Bee Stung

Today I was reading an interview with Thomas Sowell (via Glenn Reynolds) and it reminded me of the bee sting theory of poverty.

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


I believe there was a short story about this. "The Marching Morons" by Kornbluth.

M. Simon   ·  April 12, 2011 11:21 PM

Ah. We read the same formative works, I see. That story, read when I was eight, made me decide I wanted eleven children. Fortunately or unfortunately it didn't work out that way.
But it's not just a matter of intelligence. It's a matter of something more illusive -- call it "drive". The thing is the social sciences keep studying reasons why things went wrong and it's not there, while I think what they should be studying is why it IS there in some people, because those are the exception.

Sarah   ·  April 13, 2011 1:17 AM

Welfare States (like Japanese nuclear power plants) have been engineered, not by ignorant, foolish, morons; but rather by well educated and highly intelligent morons.

Will   ·  April 13, 2011 7:59 AM

I have long believed that the goal of having a permanent welfare caste system is to prevent possible competition, and thus maintain the elite. People who are paid to stay dysfunctional stay dysfunctional, and the resultant bitterness and poor self esteem ensures that even those few who might want to better themselves never do.

What you propose is a return to basics -- the theory of the American Dream.

I agree.

Eric Scheie   ·  April 13, 2011 5:45 PM

The modern emphasis on cleanliness depends on one development: constantly available light. When candles were the only source of illumination, you couldn't see that your house was dirty. Now, lights show every speck of dirt, most of which is not really harmful or unhealthy.

Also, when most people had no servants, human or electronic, cleaning was simply too much work. And, perhaps most important, it wasn't expected.

Robert Speirs   ·  April 15, 2011 6:18 PM

A Farewell to Alms is right up your alley and in some places ahead of you. The author argues some selection for thrift and industry did take place in England over a period of centuries. But that's compatible with an argument that a welfare state removes and even reverses that pressure of selection.

Also I recommend The 10,000 Year Explosion. Their argument is selection didn't stop when farming started, it just shifted terms, to things like lactose tolerance and sociability. Moreover, a larger population means more opportunities for useful mutations to arise and spread. So we likely are adapted to agrarian and urban life, if only partially. And of course, even less so to fully modern life. But we aren't* truly cavemen or even hunter-gatherers in the old "evolution stopped at farming" sense.

*Or I could say aren't all truly hunter-gatherers, which is where it gets really un-PC.

Dave R.   ·  April 15, 2011 6:24 PM

many years ago my wife and I were finishing school + having a baby, allowing us to qualify for food stamps (in the middle of the 1980's oil bust). In the food stamp office there were 3 distinct groups - young people starting out, older people who just never made much money, and people who were pretty much nuts. The second group might have done better with better training or better health, but don't pretend you could do much with the last.

bobmark   ·  April 15, 2011 6:25 PM

The most common occupation for women who worked in 1900 was domestic servant. Most middle class people had a servant or two until World War II. Between 1920 and 1945 they were black women. Often black men did household chores, like washing windows. It is very recent when women in homes could get along without servants if they could afford them and most middle class people could.

As far as striving for success beyond your neighbors, Americans are selected by immigration. Our ancestors were willing to leave everything behind to seek a better life. The two groups that are having the hardest time, blacks and Mexicans, either had no choice or had an ambiguous choice where they could come and go with little effort.

Michael Kennedy   ·  April 15, 2011 6:29 PM

During the Potato Famine, the Irish were exporting other foodstuffs to England. Only the potatoes were suffering, and the potato eaters. The English tried to help, once. They gave some Irishmen grain. But, being illiterate, they didn't know how to follow the food preparation instructions. The Irish ate the grain, it expanded in their bellies and killed many of them. The English didn't want to ruin the character of the Irish by teaching them to accept charity.

I don't mind supporting widows, and orphans, and those disabled and unable to work. I object to supporting people who refuse to work. I object to supporting those who have children out of wedlock, with no means of supporting those children.

Milwaukee   ·  April 15, 2011 6:32 PM

This is a song I've been singing for years. Of course nobody ever heard of me, so all I get is echoes.

The behaviors that trouble us today, in an industrial society, are the ones produced by the many millenia we lived as hunter-gatherer-scavengers. It's not just cleaning, or goofing off when you didn't badly need to work because that would use up energy you might need when you DID need to work. The whole attitude of the leftoids comes from the same source.


Ric Locke   ·  April 15, 2011 6:35 PM

You are proposing a variant of 'the unreasonable man'.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950), Man and Superman (1903) "Maxims for Revolutionists"

The 'reasonable man', in this case adapts himself to a world which GIVES him, basically all he could want. Why change?

This is the exact reverse of the 'revolutionary concept' that requires all revolutions to come from below, as no-one with 4 aces wants to throw in the hand for a re-deal. But our present day 'reasonable man' figures, often rightly, that HE has 4 aces and the schlub with a pair of Kings is paying for the beer and pretzels....

Dyspeptic Curmudgeon   ·  April 15, 2011 6:42 PM

Your hypothesis brings to mind the Heinlein quote

"Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded -- here and there, now and then -- are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
This is known as "bad luck.""

pablok   ·  April 15, 2011 7:00 PM

I subscribe to the "bird feeder" theory of poverty. We put a bird feeder in our yard to attract songbirds. Of course, not only songbirds show up but pigeons, crows, mourning doves plus squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, mice and I'm starting to see deer tracks.

Once upon a time, poverty programs were for people in dire need (just as handicapped parking spaces were originally for people who were truly handicapped.) They kept redefining "dire need" upward to include people on the boundaries (just as now handicapped parking spaces are available now to people who limp a lot as well as the wheelchair bound) and now around half the country has its hand out.

Buck O'Fama   ·  April 15, 2011 7:13 PM

Although I'm a convinced evolutionist, I'm also made wary by appeals to evolution to account for differences in social activity and motivation. What you seem to be saying is that humans who react to their situation with foresight, planning, industry, and thrift are a mutation, while those who live like a pack of wolves or troop of chimpanzees are the norm.

All humans have enormous brains and understanding and dream power. I think the difference between the wealthy and middle class strivers and the poverty-stricken layabouts has more to do with nurture than nature. I got up early, studied, and worked hard all my life because Mother and Father expected it. They didn't have to say "do this" in so many words; it was in the air and the example they set at home. People who don't show this initiative aren't different genetically--they just didn't have the same expectations.

Thomas T. Thomas   ·  April 15, 2011 7:20 PM

"Guns, Germs, and Steel" also raises the question about what effect environment has on intelligence, culture, and/or technical progress.

toadold   ·  April 15, 2011 7:40 PM

While I'm not a defender of "the idle poor", I do believe they are with us for ever. As production of food, clothing, and housing becomes more automated (and, therefore, much cheaper), there will be less and less reason to work. Those of us who choose to work will continue to support those who choose not to, through one means or another.
We are progressing to the point where a job will be more of a privilege than a necessity. When the basics are supplied by robotic labor (don't kid yourselves, automation is robotics), the idle class will be the norm.

Eric Ivers   ·  April 15, 2011 7:54 PM

No, we choose what we do.

Nature may signal or promote a certain behavior, but from moment to moment, we do what we decide to do.

It would be good to reinforce positive behavior instead of taxing it and using the loot to reward negative behavior.

Ben   ·  April 15, 2011 8:00 PM

Even if our evolution favored immediate gratification, one can still make the case that America has fostered the bourgeois virtues among a very large portion of its population--and the further case that these virtues may be in decline among some parts of American society. This is the case that Charles Murray recently presented in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute (and available for viewing there).

Murray presented data about the non-Hispanic white population aged 30-48 and compared that population in 1960 with it in 2010. In each of those years he looked at what he called the "upper middle class" (the top 20%) and at the "working class" (the bottom 30%).

He was studying the virtues of industriousness and honesty and people's connections to the institutions of marriage and religion in those two periods of time. I won't try to repeat the detailed percentages that he presented, but only his disturbing conclusions. With regard to the virtues and connections to institutions, there is little change in upper middle class behavior between 1960 and 2010. Hard work, honesty, and marriage are alive and well there. But in the working class there is a real decline over those 50 years on all virtues with consequent increase in individual and social problems. The book he is writing will be titled, "Coming Apart."

Maybe everyone knows this, at some level. But I found one remark of his especially resonated for me. He observed that it is as though the upper middle class keeps all the good things for itself: work satisfaction, committed marriage and child rearing, and so on. Perhaps out of fear of being multi-culturally insensitive or politically incorrect--It does not preach what it practices.

Richard   ·  April 15, 2011 8:38 PM

"In order to succeed, the poor need most the spur of their poverty." - George Gilder, 1981

Robert   ·  April 15, 2011 8:47 PM

Your assertion that planning ahead is pointless for hunter-gatherers is very false.

Even squirrels hide nuts away for winter.

Hunter-gatherers would definitely need to store away resources for the future and plan ahead - especially if they lived in an area with long winters. (Interestingly, this genetic/cultural pressure may partially explain the worldwide modernization spread between warm and cold areas)

You're also forgetting the role of social status in societies. Reproductively, there is no satiety point in acquisition of status, at least for a man. You can always amass more followers, wives, and children, and all of this can mean planning ahead.

Anyways, on the modern side, I support unlimited welfare payments on the condition that the home not include any entertainment devices whatsoever and food is all given in standardized sets of generic, simple products to fulfill nutritional requirements and no more. That's right, give them actual physical food, not money or food stamps! The goal is to give people a safety net so they don't starve to death, not to keep them fat and happy.

TheDude   ·  April 15, 2011 8:48 PM

The flaw in your argument is that humans are a very social species: generally speaking, we cannot survive as individuals in the primitive environment in which evolution shaped our nature. Our survival depends critically on the survival of at least an extended family group, more usually a tribe.

What that means is that the basic evolutionary unit for human beings is the tribe, not the individual. Genes prosper which code for behaviour in the individual that is good for the tribe. Usually the behaviour is *also* good for the individual, e.g. physical stamina, fertility, resistance to disease, good eyesight. But on occasion there are genes that code for behaviour that is actually somewhat handicapping for the individual, e.g. unusual intelligence, creativity, boldness, altruism -- but as long as the benefit to the tribe is substantial, these genes will be favored. (You need to keep in mind most of the differentiating genes of an individual exhibiting certain behaviour are present, perhaps silently, in his siblings, parents, nieces and nephews. If the latter prosper, it doesn't matter that much that the individual does not.)

To think evolutionary forces operate only on the individual is as mistaken as to to think they operate only on your eyeballs, independently of the close cooperative relationship between your eyeballs and, say, your kidneys. It is entirely possible for evolution to produce behaviour of your eyeballs that is not survival oriented for them (e.g. not being protected behind an opaque safety barrier of bone) but which enhances the survival of the body as a whole. It's the same way with individual humans.

You probably believe your behaviour is beneficial to the tribe -- so it is likely it is evolutionary favored. What grates, however, is that only a small percentage of the tribe needs to be altruistic, very bright, courageous, or exhibit any other kind of leadership. It is OK, probably even optimal, if the rest of the tribe are freeloading lazy amoral couch potatoes.

The moral of that story is that Mother Nature and Papa Evolution care only about survival. They don't care at all if the optimal method of survival leaves some individuals feeling cheated, or exploited, or unhappy.

Carl Pham   ·  April 15, 2011 8:58 PM

You are, in my opinion, exactly right. We overachievers (I include myself since I am within touch of 60 and still put in 50 to 60 hours a week in my business)think that a 'taste' of the good life will motivate these normal people. We give them this 'taste' and they use what they can, waste the rest, then go on living their normal life.

Octus   ·  April 15, 2011 9:06 PM
Eric Ivers-April 15, 2011 7:54 PM

No, we choose what we do.

Nature may signal or promote a certain behavior, but from moment to moment, we do what we decide to do.

It would be good to reinforce positive behavior instead of taxing it and using the loot to reward negative behavior.


Prior to The Welfare State we didn't have "the idle poor" in numbers anything close to what we have today. Welfare DISCOURAGES initiative, while it ENcourages profligate bastardy and indolence.

Add to this our "progressive" taxation and... well...

I had an epiphany a few years ago. I worked myself almost literally to death -- 90-120 hours a week until I collapsed and needed major surgery.

During the immediate recovery period, my disability insurance paid me half my usual gross -- and I quickly learned that I had just as much money in my pocket as I did working the equivalent of three full-time jobs.

EVERY PENNY of 50% of my earnings went to increased taxation - and the expenses involved in working such an unhealthy schedule.

Triple the work, double the gross ZERO ADDED NET?


Who is John Galt?

But this is only part of our problem. 50 years of The Welfare State have left us with generations of professional victims/couch potatoes who have never done anything save breed another generation.

Rather than learn to APPRECIATE those of us whose work-ethic allows them to live in indolence, they've been taught to hate us, and to be perpetually aggrieved. They've also learned to demonstrate their displeasure through rioting, arson and looting.

The first time the welfare checks don't cash, every city in our Republic will burn, and G*d only knows how many poor souls will get "the Reginald Denny treatment."

It's going to be ugly...

Dedicated_Dad   ·  April 15, 2011 9:26 PM

I'm with TheDude. Food aid for adults should come in the form of unlimited cans of Ensure.

matt d   ·  April 15, 2011 9:27 PM

I am also going to go with the warm/cold environment model. In the state of nature in cold places, people who did not work their buts off all spring, summer and fall and plan to store away enough food died every winter. One additional feature of living in the state of nature in a cold climate is that seasonal affective disorder or winter depression is an evolutionary advantage. You are depressed. You sleep a lot and stay in bed under the covers where you will be warm. You lose your appetite which is a good idea because the food will have to last until spring. Evolution doesn't care if you are happy.

In a tropical jungle, food is available year round and if you try to save any it will only rot. Better to be a grasshopper, charming everybody with your fiddle playing so that you can reap the benefits of popularity among a social species.

Mark in Texas   ·  April 15, 2011 11:13 PM

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"

"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, " I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge

This came to mind.   ·  April 15, 2011 11:31 PM

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"

"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, " I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge

This came to mind.   ·  April 15, 2011 11:31 PM
M. Simon   ·  April 16, 2011 12:05 AM

Some people are allergic to bee stings. :(

M. Report   ·  April 16, 2011 12:10 AM

TheDude ยท April 15, 2011 8:48 PM

Child of Fortune

M. Simon   ·  April 16, 2011 12:17 AM

We are progressing to the point where a job will be more of a privilege than a necessity.

Bucky Fuller was saying that 50 years ago. I think it is true.

M. Simon   ·  April 16, 2011 12:21 AM

Both of your solutions are "top down" solutions- what do we [meaning the wisest government we can make] do to them.

The problem is the government solving a problem- a top down solution.
This problem should not be a Federal [or even State] problem.

The problem you seemed to be attempting to solve has been long ago been "solved"- tax them. If you have any taxes, you will lessen behavior of people in general not being "productive enough"- not working hard. Increase taxes and you will increase economic growth- you will force people to work- if whip a horse it will tend to move.

You can't own land and do little, that land will be taxed. If you rent instead of own- you are still taxed by the government [but it's slightly more "hidden" because your landlord pays the tax].

If you pay no federal taxes and pay no State taxes, and if you still breathing [actually even if dead] you are still paying taxes- indirectly.

If anyone [or non breathing entity] is paying taxes, you are indirectly paying taxes.

We are extremely overtaxed, BUT this doesn't matter as much as being interfered with the government we empowered with all this wealth. We have essentially "hired" a zillion idiots to tell what we can and can not do.
And it doesn't matter if you seem to think the US is less taxed than say some European countries. Even if another distant country is taxed, you being taxed.
Nor should one forget that we one conquered most these countries and "enlightened them". Not mention we are still providing military security for them.

Outlawing lightbulbs is just farcical example of how out control this is. And I am not against this law, as it has to have enormous educational value. The same people are making far more damaging laws, constantly and for decades and decades and realm after realm of paper filling room and rooms, providing future generation conclusive proof we and our elected leadership must have been stark raving mad.

gbaikie   ·  April 16, 2011 12:31 AM

". . . for most of the pre-history in which our species' evolution finished, selection would favor people who didn't expend calories when not needed."

Weight-wise, what you're seeing in modern society, is the result of the fact that evolution favors obesity. "In the Heart of the Sea" recounts the shipwreck of the Essex, a whaling ship in the 1830s. The story includes tales of long weeks without food, interminable boredom, and cannibalism. Along the way, the author intersperses tidbits from many studies of what we know about nutrition.

One theory interjected into the story is that the Polynesians are the descendents of generations of that portion of shipwrecked crews who survived the voyage to the islands. And since those with a low metabolism were better adapted to survive long periods without foot, obesity is now prevalent in Polynesian societies.

Orwell is correct when he tells us that poverty is the natural condition of man. Today's ideal--the skinny man or woman who stays that way even while eating and drinking rapaciously--is the anomaly. Obesity isn't a failure of modern society; it's a marker of modern society's success.

Bob Krumm   ·  April 16, 2011 2:52 AM

Bob K.,

Which is why 100 years ago being fat was attractive.

Since the masses now have enough food to be fat the elite differentiate themselves by the number of hours they spend at the gym.

And the attraction? The social signal?

"My wallet is so fat that I don't have to carry around emergency rations.

BTW back around 1920 the % of a family's budget going to food was 30%. Today it is on the order of 9.8%.

M. Simon   ·  April 16, 2011 4:35 AM

A brilliant young woman of my acquaintance has written: "Help can cripple or kill you." In the century behind us, the well-intentioned did more harm, in the aggregate, than any force other than warfare.

Gee, it seems I recall a saying about this...

Francis W. Porretto   ·  April 16, 2011 4:52 AM

Sarah, while I enjoyed your article and am at least sympathetic with your conclusion, I think one or two of your premises need to be re-examined.

One of them: poverty does not need to be explained. It is the natural condition of man. Wealth is what must be explained. For this, we have to thank a (relatively) solid and predictable framework of common law, the institution of private property, a still-functioning but perhaps ailing set of societal moral values bestowed to us by our Christian forbears, and (relative) safety from thieves and invaders. Take away any one of them, and the incentive to save and invest is consumed by fear of losing what has been gathered.

Secondly: I have my doubts that indolence is a trait that is helpful toward survival. Even if primitive man did not need to kill a mammoth every day, he and his buddies stay fit and keep their spears sharp to protect their women, children, and stash from marauding neighbors.

However, I think you have summed up the incentive structure pretty well.

Reformed Trombonist   ·  April 16, 2011 8:46 AM

See Dr. Helen's post about excessive kindness (and a new book on the subject):

Eric Scheie   ·  April 16, 2011 11:29 AM

Interesting post, and interesting discussion. I only have a couple of minor thoughts to throw out:

"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."

I think 'mal-adapted' is the wrong word, as it implies there's something wrong with planning ahead. There isn't. What we're seeing, I think, is a clash between two different (neither better, nor worse, just different) worldviews. Peasants and hunter-gatherers of old rarely worried about planning for the future, because

a) staying alive from day to day was hard enough; and

b) most of them didn't have a retirement to plan for, and knew it. You worked til the day you died. If by some chance you stopped being able to work before you died (and few people did) you became a Tribal Elder, earning your way by contributing your accumulated wisdom to the Tribe.

c) Spring-houses and other such items aside, there wasn't any way to save up wealth. Any profit got put right back into your house, herds, fields, or business.

Upthread Michael Kennedy wrote: "As far as striving for success beyond your neighbors, Americans are selected by immigration. Our ancestors were willing to leave everything behind to seek a better life."

There is something in evolutionary theory called the Founder Effect, which is all about exactly this. It ruled the early American colonists with an iron fist -- consider that concept called the "Puritan work ethic" or the "Protestant work ethic." We still practice that work ethic today and think of it as uniquely American, even though many of us are not especially religious at all and AFAIK there is no modern religious group (aside from cults) that are as rigidly disciplined as the Puritans were.

Michael Kennedy also wrote: "The two groups that are having the hardest time, blacks and Mexicans, either had no choice or had an ambiguous choice where they could come and go with little effort."

No. Immigrant blacks, from Africa or the Caribbean, do not have this problem. They are true Americans, who come prepared to work hard and build a better life for themselves and their Tribe. Prior to about 1970, many (probably a majority) American blacks were the same way. That community has only disintegrated in the last forty years, since their own leaders convinced them they were victims and the solution was demanding handouts from the government. I've heard some truly horrifying stories about how the black urban middle class and black urban small business simply collapsed in the 1970s.

wolfwalker   ·  April 17, 2011 8:07 AM

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