Monday, January 01, 2007

Hey, Dollface, You’re Not Helping

Whenever I check my Hotmail account I find various MSN articles advertised in the margins. The majority of these articles are written for people who are either very stupid, very insecure, or both: I don’t want to check my horoscope, thank you, I don’t need a list of easy tips to find love in the new year, and I don't need to make any changes to my weight, my wardrobe or the circumference of my hips, thanks for asking.

So I hardly ever read these pieces. Today, however, an article titled “Survival on $6.50 an hour” piqued my interest enough that I clicked on the link and started to read. Six-fifty an hour? “There but for the grace of good luck go I,” I thought, as I read the opening sentences:

As a single professional woman, for years I sat securely among the lower rungs of the middle class. Now I've fallen off the ladder. In a matter of months, I went from a comfortable life with decent pay and health insurance to a $6.50-an-hour job with no insurance, no furniture and just enough resources to keep the wolf from the door.
Shudder. Horror. That could happen to me! I took a reassuring glance around my comfortable, well-furnished home before I continued reading the article. Oh, the poor author, victim of bad luck and evil fate!

Then I got to this paragraph:

Here's my story in a nutshell: I lost my job as a managing editor at a small newspaper in Montana after the ownership changed hands. Six months later, I moved to Pennsylvania to take a similar job. But finding a rental seemed nearly impossible because I have three dogs, and after two weeks of campground living, my boss fired me, telling me my living situation was "bad for business." I sold off my household goods -- everything from a sofa to pots and pans -- and drove back to small-town Montana.
She unloaded useful items like pots and pans — which she’d need to replace if she wants to cook her own food in her new home — but she kept the three dogs. She lost her job because she couldn’t find a decent place to live, but kept the pets which made finding a place to live impossible. She got rid of her home furnishings and then complained about not having any.

The article goes on to discuss how she accepts gifts of food from her friends because she can’t quite afford to feed herself, yet when she lists her various expenses and ways of cutting back, “feeding three dogs” somehow never makes it onto her financial radar.

As a softcore libertarian, one of the ways I differ from my hardcore brethren is that they say poor people only ever get that way due to laziness, stupidity or some combination thereof, whereas I insist that even the smartest go-getter in the world can be plunged into poverty if fate and circumstance conspire to make it so.

I hope none of my hardcore friends find this article.

16 Comments:

Anonymous Eric the .5b said...

"As a softcore libertarian, one of the ways I differ from my hardcore brethren is that they say poor people only ever get that way due to laziness, stupidity or some combination thereof,"

Funny, folks always call me the hardcore type, but I can't remember ever saying anything like that.

"whereas I insist that even the smartest go-getter in the world can be plunged into poverty if fate and circumstance conspire to make it so."

You know, if you think that your position is undermined by the proof that someone, somewhere made bad decisions that lead to poverty...you might want to rejoin everyone else in a reasonable middle ground. ;)

1:54 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

if you think that your position is undermined by the proof that someone, somewhere made bad decisions that lead to poverty

I'm more annoyed by the fact that a person whose bad decisions led to poverty is nonetheless portrayed in the mainstream media as a pure victim who couldn't possibly have avoided the situation in which she found herself.

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

She should have just eaten the dogs.
Retriever roasted over an open flame. Dog is tasty

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

I don't know any hardcore libertarian who thinks this way, but I think it's true for an overhwelming majority of the poor.

- Josh

8:11 PM  
Anonymous Eric the .5b said...

"I'm more annoyed by the fact that a person whose bad decisions led to poverty is nonetheless portrayed in the mainstream media as a pure victim who couldn't possibly have avoided the situation in which she found herself."

But what would that have to do with the "hardcore" libertarians? :)

Besides, reporters are just the propaganda arm of the liberal elite - you and I know that. ;)

12:48 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Eric, you're more hardcore than I am, but I wouldn't consider you actually "hardcore."

5:57 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Do you have any examples of the smartest go-getter in the world being plunged into poverty?

7:43 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Mozart was arguably one of the best the world has ever seen, at his chosen craft. Finances clearly just did not work out for him.

Thomas Jefferson was a serious go-getter and world-beater, inventor and extremely active social/political animal. Died broke.

Edgar Allen Poe was certainly a prolific craftsman, generally recognized as being at or near the top of his field. Died broke.

Benjamin Franklin might not have died broke, but he certainly didn't retire in opulent luxury. He was no slacker, however, and did at some points in his life enjoy considerable wealth and influence.

Perhaps these people did not take care of their finances, properly. You can't be an expert in all fields, however. Clearly, just being great in your chosen field (or fields, with Jefferson and Franklin) is insufficient, however.

Then, there are all the French nobility, brought down during the revolution. Probably many of them were incompetent by your definitions. It is unlikely, however, that they all were. Circumstances simply caught up with them. Even those who managed to survive were stripped of their properties and assets. Pretty hard to deal with, and arguably "not their fault".

Heck, any situation in which society as a whole changes, or in which the laws affecting one's livelyhood are radically altered, presents opportunities for otherwise unexpected ruination. Maybe one can recover, over time, maybe not. But there will certainly be a period of "undeserved" hardship

8:35 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Anne, those examples seem to prove my (implied) point. Jefferson died in debt; yes. But he was living at Monticello, which if you've ever been there, could not have been "poverty". There's a difference. Donald Trump was bankrupt, several times.

Similarly Mozart, who loved to give away his money, had depts. But he was earning good money right to the end.

Poe I don't know anything about.

As for the French nobility, my interpretation of "fate and circumstance" is things that might fall under the rubric "non aggression". I'm sure there have been many go-getters brought low by political maneuvering, i.e., many of the rich Jews in Germany in the '30s, who were made poor then killed by the state.

Now sure, I'll cop to the idea that with sufficient health problems, a "go getter" can be impoverished; but only very severe ones that essentially change who that person is. I.e. a rich guy has a major stroke leaving him a near-vegetable, then his wife spends his money and they are impoverished.

But really, I think that it's largely a myth. Which is why I asked. The smartest go-getters in the world have ordinary problems, and they keep trying, work hard and have another smart idea, and do fine. I'm sure there are a few exceptions here and there, what with humanity being humanity, but it's not a very defensible generalization.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Kitty said...

This is the singular form of "data," but I actually do know a woman who was a partner at Arthur Anderson and now lives on disability insurance with her parents. My friend lost her job, as did everyone else who worked for that company, when Arthur Andersen dissolved after the Enron scandal. Her husband at the time beat her into insensibility, leaving her in the hospital for six weeks, and during that time cleaned out their bank account. (In Texas, salary is community property, meaning it belongs to both spouses. It's not legal to leave one's ex destitute, but once he did it, she couldn't fight back.) Anyway, due probably to a combination of psychological trauma and injuries from the beating, she hasn't been able to work since 2004.

I also know quite a few victims of Enron. They invested their 401k's in company stock, as they were encouraged to do, and now have nothing.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

I've always considered myself pretty "hardcore", but I don't recall ever saying or thinking that poor people got that way through laziness or stupidity...most were born that way. But I'm sure that I've said that many in poverty STAY that way due to their own laziness and stupidity, as well as ignorance. Sometimes, though, they are prevented from improving their lot in life by circumstances beyond their control.
Life is always a struggle. For some it is more of a struggle than for others. And for some their efforts will be more fruitful than the efforts of others...even given the same circumstances.
I read somewhere, long ago, that how well one does in life is not so much dependent on what one has as it is on how well one utilizes what one has.

5:51 AM  
Anonymous Brad Warbiany said...

Hey, at least she's not running to the government for help. As a libertarian, she's not offended me.

Although I was a bit put off by when she rattled off her bills and you see "phone and internet: $70". You know, if you go to the library, you can use the internet for free. And a phone is nice, but it is a luxury. If you're really trying to skimp, I think internet service is a bit of a luxury. Hell, hasn't she even heard of wardriving?

Oh, and for a story of a smart go-getter falling into poverty, check out "The Pursuit of Happyness". I haven't read the book (which is a true story), but the movie is a good depiction of a guy who falls into homelessness because he makes a bad choice trying to make something of himself, and then claws his way out of it.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I'm not offended by her, Brad; I'm offended by her story being used as an example of somebody whose bad situation is caused by factors entirely out of her control.

I don't blame her for keeping her phone, though. I don't see how she could ever get a better job if she has no phone number to offer employers.

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Brad Warbiany said...

Yeah, but if it really came down to it, she could have gotten a pay-as-you-go phone like some of those cellular deals, so she could have a voice mail box and an emergency/job contact, but no monthly bill associated with it. But I guess if you get basic phone service, it's only about $15, so I'm sure she's either got an expensive cellphone or her internet service is sucking up the cash to be a total of $70.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous GinSlinger said...

Jennifer, this article is only tagentally related to the one you blogged, but I thought that you might enjoy it. This woman's attitude really rocks! (except for the tithing.)

1:03 PM  
Anonymous GinSlinger said...

Oops, forgot the link.
http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/LearnToBudget/SurvivingAndThrivingOn12000AYear.aspx?GT1=8996

1:04 PM  

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