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Being poor changes your thinking about everything (washingtonpost.com)
216 points by ph0rque on Sept 13, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 189 comments




These were, without a doubt, the best articles that Cracked has put forth. I've never been in poverty, but I've seen it from a near distance. I've been poor, but if push came to shove, I always had a middle-class mother I could move back to. That's a 'safety net' that many in poverty simply do not have.

And so it annoys the shit out of me that when a friend in finance got a $10k raise, all she could talk about was "but I lose half of it to the government!". In some strange world where 30% equals half, she's more concerned about what she lost than the fact that her gain was almost equal to a poor person's annual income. She couldn't even frame her payrise as a positive.

I was discussing poverty with a colleague yesterday, as we were discussing the concept of Basic Income. I mentioned that when I was on welfare, it still wasn't quite enough to keep me fed and housed. His response was "then move house to where it's cheaper". My counter was "firstly, the point of 'social security' is to keep people socially secure, at least for short stints, which means not kicking them out of their homes for a handful of dollars". Secondly, of course, was the ignorance of the fact that moving house is expensive (fiscally and socially), from the hunt, to the security deposit, to the day of shifting furniture, to having utilities hooked up. Thirdly, if the point was to give me welfare in the short term until I get a job, moving house to where it's cheaper is going to make it harder to get a job.

Discussing poverty is difficult, because unless you've been close to it, you won't understand the limitations of being in it. And conversely, if you're currently in it, it's hard to view it in a 'big picture' sense.


And so it annoys the shit out of me that when a friend in finance got a $10k raise, all she could talk about was "but I lose half of it to the government!". In some strange world where 30% equals half, she's more concerned about what she lost than the fact that her gain was almost equal to a poor person's annual income. She couldn't even frame her payrise as a positive.

There's more to life than feeling lucky we aren't in bad situations. I'd say ambition is more useful. A million dollars at 4% interest accrues $40k/yr, so in effect any millionaire is given 4x her raise every year just by doing nothing.

That's not a bad thing. It's just a fact of life. But "you should be happy with what you have" is practically a recipe for sabotaging your ambition.


I think issue is specifically complaining about it going to the government, where the implication is that it's going to be squandered on "lesser people." With no sensitivity for the fact that the taxes on her raise make an enormous difference to someone on welfare. The complaint in this situation is not "I wish I had made more" but "The government should take less."


Would you make the similar protest if they complained about their tax dollars going to wars and spying?


The people you vote for when you want lower taxes (Republicans) are not going to cut budgets for wars and spying, they're going to cut "redistributive" programs for "welfare queens."

Libertarians might get it done, but there's a serious bootstrapping problem in getting enough people to vote for them that they have a chance. For now, every vote for a libertarian is thrown away to idealism where it could at least be doing something.


I find it amusing that the cracked articles we were pointed to a few posts up talk about the mindset of "poor people think in terms of 'what do we need this instant' rather than 'what will we need in the future' due to scarcity of wiggle room in the budget". Basically one of the problems is people can't securely make smart long-term choices because the risk/reward calculation says if one unexpected thing comes up, the long-term payoff won't ever arrive because of getting hurt in the short term.

If you look at dollars as "lifestyle points", and votes as "societal points", the same reasoning is going on right here: the scarcity of "societal points" is causing the same reasoning about how to vote as poor people have to make for spending.

Not sure what that means - only noticing that there are parallels.


I think his point is 'Some people like wars and spying, some people like welfare.'


My taxes also make an enormous difference to my welfare. There are things that are best done collectively.


That's actually the entire point they are trying to make. They don't make an enormous difference to your welfare. At least not when compared to someone making $15k / year and trying to support a family. You really can't understand what it's like to not know where your next meal is coming from unless you have been there.


I have been there.

I get the that the safety net helps.

My point is that civil society helps every one.

My one criticism of my fellow liberals is their messaging doesn't appeal to their audience's self interest AND their sense of fairness.


I understood the grandparent's point to be that the taxes contribute to the tax-payers welfare in the form of keeping society more-or-less together, which is a huge benefit. Maybe I misunderstood though.


Ah. Good point.


I didn't say that 'she should be happy with what she had', I said that given a windfall, all she could do was bitch about the small part that was taxed. Getting a payrise made her unhappy!

I'm saying 'keep some perspective', not 'don't try to improve your situation'.


I didn't read the post as saying "be happy with what you have!" or "you're lucky you're not poor! I read it as the friend having ambition, and making headway, but demonstrating exaggerated pessimism about the headway.

That said, I mean, I don't know this person or their friend so it could be a flippant comment the friend made that's being overblown.

Who knows


35% in Fed taxes + 10% in state taxes is pretty close to half, buddy.


You're only paying 35% in US federal taxes if you're making over 400K a year. Someone making $100K to $150K is in the 28% bracket.

And you're probably only paying 10% in state tax if you live in California. Most other states' income tax are around 5 or 6 percent, and some are at zero.


35% = 28% income tax + 6.2% social security tax + 1.45% medicare tax


Social Security tax caps out at an income of $113,700[1]. Medicare tax actually goes up slightly at $200,000, though.

[1] http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/240/~/so...


It's actually even worse than that, because the employer is paying an additional 6.2% + 1.45% on your behalf. But from the employer's point of view, it's just another cost of having an employee. It's a zero-sum game. The employee is really paying 28% income + 14.4% social security + 2.9% medicare = 45%. (Actually a hair less because the employer's contribution is not considered taxable income, but in any case the effective tax is > 35%)


Well, even if the employer pays the cost on paper, because the supply of labor is relatively inelastic, realistically, employees, at least in a competitive labor market, eat that cost through lower wages. I’m convinced it’s a way for the government to hide half the cost of insolvent social programs from people who don’t know about the employer share and/or don’t understand that they’re likely paying most of the cost.


Are you serious? What about sales tax? that is 10% in California. Throw that on top. What about property tax? Car Tax?, Health care tax (yeah since the state forces all hospitals to treat anyone without insurance [every ER at midnight is a pediatricians office for illegals - almost every kid there is literally running around with emergency sniffles and an emergency low grade fever] I get to flip the bill so I consider that a tax). There are plenty more. With all the taxes and double and triple taxes, it is easily 50%.


>Are you serious? What about sales tax? that is 10% in California. Throw that on top. What about property tax? Car Tax?...

Wtf? That's not how taxes work, guy.


Well...sure it is. Obviously you can't add up the numbers (like your parent may or may not be implying you can), but if you really want to, you can look at all the dollars you have coming in, and all the dollars you pay to taxes of any kind, and determine a percentage. I have no idea if it would be anywhere near 50%, but I suspect it would be more than 35%.

(Which seems fine to me...)


If you calculate like this you should count the roads and other public infrastructure you are using as income...


...Why? The goal of the exercise is to figure out what percentage of your income really goes to taxes, not the amount of personal value you get from those taxes. That would be a really interesting thing to figure out too, but it's not what I was talking about. (If you read my comment as implying that I think the taxes I pay outstrip the personal value I get from them, you misread it - my only point is that you absolutely can figure out what your real taxation percentage is.)


Who said I was a yank, mate?


> That's not a bad thing. It's just a fact of life. But "you should be happy with what you have" is practically a recipe for sabotaging your ambition.

There's also the ambition to build a better society in (some of) us and part of that is paying taxes. Not all ambitions are of a material nature.


If you value ambition more highly than contentment, at what point does your ambition stop? If you become a millionaire, won't this just lead to your looking to become a billionaire?


she's more concerned about what she lost than the fact that her gain was almost equal to a poor person's annual income. She couldn't even frame her payrise as a positive

I wonder if this is related to "loss aversion" [0]. According to Kahneman's research, people tend to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. She has a net loss in satisfaction because the hit caused by losing 30% of her salary is bigger than the win resulting from making 70%.

[0]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loss_aversion


Apologies in advance, this will be part reply to your comment, part reply to the Cracked articles, and part rambling:

Seconded. I was very poor twice in my life. First while growing up, and then for a few years after the downturn (19-23 years old) where I was making 13K-17K per year (post tax/credits, benefits included), working full time, and putting myself through school. I had no financial aid due to having no contact with my parents (a corner case that is poorly handled by the government, try getting anything except loans without a FAFSA). Until two and a half years ago I probably spent only three or four years where I wasn't poor by any standard.

Poverty is definitely something you need to live through to really understand. You can have compassion, commiserate, etc but not a true comprehension unless you've been there. Even then, I know there are levels of poverty I have no understanding of. One I personally experienced was trying to get some help at a free clinic and being denied because I wasn't quite poor enough to qualify. I believe I needed to have a dependent of some kind at my income level. Living through that is something I can't fathom.

Moving is definitely an interesting game. Most of the time I was poor as an adult I lived in a retail store front (that couldn't be rented out, leaky roof, boarded up windows) for $300/month. When I started doing well enough (making more than 20K) to consider an apartment, I went in with three friends because the cost to just get into a place in LA is typically, at minimum, $2000. The lower rent apartments want first, last and deposit, while more expensive apartments just want first and deposit. It's basically impossible to save up 1/10th of your gross yearly income, and it's not like the money is guaranteed to come back to you.

Since you're in a bad spot, and the landlord knows it - otherwise you wouldn't be one of three people in a $1400/month two bedroom apartment, they will play games with you. We had broken plumbing that went unfixed. None of us saw our deposits back. The management company literally pulled down websites as I found phone numbers for people in their offices. For a brief, albeit melodramatic, moment I felt like the protagonist in a man v.s. the oppressive company/government/world movie where I had just caught them and they were trying to pull the curtains over their wrongdoing.

Since I was still working insane hours and going to school, the couple hundred dollars weren't something I could chase after... which is really the sad thing. They knew I couldn't afford to do anything about it. Being inexperienced doesn't help. Yes I could have gone to the city, but I didn't know that back then, and when everyone around you is in the same place, you're often times short on experience. (I've since launched complaints after the fact - I'm not the first this has happened to ;). It's in the city's hands at this point)

Now that I'm doing a lot better, the Cracked articles really hit home. My personal poor habits from those articles is limiting myself to two/three pairs of pants and the paranoid bank account check habit. Even though I typically keep my expenses at half or less of my wages and I know the money is there, I won't sleep that night if I don't check my accounts every few days. When I was poor the next disaster seemed to be right around the corner. It's really hard to shake that instinct.

Being able to really live has been very interesting. I've tried to do as much traveling as I can, something I could never do before. I find myself weighing every permutation of airfare (travel dates, airlines, buying separate round trips for multi city trips), just like I used to do once upon a time when figuring out how to buy a month's worth of groceries in $60.

That said, I'm not immune to doing bad emotional math. I just got a bonus today and the same thought process ran though my head when I saw the amount deposited into my account. It's hard not to. In fact, musing about it is enjoyable. Much more than being rational about it. Money brings out all sorts of emotions.

The problem I have with it is that I like roads, police officers, and all those expensive "leach-feeding" social programs I used to be a customer of; so I quell my irrational anger pretty quickly. Without inexpensive Community College courses I wouldn't have gotten the necessary education or the connection I used to get my first paid internship ($15/hour almost double my previous job) which turned into my career.

Like the Cracked author mentions, yes there are terribly abuses of the money... but I believe the good outweighs the bad.

I don't see any problem with paying that forward. I'm certainly not suffering doing it, even if I occasionally shake my fist at those "Tax and Spend Commies in Congress" for an irrational split second. In a couple years, with some luck and hard work, I'll be making closer to the amount that poor unhappy retired couple from the WSJ graphic was making[1]... all the while dealing with my "poor kid from North Hollywood" mentality.

[1]http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142412788732368960457822...


What I keep thinking when I read these is if poor one should live with a large number of roommates you trust and share expenses and pitch in to help each other in an emergency. This in how people survive in developing countries. Something has collapsed in America though and everyone HAS to live by themselves and can't seem to trust anybody else.


There's a problem starting such a collective (which is, in effect, what you are proposing): Housing. To have many people live together, you need square footage (or m², for metric people). This necessitates a large apartment or house. Such a thing, (if not bought outright, ha, ha, just kidding), will be expensive. The landlord will need a single legal person to be responsible for the paying of this rent, and own the lease. And I think we can assume from our premise that none of the individuals in question will have anything close to the sort of documented income or credit history to make any sensible landlord agree to the lease. “My friends will totally chip in to pay the rent!” is just not going to work.

So there's a bootstrapping problem which I think is mostly insurmountable. Which is a shame, because it's a good plan, otherwise.


I've seen this play out. My parents rent houses in a community with two large college campuses within 30 minutes. A group of students or recently graduated newly employed would approach my Dad. Most of the time he wouldn't even consider it -- even if the leaseholder could credibly make rent on their own.

And in some zoning designations, this is actually illegal. For example, years ago I lived in a house in the same town with 4 other guys, but it turned out the maximum number on non-related people allowed in a "single family" dwelling there was 3. The landlord let everyone move in but eventually threatened to kick us out on those grounds.


In Canada, as a poor student/underemployed person, I lived in mansions with 6-10 friends. Those things are •very• hard to rent out. The neighbors hated us though ( we were young, drove crappy cars, sometimes had loud parties, and just generally made a mockery of the rich neighborhood we lived in. The absentee landlords were just parking there money in property, so were quite happy with us.

Things might be different in the States or elsewhere.


I think you lucked out and found “absentee landlords”. I can't see these things being commonly accepted practice among landlords — as you say, your neighbors hated you and you were far from the norm in the area.

But just because you lucked out doesn't mean that it's just as easy for someone else, in another area. To actually create something like this on purpose, somewhere close to where you happen to have gotten a good job? That is hard.


This is actually common in college towns. In Seattle, it's very common in the University district, but almost unheard-of outside that neighborhood.


That sort of situation is fairly common in the states too, at least in college towns.


oops! I hit the wrong reply

6ren is right, but it's not the whole story. In addition to to being able to have multiple people each entirely responsible for a single lease, we (Australia) have a very generous "student allowance" scheme for most students. This guarantees us students a fortnightly income that is almost certainly at least whatever we would be paying in rent + utilities.

My situation is such an example. I live with three other students and one adorable puppy in an expensive city (Brisbane, Queensland - Numbeo.com estimates Brisbane's living costs as ~87% of NYC's). We live just ~5km or ~3 miles from either of the two local universities, and just above 2km or ~1.5 miles from the CBD. Rent is not cheap in our area.

Yet we had no insurmountable problems obtaining a lease. Rental applications are competitive in this area, so we did have to apply for a lot of leases - but credit concerns were never a problem. Despite being employed for maybe just 12 hours a week each, money is not in question - there are four people each entirely responsible for the rent who are guaranteed social benefits that amount to at least enough for their share.

Unemployed Australians also receive similar social benefits provided they keep applying for jobs.


This is very much the opposite to what I experienced in Melbourne.

Youth Allowance with Rent didn't cover my rent in a share house, or even bills. When I didn't have more than one part time job I was relying on money from my Mother to pay the rent.


I receive ~$470 a fortnight in youth allowance and rent assistance. My utilities work out to around $20 a week. That leaves $430 a fortnight for rent. My wages pay my groceries.

Realestate.com.au affords some pretty nice share housing at that rate.. :) I admit it's not the standard of housing that I grew up in, but why would I be entitled to such? ;)


In Australia, it's common for students to share a house, and all go on the lease. This favors the landlord, because each tenant is liable for the entire rent.


This is in university areas, with many students, I assume. In those areas, the large masses of students have made landlords open to this kind of arrangement, and they are used to dealing with students and their… special… economic situation.

But try it in a non-university town where non-students vastly outnumber the students? I don't think so. The landlord has everything to risk and nothing to gain by doing strange and unfamiliar things. If they have even heard of the practice, it's only for students, in student-dense areas, in housing long used in this way, with all the features (internal locks for each room, etc.). Why would they risk their nice house when they can just rent to somebody else?


Having multiple people on the lease is not a strange practice in Australia; it's normal and not as you described. When signing the lease you're not signing for a room, you're signing responsibility for the rent and condition of the whole house/unit (excluding responsibilities remaining with the landlord, e.g. maintenance). Each of your housemates are too.

Rents are expensive. It makes no financial sense to live by yourself.

Even in my home town - which has no substantial university - it's generally assumed that if you rent and do not have dependents, you almost certainly have housemates.


Interesting. I would guess that the general economics have forced the landlords to accept and perhaps even promote this scheme, as it's the only was they can find a market for their services.

I wonder if this acceptance will keep once the economics changes?


I think you have it the wrong way around - it's not a demand-driven arrangement, but a supply-driven one; landlords prefer to have more than one person responsible for the lease, provided the tenants have sound integrity.

It's like standing on one leg; if that leg crumbles, you will fall and land hard. But if you have two legs, one leg can crumble and the other gives you enough time for you to land gently. If you... magically had a third leg (and weren't standing with them in a triangle?), you might not even notice that one leg stopped working.


If that's the case, why hasn't this naturally occured everywhere? Why only in Australia and for students in university towns?


I don't understand why you think this is unusual. At least in the areas I've lived in (LA, Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Seattle, …) it's been very common.


This is the norm in the UK too for shared housing. You have multiple named tenants on the lease and each is responsible for the full rent if the others can't pay.


Rents in Australia have followed the exhorbitant house pricing, and these days if you want to rent, you either share a house, be a well-salaried person, live in a dog box, or live in the boondocks. There's no such thing as a single person on a median or lower wage renting a house in a nice area anymore.


Two words: Detroit [1].

Houses there are so cheap that this kind of plan would probably work as long as you had enough human will and intention to make it happen. As far as I can tell, that is where these things break down. It's hard for groups to form this kind of collective dynamic and trust in the absence of some cohering force - religion, a focal point like a cult leader, or similar influences.

[1] Well, OK, two syllables.


There's a reason houses in Detroit are so cheap.


Fair point. I think it would be a cool lab for intentional communities and alternative living models, but I think there would also be a security risk and possibility for freaks.

There are some cool people who are broke and want to live communally, but there are also some people who do that because they don't have their lives together.


So, I've done some flavor of this for the past several years.

To make it work, houses are better than apartments. More than 4 people is too much, and you really need to trust and respect the other folks you live with.

You also need to be able to not sweat the little things--having people ask if they need to pick up an extra X when they go to the grocery store is handy. Living close to a grocery store (within walking distance) is even handier.

Also, you need to not be messy party folks--your landlord is much more likely to give you an easy time if they don't see evidence of this. Talk to your landlord semi-frequently to touch base and let them be secure in their investment.


People do this in America. Mexican immigrants namely. I see it for myself. They know how to live well on low incomes.


This proposed collective of people who can help you when you need help in exchange for giving when you can, already exists in a the form of the welfare state.

Your idea is functionally the idealized vision for how welfare works.


There are some places, I'm not sure how common but my guess would be "rather common", where it's illegal to have > x (where x is usually 2-4) amount of non-related people living in the same residence. This exists where I live (but it was recently put into effect about a year ago, so it hasn't yet been enforced).


Doesn't really work if you have a family, but roommates are pretty common in some parts of the US, across a wide span of income levels. Popular Southern California apartment listing company Westside Rentals has a whole roommate matching service, for example.


My experience may be an extreme one but the last apartment I shared,my flatmate would go for long periods without talking to me at all,only communicating by writing note after note,which sometimes was so odd as our rooms were right next to each other,we could easily hear the other person coming and going and would be easier,nicer(in my view)to actually talk.

I felt that she wanted to believe she lived alone but couldn't handle the fact that both of us needed the other for the apartment sharing to really work.


US government tried to experiment with Soviet-style high density housing in the 1950s.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pruitt%E2%80%93Igoe


Having read these articles, there's one thing that I don't appreciate: in these articles kids of poor people are mentioned. Why in the hell are these people "producing" children, if they aren't 100% certain that they'll be able to support them for the years until they are old enough to stand on their own feet?

Strokes of fate that lead to poverty are one side, but the side is reproding if you are poor: I consider this as highly irresponsible - for you as for your children.


You don't have to be terribly intelligent to realize that the percentage of people who can be "100% certain" that their finances will not implode at any point in a quarter-century span is vanishingly small.

Seriously, think about what you're saying here. Also, be aware that severe poverty is actually the best reason to have children. If some manage to survive, they're your best chance for care in old age.

Indeed, that's why birthrates tend to be the highest in the most desperate places on Earth. And that's why there's no surer way to reduce the birthrate than to develop social insurance structures that are strong enough and equitable enough for people to feel that they don't need to have lots of children for one or two to survive, and that they won't be utterly dependent on those they do have for care in their dotage.


- The GP did not say anything about the richest of the rich only having children, nor did they say that they were libertarian.

- Calling the GP an asshole and implying that they aren't "terribly intelligent" can only serve to detract from your argument.

EDIT: At least you took out the asshole comment


He specifically said people should be "100% certain" that they can support their children until their children can support themselves. Given that this normally entails a span of ~25 years (assuming two kids through college), that group is both certainly and obviously limited to the richest of the rich.


Having kids is a human right. That should be the end of the discussion. Anyone, rich or poor, is

* entitled to have children [1]

* entitled to financial and other aid to raise those children safely and securely [2]

  [1] UDHR, Article 16, paragraph (1) http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/#a16
  [2] UDHR, Article 25, paragraph (2) http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/#a25

Since the US has signed these treaties, and unless it intends to back out, there can be no government policy that does not follow these articles.


Why is calling something a "human right" and pointing to some UN declaration any different than calling something a "God-given right" and pointing to the Bible?


International law.


It's different in that the UN demonstrably exists.


That the UN exists does not explain the reason behind the policies.

That's like saying the bible is true because the printer exists, or the church, which is of course trivially true. That some organisation is behind a document does not make it true or false.

And keep in mind that the League of nations (the creators of the UN) came forth from the Red cross, which was a division of the army that guards of the pope.


No, it is not a human right. If we can just point to websites as undisputed facts, then the earth is flat.


> That's right, pathologically selfish and dangerously anti-social "libertarians" who think that only the richest of the rich should even consider having children in the first place.

Libertarians would never come up with the idea that only the richest should be allowed since this would be a deprivation of freedom (which libertarians appreciate).

I didn't they that only the richest people should have children. I only claim that it is irresponsible to produce children if you don't have enough financial security: both for the expenses and for the fact that the child will suffer from the poverty.


Sorry dude, but you very specifically said that parents need to be "100% certain" that they can provide for their kids until their kids can provide for themselves. In America, that standard means one thing and one thing only: the richest of the rich.

Also, it doesn't take much education to become aware of this country's long and unbroken history of race-based brutality (slavery, Jim Crow, and the War on Drugs to say nothing of the outright genocide inflicted on Native Americans). Nor do you have to be exceptionally thoughtful to recognize the resulting correlations between race and poverty that persist today. And given how deeply engrained these problems have become, saying "poor people simply shouldn't reproduce" is tantamount to insisting that entire races suddenly give up on themselves in a sweeping acts of self-destruction. Which, yeah, right. Maybe go fuck yourself?

There's another, far more decent response to systematically denigrated people who struggle mightily to raise their kids: you help them.


Are you sure you thought this post through?


"These people", "producing children". He doesn't see that these are humans. This is a result of a combination of logical, and irrational situations.


Well, once you can't afford cable or 'net access, your recreational activities are limited.

More seriously, you never 'know' that you'll be perfectly economically steady and care-free for the 18+ years required to raise a child to middle-class American standards until that time has passed--at which point you probably shouldn't be reproducing anyways due to age-related defects.

Unless you are talking about "Hey, I'm in a homeless shelter, lemme get knocked up/knock up because why not", you paint in too broad strokes.


Dad and Mom were making good coin with a secure future when they had myself and my brother. The world doesn't respect secure. You'll also find that you need children when your poor in many places to have a shot at a future.

I still think fish is poor people's food and won't eat it again.


> Why in the hell are these people "producing" children, if they aren't 100% certain that they'll be able to support them for the years until they are old enough to stand on their own feet?

Because childbearing is not a rational choice -- it's a visceral response to the most basic of biological drives, drives that won't brook interference from something as peripheral as intelligence.


The prevalence of pro-early marriage, pro-birth, anti-condom social and religious values probably has something to do with this, as well as the fact that it's an evolutionary given that everyone wants to have children (or at least sex). Hard to argue with biology.


Do you think those values are wrong ?

Look at the fertility numbers : if the rich were made responsible for producing the nation's offspring ... well there wouldn't be a future for America.

Furthermore, there is nothing that increases happiness half as much as having a child.


Yes, I do, because they give people a moral argument that outweighs the ethical problems of creating a human being capable of suffering from hunger when you know you probably can't feed her (well).


If that is true, then Americans are violating eachother's human rights, and laws should be changed until that stops being a valid concern, because the US has signed the human rights treaty. It's that simple. The same goes for other concerns that stand in the way of poor people having children.

http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/#a16

http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/#a25

And if the problem is food, then I would say the US is violating far more than just those 2 rules.


Ah, but now you are talking about expanding government (which can't do anything right) and taking from people what they've rightfully earned by being superior people and "working harder." And if you believe in supply-side economics, preventing growth which would trickle down into food for those children. Some people consider that a violation of their human rights too.

I don't. I think a little socialism is healthy. But I defy you to solve this without screwing over at least one large group of voters. If that were possible, it probably would have been done already.


Why do you equate lack of population growth with a bad future?

USA was a perfectly fine country back in 1990 when it had 250m people; and it would be a perfectly fine country if it'd have 250m people today instead of the current 315m.

In fact (contrary to "nothing that increases happiness half as much as having a child") I'd say that the Earth might be a happier place if the future had, say, 1-2 billion people instead of the current 7b or expected 10b - as everybody would have a larger share of the fundamentally limited natural resources, freshwater and space.

If the current resources were distributed somewhat fairly, then noone could have a lifestyle approaching even the "first world" working class - quality life is possible either for an unfairly small part of population, or if there is less population in the first place; and low-by-choice fertility is the most reasonable way to achieve that.


>Why do you equate lack of population growth with a bad future?

When the health of your social programs is based on continued population growth the future may indeed be grim without it.


Actually, the health of our social programs isn't that based on continued population growth; they'd work pretty much the same with a stable population size.

However, the bane of those social programs is quickly increasing lifespans. No matter if population growth is zero or huge, if you're currently below 45, you anyway have to "prepare for yourself" rather than expect them to survive in the current form - unless the retirement age moves beyond 80 within this decade.


I don't see how you can separate the two. The current system used to work because the population was growing and people didn't live as long. Either change would be enough to result in lower benefits.


>>Why in the hell are these people "producing" children, if they aren't 100% certain that they'll be able to support them for the years until they are old enough to stand on their own feet?

A variety of factors, primarily two:

1. Poor people tend to have poor education, and are rarely if ever taught about things like birth control.

2. Poor people also tend to be very religious, and in America at least the main religion is anti-birth control.


Yes that's the problem in the inner city: too much religion. Ridiculous.


Responsibility is a luxury reserved for those who can afford it.


That sounds really profound, except it isn't. That assertion is another way of justifying or rationalizing learned helplessness.

It is true that there are a lot of things that suck, that few people with access to resources really empathize with those in scarcity trap. Thing is, people are not as helpless as they like to think they are.


Actually that is a perverse effect of being poor in a consumer driven society, and it is even worse in a society that value Freedom so highly like the US.

Because being poor is a complete absence of freedom. If you want to get out of it, you need to follow extremely rigorous lifestyle (like the one published by MacDonald) for decades, with each mistake costing you years of saving.

That is doable in the country side, but in urbanised area where you are bombarded 24/7 with adds, tempted by very easy credit, surrounded by toxic peers in a society that hates you ? If you think it is, then consider that you also start with a 13 IQ handicap().

Picture that as trying to be on a very strict diet while working drunk in your favourite sweet factory, with everybody around you gorging themselves, even those that shouldn't.

() http://www.businessinsider.com/poverty-effect-on-intelligenc...


Sure, though I have found that when people talk about freedom these days, it's really more about power and less about freedom.


I'm noting my observation of a social and economic phenomenon, not justifying that approach or expounding a principle we should live by.

There are many incentives to being irresponsible today, and learning about being responsible with resources involves having some non-volatile resources with which to be responsible to start. When you grow up surrounded by scarcity and a general attitude of helplessness and irresponsibility, it's really hard to develop a responsible approach to life. As a culture, I think we tend to encourage continued irresponsibility. It seems to me that in the world we've created, just a little responsibility doesn't pay--to get off to a viable start, one really needs a critical mass of responsibility, which is difficult to acquire on your own with no resources.

People are not as helpless as they think they are, but they have little way of knowing it without the benefit of having already had the experience of having resources and responsibility.


Responsibility is usually a concept that is emotionally tied with blame and punishment. That's how most people talk about responsibility.

However, if you are reacting to past associations with rewards and punishments, you are not being response-able. Being responsible doesn't mean, "I am going to be a responsible adult," as in, "I am fulfilling this socially-conditioned image of an 'adult'." Responsibility means being able to make choices (whether they are informed, or not, wise or foolish, it does not matter; there is no such thing as a "responsible choice"), then accepting all the consequences of each choice. It's only when you accept what is, is, are you able to respond with more choices and actions. People tend to want to make choices, yet avoid accepting the unexpected or undesirable outcomes of those choice. By avoiding or deluding themselves into thinking the undesirable did not happen, they compound avoidance with more avoidance until they are paralyzed, unable to act. They are unable to respond.

Sometimes, to avoid a trap, you have to let things go. You let go of what seems to be urgent, accept the consequence of letting go of the urgent, in order to make room to climb out of the trap. Or to use a more concrete metaphor: if your foot is caught in a bear trap, and the bear is coming after you, and you don't want to be eaten, then chop off your foot. (That or just sit down and die with dignity).

Yes. It sucks. Yes, it will hurt. Yes, you might still die of infections, bleeding out, or get chased down by the bear. Or maybe the bear gets distracted by the newly chopped-off foot and you're able to hobble away. What is, is. You choose, you accept.

So most people who think of themselves as responsible adults are not actually responsible. They are simply re-enacting behaviors and emotional patterns of a child with a parent; the parental figure often being society and other authority figures. This re-enactment happens whether someone grows up in an environment of scarcity or abundance. In face of situations that really suck, these folk regress into the helpless child, hoping someone else will make the hard choices for them or magically make things better. Or lament that, they've done all the right things, it's not fair that things suck.

People who think of "responsibility" this way tends to use paternalistic language -- something, I think, that your word usage suggests.


Yes, the common notion of "responsibility" you criticize is what I was responding to and talking about: the rule-based, considered-in-advance, "responsible choice" idea that having children in certain situations is "irresponsible". You are saying that that definition isn't really responsibility at all, and while I'd have to think about it some more to be sure, I think I agree.

Many people use the term in the prescriptivist fashion you critize, which makes it hard to respond to those ideas without using the term. I'm not sure what else one could call it. Prescribed responsibility? Whatever you call it, it's really easy for those with many resources to make rules of "responsibility" that make little sense to those who have no resources, and then to criticize those without the resources for being "irresponsible". That was what I meant with my original comment--it's easy to be "responsible" in the making-sure-things-go-well sense when you have enough resources to pay your way out of bad choices. Responsibility in the sense of accepting-the-consequences-of-your-actions-and-moving-on-from-there certainly has a different formulation that isn't dependent on having resources.

Thanks for your comments--I think there really are two separate ideas of "responsibility" being discussed, which I'd never really thought about much before. The two shouldn't be conflated, but I think they are all the time. When I first wrote my original comment, I wasn't quite convinced about the idea myself, but I thought it was interesting enough to put forward as an idea. You've helped me unravel which part of it doesn't quite seem right and which part rings true.


By the way, it was in my teenage years that I first encountered the idea of respond-ability. This was first introduced implicitly by reading nearly all of Robert A. Heinlein's novels. I think I came across the formal concept in Steven Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

However, it wasn't until in the past couple years that I understood "acceptance" (and that understanding is not acceptance). That required practicing a specific form of mindfulness meditation, called Vipassana, or insight meditation. All of Vipassana is simply accepting the sensations, emotions, and thoughts as they arise ... and pass. Usually, there are comfortable and comforting sensations, emotions, and thoughts that we don't want to let go of, and ugly stuff we don't want to experience. Acceptance is acceptance, whether stuff comes up or passes on. Usually, people's fundamental, existential misery kicks in and they run away from Vipassana. Your mileage may vary.


Fair enough. It is difficult to make a distinction of the two terms if we don't have another term. I had started writing about how difficult it was to find a term to substitute the common-usage of responsibility. Then a possibility popped up.

The rules-based, considered-in-advanced "responsible choice" is more akin to expectations and standards. That is, one's outwardly measurable behavior can be observed and held up against a standard. This is the typical way a child is socialized.

The other, responsibility in the sense of accepting-the-consequences-of-your-actions-and-moving-on-from-there falls more along the lines of, "with great responsibility comes great power." It's really the language of power (and as a side-effect, freedom and resources). It's choice after stripping away the social expectations.

I have discovered (and experienced) a way to teach a child how to make choices, accept its consequences, and move from there. It requires a teacher who has been initiated in this. When the child makes a choice, the teacher engages in a conversation to probe the motivations. Is the choice really Choice, or are there some underlying hidden agendas. (For example, the child might be thinking, "If I do this, then Dad will be proud of me, and I will feel accepted."). It's only when these hidden agendas are stripped away from the child, then the teacher points out that this is Choice. "Ok. You chose this. Here is what you do."

The teacher then shows a little bit of the practice to accomplish it, and then sits there with the student and let the child do it. (Not read a book, not watch Netflix, not go away and leave the child to it; the presence of mind of the teacher witnessing is actually very important). It is very important that the teacher never hold the child's hands. If you've stripped away all the hidden agendas and motivations, then if you hold their hand, they are not really accepting the consequences of Choice. You're not accepting their Choice. It is, however, OK, to answer questions, to correct incorrect attempts after the fact (typical newbie mistakes like, forcing things, or going too fast, and sometimes demonstrating something once the child has tried it first).

It's even ok if the child feels overwhelmed by the Choice. That's actually an awesome initiation. The typical response is to seek an adult figure to do it for them. This is where the teacher maintains discipline: the child has to do it for himself. Reminders that, "you chose this" often helps. Usually, the child is not really struggling with the challenges of task or skill, but rather, struggling with inner aversions and inability to accept the suffering that comes with the work.

However, when the child gains some achievement in the task, he knows for sure that it wasn't because people did it for him. He knows it wasn't because someone else expected it of him. He knows it resulted from his effort. He knows to his bone, he chose to do something and he did it himself. External praise isn't required. (What's the point? You know you accomplished it, the presence of praise from the outside is irrelevant). Often though, continued discipline to have the child keep practicing is needed. (Once is not enough, that's why it is called "practice"). Usually, as the skills mature, and as the child matures, the child grows into adulthood with the capability of disciplining himself.

If it sounds intense and a lot of work, it is. It requires a lot of attention from the teacher. It's not scalable. In fact, this dynamic is closer to the older master-apprentice model of instruction (assuming the master didn't have his own hidden agendas).

What you end up with though, is someone who knows how to grow into tasks bigger than himself.


Because of the costs for the child there's even an incentive for the poor not to produce children.

In other cases (for example ecological awareness etc.) there is - unluckily - a chance that you are right.


That's just bullshit. The people who can least afford to be irresponsible are poor people.


lack of access to contraceptives or family planning services?


The answer is "love", you robots.


This is an answer to "Why in the hell are these people "producing" children, if they aren't 100% certain that they'll be able to support them for the years until they are old enough to stand on their own feet?"

No, lack of contraception is not the issue here either. What, do you think that because you have low monetary gain you are perpetually unhappy and would not want to have children? That all procreation coming the poorest are mistakes and accidents?

That's quite a nice bubble there. Sorry to burst it.

If two people love each other enough, they might want to have a child. Yes, even if the future is unclear. Yes, even if it means selling the car, taking the public transportation and working over time and having multiple jobs. Whether the situation is permanent or temporary is not even an issue here.


+1

Plus. Having a marriage and children, and getting all financial assistance needed to achieve that is a human right.

The US has signed the treaty enshrining that principle into law ... case closed.


Does it really show love towards your partner, if you give him/her a big future financial burden? Also: does it show love towards the prospective child to give him birth into a family where it will suffer of the poverty?


That's implying that you "give" a child as a "surprise" when you are living with a partner.

Accidents being the exception, having a child is a huge decision. Especially if you are quite poor.

I have no idea what your personal experience of life is, nor your background. But you seem to have some skewed vision of life if you believe that "these people" shouldn't "produce children" as if the poor were not even humans.

Poor people have children for the same reasons rich people do. The only exception being that there are less gifts at christmas.


People dont produce children, Humans have sex, make babies. We've been doing it for as long as humans have existed.


How is that comment suppose to make somebody who is waiting for a better time to having a kid feel?

Are they robots for practicing family planning? Do they not familiar with "love"?


Nobody is criticizing people who practice family planning. A lot of comments do seem to be debating the merits of having children without acknowledging or seemingly comprehending that there is a huge emotional, non-rational component to that decision, regardless of the parents' annual income.


> The answer is "love", you robots.

Because "love" totally makes condoms not work.


When you are poor condoms are fucking expencive and don't work long term. There is a reason people sell cheap 2l soda despite the fact a 2l bottle coke is 'Realy Cheap' to 95+% of HN posters.


I thought planned parenthood type places gave condoms away.


There are fewer of those very day.


If you love cheap condoms, sure. Great for a one night, but not something you would want to use daily...


Because having kids is a joy of life that doesn't need huge money put upfront. Only the ones with enough money can afford to wait to have kids to enjoy life a little more and be more ready for said kids. The poor do not have that luxury.


You should let us know exactly who has the right to reproduce. Poor people don't?


Sure they do. But do they have a right to use the fact that they have kids to sponge off the rest of us?


They're not sponging off you. You're exploiting them.


I have no idea how anyone could arrive at that conclusion. By going to work every day and paying taxes I'm exploiting people who're staying home having kids they can't afford? I can't wait to hear how you connect those dots.


As others have pointed out there's no such thing as 100% certainty. But I agree with the thrust of your post - having children when you can't provide for them is irresponsible.


Poor people are "producing" children because they actually want to have children and love them just like anyone else. Not having children will be seen as just another inequality imposed on them.


There's some truth to that, but it's also true that children are an economic factor in the lives of the poor, especially those involved in agriculture.


Last one about the politicians not understanding poor people -- it's the same reason as to why the TARP money all went to big corporations -- your Senator doesn't know any poor people or small business owners.

He doesn't know any poor people, because he's more than likely rich (they have an average net worth of $10m) and has no reason to associate with them. And he doesn't know any small business owners because the US Capitol complex supplies everything he needs -- haircuts, dry cleaning, catering, car service. And the lobbyists that come to see him? Defense industry, insurance industry, agribusiness, etc. Not Jim's Handyman Services.


Also "Being Poor" by John Scalzi

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2005/09/03/being-poor/

I was deeply moved by that piece.


One of the articles is making a massive deal about 'afford[ing] those grocery trips' and 'burning shitloads of gas'.

As someone who comes from a country where 'gas' is a shit load more expensive than the US because of tax I call utter bullshit. It costs about 20-40p to go to a supermarket, or at most a dollar in your US terms. Over here there's also a massive competition war going on at the moment between Tesco & Sainsbury's for local convenience stores which have a good percentage of your normal weekly shop if you were buying everything fresh.

I suspect that mom just preferred to serve up frozen shit. And bullshit again on stuff like TV dinners being cheaper than other foods, they're certainly not over here in the UK. A simple chilli or bolognese is much cheaper if you buy the raw ingredients than any processed foods.

I suspect the problem's more that Mom just doesn't know how to cook.


Grocery stores are hard to get to in an urban environment in America.

Also, it's hard to have time to cook when you're working two jobs.


Things like grocery stores tend to be further away in the US, thereby costing more fuel to get to.


The nearest grocery store to my house is about 35 miles away. The nearest Sams Club (big discount grocer) is about 60 miles away.


From the data I've found, this is incorrect. The average US household spends 4% of it's pretax income on gas, whereas the average British household spends around 10%

http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=9831

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/cars/article-2127644/Worl...


That may be true, but we're not talking about the average household.


That's a distressing read.

The first and the third links are the same - did you mean to post only two?


Fixed, thanks. (I meant to post three links, but I mistakenly posted one of the links twice instead.)


Nail on the head.

I've never been able to explain my childhood satisfactorily (to me, to see the listener get it) to anyone. Less still why I made myself homeless and slept rough.

But those three articles... at a certain point, throwing in your hand is the best thing you can do. At least you've broken the cycle and now have the freedom to figure out your way out.


Thursday is John Cheese Day on Cracked. His stuff is great.


From the article:

'Imagine how bad our PhD student theses would be if we said, "It's year two. Course work is done. Come back in three years with a thesis, and if you want you could always come and ask me questions, but otherwise that's it. You're off." Of course it would be awful. That’s just too distant a deadline.'

'You realize you're describing the experience of 30 percent of all graduate students in the United States.'

Ouch. That's just painful.


It's pretty true too. That's more or less how my graduate work worked.

I finished, but it was rough at times,


For a _master's_ degree? Or have you gotten a PhD and neglected to update your profile? :P


Yup, for my Master's. :-)


Wow, that sounds very atypical for a master's degree and, frankly, not entirely fair.


Well, I feel that I got pretrained for a phd program, which I want to get to someday. ;-)


I find the underlying behavioral economics fascinating - here's a good rundown: "Why Can’t More Poor People Escape Poverty?" http://www.newrepublic.com/article/environment-energy/89377/...


And being rich doesn't?

Is it the poor who have power to change things, or the rich?

Which is the bigger group? The poor or the rich?

If it is the poor, then isn't it relatively the rich who think differently?


"Is it the poor who have power to change things, or the rich?"

Mostly the rich. That's the point. Laws get passed to service the wants of the rich, because they have orders of magnitude more influence. These laws then screw over the poor, but the rich can't properly sympathize because they just don't understand, because their world is so different.


I don't see any evidence "laws then screw over the poor". Exactly what are you talking about?


"In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread."


Deregulation of the financial industry lets risk-hungry banks take ever greater risks, causes the financial crisis, costs taxpayer money, causes high unemployment, and leaves the rich back where they started before the crisis while the poor still suffer.

Dismantling of welfare programs in order to cut costs in order to lower taxes on the rich stops critical services to the poor and keeps them trapped in poverty.

Tax liens sold to rich investors lets them practically steal homes (or get them at bargain prices) and evict the owners in order to flip them off what are sometimes ridiculously small amounts of debt compared to the home value owed by the not-well-off (but not ridiculously small compared to their financial situation).

And that's just off the top of my head... I'll give you a hint, most of the laws concerned are related in some way to cutting taxes or letting rich money play more (ie. make more money).


>Deregulation of the financial industry lets risk-hungry banks take ever greater risks, causes the financial crisis, costs taxpayer money, causes high unemployment, and leaves the rich back where they started before the crisis while the poor still suffer.

Meh. The recession wasn't caused by a financial crisis. The recession and the financial crisis both had the same cause - a real estate bubble. And I don't see any indication wealthy people have come out ahead here except for a handful of people who managed to cash in during the bubble. But that's not a question of how the law is structured - that happens in every bubble.

>Dismantling of welfare programs in order to cut costs in order to lower taxes on the rich stops critical services to the poor and keeps them trapped in poverty.

That's an odd view of the situation. For one thing, services to the poor have been greatly expanded in recent years. Disability, SNAP, WIC... all that stuff has been expanded. Also, existing programs like Medicaid have maintained the same level of service even as costs spiral out of control.

The only thing I can think of that's actually been cut is AFDC, if you consider a time limit on benefits to be a cut. And that's perfectly reasonable - it's supposed to be a net, not a hammock.

Also, if you really wanted to trap people in poverty you couldn't do better than to hand them money for being poor. Lots of people are on benefits for a few years and then they pull themselves out of poverty. But there's a significant percentage who'll stay on benefits because that's the path of least resistance.

> Tax liens sold to rich investors lets them practically steal homes (or get them at bargain prices) and evict the owners in order to flip them off what are sometimes ridiculously small amounts of debt compared to the home value owed by the not-well-off (but not ridiculously small compared to their financial situation).

I'm not sure you understand how this works. When you have a lien against your house and you don't pay it, the lien holder can force the sale of the property. But the homeowner gets the money from the sale after the lien has been satisfied.

Nobody's getting screwed here. People who end up with no money 1) didn't pay their taxes and 2) don't have any equity in the house.

If you didn't have a system where the city/county could take your house for back taxes nobody would pay taxes.


The housing bubble was in part caused by crazy incentives in the financial industry to make as many loans as possible and sell that debt back and forth. The ability to do this and make ever larger bets which meant any downturn at all in housing would be catastrophic was allowed by deregulation.

Welfare programs haven't expanded in the last few years, they've simply been more needed. When more people are out of work, more people need welfare, but that doesn't mean the programs have become more far reaching. And besides, why on earth do you think I'm only talking about the last few years? Lobbies on the right are constantly pushing for "dismantling the mommy state", and it has everything to do with wanting lower taxes. Which is an example of the rich getting laws passed that screw over the poor, which you seemed incredulous about.

I don't think you understand what being trapped in poverty really means. If people are choosing to stay on benefits, it's usually because working 60 hours a week to barely tread water doesn't seem to appealing to them. Social mobility in the US is among the lowest in the developed world.

Tax liens: for the most part it's not corrupt, but I was referring to this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6349476

So far you're not really disproving my point, just arguing other aspects of your ideology.


>The housing bubble was in part caused by crazy incentives in the financial industry to make as many loans as possible and sell that debt back and forth. The ability to do this and make ever larger bets which meant any downturn at all in housing would be catastrophic was allowed by deregulation.

Those "crazy incentives" were put in place by well-meaning people who confused middle class signifiers with causative behavior. In other words, people who thought home ownership was a way into the middle class instead of what it is - a middle class luxury.

>Welfare programs haven't expanded in the last few years, they've simply been more needed.

Not true. Before Obama took office you could be on food stamps three months in a three year period. Now the only limit is your income. Even bigger is Medicaid, which consumes ever greater portions of state budgets on a per-capita basis.

>I don't think you understand what being trapped in poverty really means. If people are choosing to stay on benefits, it's usually because working 60 hours a week to barely tread water doesn't seem to appealing to them.

That's exactly my point. Of course nobody wants to work hard. But if you don't take an entry level job you'll never have a job that makes you comfortable. Thus my comment about social programs trapping people in poverty.

>Tax liens: for the most part it's not corrupt, but I was referring to this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6349476

I understood what you were referring to. The article is written to inflame passions in people who don't understand the process. If you read through the HN thread you'll see half the people who read the article think the lien holder pockets the entire amount from property sales.

>So far you're not really disproving my point, just arguing other aspects of your ideology.

No, I'm disproving your point, but you're ideological blinkers prevent you from reassessing your position.


My position that the rich (and their corporations) have more influence on law-making than the poor, and that this can disadvantage the poor? I think it's hilarious you find this controversial; it has been the case throughout human history in all systems of government. Pretending this doesn't happen really doesn't help except in order to encourage complacency on the part of the poor.

I still don't think you understand what being trapped in poverty means. Even taking that entry-level job, assuming you can get it in the first place, often doesn't raise the person much higher. Been trapped in poverty often means you don't have the background, education, opportunity, or even awareness to go after that job in the first place.

Tax lien thing: the article never mentioned what happened to the money from the sale of the house, other than that it was sold by the investor, so I hardly think it was a matter of political blindness on the part of the readers. Furthermore, the man was eveicted from his lifetime home over a $150 dollar bill, and forced to pay $5000 instead, no to mention either lose the house or lose out on selling the house under more favourable conditions to a buyer willing to pay more, depending on what is in fact true. Discussion on that article seems to indicate he did indeed lose the equity, and that this is a problem in Washington D.C. due to how the law is worded there. This example proves my point either way.


>My position that the rich (and their corporations) have more influence on law-making than the poor, and that this can disadvantage the poor?

Is that a question? Of course wealthy people have more influence, and that's a good thing, too. If they didn't the poor people would vote themselves everyone else's money and complain when the economy crashed.

But I don't think the laws "screw" the poor. Whenever the government is taking money from one person and giving it to a different person you wouldn't call the second guy "screwed".

>I still don't think you understand what being trapped in poverty means. Even taking that entry-level job, assuming you can get it in the first place, often doesn't raise the person much higher. Been trapped in poverty often means you don't have the background, education, opportunity, or even awareness to go after that job in the first place.

And yet somehow millions have escaped from that trap. I don't know why you don't think I understand what you mean here. I'm just skeptical it's a real thing. Have you considered this may be a case of survivor bias, that people with the character and discipline to not be poor... are no longer poor?

>Tax lien thing: the article never mentioned what happened to the money from the sale of the house, other than that it was sold by the investor, so I hardly think it was a matter of political blindness on the part of the readers.

Well, that's my point. The article never mentions the homeowner gets the money from the sale of the house less the lien amount. The whole point of the article is to upset you - if they tell you everything you'll think "oh, that makes sense" and turn the page.

>Furthermore, the man was eveicted from his lifetime home over a $150 dollar bill, and forced to pay $5000 instead, no to mention either lose the house or lose out on selling the house under more favourable conditions to a buyer willing to pay more, depending on what is in fact true.

Bad things happen when you don't pay your taxes. Surely this isn't headline news? Of course if you have any equity at all you don't let someone foreclose on your house - you sell it first. But the "left with nothing" guy didn't have any equity, so the particulars of the sale don't matter that much to him. But we're supposed to emote here without wondering how much money he took out of the house during the real estate boom.

>Discussion on that article seems to indicate he did indeed lose the equity, and that this is a problem in Washington D.C. due to how the law is worded there. This example proves my point either way.

No. The fact that "discussion" has confused you doesn't prove anything. There's no legal trick wherein you can steal someone's house for $150. The reason the homeowner isn't getting anything is he doesn't have any equity.

The article was deliberately written to confuse you. The only thing that should cause you to raise an eyebrow is the amount the lien holders were charging for legal fees. But those are normal sorts of numbers (ridiculous, but still normal) when you get sued and have to pay legal costs.


"Is that a question?"

Let's take a look at the original quote from you I was responding to:

"Is it the poor who have power to change things, or the rich?"

Yeah, that was the question.


That's not what I was responding to.


1 thing we should keep in mind:

Being rich is only possible when others are poor.

"Being rich" is a relative situation: If you have privileges because you're rich, you're not likely to say "I'm going to downgrade my life so all the others can meet me at the same level (of privileges)".

Why? Because, a little simplified: you wouldn't find anybody to take care of your garden anymore.

No rich person really has a natural incentive to call for real equality. So, the idea that we're all born with the same rights is currently still just an idea and nothing more. It's not respected and implemented:

"The Richest 10% of American Families Got Half of All Income Last Year." [0]

And it's likely to get even worse (for the 90%, that is), as money has this natural polarizing/monopolizing effect.

[0] http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2013/09/richest-one-...


The "wouldn't find anybody to take care of your garden anymore" approach isn't that valid today - just look at the lifestyles of rich people and compare them to earlier times.

The "0.1%" are far more wealthy than ever before - however, they are not employing more people for their personal needs. Assistants, butlers, maids, chauffeurs, live-in nannies/governesses, dedicated gardeners, etc. are a very rare breed nowadays used by tiny numbers of ultra-rich, while a hundred years ago many "upper-middle" class specialists (doctors, lawyers, civil servants) employed other people for their personal needs.

In fact, I'd say that it's entirely the opposite - the rich don't need or want the common people anymore, they can do almost without them; so they're not associating with them and not redistributing the wealth to "common laborers" by paying for their services, almost all of the wealth is invested in capital not in labor. So labor as such loses; the lower class would be better off being employed as gardeners rather than rotting without income, but they aren't. The top 5% can't afford them, and the top 0.1% need/want just a few.


Most of the comments here focus on poverty but the author is talking about a broader subject, he is talking about scarcity. Being poor is but one of the forms to experience scarcity. And this is a brilliant idea.

What intrigues me is that poverty is essential to the dynamics of capitalism. Some are rich because some are poor. Modern capitalism operates on a very abstract layer and my basic comprehension of economics is not enough to understand how this relationship between rich and poor translates to modern times but I have I feeling it still holds true.

That said, and here's an inconvenient idea, what if some are lonely because others have too many friends? In the same way the richness of some breeds the poverty of others, what if the abundance of some breeds the scarcity of others? I hope you understand this doesn't imply guilty on any side. It just hints at a somewhat cruel dynamics underlying the commodification of life. Doesn't it?


I've noticed this where I come from in India, in the feudal badlands of Awadh. We have a saying, "You think like a peasant". It means you lead a frightened existence, and you're completely risk-averse. The answer is a gradual gentrification of the populace accompanying industrialization, as Germany has achieved over the past hundred years. One aspect of gentrification is that the populace acquires a tremendous respect of and desire for education for learning's sake. This is rare in most countries, and it is the one thing about German culture that really stands out.


I really like this article. There are a lot of good insights I will be mining over the next several weeks.

One interesting thing is how it connects with John Boyd's concept of OODA. Boyd talks about "stacking" the opposing force's OODA loop and injecting it with misinformation to get it going. It more or less describes, for example, the predatory loans. It's also interesting to see this kind of dynamic play out in the TV shows, Burn Notice and Leverage.


My Wife and I just bought a house, so the conversation about kids has come up. I guess i knew child care was expensive, but after talking to my coworkers it turns out they spend on average 20k a year (this is MA). That figure blows my mind. How can someone not on an engineers salary afford this?


There are a multitude of things that are expensive. You've hit upon one of the major ones.

Unfortunately, you'll have to crunch the numbers if you wish to have children. It may be in your best financial interest for one of you to quit your job and stay home with the kids, at least until they start school. Yes, you'll be broke all the time, but damn if your kids won't benefit in the long run from it. This is what my wife and I had to do. We had our two kids two years apart. She quit a pretty good job to stay home and raise them because by the time it was all said and done, she would have brought home less than $1000/month after daycare for two children...one of which was a baby.


The root cause of poverty is the incompetent government education system - The Teacher's Union. Most public school teachers I've come across have contempt for the businessmen (people who create the wealth) and for poor people (teachers tend to be limousine liberals).

The first country or state to disband the current teaching system and replace with a competitive system will skyrocket to success. This is a no-brainer, but it's so to difficult implement because there's so many of the 'government handout' teachers voting they swamp the rest of us.


I would think in order to qualify as a "limousine liberal", you'd have to be able to afford a limousine.

I think you'd more likely see a teacher driving one, to supplement their income.


Boo-hoo, teachers, who cannot clearly demonstrate how they actually add economic value to anything, want to be paid even more than their current $52,000 median salary.

Meanwhile, fisherman, who hold the most dangerous job, have a median salary of $25,000.

Firefighters, whose job is to enter dangerous buildings, $45,000.

Fast food workers, $18,000.


You seriously don't see any economic value associated with the education of a child from age 6-18?

We can argue about what specific subjects are best to teach in school, and what a teacher ought to be paid, but don't you think that, broadly speaking, educating children provides some economic benefit to a nation?


Child care workers who watch children when parents aren't present make $19,000, that's maybe more appropriate. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/childcare-w...

Where are the proper studies (with 1000s of participants) showing teachers can do a better job than babysitters who hand out an ipad with learning software to every student?

The teaching system is a 19th system. It's like if the tech industry continued on with using telegraphs and morse code for everything.


I think education is definitely ripe for disruption.

There's a lot of "but it's always been done that way", and teachers' unions are very quick to play the "think of the chilllllldrun card". Lots of entrenched bureaucracy and budgets that people don't want to lose.


Wow... The root cause of poverty is incompetent education? What about the college educated poor? What about the failure of the voucher program in Milwaukee?

Why are public schools with the same "limousine liberals" operating them more successful than poor schools? I think your theory has a few holes.


What are the successes. Are they successful in taking children from the socioeconomic group and turning them into high earning 30 year old adults?

Teaching metrics should be about how successful people turn out as adults, not some test scores at year end.

Until the government education system can show it's success in that, I'd hold off funding them.

What has shown success are private schools http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405270230382220457746...


The root of all poverty is that children aren't taught to worship the businessmen who choose to value their time at "as little as the government allows" and avoid employing them and their parents at all if possible. What?


The root cause is that the teaching system doesn't turn all children into businessmen.

If everyone was a businessman, they'd be earning more than government set minimums.


You can't be a successful businessman without 1) having or making something that people value (which requires skill, capital, or some of both) and 2) taking risks with your time and money instead of earning low but guaranteed income. If you don't have skills, capital, or the cash to survive when your gamble doesn't pay off (just like it usually doesn't pay off in Silicon Valley), you don't get to be a businessman. Teaching a child from a low-income family how to run a business is stupid unless you are also prepared to make a brain-dead investment in a kid with a shitty high school diploma and zero professional experience outside of a Walmart.

I have a laptop and I've had the luxury of time to learn to program. If I invest 1,000 hours in a web startup that fails, I still get to eat food from a grocery store and sleep on a bed.

As a young adult in a family living paycheck-to-paycheck (because they are paid barely enough to survive) you are not likely to have free time to develop skills - you need to be working to cover the cost of your meals, taking care of young children, etc. You don't stand a chance.

But let's say you had some free time, and you went to the (evil socialist government waste-of-taxpayer-money) public library and taught yourself some Rails and spent enough time on the Internet to get an idea of something people wanted. Already we're talking pretty implausible, but let's go with it. High school ends, and you want to dive into building this thing. But guess what? You need to eat. So you take a shitty minimum wage job and come home exhausted every day; your body physically will not let you concentrate no matter how hard you try. Game over.

You have a shitty education and no GitHub portfolio. There is absolutely no reason for a venture capitalist to believe in you, you're just another delusional starry-eyed kid who has no idea how much he doesn't know. But let's say your parents have faith, and they're willing to continue eating the cost of your room and board in their apartment because they just know you're going to make it big like Mark Zuckerberg and will be able to take care of them. You work 100 hours a week on your idea for 6 months, but it fails. It was a good idea but it turned out there wasn't a market for it, or you screwed up because you've never done this before, or you got eaten alive by competition staffed with Stanford comp sci graduates. Not only is the game over, but you've betrayed your parents, you're getting evicted, your siblings are being placed in foster care, and you're homeless.

It was pretty irresponsible of your parents to let you do that. Which is probably why "keep your head down, work hard, take what you get, and recognize ambition as sinful" makes sense to people as a religious value.

Taking risks with your time is a luxury which you absolutely do not have when you're living on the edge of not making rent. Capitalism does not allow for everyone to be an owner - the whole point is that the ability to make money resides in the hands of people with money as opposed to the collective.


The government spends about $10,000 per year per child on public education.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/06/21/155515613/how-much...

That's $120,000 over k-12 (not including pre-school). Is $120,000 and 12 years not enough to teach every kid entrepreneurship and coding?

As I wrote in another comment, the current education system is 19th century stuff and it's amazing a lot more people aren't astounded why it still exists.


There is not demand for an infinite number of web programmers or web startups. Teaching every child to program just drives down the value of programming skills.

You have not solved the risk or capital problems.

Yes, there are a lot of problems with the education system. Wake me when you find a way to fix it that actually works in a sustainable and scalable fashion.

Punishing teachers for teaching students who don't give a shit because there is no good reason for them to give a shit just decreases the number of teachers willing to work in poor districts.


We wouldn't be punishing teachers, just get ridding of a system that doesn't work. Salman Khan has a proposed a better one where schools are essentially libraries/babysitters that any child can go in and learn a self-directed curriculum.

There is an 'unlimited demand' for programmers skills because of demand ran out, there would be no work left (we'd have a singularity/post scarcity) - programmers automate work.


Teachers' unions are preventing test-score linked pay and firing. Several of my union teachers did flipped classrooms on a regular basis. How is the teachers' union the villain here?

> There is an 'unlimited demand' for programmers skills because of demand ran out, there would be no work left (we'd have a singularity/post scarcity) - programmers automate work.

Someone has to pay programmers to live. If everyone is a qualified programmer, then there's always a programmer willing to work for less (barring a powerful labor union) - until you've driven the wage back down to basic survival (at least for many of the 90% of people who are by definition not in the top 10% as far as skill level), and we're back in the same cycle of poverty we were trying to fix.


Teacher union doesn't want any kind of performance based system - they're the villain.

Even if there is variability of pay, at least society would be far richer, so being poor wouldn't suck so bad.


But you just told me we don't want to punish teachers for low test scores and the solution is flipped classrooms.

Prove that teacher quality and not curriculum design or cultural factors is actually what's holding down education in poor districts. (You do realize that teachers don't get to choose what they teach, right? Curriculum is set centrally.)


I said don't don't punish teachers, simply fire all of them. Let charter schools compete to lure students.

Personally, I'd want to see self-directed curriculums with a core of entrepreneurship and computing.


There is an 'unlimited demand' for programmers skills because of demand ran out, there would be no work left (we'd have a singularity/post scarcity) - programmers automate work.

With people like you around, even the Singularity wouldn't get rid of capitalism.


Yes, only businessmen add value to society.


Being poor in America is a state of mind. Do you think that the majority of people in the world today would consider themselves "poor" if they suddenly traded places with a "poor" American?

Do you think that the majority of people would think that it was "too hard to bear" if they had to work, live in low rent apartment AND go to school?

America's poor are the worlds wealthiest.

The sad state of mind that people fall into is all about relativism. They are poor relative to X people. They are disadvantages relative to X groups. They have to work harder than X people so this is suddenly an insurmountable feat.

Put nearly ANY (truly) poor immigrant in the US and watch the magic work. Watch this insurmountable feat accomplished again and again. Watch this success propagate for a couple of the immigrant's generations. Then watch the values that they brought, the very reasons that made them succeed them washed away by American influence.

I have seen this first hand on many many occasions. I would like to see a study of immigrants and how hard they work compared to the inner city people of America. I would like to see the difference in choices that they made.

Why don't we see this. Why don't we see the government publish and advertise what poor people must do to escape poverty. Advertise how the immigrants do it without wellfare. You never see it (and probably never will).


"Being poor in America is a state of mind."

Having spent most of my childhood living with my mom and my three siblings on her meager $8,000 / year income, I'd say I have to agree. Poor is a state of mind.

But, I'll argue that it's not a state of mind that the poor take on themselves. "Poor" is a distinction that others will give to you, not the other way around. Being poor is about being relegated by the other members of society. It's about being isolated, segregated, and honestly, constantly dealing with all sorts of mean-spirited people who believe they could have made better decisions...obviously.

Please try to imagine living a world where you're the lowest status person around, where the kids and adults look upon you in disgust. Imagine no support network, few friends, and a life void of most conveniences. Is it better than the poor of other countries? Maybe. I don't know. But, at least, I would hope that they have some sort of community. Being poor in America is about being alone and laughed at, while suffering.


I am not convinced of your opinion. It may be true for your own life - but in general I don't think that this is accurate.

Are you saying that a poor kid does not start to realize that they are poor by their own observations pretty early on? Mom, can we eat at that restaurant. Mom, why don't we get a car like other people have? Mom, why don't we have a telephone like people on TV do? Why am I wearing worn out clothes, socks and shoes? Why do we eat lentils, rice or beans for every meal? ETC...

I grew up poor and knew we were poor from very early on. Not because anyone stigmatized me either. It was blatantly obvious. If everyone else around me and on TV had was in the exact same financial circumstances that we lived in.

Even in your case, I don't see the point of your statement. Is it to place blame on the haves for persecuting the have nots? This is America. I realize that being poor may negatively affect social status among peers, but I don't consider this a limitation. Look at immigrants/refugees. Not only do they act, look, eat, smell and talk differently. They are also minorities and poor. They have far less going for them at first glance. They are stigmatized for a host of reasons.

A deeper look reveals that they have two assets that most inner city kids do not have. A strong determination to work hard/succeed and a strong family presence to reinforce and encourage that determination.

My guess is that if you had a strong full family with a father at home who taught you kids to believe in yourselves and not to listen to naysayers things would have been much different in your life (even if you still were dirt poor)

Why do I think that? Because that is my story. There are popular poor kids and there are unpopular rich kids. Same with fat kids, skinny kids, athletic, clumsy, ugly, handsome ETC. The biggest determining factor is how much self confidence they have. When people truly believe in themselves, they will rise to the top. Their peers will believe as they do. That they are valuable to others.

The government "nanny" will continue to try to replace God and family, but it will never even come close to succeeding. The more the government tries, the worse things get. No amount of money will ever replace what a child gets from being reared in a good healthy and loving family.

Nothing will ever keep a family together like a true belief and faith in God can. Broken families are a result of selfishness. The government does nothing but promote more selfishness.


I call bullshit.

Reading through your past posts, I see that there's a trend. You have a distinct, extreme ideology of free market libertarianism. And, you try to cherry pick reality to fit into your ideology. You're not convincing anyone that way.

Poor immigrants and minorities with two-parent households don't succeed any more (and probably less) than poor white kids with single parents.


We live in a cognitively assorted economy and half of all people have an IQ below 100. 5% have an IQ below 70. If they have unusually pleasant personalities, they may find jobs in the service industry. But most won't.

We have a historically vestigial class of people that have nothing to offer a modern economy. And that class will grow as the economy gets more complex. An increase in complexity is indistinguishable from downward mobility.

Poor immigrants come from places where the cognitive sorting hasn't happened yet.


I asked a question on Quora that garnered a number of interesting replies to this question:

http://www.quora.com/Poverty/Which-is-harder-being-poor-in-A...

The basic gist is that just looking at quantity of physical possessions is an impoverished way of analyzing the situation.


I think that way of looking at poverty is also very telling about the people doing the assessing.


Yes, obviously the values of maximizing toil are good values. Surely the ideal world is one in which everyone works as hard as possible, as often as possible, for as little as possible.

Except, oh wait no, that's actually the opposite of what we want.


I get the feeling that our friends in marketing are already well aware of this type of psychology.


And in fact, it can be used to avoid targeting that demographic.

Remove options that are specifically attractive to less wealthy / poor people and you increase the average wealthiness of your demographic




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