Saturday, December 3, 2011

The real problem with poverty and wealth

Middle class people believe if you work hard and keep your nose clean and show some moxie you'll get ahead--you'll do better than your parents did. But middle class people also know they're dependent on how others do--that is, on how well society as a whole is doing.

Poor people on the dole are not dependent on how well society is doing. They believe working hard won't get them ahead--that good-paying jobs are not available to them--and welfare grants them the necessities regardless of how society as a whole is doing.

Rich people are not dependent on how well society is doing. They have a plush personal safety net that they believe will buoy them up regardless of society's vicissitudes.

So the poor and the rich feel decoupled from society. They don't care about the welfare of others, because it doesn't affect them. As Oscar Wilde said, more or less "I can bear the burdens of others quite well."

And when their welfare is cut off, the poor still feel decoupled from society, because they don't see a way up.

It is possible to couple the rich and the poor to society's welfare as a whole. The rich loathe this idea, and fight it every way they can. And being rich, they have the means to stop most attempts to attach them to society.
The poor loathe this idea if it forces them to work for their welfare--especially if you attach all the conditions to getting welfare that I'd attach. However, the poor don't represent a danger to the middle class, except for a certain amount of street crime (which is far greater in the ghettos of the poor, though). The rich who are decoupled from society do represent a danger to the middle class.

That's why, even though Americans work longer hours than those of any other industrialized society, and their hours have progressively increased over the last decades, they are no better off than their parents were in the 1970s, except for having the Internet and relatively cheap computers. On the other hand, they're far less likely to be able to get out from under their college debt and to buy a home. Our GDP has increased greatly since the 1970s but the rich have kept the increase for themselves, and captured government, so that the people we elect won't do what we want them to do, but instead serve their patrons.

My very right wing Southern father once defined society as where the rich and the poor decide what the middle class will pay to support them.

Was he wrong:?

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