Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Poor people aren't that poor

If you use drugs, you're not that poor.

If you smoke or drink beer, you're not that poor.

If you go out to the bars, you're not that poor.

If you have cable, a computer and/or a cell phone, you're not that poor.

If you drive a car, you're not that poor.

If you own a pet, you're not that poor.

If your family eats three meals a day and manages to pay the rent, you're not that poor.

We have to really confront what poverty is.

The neighbourhood where I live is in what is supposed to be a relatively "depressed area" with a lot of renters, immigrants and single moms. Everywhere you look, there are satellite dishes, minivans, pick-up trucks, SUV's, cigarette butts and dog shit. Sometimes, on summer nights, the odor of marijuana is so overpowering, I can still smell it even with the doors and windows closed.

I remember my former neighbours used to have her two-fours driven to her house by one of those beer delivery services. Sure, she was a single mom who lived with a boyfriend and a housemate to pay expenses. But she still had money for her two-fours and her dog.

I don't begrudge people for owning satellite dishes, SUV's and dogs. I'm pissed off about the marijuana, but all would be forgiven if I didn't have to smell it.

Where I get a little huffy is the proposition that the people around me are poor. Do they have less than many people? Sure. They don't have the house in the suburbs, or the pension plan, or the three weeks vacation, etc.

But they have a good chunk of that lifestyle. There aren't too many people in this country who go without cable or internet. There aren't too many people who don't have a car. There are people who are officially unemployed, but scrape together a nice living between their government cheques and under-the-table work and help from families. Bleeding-heart liberals shouldn't be so shocked. Having grandparents is something of a cash cow. Even "poor" grandmas splurge on their grandkids buying the things they think these children will need to help out the "poor" parents.

In Canada, the difference between "poor" and "not-poor" rests on the amount of disposable income one possesses. The "poor" are those who do not have a lot of disposable income. Not people who lack the necessities. People who have the necessitites but have to scrimp to break even at the end of the month are the poor.

I think that left-leaning people are looking to rescue or be rescued. If you're sixteen, you don't know how to save for university, you don't know how you'll get a job (because your parents are welfare bums) free university tuition makes a heck of a lot of sense to you. If you're some elite university prof who sees the "pain" of students struggling with debt (even after they spend Spring Break in Florida), calling for tuition reform may make a lot of sense to you, because good people want to help others, and poor students in debt are obviously in need of help.

Bad people are people like me who expect others to take care of themselves.

The reason poor people are "poor" is not because of our economic system. It is not because of a lack of government programs. It is mostly because people do not know how to take care of themselves and their money.

Poor people tend to be those who have not developed the work skills, social capital (i.e. networks), the habits, attitudes and values that lead one to transcend the underclass lifestyle.

Sometimes their behaviour results from pure stupidity. Like the people who spend their money on beer and cigarettes. They gotta know that their money is going to waste.

Somtimes it's just ignorance. There are people who grow up in families where life management skills are not valued, or else people just don't know how to obtain them.

But many poor people feel entitled to their creature comforts AND support from the government, because they expect to have as much as anyone else. In some sense, who could blame them? Socialist elites give them the impression that a middle-class lifestyle is their God-given right, and if the government doesn't provide it for them, then that's a form of inequality.

It's really too bad though, that most of these people may never understand that they do not need to rely on the political situation to change in order for them to improve their economic circumstances. If people simply decided that to get themselves out of "poverty" through their own power-- by stopping the beer, cigarettes, consumer debt, impulse shopping, many of them would make significant progress.

There are a small number of people who are truly poor through no fault of their own. But the vast majority of us are not doing too badly. Unfortunately, government programs don't aim for the small numbers who are truly poor. They subsidize the "poverty" and fuel the sense of entitlement for taxpayer money, and in effect, deprive them of the sense of empowerment from making it on their own. It's too bad that liberalism keeps pushing that they can't make it on their own without the government, that it's the system that keeps them down and that they're powerless to control their fate. But the lessons needed to take control of one's life so deeply contradict the current zeitgeist that it's a Herculean task to try to correct these attitudes and behaviours.

For instance, if you don't want to be a single mom, don't have sex outside of marriage. Wait until marriage to have children. Do not live "common law". Get married.

Or: never buy anything on credit unless it's a house or a car (something that can be re-sold and is of great value) and try to pay little or no interest.

Or: settle for those brands and items that you can afford now. If you don't need it, don't buy it.

Or: Save money in the bank, so that if an emergency comes up (like your kid needs new glasses) you'll be prepared.

And so on.

If people did these things, they wouldn't be in a mess.

But people have a sense of entitlement nowadays. It's the entitlement mentality that leads to "poverty", not capitalism.