There Should Be No Shame in Poverty


Picture 4David Brooks, like most of his ilk, think that poverty is a societal and sociological problem rather than an economic one.  There’s a reason for this.  The right would like to blame people for the fact that they aren’t wealthy.  Today, the GOP worships wealth, and the wealthy.  If a person is not wealthy it is their fault.  If a person is impoverished, suffering from financial problems, it is there fault.  In many ways, that is true.   We are all responsible for our ultimate fate in life, but, there are times when sh*t happens and it is not your fault.

There are many things that cause poverty.  Yes, people cause it.  Doing stupid things causes it.  Bad life-style choices can cause it.  So can evil people who prey on those of us who are honorable, decent, and don’t want to hurt others to get ahead.  Let’s face it, one day your elderly parents are worth nearly a million in cash and about four in real estate.  The next minute, they’re living off $1200 a month social security because their broker has managed to make off with everything they have.  It’s not just me.  It is something repeated on a daily basis, all over this nation.

Media Matters
Media Matters

I have been living in a bubble, until our attorney basically shocked me into reality.  Trying to make ends meet, I ignored what was going on behind me.  In our parish, the need for assistance is so great, our little Episcopal church can’t keep up with help.  We’re not talking street people, bums, druggies, or people who made bad life-style choices.  I’m talking people like my parents who have been shafted by today’s brave, new, Randian economy.

“…Why is there such a large divergence between official statistics and perceptions of actual economic conditions? Primarily because Americans believe the economy is broken. In a forced choice test of competing ideas about structural economic reasons for poverty and personal ones, Americans overwhelmingly choose economic causes. Nearly two in three Americans (64 percent) agree that “Most people who live in poverty are poor because their jobs don’t pay enough, they lack good health care and education, and things cost too much for them to save and get ahead.” By contrast, only 25 percent of Americans agree with a competing idea that “Most people who live in poverty are poor because they make bad decisions or act irresponsibly in their own lives.” Even white conservatives and libertarians prefer the structural explanation for poverty over the personal by a significant margin, 63 to 29 percent….”

So, what does someone like David Brooks write?

“...There is a very strong correlation between single motherhood and low social mobility. There is a very strong correlation between high school dropout rates and low mobility. There is a strong correlation between the fraying of social fabric and low economic mobility. There is a strong correlation between de-industrialization and low social mobility. It is also true that many men, especially young men, are engaging in behaviors that damage their long-term earning prospects; much more than comparable women.

Low income is the outcome of these interrelated problems, but it is not the problem. To say it is the problem is to confuse cause and effect. To say it is the problem is to give yourself a pass from exploring the complex and morally fraught social and cultural roots of the problem. It is to give yourself permission to ignore the parts that are uncomfortable to talk about but that are really the inescapable core of the thing.

Fourth, the income inequality frame needlessly polarizes the debate. There is a growing consensus that government should be doing more to help increase social mobility for the less affluent. Even conservative Republicans are signing on to this. The income inequality language introduces a class conflict element to this discussion….”

Never mind that the real correlation in downward mobility and poverty is the fact that, quite often, individuals are trapped to the point where they ONLY jobs available are low wage positions where they are reduced to almost part time, so their employer can avoid paying health insurance.  Never mind that we’re looking at massive real unemployment and underemployment in this country, where the average fast food worker is now an adult.   People, real, normal people who are disparately trying to stay afloat in a world where prices are constantly going up, don’t have a chance.  You see, real, normal people aren’t the psychopaths in life, the Ayn Rands who don’t mind destroying people to get ahead.

You want the real reason for poverty today?

“…Whenever you hear politicians or Tea Partiers dividing up the world between “producers” and “collectivism,” just know that those ideas and words more likely than not are derived from the deranged mind of a serial-killer groupie. When you hear them saying, “Go John Galt,” hide your daughters and tell them not to talk to any strangers — or Tea Party Republicans. And when you see them taking their razor blades to the last remaining programs protecting the middle class from total abject destitution — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and bragging about how they are slashing these programs for “moral” reasons, just remember Ayn’s morality and who inspired her.

Too many critics of Ayn Rand — until recently I was one of them — would rather dismiss her books and ideas as laughable, childish, and hackneyed. But she can’t be dismissed because Rand is the name that keeps bubbling up from the Tea Party crowd and the elite conservative circuit in Washington as the Big Inspiration. The only way to protect ourselves from this thinking is the way you protect yourself from serial killers: smoke the Rand followers out, make them answer for following the crazed ideology of a serial-killer-groupie, and run them the hell out of town and out of our hemisphere….”

Paul Krugman wrote:

“...I’ve noted before that conservatives seem fixated on the notion that poverty is basically the result of character problems among the poor. This may once have had a grain of truth to it, but for the past three decades and more the main obstacle facing the poor has been the lack of jobs paying decent wages. But the myth of the undeserving poor persists, and so does a counterpart myth, that of the deserving rich.

The story goes like this: America’s affluent are affluent because they made the right lifestyle choices. They got themselves good educations, they got and stayed married, and so on. Basically, affluence is a reward for adhering to the Victorian virtues.

What’s wrong with this story? Even on its own terms, it postulates opportunities that don’t exist. For example, how are children of the poor, or even the working class, supposed to get a good education in an era of declining support for and sharply rising tuition at public universities? Even social indicators like family stability are, to an important extent, economic phenomena: nothing takes a toll on family values like lack of employment opportunities.

But the main thing about this myth is that it misidentifies the winners from growing inequality. White-collar professionals, even if married to each other, are only doing O.K. The big winners are a much smaller group. The Occupy movement popularized the concept of the “1 percent,” which is a good shorthand for the rising elite, but if anything includes too many people: most of the gains of the top 1 percent have in fact gone to an even tinier elite, the top 0.1 percent….”


According to Paul Krugman the investment and wealth times are strange creatures.  He basis his commentary by James Surowiecki, which features the hours the junior executive must work, in order to retain the job, while the big shots don’t work that much – anymore.  Goldman Sachs doesn’t wants it’s lower level investment bankers working more than 70 to 75 hours a week.

New Yorker
New Yorker

Krugman wrote:

“...And then there were the breakfast meetings. I can understand why busy, productive people might sometimes want to meet at 7 AM. But what soon became completely clear was that the people who insisted on those early meetings were precisely the least competent and productive guys — the economics team at the NSC, which was totally hopeless in the Reagan years, the team at Agriculture (ditto), and so on. (No offense to current personnel, who I hope are in a completely different class; there were a lot of really strange people allegedly doing economics in the early Reagan period.) It was hard not to conclude that they were making a show of being incredibly busy and hard-working; they probably went back to their offices after breakfast and read Ayn Rand novels or something….”

I mention this because the so-called conservative work ethic requires for those who put in outlandish hours in high profile positions to be very well rewarded.  They are superior to the poor.  No matter that the majority of the individuals in such high profile positions are basically psychopaths – literally.

“...The “few rotten apples” theory ignores the fact that affairs like Enron and WorldCom were not isolated incidents—nor were they conducted conspiratorially and surreptitiously. What is now conveniently labeled “misconduct” was an open secret. Information—albeit often relegated to footnotes—was available. The charismatic malignant narcissists who headed these corporations were cheered on by investors—small and institutional alike. Their grandiose fantasies were construed as visionary. Their sense of entitlement—never commensurate with their actual achievements—was tolerated forgivingly. Their blatant exploitation of co-workers and stakeholders was part of the ethos of the virile Anglo-Saxon, natural selection, can-do, dare-do version of capitalism. Everyone colluded in this mass psychosis. There are no victims here—only scapegoats….

The smart move for all of them is to shut up rather than whine publicly at a time like this. But corporate narcissists can’t help themselves. All you have to do is think of names like Kenny Boy Lay, Jeff Skilling, Bernard Ebbers, Bernie Madoff,  Joseph Cassanno and the list goes on, to know that this personality type is rampant among our Masters of the Universe. Rather than being the rational heroes of their Randian dreams (who would be smart enough to STFU at this moment) they are actually seriously screwed up human beings who found the perfect outlet for their disorder in our millennial gilded age….”

With these individuals, the only shame was when they were caught.  Society though, shames those of us who aren’t making that kind of money.  Can we be honest here?  I’d be worth billions if I were a psychopath who didn’t give a damn who I hurt.  Instead, we live in a brave new world where even 54% of Republicans think income inequity is hurting the nation.  We live in a world where 85 people – EIGHTY – FIVE people, count ’em – eighty-five – have the combined wealth of 3.5 billion of the world’s poorest.

“…Because Americans believe the economy is unfairly condemning their fellow citizens to poverty, they support economic policies that would do something about it. We find that anywhere from three-quarters to more than 80 percent of Americans back a range of concrete proposals to help fight poverty. These include an increased minimum wage, universal pre-k, expanded college access, and measures to make health care more affordable….”

The American economy is broken.  We live in a world where it is laudable to defend and praise men (mostly men) who think nothing of destroying thousands of lives, in order to get rich. They’re the makers.  The rest of us are takers.  Their wealth buys them political power, further impoverishing the rest of us.

I’ve learned, there is no shame in being considered in ‘poverty’.  That’s where I’m living right now.  And yes, it happened almost over-night.  Rush Limbaugh might slam me, and say that I live well. I do.  I live better than 95% of the rest of the world.  When you take that into consideration, it is terrifying.  What I have is what I had before my life was turned upside down by my father’s Alzheimer’s and his dishonest broker.

Too bad the broker is the hero in all of this, his dishonest narcissism and abject corruption being played out in every single town in this nation.  They’re not held accountable.  There’s no way I’ll ever get back what was stolen from my parents.  My father, gave away all of his records – to the very people who broke him.

Why should I feel shame?  I’m not a psychopath.  They are.  One day, we will have a society where evil people like this are held fully accountable for the lives they have ruined.  That will be the day when Ayn Rand is recognized for the disgusting crack-pot that she was, worshiping a serial killer, creating a world where men and women who don’t mind destroying those around them are the heroes, and those who are destroyed are to be stepped upon and tossed aside, as trash.

What a brave new world we have.