I recently got into a debate with one of my friends about poverty. She brought up the idea that poverty could be a choice, and she wasn’t talking about the wandering esthetic searching for enlightenment and swearing off all material possessions. She was talking about the idea that someone chooses to quit school or take up smoking crack and therefore chooses a life of failure. One of her main talking points was the story of two brothers who had a rough upbringing; one joined a job corps, received training, and got a job. The other has two babies he can’t take care of has been in and out of jail and is a mess in general. Her premise was the twin who didn’t make it chose not to because he would rather do drugs and make excuses about why he’s a failure, while the successful brother choose to get out and make something of himself.
I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t think it necessitous, if so many people actually didn’t think this way. It is lazy, irresponsible, and dangerous. To me it’s like comparing a group of guys imprisoned in a booby trapped alligator pit in the middle of the Siberian tundra. One had the speed, strength, and luck to escape, the rest didn’t maybe they couldn’t run as fast, were weaker, ran into a tripwire connected to a claymore mine, or froze to death after they made it out. The guy who made it is the exception not the rule and making him the rule is what perpetuates the problem. I’ve heard some variance of the following more times than I care to recount and often from people who consider themselves open minded and well informed “Hey don’t tell me about poverty, about growing up in a drug addled war zone in the ghetto, look at old Bill Williamson here he is the CEO of a fortune 500 company and he is from the one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country.” Bill Williamson is the exception not the rule. I think a lot of it comes from just being naïve or at least would like to give people the benefit of the doubt.
I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and until I went off to university in the city I had some similar modes of thinking. Then I saw the poverty and hopelessness first hand; the pawnshops, rent-a-centers, check cashing shops, and liquor stores under thick layers of bullet proof glass on almost every corner. I’d never seen a rent-a-center, pawnshop, or bullet proof corner liquor shop in my parent’s neighborhood. Why was that? Was it because the people of my community chose not to have those things? I think the answer lies in how America deals with their poor. The people with the worst credit pay the highest interests rates in America and the people with the worst credit are, of course, the poorest people. The poor aren’t helped they are preyed upon, fed into the system while the super rich pay no interest they collect it.
The following figures, which I borrowed from Wikipedia, speak for themselves. “. In the United States at the end of 2001, 10% of the population owned 71% of the wealth and the top 1% owned 38%. On the other hand, the bottom 40% owned less than 1% of the nation’s wealth……according to this 2006 study by the Federal Reserve System, from 1989 to 2004, the distribution in the United States had been changing with indications there was a greater concentration of wealth held by the top 10% and top 1% of the population.”
Korea isn’t perfect, there are a lot of problems here, but one thing you don’t see is the human tragedy and desperation you witness in any major American city, thousands of homeless people, or people one beat away from being homeless, lacking the basic necessities of life. People living without running water or electricity. Koreans would see it as a negative reflection on their culture if fellow countrymen were living in their own excrement on every other corner in cardboard boxes. The problem in America is that a large majority of people think “Oh that lazy drug addicted pejorative for a racial minority, if just they weren’t so lazy, would get off crack and get a job they could be fine, look at that Bill Williamson.” It doesn’t have to necessarily be a race issue either if we look at terms like “trailer trash” we see it is really people wanting to think of themselves as being from a separate society than the poor other, a want to place the blame on the person living in poverty rather than accept the blame themselves. The well to do doesn’t have to feel ashamed this way; they don’t need to acknowledge that the homeless person on the corner is nothing more than a reflection of themselves and how truly gone society is.
Another problem is when one person makes money off the basic necessities another needs to survive, such as electricity, water, and medicine. I think anytime people are going without water, power, heat and medicine while others make large profits off those same services we have to cry foul.
According to the OECD fact book the US has the highest incarceration rate, per capita , of all countries listed therein with 760 per 100,000. The Russian Federation is second with 624, and South Africa a distant third at 329. On the chart we can see the huge increase in the incarceration rate from 1980 onward and I think there is a direct correlation between that and the disparity between rich and poor. I haven’t done any research yet but 1980 is the year when Reagan took office and began deregulation everything. Another interesting fact is that although the population of African Americans represents a 13% share of the US population they make up roughly 46% of the prison population.
There is a much more rigid class structure in place in America than most people are willing to admit and the poorer you are the more rigid it becomes. Years ago we had indentured servitude; the wealthy would pay for passage of a man to come to the United States in exchange for year three to seven years of that man’s labor. I’m a firm believe that the system of indentured servitude is still alive and well only instead of passage to America people are selling of their lives in five to thirty years chunks for a new car, a college education, or the “privilege” of owning a home. The guy with fifty million dollars in his bank account is the one to which servitude is paid. Let’s say he makes 3 percent interest on his fifty million, that’s 1.5 million a year that comes from the interest paid by borrowers. No wonder it’s illegal to borrow or lend at interest in Islam.
The really ironic thing is even the well to do play into the game, the more they make the more they spend, a bigger mortgage, bigger car loan, and bigger bills. It’s really what separates the rich from everyone else, if you’re rich you’re collecting interest if you’re not your paying it. That’s it. There are some that like to turn it into a grand conspiracy, a select few lurking in the shadows, pulling the strings, they throw around words like the illuminati, freemasons, conspiracy, shadow government, and Rockefellers but its not a conspiracy it’s the way things work. To call conspiracy just delegitimizes a heartbreakingly serious problem and if there is any conspiracy I would be more prone to believe the people crying conspiracy are part of a conspiracy to turn something plain and simple into something shadowy and disreputable.
Ultimately a society is responsible for the worst of what it produces. I think the first step in fixing the problems of hopelessness and poverty in the United States is saying ‘hey this is a serious problem and we all share in fault; it’s a reflection of us a nation and a people not a reflection of a segment of the population.”