Michael Maiello's picture

    The Nature of Poverty

    Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and then don't give him a rod, a boat, a bucket, bait, access to well-stocked waters and a place to store, cook and eat his catch, then you must be some sort of sociopath.

    David Brooks takes to The Times today to wish that some smart "social psychologist," could emerge to explain to us just why urban poverty persists in the face of trillions spent to combat it and along the way he does a pretty nice job trying to separate poverty from its root cause.  He can't, however, write his own column without putting that root cause in and then ignorining it.

    As Robert Samuelson of The Washington Post has pointed out, in 2013 the federal government spent nearly $14,000 per poor person. If you simply took that money and handed it to the poor, a family of four would have a household income roughly twice the poverty rate.

    Two things jump out at anyone who has ever paid for their own groceries or had a bank balance fall so low that the bank then extracts a $9 fee as if to inform you that your struggling self is not worth the trouble of a major financial institution: 1) What?  $14,000 for a family of four is considered above the poverty line Verified Atheist points out that Brooks suggests a family of four should receive $14,000 each or $56,000 -- this is amazing because it implies that the poverty line income, if given to each member of a family of four, produces household income that is $6,000 more than the national median household income, how F'ed up is that? and 2) Maybe we're glossing over this "hand it to the poor" notion without giving it a proper chance.

    The psychosocial cause of poverty is that some people do not have enough money to participate fully in American life.  I can't stress this enough.  The big psychological barrier that poor people face is a lack of money.  Psychological studies have shown that poor people have no money.  In one study, a poor person need to have dental work done and could not because that costs money.  In a multi-state psychological survey, many poor people were denied the 2 and a half hour escapism of Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron because they do not have money. No less than Sigmund Freud himself was heard to have said, "You expect me to work for free? Man, do you have issues."

    We could make people not poor by giving them sufficient money.  We do not do that because we are also judgy about how that money might be spent. The second that somebody, heaven forbid, buys a beer with a government check, we will all collectively freak out.  So instead of giving money to poor people to make them not poor, we give them a complex web of assistance, some direct and some expensive but very indirect.  That actually could work, if well design, except for one problem -- these programs prepare people for starter jobs that do not, by themselves, pay living wages.  Over the decades since the war on poverty began, globalization has eroded away the value of minimum wage jobs and the federal minimum wage has been smoked by inflation.

    People aren't stupid.  Work for poverty wages is a dubious proposition.  On one hand, you're poor and it sucks.  The government helps you get a job.  You realize, a year in, that you're still poor, life still sucks and what's really changed is that now you're someplace you don't want to be 8 hours a day, being told to do things that you don't want to do.  Put any well-socialized middle class person in that situation and they will ask, "Where is the value add of this job?" in the parlance of people who enjoy access to more generous economic sectors.

    What we really need, more than anything, is somebody who can balance a fucking checkbook to tell David Brooks that the cause of poverty is that poor people have no money.  If we can't start the conversation there, we're not even talking about poverty.  We are, instead, trying to make the simple esoteric as an excuse for not having done anything about it.

    Meanwhile, over the decades where the government has spent trillions on anti-poverty programs.



    Seems simple enough to me.  The poor won't escape being poor until access to good education, good health care, and good paying jobs is available to them, yet there is still that societal reluctance to give it to them.  Because they're poor and they're probably poor because they made bad life choices and we'll never be able to save them from themselves. 

    Now wasn't that easy?  Back to ignoring the fact that since we're all poorer--WAY poorer than we were a couple of decades ago--that makes the real poor even less able to climb out of that hole.  A $15 minimum wage would go a long way toward easing the problem but that would mean the poor would be making $15 an hour!  At starter jobs!  It'll kill our economy! 

    And so it goes.

    I know a lot of conservatives who love to use the "Give a man a fish" quote to justify doing nothing for the poor. I point out that the other half of the quote is where the emphasis belongs, that there's nothing wrong with giving a man a fish (after all, he eats for a day), but that the moral of the quote is that we should be spending more, not less, on educating people on how to "fish".

    What?  $14,000 for a family of four is considered above the poverty line

    His point, such as it was, is that a family of four would get 4 x $14,000 or $56,000.

    Thank you.  Correcting.  Because it also helps me make a better point...


    1) What?  $14,000 for a family of four is considered above the poverty line Verified Atheist points out that Brooks suggests a family of four should receive $14,000 each or $56,000 -- this is amazing because it implies that the poverty line income, if given to each member of a family of four, produces household income that is $6,000 more than the national median household income, how F'ed up is that?

    The term "the working poor" should not be in our vocabulary.


    "Just give them the money" is, I think a theme in the "Republican Reform movement' and it sounds like Brooks is on board. I think even most well heeled Republicans realize that a low wage sub-working class is hurting they themselves because it is contributing to a stagnant economy. Reform therefore is a band-aid which acknowledges that overall inequality in itself isn't going to change but we have to do something.

    When you give assistance to people absent the reality and psychology of upward mobility, you get low motivation to change. Most everyone up through the top of what use to be known as the middle class has low expectations for upward mobility---the sense that they are doing better in life and are more secure.

    The radical shift of wealth to the top is the root cause of our stagnant economy. Brooks and the Republicans will not tackle that problem---hence the irrelevant discussions about the how's and why's of government assistance.

    Michael, I'm enough of a parent and business owner to take issue with the flavor in your post that people are owed jobs. Or did I read that wrong?

    I suppose David Brooks never looked forward to filing his income taxes to see if he qualified for the EITC.

    Now, that would be one way to disburse $14,000 to a poor person, eh?

    Good to hear from you. I hope you are doing well. Please don't stay away. You are missed. 

    Thanks, momoe. I am doing very well now and read you are doing better as well. My wifi is sporadic and often blinks out and dies when I comment. I now consider it fate telling me to just shut the hell up. cheeky

    We like to read your calm voice and you pick great songs. My comments crap out too.  Richard is very good at posting several times before one takes. There is always some kind of mysterious bug around here.  I guess that is what makes it fun. It is nice when you do drop in.  

    Okay, I hereby render unto Mike M the Dayly Line of the Day Award for this here Dagblog Site, given to all of him from all of me concerning this rod and reel  and boat situation.


    I should not laugh, but I cannot help it.

    In this country many think it a communism to help those who cannot help themselves actually help those same folks help themselves.

    Brooks is something of an enigma to me. I've written a couple of times here that of the various conservative bloviators  he's the only one who wouldn't prompt me to change my seat  if he sat down next to me. (Have I told you about the time that Red Smith-remember him - did?Don't get me started.).

    On the News Hour he seems rational and disarmingly self deprciatory .

    Sadly I'm afraid the answer is that he's in over his head.

    Today's Times : he and Krugmann in their respective corners,  displays that to an almost embarrassing extent.. K cogent and knowing what he's writing about.( I naturally was amused/pleased by his telling FDR quote "But above all,try something" somewhat  echoing my "Do something even if it's wrong".)

     Brooks, clearly bothered. Angsting. I really do think he deeply  feels for the poor ,not Miss Lonelyhearts, but enough.

    But he  knows   capitalism works , the "Invisible hand" etc.( Didn't he go to Univ of Chicago?  Groan ) so we can't  just emulate Harry Hopkins and just bloody give them  a job . Here in this world's leading country with its world's leadership  in its supply of  unemployed people who want to work  and undone jobs that we don't give them because some long dead, wrong, political economist  thought that would upset the delicate  "working"(Hmph, "working" ?) of the system. Grrr.

    Sure if it "ain't broke, don't fix it:". It's broke.  

    You have company: 

    Driftglass on this Brooks column:

    David Brooks decided International Worker's Day would be an excellent day to tell the world what really causes poverty (Spoiler:  According to Mr. Brooks, poverty has nothing to do with lack of money, or community investment, or jobs.  It's not deindustrialization or food deserts or shitty schools.  It's nothing to do with class or race or a war on drugs that long ago became a brand new way of ruining minority lives and communities.)
    Twitter went satisfyingly ballistic and articles began pouring from the keyboards of people who... had actually met one of The Poors at some point in the last 20 years.
    Such as this
    David Brooks Is Not Buying Your Excuses, Poor People.
    And this.
    David Brooks and the Federal Government's $14,000 Per Year Per Poor Person
    Published: 01 May 2015
    In the United States it's considered fine to just make crap up when talking about the government, especially when it comes to programs for poor people. That is why Ronald Reagan ran around the country telling people about the welfare queen who drove up to the welfare office every month in her new Cadillac to pick up her check.
    Today, David Brooks does the welfare queen routine in his NYT column, telling readers...
    David Brooks’ Baltimore column might be his dumbest of the year (We didn’t think it was possible, either)

    And this:

    Is there a greater hack in America than David Fucking Brooks?

    And this:

    Annals of derp: The poverty of poverty studies

    And this:

    And, perhaps, there will be even more of this insufferable David Brooks meeping about how this isn't about poverty and systemic abuse and racism, but about people fking on their sofas without the permission of their betters.

    And this:

    Why David Brooks Shouldn’t Talk About Poor People

    And this:

    Yes. The New York Times Is Toxic. Why Do You Ask?
    ....since the lion's share of the statistic comprises federal Medicaid payments, "what this actually means is that every time David Brooks' cardiologist neighbor raises his fees, David Brooks will complain about how we are being too generous to the poor."
    And this:
    David Brooks’ Really Bad Math

    Poor people should read biographies of successful entrepreneurs and CEOs - would help them pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Would also help if they did what Brooks' parents did - move into housing that zoned out the riffraff. And ingratiating yourself to a well-established mentor like William Buckley - everyone should do that, even if your guru has a profound dislike for blacks, Jews, Hispanics, gays and other marginalized people - eating shit and sucking up has been a well-established route to climbing the ladder for thousands of years - when it works. "To get where I am, I had to kiss a lot of ass - right on the lips". Yep, I should have been a NY Times columnist.

    Where are the Grown Men in Baltimore? good article by John Blake at CNN

    We called him "Mr. Shields" because no one dared use his first name. He'd step onto his porch at night in plaid shorts and black knit dress socks to watch the Baltimore Orioles play on his portable television set. He was a steelworker, but he looked debonair: thin mustache always trimmed; wavy salt-and-pepper hair....He sat like a sentry, watching not just the games but the neighborhood as well.

    I knew Mr. Shields' routine because I was his neighbor. I grew up in the West Baltimore community that was rocked this week by protests...William Raspberry, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for the Washington Post, once invoked the book's title in a column to describe what was happening to young black men in inner cities across America. He said that without the civilizing influence of older men to guide them, young black men never develop an internal moral compass....

    Driftglass, World's Leading Brooks Critic, Photoshop-

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