Are poor people lazy? Or just lucky?
User account number (aid): 10110
Posted by Max on 2012-04-20 12:20:10
Are poor people lazy? Or just lucky?
Commentary: Pity the rich man, who labors from sun up to sun down
April 20, 2012, 12:02 a.m. EDT
By Rex Nutting, MarketWatch
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) – Somewhere along the line, everything got turned upside down. It used to be that we envied the rich for their wealth, but now we pity them.
For it seems that no one works harder than a millionaire (except perhaps a billionaire), which is why we must do everything in our power to help them keep every penny that comes their way.
At the same time, we envy the poor, those lazy lucky ducks who just sit around all day, collecting unemployment, avoiding taxes and living it up on food stamps.
It wasn’t always this way. Once, not so very long ago, people saw the world as it really was. We all knew that the rich have it easy while the poor have hard times. Indeed, that’s the main reason people want to be rich instead of poor.
We knew why they called it “the working class.” We developed theories about the leisure class that explained why the rich spent so much time, energy and money making sure that no one would ever confuse them with someone who actually worked, with someone who got calluses or got sunburned.
Somehow, however, in the popular imagination the rich and the poor have switched places. Now, it’s the rich who toil from sun up to sun down, while the idle poor among us never lift a finger.
We’ve bought into the morality of the market completely. Economic success is a matter of morality, of working hard and doing all the right things. If you fail, you deserve all the hardships, degradation and shame you’ll get. If you don’t have any money, you are a loser.
Whatever the rich have, they deserve to keep because they worked for it. Poor people don’t deserve help because it only makes them weaker. If we lend a hand to those who stumble during the race, it belittles the efforts of those who kept running.
This is the guiding governing philosophy in the House of Representatives. Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has argued that his budget plan is guided by his Catholic faith, which teaches that “we don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty out onto a life of independence.”
In other words, budget cuts in programs such as food stamps, unemployment benefits, housing assistance and health care aren’t just a fiscal necessity, they are a moral mandate, Ryan says.
But the Catholic bishops don’t see it that way. They have strongly condemned Ryan’s budget for “moral and human reasons” and have said that the proposed cuts in nutritional programs are “unjustified and wrong.” The bishops said that “a central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects ‘the least of these’ (Matthew 25).”
The bishops said that a just solution to our budget problems requires “shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues.”
But the politicians and pundits remain resolute. They’ll tell you how simple it is: Poor people are poor because they are lazy. If you’re on unemployment, you’re lazy. If you’re on food stamps, you’re lazy. If you don’t earn enough to owe any federal income tax, you’re lazy. If you’re retired, you’re lazy. If you are a poor single mom, you’re lazy.
But if you are a rich married mom, you are a saint.
The recent dustup over whether stay-at-home-mom Ann Romney ever worked a day in her life has exposed our confusion over the meaning of that word “work.” Foot-in-mouth strategist Hilary Rosen used one common definition of “work” to mean “earning a paycheck” when she said the would-be first lady had never had the pleasure. Rosen didn’t say anything that politicians of both parties haven’t been saying for years about the urgency of forcing moms on welfare to go out and work so they can finally have some dignity.
There are other definitions of “work,” of course. Physicists say work means “force times distance.” More to the point, we all know that work means “making an effort” or “any productive activity.”
Plowing fields is work. Caring for children is work. Building houses is work. Studying is work. Mopping floors is work. Brain surgery is work. Waiting for the bus that will take you and the kids to day care before catching the other bus that will take you to your job is work. Cashing your dividend check is not work.
We pretend to honor hard work, but our policies deny it. If we honored work, we’d remember that most of the hardest working people in our society are also the lowest paid. Many of the hardest jobs come with no paycheck at all.
Conversely, some of the best-paid people hardly work at all. Most investors, for instance, don’t work hard (unless you count unproductive sleepless nights), because their money does the work for them. Many highly paid professionals — investment bankers, doctors, lawyers, athletes and corporate managers — do work hard, but do they work any harder than the people who pick the crops, or who work on the assembly line, or sit up with a sick kid all night?
Poor people — with few exceptions — are not lazy. Many of them have retired after a lifetime of hard work. Many of them are children, with a lifetime of hard work ahead of them if they can learn the necessary skills and habits. Many of them work a job, or even two, but a minimum-wage paycheck isn’t enough to pull them out of poverty.
And many of them work hard in exactly the same sense that Ann Romney has worked hard her whole life. It’s not effort that separates them from Mrs. Romney, but luck.
There’s no doubt that success rarely comes without hard work. But there’s also no doubt that luck plays a large part in our successes and failures.
The most important factor in determining where you’ll end up economically is where your parents were. We do have some upward economic mobility, but not as much as the market moralists think we have, or as much as we had a generation or two ago.
The poor are indeed lucky ducks. It’s just that all their luck is bad.
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