James Baldwin, The Prince of the Ticket, 1985.
Thinking About Poverty
America is considered one of the most prosperous countries in the world. However, those who happen to experience poverty understand that this concept is somewhat blurry and very subjective. One can say that living in Manteca CA with around $40 000 of income with two children to provide for and a rented apartment on the outskirts is practically a condition on the verge of beggarhood. Others would say that this is just an applicable federally defined poverty level when a citizen is living from hand to mouth calculating every coin spent on rents, food and day-care facilities. Whatever are the terms, they mean nothing, only an individual defines what amount of fortune would make him happy in certain circumstances. This situation reminds us of an old Chinese saying “Emperor Zsu hosted a guest and his descendants reaped the fruits of it” meaning that a person cannot have a kind pure heart making good things hoping for reward. When it comes for US governmental poverty and social security programs, it is definitely not the right thing to expect rewards. This logic is quite understandable and very simple. People having bank accounts, houses, cars, expensive security programs wearing Brioni and Rolex make themselves think of and work for wretched and miserable, creating support programs for the ones like me, providing my children with education opportunities, consider allowances for those whose income is around $40 000 annually and doing a lot of other “indispensable” things.
Certainly we may agree to the postulate that a person having not a sixpence to scratch with, can easily manage someone else’s funds, however, when for a long time you climb to the goal according to “no pain no gain” principle, reach the height of Olympia, you clearly have no intention to help “the poor and lazy”. What is the difference between the rich and the poor? The rich one eats when he wants, while the poor one eats when he can. Why then so many people in America live under applicable federally defined poverty level? Foremost common opinion is that it is their shortcoming. Poverty with 40 000 annually can be an object of scientific analyses. This problem is relatively new for Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, where such annual income is an incredible wealth. American scientists took pains to find out the causes of poverty as a consequence of social position, intellectual potential and education system. Certainly, approaches of American sociologists represent some interest and their conclusions can be applied to some social welfare theories and GDP per capita statistics of a developed economy; however, for a life of a single father with two children such theories are of less importance. Doing simple math American sociologists, politicians and other well-off individuals can draw a clear picture of living cost in 2014-2015 in US. Average monthly disposable salary in a small shop in Manteca CA is US 2633.69; rent of apartment (2 bedrooms) on the outskirts – US 1263.62; closing/shoes and utilities – US 358; transportation (monthly pass) US 40. The “leftovers” can be easily used for markets (US 60), day-care facilities (US 68), Internet (6 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL – US 46.96); restaurants and sports (US 70-100). One should not be a genius to understand that with this amount of income there is no chance to buy own apartment or get money for college education for two children. If we propose an experiment for a wealthy white-color manager from the 5th Avenue in New York giving him a chance to make use of an attractive opportunity to lead a wretched existence among the poor ones, would he agree? It is a doubtful assumption but let’s try to set our imagination at work in this thought experiment. What way this man would try to survive? What possibilities life would offer him? Small applicable federally defined housing, ridiculous salary, a lot of responsibilities and gloomy perspectives. Would there be any joy? Surely! A bottle of beer on Fridays, visit to a dentist or physician once in 5 years, cheap social security, and sport bar during baseball twinighters. Two children and their needs would cap the state of euphoria making the life even more picturesque. Probably, realization of such a position could be compared with the power of enlightenment uprising somewhere in the corner of the mind a question of “why me”? Considering simple reasons of miserable social positions of American corporate slaves, answer may be quite unexpected: let this job be underpaid and hateful but stable. A person with psychology of a poor man, as a rule, chose underpaid but stable work, e.g. government agencies placements with boring and tedious tasks. Government will supply you with all the necessary things, why desire more? Easy money, minimal responsibilities, what can be better than a stable quite life? Only money-for-free and freedom of choice. However, the question of free money has already been realized in 1970ies in Canada. This idea included basic guaranteed money on monthly basis necessary to cover all the primary human needs in bread and lodging. It was assumed that all the grant receivers would work. Thus, Canada decided to eradicate poverty as a phenomenon implementing this interesting grant system in Dauphin (Manitoba province) called “city without poor”. Experiment lasted for 5 years until conservative political world leaders as Margaret Thatcher in UK and Reagan in US claimed “free money program” to be a useless experiment demotivating people. Several decades later Canadian government published results and involved a team of anthropologists, sociologists, economists and psychologists to analyze the outcomes of the experiment, it appeared that it was tremendously successful. Citizens worked definitely less, but they went to collages and invested time and effort into learning; they stopped visiting doctors because definitely felt better; many young people started volunteering helping old and disabled. The experiment was successful! Would it be as successful in the US with its current social and economic system? Definitely no! Would it make our imaginary white color New York “lucky beggar” be happy to get free money and enhance chances for education and personal growth? Definitely yes! There is another question, how much money would make a poor man rich and happy? Do the income issues in any way connect with happiness categories? These assumptions refer primarily to those spheres of socio-economic system, which determine strategic and fundamental development basis and perspectives of the society. Discussions about prerogatives of government and state providing the poor with minimal live niveau are useless because every individual is responsible for his own happiness and income.
American political scientist Charles Murray (2012) in his book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010” narrate us about the live of the oppressed social group – white workers. Murray says that America is a meritocratic society, where education is supposed to decide everything. At least, this concept was held for true until recently when Americans were persuaded that there is no class struggle or social classes’ phenomenon. There was an opinion that Americans can be divided into two groups: those who are rich and those who want to be rich. Probably this was fair in the times of Dwight Eisenhower, when American society was on the verge of phenomenal social mobility. Education nowadays does not decide on everything because erosion of the middle class, broadening property gap and enormous unemployment hit the most educated generation in America. The price of good education is also increasing faster that income of the single father. It means that a good education is less available for two children from Manteca CA, whose father earns around $40 000 annually because it becomes preferably the domain of the rich. Murray supposes that the newly emerged middle class of workers today is less entrepreneurial oriented; less inclined to make up a good family; is not religious and more isolated socially, culturally and politically. Certainly, Murray has his own perception of wealth and poverty. Does it have any connection to happiness or poverty issues for you, for me or anyone else? Would our imaginary white color manager be satisfied with this explanation of being poor if we give him a chance to make a choice in our thought experiment? The choice is far-from perfect but may help him to disclose some of the inner motives. Would he choose a decent, quite life with work, two children, honest relations with God, friends and conscience or go immediately back to the 5th Avenue, luxury houses, expensive cars, manipulation of the stock market and extreme solitude of the big city? Answer will seem to us obvious from the first glance, however, is we stop and think what the answer means. The first variant will lead our hero to a federally defined poverty level, where he will have a life of a father, an employee, a friend, a free person able to make his own world cozy and decent. The second variant will make him rich with all the benefits that money can buy, cocktail parties with congressmen, expansive things that you have to buy in order to correspond the requirements of the rich world or lack of choice. Which of the variants would make him happy? What is the criteria of happiness or success for him? We can dwell on the variety of answers, they will be different depending on the level of personal reflection, responsibility, integrity and morals. The poverty concept is something artificially implemented in our lives because the “poor group” has a large variety of ways to be happy while “the rich” group narrows down these chances to keeping the same/increasing the level of prosperity.
I heard that Buddah had an aversion for wealth; therefore, he would hardly make himself busy with prosperity and poverty concepts. Conversations that fortunes are given as a recompense for heroic deeds while poverty is a punishment for sins is just a good plot for TV soap operas. The poor one with two children or the rich one with castles in California can be equally happy doing good things quite kindheartedly. I have chosen my way, do you?
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Murray, Ch. Are We Loosing Grounds? University of Wisconsin-Madison J-C Institute for Research on Poverty. Vol. 8. Fall and Winter 1985. Print.
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