April 12, 2011
This is the theory that endemic poverty comes about because people are laboring under so many other crushing, egregious burdens, that they can't handle one more thing. Say, they're discriminated against and illiterate and not allowed to own land. Even the most trivial of bad luck will make them desperately poor.
This of course is in complete contradiction to Thomas Sowell theory that the way to avoid poverty is to finish highschool, get married and stay married.
And the truth, I'd say, lies somewhere between. Oh, of course I am in closer agreement to Thomas Sowell. And the idea that what causes poverty is "multiple societal burdens" and other poppycock is... poppycock. If being discriminated against or hated or regulated to the nth degree or what have you then all European Jews would still be crushingly poor and uneducated.
On the other hand when Thomas Sowell says people who do this do well, so the way to do well is to do this, he might be confusing the effect with the cause. The type of people who have the drive to finish highschool and stay married are the sort of people who will also show up for work on time and do well at work.
And then I thought of a friend of mine - brilliant man - and his housekeeping - just short of 'I've got to call social services to condemn this building' -- and the fact that most of my friends where both in the couple work have housekeeping somewhere between my own and that. And my own housekeeping is, btw, far from immaculate, but I can't stand to live in filth, so I put myself through an insane amount of effort to clean, on top of the massive amount of work my day job demands. And I thought "Oh, that's because most of us are willing to work this hard and no harder." My friends think I'm insane for how much I clean, but I'm willing to work that hard. OTOH I don't really care how much better the house would look with a non-dead lawn -- that would be working too hard as far as I'm concerned. And it would be insane.
The operative word there is "insane". If my theory is right, then those of us who keep pushing and "achieving" after we've secured what to our Neolithic ancestors would be luxury beyond dreams, are mutations, and probably a relatively small percentage of the population. And while it's possible to instill bourgeois virtues in the population (thrift, industry, cleanliness) it doesn't come naturally to most of the population. And to some percentage, it will be so antithetical that those virtues simply can't be instilled in them at all.
If I'm right the problem is we're looking at endemic, generational poverty through the wrong end of the prism. The people who will eat/enjoy/use whatever they have when they have it; destroy what they can't keep/take; never be able to do long-term planning; never work more than ABSOLUTELY necessary are NOT mal-adapted. We who plan ahead, save and build are.
Think about it, for most of the pre-history in which our species' evolution finished, selection would favor people who didn't expend calories when not needed. You wouldn't finish killing a mammoth and go kill another one, unless your tribe was huge. You'd sit and eat until it was gone, and probably burn/throw to dogs the leftovers. Only when hunger started would you go hunting again. An hyperactive hunter-gatherer would strip the region of resources and wear himself out to no good purpose. And not leave many descendants.
Heck, even in the agricultural region where I lived, winter was a down time, where you might mend implements, or work at small handicrafts, but only while the light lasted. And you didn't work more than absolutely needed. That way you could eat less in winter and save at a time food was scarce.
If I'm right, the "poor" and the "underclass" are only the descendants of those excellently adapted individuals. They will do what they must to stay alive, and not one jot more.
So... How do we deal with endemic poverty? The industrial age came in too recently for selection to make a difference and at any rate, for various cultural reasons poor people are still more successful reproductively than economically successful ones. So the problem, if genetic, is likely to grow.
We have two solutions, and they look remarkably like each other.
My favorite solution is we do nothing or intervene only when people who can't possibly know better - the young or handicapped - are at the point of starvation. The truth is that most of our poor live better than noblemen and the wealthy did in the Middle Ages. They're poor only by comparison to their hyper-industrious neighbors.
But if you're going to shout all at once and call me evil, there is another solution. We refuse to give them a safety net, and let them sink or swim all the while making sure they understand that all rewards are tied to effort.
It's the same thing, you say? Close enough. The second comes with more sermons, I think.
Look, what we're doing is the worst thing we can do. We are giving things to people who are genetically programmed to only work to get what they NEED. Their wants might be there but don't motivate them. When we remove need, we remove the incentive to work. Which means, in the modern era, they also don't develop habits of work and/or skills.
And then we end up with completely dysfunctional people, being paid to stay dysfunctional. You can say my solution is cruel, but it's not as cruel as that!
Update: Welcome Instapundit readers. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link
posted by Sarah on 04.12.11 at 09:52 PM
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