double the salary, would very shortly still end up living cheque to cheque. Triple it, same thing.

I'm not dismissing problems with the system - but I've seen people who make in a month what I make in a day (more because of where I live, only a little becuase I make a good wage - it's not something that would impress anyone on this forum, let me assure you) who still manage to save money slowly, raise kids, buy a house eventually, etc....).

It's about your attitude towards money, not the amount.

>I'm in no way unbelievably rich.

It's very likely that you are, in fact, unbelievably rich. If you look at the condition that most of the people in the world live in, and even large groups of Westerners, I would bet that you are doing very, very well.

There's nothing wrong with wanting more, or discussing how to better manage your finances, I just don't think that we're really talking about poverty anymore at that point.

I know a ton of people who were "working poor" either just post-WWII or as immigrants, who nonetheless have managed to acquire some pretty good sums of wealth. Most of them don't go as far as being "a generation ahead", but their hard work and sacrifices put their kids and grandkids in position to be successful without going through the sorts of financial dire straits that others treat as normal.

Immigrants from where? How many of them were black and living in the inner city? Or white and living in rural poverty?

Post WWII saw the rise of the middle class, it's not really fair to compare it to now and tell poor people "hey, just do that!"

Bootstrapping is for websites, it's not a solution to widespread poverty.

education, housing and health insurance were much cheaper even just 20 years ago

Interesting point on the "avoid debt," because that's what naive young adults here are told not to worry about. Get a student loan, no problem - bank overdraft, fine. They are roped into the system when they're young and naive, and they spend half of their adult working life trying to climb their way out of it before they can really start saving whilst still paying off their mortgages.

I agree with your sentiments about being conservative with your finances, and there's no doubt a huge portion of poor people are terrible with money. You see people struggling to pay rent, but queuing up for the new iPhone - such way of living is ludicrous, and they are bound to stay poor that way. The reality is they don't need it - you don't need gadgets, fashion accessories, takeaways, beer, drugs and other money drains - but at the same time, if you're not buying the latest and greatest, someone else isn't making enough money - which is considered bad for the economy. They encourage you to spend.

"After 20 years of working you should be in a position where you could have no job for a year or more without screwing up your life."

We call it - "Go fuck yourself, boss" money.

Call it whatever makes you happy I guess - but personally, as much as I might want to, I htink it's abad idea to burn bridges. "go fuck yourself boss" is the wrong mentality - if the place isn't for you, you just go, move on, and leave it in the past.

I read his book years ago, the one this article references. It was wonderful. I highly recommend it.

Thanks for posting this article. It was extremely well written, so much so that I just bought some of his books. It feels like this should be a movie. Sounds more inspiring than Stand and Deliver, Freedom Writers, etc.

May be because the feeling of 'being important' has died inside them.

A lot of social factors can be blamed for that situation and truly though; but the important fact is 'it starts with the very individual'. Unless that individual feels the need, the situation won't change, no matter what. So if non-poor part of the society wants to do anything about it, the first thing that should be tried is to 'awaken' the poor.

Great article - thanks for sharing.

It's a shame that most comments here respond to the title of the article and not its contents. Hint: it's not what you think

It's interesting that this article mentions Heisenberg. Although the Heisenberg uncertainty principle was formulated for quantum particles, it can be paraphrased as saying that measurements disturb the system being measured. It is perilous to apply quantum physics to the behavior and interactions of humans, but here I believe it is illustrative. Specifically, I think Shorris' study perturbed the system he was trying to measure while he was still in the process of trying to measure its different aspects.

Shorris' argues that the key to escaping poverty is the study of the humanities. His evidence is that a group of carefully selected students who, after being given a year of quality education, seem to be able to escape the poverty that entrapped them. Learning the humanities therefore provides a way out of poverty. While this is an uplifting, perhaps even inspirational message, the conclusions he draws are highly questionable for a plethora of reasons.

1. Response bias: Students expressing interest in the course are likely the most motivated individuals in their respective circles.

2. Selection bias: Students deemed "too impoverished" or "too uneducated" were rejected.

3. Intervention by study conductor: Education and career advice was not only given freely, but volunteered to promising pupils.

3. Variables not controlled: The education included high quality instructors who might have been capable of "inspiring" their students, regardless of the subject being taught, as well as providing an "in" to their respective institutions. Disruption of routine: Students were required to leave their immediate neighborhood and social circles regularly and engage in rigorous study.

4. No control group.

I could go on for a while, but this is sufficient. Shorris' study group consisted of the most highly motivated members of the poor minus those who were the least educated. He then intervened in their lives, not just to give them a quality education, but also by changing their habits, exposing them to the unfamiliar, enhancing their motivation and giving them career/education counseling plus networking connections to the educational institutes of the participating teachers.

I will not dispute that this course was a fantastic idea that enriched the lives of those lucky enough to take it, but it simply cannot be used as evidence for the notion that study of the humanities specifically can be used to combat poverty. Instead, it should be used a model for other similar courses.

Could somebody do a TL;DR, please? I am interested, but I am not sure where the article gets to the point?

Real education is the path out of poverty. It always has been. Real education teaches people to think more effectively. Not everything called "education" fits that requirement. The poor are often subjected to training rather than education, which very often doesn't resolve anything. Training tends to reinforce the social trap they live in.

I suggest you not only read the article but also the book it is about. It is one of the more important books I have read.

Did this project have good results? Have other people successfully replicated those good results running the project themselves?

I suspect, like most projects, it didn't meet both of those criteria. However, if it did, I would be extremely interested.

> A year after graduation, ten of the first sixteen Clemente Course graduates were attending four-year colleges or going to nursing school; four of them had received full scholarships to Bard College. The other graduates were attending community college or working full-time. Except for one: she had been fired from her job in a fast-food restaurant for trying to start a union.

It sounds like it was successful to me.

So the solution is to make everyone a nurse or an engineer or a manager? Who's going to sweep the streets and grow food?

What? The solution proposed by the article is to make quality education available.

And the implication of everybody being well educated is that everyone will have white collar jobs or prestigious blue collar jobs. If everyone is well educated then who will want to take a job as a street cleaner when they've just spent $80k on their education? The solution is clearly not limited to just educating everyone, is it?

Real education does not necessarily mean spending big bucks. There is plenty of evidence that simply throwing money at the problem doesn't really work. A better correlation is high parental involvement and a community which values education.

Also, pay alone does not determine if one is poor. It is not possible to avoid having people who are "relatively poor" as measured by absolute income. But it is possible to take better care of people and reduce real problems like malnutrition, even if you have phd's waiting tables because there are too many of them.

What about a creative approach to the problem coupled with questioning our basic assumptions - why should anyone be relatively poor in the first place? Do we really need money in a high resource environment? When society is, in effect, dependent on everyone doing their part then why should someone be poorer just for the part they play? Why do we not run more social experiments on different ways of structuring things? We could section off a few islands and let the idealists create their perfect societies on them and see who does best. We could take lessons from those experiments and integrate them into mainstream society.

I'm just saying, education has been improving steadily over the last century yet the wealth gap has increased. It's clearly only one element of the solution.

I think there will always be relative poverty, no matter what you do. By that I mean there will always be some folks who have less, some who have more. I have problem with that. In fact, I think there are big problems with trying to force too much sameness. But, yes, I think we can do better by the masses. I have thought about such things a long time.

I am currently homeless and most homeless people are not penniless. Most of them have too little income for a middle class lifestyle but do have some kind of income. I would like to start a business at some point which would not be aimed solely at homeless people but which I think would probably have high appeal for them. In other words, I expect them to be a significant percentage of the customer base. Treating them like customers instead of charity cases in a business aimed at adding value to their lives for a reasonable fee would improve their situation, not necessarily helping them get off the street but helping make life more bearable while on the street. Also making life more affordable for folks who are barely hanging on, thus likely preventing some people from slipping into homelessness. Charities have their place, but there is a reason why the expression "charity case" is basically insulting.


There is so much wrong with this statement and way of thinking that I don't even know where to start. I'm upvoting, because I don't want this comment to disappear, but it's still wrong-headed.

1. Answering the first quesiton directly:

No, that's not the solution proposed by the article. The goal was to get the poor involved in politics, in the largest sense of the word. At the end, he reported that almost everyone in the first class was either in school or employed full-time. No mention of managerial roles, or what they were training to be. One tried to start a union, so she is not heading towards a managerial role.

There are plenty of programs out there that do try to train people in technical skills, like nursing, engineering, or management, but this was _not_ one of those programs. This is a way to help the poor break out of the vicious cycle of poverty themselves by giving them the tools to think about their situation. Who knows what they'll do with those tools.

2. Answering the second question, allowing for your premise:

Robots, programmed by all of these engineers we wouldn't've had otherwise, and the people that are too poor to be helped, or unable for other reasons. This is what we call a _good_ problem.

3. Making fun of you/sarcasm:

OK, sure, lets not help the poor at all, because what if we're _too successful?!?_ That would be horrible! We'd starve to death in dirty streets, because people would be too busy nursing, engineering, and managing each other, and not realize there was no food!

4. Rejecting your premise and addressing the second question:

Who's going to do the blue collar jobs? Mostly the same kinds of people that do them now, except they will have more political empowerment, and a greater capacity for reflection and critical thinking. I know a few educated people that choose to work as farmhands, so it's not impossible, and I myself enjoy an "honest day's work" (speaking as someone with the privilege of an education in the humanities).

Can you imagine how awesome it would be if we had a society of critical thinkers and moral philosophers, instead of the reactionary, anti-intellectual, gullible, fundamentalist society we have now[1]? Can you imagine if the lowest common denominator weren't so low? I'm not saying it would be a utopia, but for at least the last few hundred years, people have been dreaming of a time when machines had taken over every menial task, and humans could spend their time as they wished, free to follow pursuits of their own choosing.

[1] I'm not trying to say 100% of society is like that I'm just saying that significant fractions of the American population at least show one or more of these characteristics, and I don't think it's making for a better society.

Whoa there. I merely questioned the notion that simply educating everyone will solve all of our problems. I was implying that there's a lot more to it than that. Look at the media industry, for example - we have developed technology which makes information freely accessible to everyone yet we have a considerable amount of resources being thrown at locking that down, which makes no sense in the grand scheme of things.

I agree that education is a must, but it's also about addressing the social structures we currently have in place and recognising that they will fight tooth and nail to keep things the way they currently are.

Please forgive me for misinterpreting, since at the only clarification you had at the time of my comment was

> And the implication of everybody being well educated is that everyone will have white collar jobs or prestigious blue collar jobs. If everyone is well educated then who will want to take a job as a street cleaner when they've just spent $80k on their education? The solution is clearly not limited to just educating everyone, is it?

While the latter part of your statement is the same as the beginning of what you just said, I took the former to mean that educating everybody would cause additional problems, not that it wouldn't solve all the problems we have. If you didn't mean to imply this line of thinking, or if you have abandoned it, then great.

To address this new point, did you see anything in my comment that suggests I want to keep our current social structure? The very act of empowering the poor into participating in politics (again, not just in the election sense) on a large scale will change the structure of society. And then, instead of the privileged deciding what the poor need and pushing potential solutions, we would probably start to see the poor creating their own solutions, and further changing our societal structure. I imagine that their solutions would work better than those that came from outside, and they might even be highly resistant to recommendations from a model society (some didn't even trust that this education would help, since "the white man wouldn’t let you up no matter what.").

It's like the various Housing First problems out there. Most of the homeless have a host of other problems (addiction, mental illness/disorder, lack of education, etc) but these programs get them an apartment first, and merely make the other services available. And from what I've read, they work. People stay off the streets and clean themselves up, for the most part.

That said, there is _no_ reason we can't educate everyone in the humanities and do other things, too.

I've thought a fair bit about this now and finally understand what point I was trying to make. Educating the poor is not enough because the rich are an integral part of the problem. Just as the poor are so because they lack education, so the rich hold deep prejudices against the poor because of their lack of education. It's just like psychotherapy on an individual scale - the problem is never limited to just the person in question. The problem is the whole family, the whole society, not just one aspect of it.

In other words, our entire society needs to be re-educated in order to solve this problem, not just the poor.

>we would probably start to see the poor creating their own solutions, and further changing our societal structure.

Indeed we would, but we would also see a great deal of resistance to it from the powers that be. This needs to be addressed with equal importance. What's the point of bringing people up when others will just try to push them down more? We need to bring them up and make space to accommodate them.

Thank you for engaging me in this thread. I still think you're missing the point, if you think people need it pointed out to them that there's more than one reason the poor are poor. Well, they do, but not if they've read this article, since the author is more than aware of this, and illustrates what he calls the "surround of force" throughout.

In terms of educating the rich, what exactly do you propose to teach them and how do you suggest convincing them to give you the time of day?

How about some people from privaliged backgrounds, that decided not to take advantage of the many opportunities they received?

My recollection is that it was "yes" on both counts. But I read the book many years ago while bedridden. I strongly encourage you to read it yourself. I found the book extremely personally worthwhile.

"Real education" sounds dangerously close to a "true Scotsman".

The "no true Scotsman" fallacy is about moving goalposts -- about changing the definition in the middle of the argument. You have to agree on a definition, and then you can argue about whether something fits.

That is a completely different issue from arguing about definitions themselves. We can indeed hold opinions on what constitutes a true Scotsman, and even argue about which of those opinions is correct -- so long as it's the subject of the conversation.

You can't change definitions in the middle of a discussion. But you can certainly hold, support, and defend the consistent opinion that something is not a REAL education. It's not the word "real" that makes something problem. It's changing your mind.

> "The "no true Scotsman" fallacy is about moving goalposts"

More specifically, NTS is moving the goalposts based on irrelevant criteria.

There are times when the goalposts are in the wrong spot, and it's appropriate to stop the main argument, take the time to get your definitions straight, and then move back to the main argument with appropriate goalposts. If you realize that two parties are using different definitions, it's completely appropriate to argue about which definition is correct (possibly "the correct usage for these purposes" rather than "universally correct") before returning to the larger argument.

Sorry? I don't think so. I have seen this discussed many times over the years. Genuinely teaching people to think more effectively is real education. What goes on in some schools is more akin to brainwashing, which is the opposite of teaching people to think for themselves.

Is it actionable?

Er, sorry, is what actionable?

Something which can be acted upon, meaningfully.

Knowing that a tidal wave is headed your way when you've got safe ground that's reachable, is actionable. You can take action to change the outcome.

Knowing that, say, that within the next century the sun would go nova, or a local star would go supernova, for all practical intents, is not actionable in any manner that action could be taken which would preserve civilization / the human species.

I know what the word actionable means. I don't know what he is asking about. Is my suggestion to read the book actionable? Yes, I think so. Is the info in the book actionable? Yes, I think so, on several fronts. But I don't know what action he wants me talking to him about.

What you say - if you think the info in the book is actionable, you could have answered my question with "yes".

No fears, my bad.

One TL;DR would be that the liberal arts are very important. As such it follows that reading, words & meaning, as well as the pursuit of thought are very important. The conclusion is that you should read the article.

You know that there is a gazillion of articles out there - we have the internet now! Why should I read this particular one, which from the outset seems to have a dubious hypothesis?

Would liberal arts help some African child in a remote village? I am asking because I think I wouldn't last long in such an environment, despite of my capability to read...

Because it's good. It's well-written, thought-provoking, based on solid data and helps understand what truly motivates people who are in deep shit. While it has not been applied to African villages, they did replicate the experiment with disadvantaged ghetto-dwellers in Mexico.

In the experiment described in the article, the ability to read was a prerequisite for the course, not the desired outcome. The desired outcome was to teach a method of reflection that goes beyond your first immediate reaction, and show people that thinking about what you do can be useful. The effects on the test population were continued education, employment, prevention of violence, and the confidence to demand better working conditions at the workplace. This for only a half-year's work and a cost of 2000USD per person. If you do not consider that valuable enough to read, what are you doing reading its comments?

I read about two pages of the article and there was nothing of the sort you describe, just anecdotes. Not even real anecdotes, more like atmosphere descriptions. Apparently it gets better, but I simply can not read every long winded opinion piece on the internet. If their message is important, they should aim for a more concise writing style.

The only indicator that it might be worthwhile to read is a couple of people here claiming it is important. But there are also people who claim reading the bible is important. I was simply asking for some convincing reasons to invest my time into reading that article.

Umm. Poor people who learn philosophy understand the world better and might be better equipped to influence it. I guess that was the point. The author rambled a lot and implied a lot without saying much concrete. Pretty poor writing if the author's goal was rhetoric.

If you want to get out of poverty, stop thinking like a poor person.

As ismarc above states, half the battle is also being surrounded by poor people who disregard accomplishment.

People are poor when a market doesn't employ capitalist methods.

In a purely capitalist job market the hardest working, most productive people would get paid the best and have job security.

This sounds like religious dogma. How do you define "hardest working"? Would someone holding down two and three jobs count because these people tend to be some of the poorest.

I can imagine that if we could somehow make compensation transparent to the point that, say, buying bananas is so that every single worker has a rough idea of the value their work provides that would help raise wages but I would still struggle for a definition of "hard working" that would mean those that engage in it will become the richest.

bad luck. (bad genes, bad parents, bad country...)

Just one more apologist for the 1% telling them it's ok that you have so much and most other people have none. It's their choice. They choose to be poor. It is very simple. So go back to cheating on your taxes so you can afford shinyer rings. It's not your fault our infrastructure is crumbling, its all those poor people who refuse to choose to not be poor. Shelve next to other right wing wacko screeds like Ayn Rand.

Gotta love all these ditto heads doing the 'start your own business' chorus. 99% of all new businesses fail.

The 1% have been working very hard to pull up and destroy the ladders they used to get where they are.

In the current fascist economy there is simply no way 100 out of 100 people can all strike it rich. The handful at the top are busy cementing their position.

The game is rigged.

In a recent fictional book about poverty in the UK, two types if poverty were identified.

One was unintentional poverty- someone falls into trouble due to no fault of their own. Maybe illness, trauma etc

The other is intentional- individuals taking full advantage of government benefits. In the UK generations of families have been stuck in this category.

One group feel more deserving...

> The other is intentional- individuals taking full advantage of government benefits. In the UK generations of families have been stuck in this category.

The UK tax and benefits system creates perverse incentives. The systems are baffling (advisors for tax or for benefits need a lot of training (accountants need degree level studying and qualifications)) and interlocking. They are handled by different government departments. Mistakes are common. If the people paying the benefit make a mistake to your detriment nothing happens. (Or if you make a mistake to your detriment.) (And if you don't notice in time you're unlikely to get that money ever.) But if they make a mistake in your favour that money will be clawed back, no matter how long ago the mistake was made. And if you make a mistake in your favour, or if you don't report their mistakes in your favour, you risk interview under caution, arrest, and prosecution.

Compare this treatment of people who are poor with, for example, very wealthy companies taking extreme borderline legal tax avoidance measures.

People who have learned dependence might not feel deserving, but getting them off benefit and into work isn't as easy as clubbing them with punishments. Especially since it was society that put them there.

Here's an example of Vodafone:


They owed maybe £6bn, probably £4bn. They paid £1.2bn in a deal.

The problem in the UK, which is caused by the government, is that there are several points where people end up with less money overall (including housing benefit, and childcare) if they earn more money / work more hours.

While you can argue about 'deserving', it is the government's fault that they have set up a system which encourages people not to work.

Unforuntatly, the current attempts to fix this are (in my opinion) just creating a more confusing system where it is easier to get trapped or confused.

Surely genetics plays a huge role, one that's ignored in this article.

Does it now? Cite your sources, please.

This shouldn't be in the least bit controversial; it's well known that a great many human characteristics are extremely heritable, and it would be absolutely shocking if none of these characteristics turned out to be helpful or harmful in becoming rich or poor.

But since you want sources, here we go:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21826061 "Genome-wide association studies establish that human intelligence is highly heritable and polygenic."

The other half, that intelligence is correlated with income, should be fairly obvious from everyday experience, but nonetheless here's a nice graph


Next up I will provide citations for the fact that the sky is blue, since we seem to be on a prove-the-bloody-obvious kick today:

"Human color vision and the unsaturated blue color of the daytime sky", Glenn S. Smith, American Journal of Physics, Volume 73, Issue 7, pp. 590-597 (2005).

Next up I will provide citations for the fact that the sky is blue, since we seem to be on a prove-the-bloody-obvious kick today...

You can, and should, make your point without being so insulting and demeaning. We can do better than this.

What does intelligence have to do with education? Specifically, why should ex-cons etc. change their abilities partway through their lives if the abilities were genetically determined?

it's well known that a great many human characteristics are extremely heritable

Methinks you are not completely familiar with what "extremely heritable" really implies in studies of human behavioral genetics. (I attribute this to a knowledge gap, as I have generally found your other comments about natural science to be highly reliable, if they are close to the field you work in.) I am blessed with the opportunity to attend the weekly behavioral genetics seminar ("journal club") at my alma mater university each week during the school year, and from the seminar I have learned about professional articles that dispel common misconceptions about human behavioral genetics.

Turkheimer, E. (2012). Genome wide association studies of behavior are social science. In K. S. Plaisance & T.A.C. Reydon (Eds.) Philosophy of Behavioral Biology (pp. 43-64). New York, NY: Springer.


"If the history of empirical psychology has taught researchers anything, it is that correlations between causally distant variables cannot be counted on to lead to coherent etiological models."

Johnson, W., Turkheimer, E., Gottesman, I. I., & Bouchard, T. J. (2009). Beyond heritability: Twin studies in behavioral research. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 217-220. [I am personally acquainted with three of the four co-authors of this paper, one of whom regularly exchanges links with me by email.]


"Moreover, even highly heritable traits can be strongly manipulated by the environment, so heritability has little if anything to do with controllability. For example, height is on the order of 90% heritable, yet North and South Koreans, who come from the same genetic background, presently differ in average height by a full 6 inches (Pak, 2004; Schwekendiek, 2008)."

Turkheimer, E. (2008, Spring). A better way to use twins for developmental research. LIFE Newsletter, 2, 1-5.


"Unfortunately, that fundamental intuition is wrong. Heritability isn’t an index of how genetic a trait is. A great deal of time has been wasted in the effort of measuring the heritability of traits in the false expectation that somehow the genetic nature of psychological phenomena would be revealed. There are many reasons for making this strong statement, but the most important of them harkens back to the description of heritability as an effect size."

To sum up, individual human differences in poverty (on a relative basis, within any one society) probably have something to do with individual human differences in the genes shuffled into each person at conception, but those differences neither fix an absolute level of poverty nor fix a stable rank-ordering of relative poverty. Other factors that are properly called "environmental," both at the societal and individual level of analysis, can and do overcome the odds influenced by individual genomes.

A link I just discovered yesterday


leads to a LONG, detailed article about reasonable social policies that may do much to alleviate poverty in the United States.

Thanks, these are great reads.

Excellent reply, reading through a couple of the links.

Comments like these remind me of HN of the past.

Note that correlations between populations are not transitive like that.


That is indeed true, and I thought about putting in a note about that in my original comment, but... c'mon folks, I don't think there can be any serious doubt about the idea that some people are born stupid, and that stupid people are more likely to be poor. Can there? Is this a concept which people genuinely doubt?

Likewise, some people are born ugly, and ugly people are more likely to be poor, and why didn't TFA mention all the research on this?

Contra-point: the rich have more resources to invest in beauty.

Contra-point: but surely there are some beautiful poor people, denied the opportunity to maintain, develop and leverage their beauty for material gain. What of them, the deserving poor?

Contra-point: it's not just good genes, it takes hard work too, with proper diet, exercise, plenty of sleep and good grooming. I deserve my success, I earned it.

Contra-point: do beautiful parents necessarily have beautiful children, and vice-versa? I know this girl, she's really hot, but her sister is such a dog....

In academic circles it is not controversial at all. Outside of academia, people will always resist these facts.

However, keep in mind that this is one part of the puzzle, and always explicitly note that when talking about this subject in public to minimize negative reactions.

It is extremely controversial in academic circles. Since you provide no citation let me provide one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bell_Curve#Criticisms

Wow, two distint populations correlations used to conclude heredity causes/affects poorness. Where to even start on why that's poor reasoning.

What would be the point? It's not an issue we're equipped to address, so what good would come from dwelling on the topic, even discounting the risk of muddying the author's point with divisive claims?

Genetics is a red herring, but so are most discussions about "social" causes. Social is just the new genetic. More often than not, the discussion goes down the same slippery slope of blame-the-victim reasoning to rationalize the status quo.

It makes all the difference in the world. If people are poor because that's the best they're genetically equipped to do, then there's not much we can do about it.

Look at pigeons. They eat out of garbage cans. They die within a few years. They get run over by cars rather a lot. But we don't really worry about this, because they're just fucking pigeons.

if that's the best they're genetically equipped to do

Gosh I'd be ashamed to make such an argument. It's a) incredibly loaded, and b) carries incredible risk in the event that someone takes it to heart and actually starts acting along those lines. Though perhaps you are just not used to your words having any force, and have yet to learn circumspection.

And I sense a certain hubris: "I am not a pigeon." Well, so you think.

Surely? Any sources?

There are poors so rich can stay rich.

The richer are some, the poorer are others.

There is a limited amount of money/wealth in the world. If some people take/earn/inherit more than average, then less wealth will remain available to others. The only way to fight poverty is to prevent exaggerated accumulation of wealth (the rich must be incited to spend his money, if not through creating jobs, then through taxes).

Swing low. Give it all away.

Because they're stupid and lazy;No because they're oppressed and victimized LOL ROFLMAO TLDR

Poverty is structural. Why are people poor? Largely because they are working jobs that pay shit wages, or live in areas they are too poor to escape, where there are not quality jobs matching the skillset taught to them by society.

This article is elitist bullshit coming from someone who has lived their life completely alien to poverty, who struggles to understand it.

When every type of worker makes enough money to afford to live in a school district with resources and quality educators, have health care, buy groceries, and care for their kids, we'll be in a lot better condition as a society.

Evolution encourages diversity. At any given point in time and place, some people are better adapted than others. The least adapted make up at least some of the poor. By this relative definition, some poor will always be with us, even though their standard of living is rising continually.

Evolution does not "encourage" diversity.

Evolution is predicated on some distribution of genetically inheritable characteristics with differential survival / reproductive benefits. Depending on a number of other characteristics, one might end up with highly diverse, or highly homogeneous local or regional populations.

You are right in general, but for succinct Internet discussion it is necessary to simplify as much as possible. Unfortunately this can sidetrack the discussion as flaws in the simplification are addressed.

In the case of humans, evolution did encourage diversity, if only because it created sexual reproduction in humans, which increases the diversity of offspring. And of course, humans are not all identical today, implying an evolutionary response to different environmental conditions.

Social Darwinism, really? I thought that went out of style with eugenics.

I don't believe the comment you are replying to is Social Darwinism. As I understand it, that particular view set is actually a belief/value system, while the comment you reply to is merely an observation that assuming variety, there will always be a bottom rung.

The comment directly implies that some people are born predisposed to being poor on a genetic level, which is... absurd isn't even close to the right word.

Gee, I kind of hate to say this, but my expensive genetic disorder is why I am deeply in debt and homeless. It is not due to lack of intelligence, ineptitude, etc. It is simply expensive to treat. So I have difficulty with the idea that our genes in no way impact this outcome. I was STAR student, a national scholarship winner, etc ad nauseum. In fact, I am in financial trouble because I figured out how to get well when that is supposedly impossible. It all came out of my pocket.

By Social Darwinism, I'm referring to the idea that 'economic outcomes make right'. If you are poor or destitute, it is because you are inferior and you deserve your plight.

It is a monstrous ideology that has produced nothing but suffering.

I am aware of that and on your side, which is why I said I hate to mention it. Even in CF circles, people hotly debate things like whether or not it is moral for a couple to have more kids after having a child with CF, knowing they could have another child with a tortorous, incurable condition. I had my sons well before I had a diagnosis, so I never wrestled with that question. I understand why people would not want to knowingly inflict such a thing on a loved one. But it easily becomes a slippery slope of "people like you should not reproduce". However, I also feel strongly that you do not get good solutions by claiming genetics play no role, merely to try to avoid a political hot button. Life tends to be a bit more complicated than bigots or people with a political agenda want it to be.

Have a great day.

Interesting. I didn't mean to discount that possibility and my strong reaction to the GP's implication was in the opposite direction as my comment looks in retrospect. I think health issues are a huge cause of poverty for families that were uninsured or didn't have sufficient coverage and I could definitely understand that happening with congenital cases. I'm sorry I came across so un-understanding, I was reading the parent-parent comment as "people are born lazy" which I found myself annoyed at. There are a lot of "poor people get what they deserve/are lazy" comments here that are dressed up to seem nicer (that frustrate me) and sadly I managed to (to you at least) come off even more sourly because I didn't express myself properly. Apologies.

No, not at all. I just hate to say it because it does potentially reinforce social darwinism. The reality is that there is some evidence that genetic disorders also correlate to high iq. In other words, it is very likely that my mental ability to solve my problem is rooted in the genetic disorder I have. So I hate listing it as evidence which might empower bigotry and the like. I am different from other people. That has its good points and bad points. But it definitely is the crux of my financial problems.

Peace and have a great day (and an upvote).

Stylishness is not equivalent to truth.

In science, they are quite highly correlated.

This hasn't been true historically. Almost all of the times we have been confident that we understood something, we have been wrong.

That is because almost all the time we are wrong, whether we were confident or not. However, we were generally less-wrong that were were before.

I recommend Asimov's article on the matter: http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/RelativityofWrong.htm

There are also step functions when dogma comes into the question. Copernicus and Galileo were both right about heliocentrism, but when heliocentrism was politically incorrect, the scientific consensus was wrong.

That's a powerful argument for the GP.

Eugenics didn't go out of style. It's used quite successfully to prevent horrible genetic diseases.


It's ironic that it's the Jews who embraced using eugenics on themselves!

Genetics don't have to be involved for traits to be passed on between generations. There is more to a phenotype than just the genotype.

It is not a stretch to think that natural selection could apply pressure to traits that are passed on through culture and exposure to ideas.

This seems to be a nonsequitor. "Social Darwinism" isn't a single coherent movement, but those who have espoused it in various forms have only occasionally been specifically concerned with the mechanism as far as I can tell. The grandparent just said "evolution" and spoke of adaptation.

Yes, that does seem to be what has happened here.

Evolution encourages diversity.

That's quite a general statement for the discussion here, which you then use to make a specific conclusion about the human behavioral issue under discussion in this thread. Could you kindly fill out the reasoning steps you are implicitly following with more citations to research on each factual assertion you are relying on?

even though their standard of living is rising continually

This is generally correct. A popular book on the issue (I don't endorse ALL its conclusions, but I like its citation of many different reliable references) is The Rational Optimist.


It's pretty simple: Humans are diverse. Evolution created humans. Therefore, evolution created human diversity. "Encourages" is perhaps the wrong word--evolution really produces diversity because it responds to the diverse conditions of the earth.

However, this is just background color, it doesn't change the argument. As long as humans are generically and epigenetically diverse there will be differences in fitness. In capitalist societies it makes people more or less wealthy; in other societies it makes them more or less powerful, or influential, or with more or less social status. There are other factors that can make someone poor but this one seems impossoble to completely remedy.

When you say "it's pretty simple: Humans are diverse" you are still making a pretty nebulous statement. What does diversity even mean there? On what basis are you resting your argument that evolution created human diversity, and is not in fact working against it? How do you compare genetic diversity to socioeconomic diversity in a way that is useful or sheds light on their actual relationship?

There is no question genetics play a role, the question is how big of a role do they play? You haven't gotten anywhere close to answering that.

umm.. no evolution does not encourage diversity. "encourage" implies that there is some sort of hierarchy or level in terms of evolution, and there isn't.

These sorts of points are silly, and wrong. If the general tendency of life under evolutionary processes is "diversity", through whatever natural processes are at play, then its reasonable to say in common language that "evolution encourages diversity".

Personally, I disagree that evolution encourages diversity. It seems to me that diversity occurs in spite of it, as a result of our ever changing, dynamic, earth.

Yes, it seems evolution 'encourages' homogenization. Natural selection acts as a filter reducing genetic variation in a given environmental setting.

Variety is selected for, as with parasite defenses in the immune system, and frequency dependent selection of social specializations.

Can you explain further?

Your body system has something called the major histocompatibility complex. The MHC collects proteins from parasites and shows them to the immune system to start a counterattack. If everybody had the same MHC, a virus that figured out how to evade it would be able to attack with impunity. So the MHC genes are under tremendous selective pressure to to evolve variety, and there are a huge number of mutants out there in the population.

Consider a genetic variation that if you inherit one copy you communicate well but if you inherit two copies you stutter. Communicating well will be selected for, but stuttering will be selected against. If the probability of having one copy is P, then the probability of having two copies is P squared. For example, if 5% of people have one copy, then 0.25% will have two. The variation will be selected for until it is so common that the gain in fitness for one-copy people is balanced by the loss in fitness two-copy people. (The real situation is more complicated, since variations in many genes interact to affect each other's fitness.)

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