‘Poverty is a Choice’

This is the notion under discussion on a post by Citizen Tom. Along the way there have been a few exchanges in the comments, and these lively ripostes have inspired this post. To quote one of Tom’s comments:

The whole point of earning money is to spend it the way you want to spend it, not the way those jealous of you want to spend it.

Are Gates, Bezos, Musk and such supposed to be our favorite people? No. They are not trying to be. They are not politicians, but the created more jobs and more prosperity than you or I. Therefore, I don’t begrudge them their wealth, and you should not do so either, but, of course, you do.

As I said to Tom, I don’t begrudge them their wealth, though it is dubious as to how much prosperity they’ve created. Who exactly is prospering? Is it the average US worker, whose labour arguably provides the likes of Bezos and Musk with much of their wealth? I doubt they would share Tom’s assessment.

The rich don’t pay for welfare programs. The rich live off their investment income and they will always pay reduced tax rates and use tax shelters. The people paying for your I care sooooo much welfare programs that don’t work are wage earners. Welfare programs soak those people taxes, not the rich. Why do you want this? Apparently because you are guilt-ridden and have no idea what you are doing.

Tom has unwittingly made a point I doubt he intended to make. ‘The rich pay less tax and have means to avoid tax’, is more or less what Tom has said here. Why not close the loopholes, have them pay a more reasonable share, or possibly invest in better wages for their employees? Better wages might mean less people need to turn to welfare. That’s pretty simple logic.

Tom believes I advocate for communism, Marxism and socialism. I think his belief stems from a lack of understanding of the terms he so often conflates:

So, you want to make everyone equally poor? When people cannot keep what they earned, they lose much of their incentive to work.

When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, they tried Communism. When half of them starved, they gave up the experiment. Even so-called Christian Socialism is an awful idea.

I’ve never argued to forcibly strip the wealthy of all their money, and to give it away. I have argued that there is enough to go around, that people could be better paid for their efforts, and not have to live payday-to-payday each month. Apparently, suggesting this is a means to help tackle poverty is laughable, yet I’m not seeing Tom come up with any ideas to resolve the gross inequalities in this world.

To put my position out there, I believe it is entirely possible for people to earn money, and I have no problem with that. I have no problem with the existence of billionaires. I have a problem with people like Bezos, Musk etc saying they cannot afford to increase wages, whilst they make huge sums of money off the work of others. I have an issue with Bezos spending $5.5 billion on a space rocket, when that money could have given all 1.1 million Amazon employees in the USA a $5,000 bonus.

Elon Musk paid $44 billion for Twitter. In 2012, it was estimated that to solve the problem of homelessness in the USA would cost $20 billion. In other words, Musk could have solved the problem (thus demonstrating the sort of charity that surely good, pious Christians approve of) twice over. I do not expect this of him, but could his contributions to society not be a bit higher? If Musk were to look purely at his own employees, he could easily give each of them a decent pay rise, yet he isn’t.

Instead of acknowledging these gross inequities, we get people defending the idea that one should have to work two jobs, just to keep a roof over their heads. Silence of Mind (really, his handle should be Absence of Mind) did exactly that:

Ben, I struggle to pay rent. I went out and got a second job.

Seems to me that SoM is merely a sucker then. Worse, he is so blind to how he is being exploited, that he won’t even consider that the system is inadequate.

There is something about Americans in general (not all Americans certainly, but quite a few) where they are so wedded to the idea that profit is more important than anything else, that they are prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to defend the obviously rampant greed within their society. Currently, 17.8% of Americans are below the poverty line. This compares poorly with neighbouring Canada (11.6%), France (13.6%) Germany (14.8%), Norway (12.7%), and Finland (12.2%), among other countries. Instead of considering how to tackle poverty, the US religious right is more concerned with phoney battles over the ‘LGBT agenda’.

It’s all rather sad.

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