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Money Mechanics

I was considering a Bible verse the other day, where Jesus warned His disciples that the poor would always be with them. As one of those people who considers Scripture to be trustworthy, I found that statement just a bit odd. For thousands of years, people have been trying to eliminate poverty, and with good reason; moral people hate to see folks suffer, and poverty is a most cruel burden on people. Also, even those people who do not carry much love for their fellow man, understand that people enduring poverty are not able to contribute effectively to society and the commonwealth. There has been, therefore, a prolonged significant effort to raise the living conditions in almost every country. Even tyrants have come to understand that starvation and deprivation drive the people to drastic measures. Yet, for all the many ideas and programs, people continue to live in poverty in every nation on the globe. The poor, indeed, are always with us.

Modern Economics, however, is finally able to show some of why this happens. There is a minimum level for survival, consisting of a certain degree of food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and medical care. We can call this a subsistence level. The significance of poverty is that the poverty level determined in most modern calculations is at a higher standard of living than mere subsistence. This is not due to some soft-hearted notion that luxury is a need, but rather that there is a point of means, below which a person cannot maintain provision for the future. That is, a single catastrophic event such as an accident, serious illness or natural disaster could kill this person, not to the degree of probability that a normal person would die, but at a much greater mechanism of probability. Hurricane Katrina is a good example of this effect; Hurricanes do not arrive without warning, and those people who had the means to evacuate in their own vehicles and to property in safer areas did so on their own power; the people who did not evacuate were largely those people who did not understand the threat sufficiently to plan for protection (intellectual poverty), or they lacked the means to evacuate, and had no choice but to try to ride out the storm where they were. The significance of this phenomenon, is that poverty exists as a combination of monetary limits, environmental factors, personal psychology and education. Throughout History, people who have climbed from poverty to the Middle Class and above, have done so by changing two of those planes of existence; education and psychology. Monetary limits turn out to be minor in the long-term scheme; people can and do overcome hard financial times if they have the education and the confidence, work ethic, and determination, but those who do not have those elements do not rise out of poverty, even when substantial financial support is provided, as LBJ's "War on Poverty" proved.

For many people, the environmental factors turn out to be the wild card. Many children are optimistic and confident, and it appears that their success is simply a matter of effort and time, yet this turns out not to be true all of the time. On this point both Democrats and Republicans have the same goal, though widely different strategies for improving the opportunities for poor individuals to succeed financially. The question seems in many cases to turn on the peer groups chosen; far too many young people pursue convenience, luxury, and entertainment rather than investment and savings, and as a result they become dependent on their job for a prolonged portion of their lives, in many cases never building the foundation to start their own company or enjoy substantial returns on investments. Personal financial success in the United States often comes down to a simple equation based on a balance of savings and sound investments.


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Comments (10)

It's interesting, after Kat... (Below threshold)

It's interesting, after Katrina someone here in N.O. did some research and found that: 90% of the homes where people died (during Katrina) - had cars parked in the driveway.

...the people who did no... (Below threshold)

...the people who did not evacuate were largely those people who did not understand the threat sufficiently to plan for protection (intellectual poverty), or they lacked the means to evacuate, and had no choice but to try to ride out the storm where they were.

Or, their survivor skill had atrophied after years of depending upon the Government to always provide for them. Some people were waiting on the government to come in and save them and forgot to take care of themselves. Give a man a fish every day and he becomes dependent upon you.

Did you read Tod Lindberg i... (Below threshold)

Did you read Tod Lindberg in Policy Review, yesterday; 'The Political Teachings of Jesus'?

Pffft. Poverty is all relat... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

Pffft. Poverty is all relative. The poorest American lives like a king in Biblical times.

If the average American made a million dollars a year and had a 5000 sq ft house, and the average 'rich' American made 50 million dollars and lived in a 20000 sq ft house; then the 'poor' in America would be those making under $500000 per year and living in a 3000 sq ft house.

In the rest of the world, there are indeed POOR people. In America, not really; unless they want to be. (Now someone will come along and troll with a one-in-a-million example of someone who is poor in America.)

When the guys mowing your l... (Below threshold)

When the guys mowing your lawn have cell phones and iPods, "poor" has a very different connotation.

I believe Jesus' statement ... (Below threshold)

I believe Jesus' statement about the poor was not a statement about subsistence income, but of human nature. If you've got one dollar more than me, then you're rich and I'm poor.

If anyone says different, he's as likely to claim the government has to Do Something because 50% of the people in this country are below the median income level.

Being poor is a choice for ... (Below threshold)

Being poor is a choice for people in America. Where else can you stand in line at the grocery store and watch as people wearing gold BLING check out at the grocery store with their WIC card while yacking on their cell phone and then have their tax payer funded food carried out to their car for them where they drive home to their trailer and sit in front of the big screen that brings in HBO and other satellite programs and feed their fat asses.

These "Poor" people make lots of choices. They choose to spend their money on bling, TV, Cars, Cell phones, etc. while living in pig sty and letting "working educated" folks foot their bill.

There are not many poor folk in America, just poor decision makers and Libs who like to keep them dependent on the handouts which equates to buying votes so they stay in power.

Screw them all.

DJ - I know you're just kno... (Below threshold)

DJ - I know you're just knocking around some thoughts here, but framing poverty as a mark of personal failure stands in conflict with any number of Christ's teachings. The widow's mite, alone, never mind the Beatitudes and the reality that Christ and his followers lived in poverty themselves, would seem to stand in opposition to this view.

D.J., I believe that you ar... (Below threshold)
Dodo David:

D.J., I believe that you are taking the statement that Jesus made about the poor out of its context. Jesus was comparing the length of time that the poor would be around with the length of time that he would be around. Jesus was telling his disciples that they would have plenty of time to minister to the poor, but that his time on Earth was nearing an end, and thus, they were not to criticize a woman for using her personal wealth (expensive perfume)to benefit him instead of using it to benefit the poor.

For what it's worth, there ... (Below threshold)
Dodo David:

For what it's worth, there are people who are trapped in poverty due to circumstances beyond their control. Most of the time these people are children.

I consider it worthless to talk about people trapped in poverty if you have the means to aid one such person but choose not to do so.

[Personal Note: In case you are wondering, I do aid people trapped in poverty - children in particular.]






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