Wrong Ideas About Poverty

Quote of the Day

A comment I am now unable to locate pointed out that fake-working-class trustafarians can be identified by their subscription to a mythical idea of what poverty is.

[this is the comment he was looking for]

The sound of a poor neighborhood in the United States is not the shouts and laughter of children at play, the music floating from the open window of abuela’s kitchen as she makes empanadas, the chatter of men playing dominos on a folding table on sidewalk.

It is the shriek of a child as his single, crack-addict mother beats him, the ceaseless barking of the vicious and unsocialized pitbull in the fenced-off yard, the unmuffled exhaust of the cheap sports car with peeling paint as it pulls up across the way to disgorge a trio of angry drunks.

To this observation, I would add:

The socialist trustafarian’s idealized notion of poverty is drawn not only from Hollywood, but from socialism’s own profoundly wrong ideas about what poverty is and where it comes from.

Middle and upper class socialists think poverty is lack of money.

Thus, whenever they are confronted with a member of the underclass, or, more often, the abstract idea of a member of the underclass, they think he is them, minus money.

And that’s how they expect him to act, right up until the point they get stabbed.

This is also why they think the problem of poverty can be solved simply by taking money from those who have it, and giving it to those who don’t.

Now, at some times, in some parts of the world, this sort of poverty may indeed have existed. When economic conditions are so depressed that great swathes of otherwise-functional people are poor, then they may, indeed, build vibrant, functional neighborhoods with a strong sense of community.

But in a capitalist, or capitalist-adjacent system, that’s not what happens. Sure, becoming wealthy is always hard, and often needs to be a multigenerational process, but capitalist systems do not hold talented, stable, high-agency people in utter poverty for long.

In capitalism, poverty is lack of the ability to secure an income.

This means that poor areas in first world capitalist countries are not filled with cheerful urchins selling newspapers, but with people who have some issue preventing them from being functional wage-earners.

Typically this has to do with mental health, addiction, or life skills. And it means that poor neighborhoods, in, say, the US, aren’t just filled with broke people, they are filled with people who do antisocial things.

You cannot fix this by moving resources around.

And if you subscribe to a mental model (socialism) that ascribes virtue to poor people, and evil to rich ones, then you end up having to do absurd mental gymnastics to try to characterize every prosocial behavior, such as training your dog not to bark, and not running the leaf blower at 0730, to be acktshoeally problematic in some weird way.

The wealth of the wealthy comes from inhabiting a culture, and subculture, where social encounters are a source of opportunities and mutual benefit, rather than conflict. Measurable financial wealth is important, yes, but it is downstream of existing, and functioning, in this sort of high-trust, cooperative, networked society.

Some behaviors of wealthy people are a consequence of wealth. But others are a cause of it, and still others are symptoms of more fundamental attitudes that lead to it.

And one of the major reasons why people buy houses in expensive neighborhoods is so avoid inconsiderate people.

Devon Eriksen @Devon_Eriksen_
Posted on X June 16, 2024

I found this resonated well with my half-baked view of things. I have thought, perhaps, a big problem with very poor cultures was they have a very poor sense of time. In particular, there is no urgency in getting things done.

I have done reasonably well for myself. My station in life, my wealth, my children, my spouse, etc. are significantly above average. I see a fair number of people who have not, and will not, do well in life. In almost all of those cases I can quickly point out a half dozen or more things they could have done or should do, or not do, to make their lives much better. But they can’t seem to do them. They keep making what I think are stupid decisions and blame others for the poor outcomes.

These are simple (to me anyway) things like show up to work on time. Get things done. Don’t use (or use very little) recreational drugs including alcohol and tobacco. Be presentable to your employer and customers. Don’t complain about problems, find solutions to problems and/or get the help of others to implement your solutions and/or help find solutions. Don’t insist on being weird.

Your mileage may vary.


12 thoughts on “Wrong Ideas About Poverty

  1. That’s largely true, but also very much incomplete.

    I would also point out that, on the mental health side, there are plenty of people who struggle because the world is set up for people whose minds work in a certain way.

    If you are low in conscientiousness, unable to show up on time for meetings because your brain does not process time well, prone to have your mind wander randomly, have a limited working memory and the object permanence of an 8-month-old — you are probably highly creative and enough of a visionary that you could be a great CEO. But unless you have rich parents and great connections you’ll never get there, because the corporate world is designed and structured to prevent people like you from ever getting promotions and raises. And most of that stuff is beyond your control, so it is extremely difficult to change it much, except around the margins. You’re going to be spending a lot of time and energy trying to develop coping mechanisms and fight off the organization, which makes it even that much harder to get any work done. So you have to go out in your own, or find a very very permissive corporate environment in order to be able to flourish.

    We are really really efficient at flushing talent down the drain this way.

    Then there are other problems which are more controllable in principle, but which are deeply ingrained culturally.

    Then there is the problem of time preference. A lot of criminal activity boils down to a get-rich-quick scheme; a lot of people spend their money in the here and now, rather than saving some for later, so they never get rich, etc. Lots of great short-term strategies that are terrible over a longer timeframe.

    Then there is the nepotism.

    Socialism, of course, cures none of that stuff either.

  2. While I agree with some of the later points in this, the initial part is a straw man. Nobody I’ve ever talked to has ever represented poverty in the “mythical” way presented here, nor have I commonly seen it presented in the media that way. We’ve all seen The Wire and countless other shows that represent inner city poverty in anything but a mythical light, and plenty of representations of rural poverty that are equally bleak.

    I’d remove everything before the first heading (“…socialists think poverty is a lack of money”) and leave the rest. After that first heading you have something that does make sense, but the beginning does not.

  3. A lot of words to say “culture and IQ matter, not all cultures are functional or compatible, and letting in low IQ immigrants will always end badly (our own low-IQ homies are enough of a problem already)”.

    People with a low IQ and a strong short time preference from a culture that doesn’t stress self-control and planning will always be in poverty no matter what you do for them. They’d rather have $4 in a $5000 designer handbag than $5000 in a $4 no-name handbag; if they win the lottery, they’ll party hard with everyone on their block until they are broke (again) in a few weeks. No government program can fix that.

      • Culture is, in part, IQ dependent. We can measure IQ. We cannot “measure” culture.

        • The person I was describing has a sky-high IQ. Probably not quite as high as Joe or his family, but probably about 3-4 standard deviations above average. That’s probably just about the only thing keeping him from living under an overpass somewhere.

          There’s a lot more to the equation than IQ.

          • I was addressing the original post and the general case, not your reply and its specific case. Yes, IQ is not solely determinative; no one is arguing that it is.

            But not all cultures are suitable for all demographic groups; an American-style democratic Republic with a regulated but nominally-free-market economy is unsuitable for any country that has an average IQ below about 85, and impossible for any country with an average IQ below 75. This is largely because that government style (political culture) require a majority of the population have longer time preferences (i.e., the ability top plan and foresee longer-term consequences) and self-control, both of which are strongly corelated with IQ. “Get-rich–quick” schemes tend to be attractive to people with shorter time preferences… see above correlation: the average IQ of the prison population is about 85 (all races).Smart enough to see the opportunity and possibilities, not smart enough to get away with it.

          • Take away the IQ bit (which doesn’t correlate with everything else anyway, which is kind of a syndrome) and that guy is pretty representative of ~5% of the adults in the USA that we know of, or about 13 million people. And that’s a floor not a ceiling; it is strongly suspected that the true number is much higher than that, because its known to be underdiagnosed in adults generally and women especially.

            If you want to build a system, you have to figure out what to do with the people who don’t fit well within it. And no matter what the system is, that’s going to be a sizable number, even though who exactly falls into that group is going to change depending on what the rules of the system are.

    • Absolutely. One might term them as people with “low impulse control.”
      And much of it starts with the food, or the lack thereof, as a pre-cursor. Children fed little, and mostly crap will turn out functionally retarded.
      The other part is management. Our society is being managed for destruction. Cultural norms are being promoted and depressed based on a semi-slow separation of society into an upper and lower class. That rarely the two will meet. Thus, the reason they despise white middle class. And are lining us up to be murdered.
      They want the upper caste Jettisons, and the untouchables caste of India.
      And now we have cities full of people raised fatherless on Cheetos and self-esteem training. Through in the drugs and porn, thrill of the kill games.
      All management has to do is turn out the lights.
      There was always a way out of the ghetto if you were willing to work. Management trained that out of people to.
      Management wants us dead. And their training the culture to kill us. Which to me is the real problem.

      • I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the companies and cultures that have done well in recent centuries are from (relatively) Northern cultures. There, to survive the winter you have to plan and prepare and (historically, before social nets) those who didn’t died off.
        This is a direct contrast to cultures closer to the Tropics where food is much more available and the climate is rarely trying to kill you.

  4. Poverty is the result of poorism. It is a culture of poorness and irresponsibility.

  5. Neither socialism nor capitalism actually exist. All these discussions, from both sides compare a theory to reality.

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