Thursday, October 05, 2006

The "Cure" for Poverty

Damn. This piece on The "Cure" for Poverty, by Jason Nemrow, just makes too much sense. One doesn't often see such acute thinking-outside-the-box, in this era of designer latte, McMansions, and political correctness.

In his "rant about just letting the poor be poor in America," Nemrow writes:
My name is Jay Nemrow and I am poor... I am not someone who plays at "being and acting poor" for a few weeks and comes back with all sorts of imagined insights. I am the real article, having spent most of my childhood and adulthood in the lower classes...

I think the current ideas on how to "solve the poverty problem" are just silly. I am not just talking about Republican ideas, but the years of Democratic programs are even worse. The essential problem has not been that poverty exists, it comes from how our society feels about and reacts to the poor...

[O]ur government's attitude has always been to work toward having either less poor people or less people who "look and act" poor in public. Republicans want to flog the poor until they get busy and make enough money to be middle-class. Democrats want to give the poor free houses, free food, and free services until they look middle-class. Both ideas are quite lacking and ignore the fact that we need a respectable, self-sufficient, low-wage working class...

I always knew I would be somewhat poor. I had no interest in the careers or lifestyle of the middle-class or rich. I wanted to spend my life serving others, which is a low-paying job. But, if I was going to be poor, I wanted to be smart about it. I wanted a life of freedom and happiness. I actually feel like I have done a pretty good job.

For societal reasons, there cannot be a "cure" to poverty: the system would not work without the poor. As I said before, the problem is not that poverty exists. The problem is that our society has made our system unworkable for poor people.
My immediate reaction is, "Hey, I resemble that!" Or at least, I did until recent years. Never held a long-term job in my life until age 43, you know. Perpetual grad student. Throughout my young adult years, I lived on a shoestring. Ascetic, spartan, monastic. I made do, or did without; and I simply did without many of the accoutrements the middle class takes for granted. At one time I slept on the floor on a rubber mat for a year because I neither had nor could afford a bed.

And I did pretty well, you know. I may have been poor by society's standards, but I did indeed have "a life of freedom and happiness."

As William James once put it, satisfaction equals achievements divided by expectations. Which means you can increase your satisfaction either (1) by increasing your achievement level, or (2) by decreasing your expectations. Sometimes the key to the good life is (2) to want less. It says a lot about our society today that, for many, the notion that some might prefer to follow route (2) is quite literally unthinkable.

BTW, need I add, Nemrow's piece is very "crunchy con"? I seem to be noticing that trait a lot lately in what I read.

One technical note, if you want to read Nemrow's essay, you'll need a browser (such as Firefox) which can access gopherspace, since Nemrow's site is located on a gopher server. Yes, I still bounce around in gopherspace from time to time. Or you could try accessing Nemrow's site— gopher:// via the Floodgap gopher portal.


Blogger Richmond said...

Learning to "Want Less" is a truly admirable thing to do...

Friday, October 06, 2006 4:20:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Yes, indeed; and the point of Nemrow's essay as I read it is that, over the past few generations, our society has been structured in such a way that it's become very difficult to get away with wanting less. Even for those of us who might otherwise be perfectly happy not going along with the tide of ever-rising expectations.

I mean, think of it: 60, 70, 80 years ago, most of America, including much of the middle class, was "poor" by today's standards. Yet they were self-respecting and hard working, and they lived, most of them (in Nemrow's words), "a life of freedom and happiness."

Something has happened. Something has changed. "Satisfaction equals achievements divided by expectations." 10/10 = 1. 80/80 = 1. 240/300 = 0.8. Achievements rise. Expectations rise. Satisfaction remains static, or actually declines.

Friday, October 06, 2006 6:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is a very good article. It reminded me of my daughter. I won't go into detail but she was very poor for a long time. She is a sinlge Mom and to this day she shops at thrift stores, garage stores and the Salvation Army for good deals.

I'm happy she went into the Democratic program. It is called from welfare to work. Now she helps others as she has been with the state for nine years.

I too am considered poor but going without things does not bother me. When I divorced and moved to Texas I did have furniture but after my last move I got rid of things and a beautiful dresser with mirror. My health has brought me down and I am on disablity so sometimes the system works to help people like my daughter and me. She is middle class now and owns a beautiful home worth over one hundred thousand, I think it is a one hundred and fifty thousand dollar home. Her furnishings are so beautiful and most were bought by the places I mentioned above.

Saturday, October 07, 2006 8:29:00 AM  

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