The reasons for poverty: Laziness or bad luck?

Discussion in 'Politics & Law' started by Sim, Sep 12, 2009.

  1. Sim

    Sim Registered Member

    When debating social issues, like the question whether the state should engage in any kind of wealth redistribution in favor of the poor, there seem to be two very opposite camps:

    One side is strictly against wealth redistribution by taxation, they emphasize personal responsibility of the individual and they would rather have the choice to stay out of any social responsibility, even if that means they may end at the losing end (due to unemployment, poverty and so on). That's the price they are willing to pay for their idea of "freedom".

    The other side emphasizes that poverty is a challenge for the entire society, and they advocate welfare programs, or redistribution of tax money in favor of the poor by the state. It seems they are convinced that most of the time, poverty is not the result of bad decisions or laziness, but those who are poor just had bad luck, or should at least not pay so much for mistakes.

    I wonder, on which side do you fall, and why? Please explain your opinion. Did you make experiences which convinced you most of the poor are poor because of their own mistakes? Or did you experience the opposite, maybe even yourself, that despite hard work and taking all chances offered, you still ended up losing?

    My personal opinion is leaning towards the second side, the side which considers poverty a result of bad luck. But of course not in all cases. I am in favor of social safety nets in favor of the unfortunate and unlucky, but at the same time, I believe abuse of public money should be minimized, and those who receive handouts should be asked something in return: For example, I believe it's just fair when unemployed receiving unemployment support are required to look for new jobs. When they can prove they have applied for several jobs, but were always rejected, they deserve support. It should be made sure those who get handouts and support really deserve it, that they are not just lazy.

    At any rate, I cannot believe poverty is the result of laziness most of the time. The current financial crisis and the resulting recession should have made this clear: Unemployment in the US has risen to 9%, and I am sure everybody can agree that all these unemployed cannot be blamed for the financial crisis, right? At the same time, many of the actors in the financial sector, who gambled away money into bubbles and who almost caused a nuclear meltdown of world economy, hardly are being held responsible. Some are fired, yet they get immense sums of gratuities. That doesn't strike me as fair.

    And as far as I am concerned, the question of public social security nets is also a matter of the kind of society the individual wants to live in: There are "gamblers" and "conservatives" (I don't mean conservatives in the political sense, but I mean people who prefer stability and security over risk):

    I am a "conservative". For me, social safety is a matter of security: I can always have bad luck in life. I can lose my job and not find a new one immediately, which is not my fault, but which yet is a financial risk for my life. Or I can get an expensive illness, or a handicap due to an accident, which would keep me from working in my job, or working at all -- which again must not necessarily be my fault, yet it poses a severe financial risk for my life. That is why I am in favor of social safety nets: In times when I do well, I pay part of my money to help those who have bad luck in the moment. And the moment I have bad luck, those who do well support me in exchange. That strikes me as a system that protects against risks in life, and I have no problem paying my share of taxes, because I know the moment I have bad luck, this money will pay off for me. For this safety, I take voluntarily into account that my gains and wins are not that high, while I am lucky and do well.

    But other people are "gamblers". They take higher risks into account: The risk of falling very deep once they have bad luck -- but in exchange, they have higher gains and wins when they do well.

    I think both preferred models of society have their pros and cons, and in the end, it's just the question what type of person you are: Rather take high risks, for the sake of high gains, but running the risk of falling deep? Or do you rather play it safe and give part of your gains when you are lucky, in exchange for the protection from falling too deep in case of bad luck?

    I'm interested in your thoughts!
    P.S.: If you disagree support or refusal of social safety nets have nothing to do with your view on poverty, or whether you are a "conservative" or "gambler", please explain that too. I'm curious!
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2009

  2. Jeanie

    Jeanie still nobody's bitch V.I.P. Lifetime

    I believe that both poverty and wealth are largely a result of circumstance. I don't disagree that there are many people who acquired their wealth as a result of hard work, however many of the world's wealthiest families have had their wealth for many generations, particularly in Europe but even in the United States.

    I don't believe that poverty is a result of laziness in most cases. The cycle of poverty is very hard to break out of for most families - how can you study and do well in high school if you have to work to help your family out? Also, we have to remember that many people are born to parents who just don't care enough to give their kids the proper guidance needed to do well in school, to save for their kids' college expenses, etc. Furthermore, the disparity in the quality of school districts put some people at a disadvantage from the start. For example a child who grows up in the Detroit Public School district must go to schools which have fewer resources because there are fewer tax dollars available to the schools than neighboring school districts such as Grosse Pointe, MI, which is home to some of Michigan's wealthiest families.
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  3. Mirage

    Mirage Administrator Staff Member V.I.P.

    When people think of "rich" they automatically think of the super rich Hollywood celebrity style "filthy rich". Sure, those people have a reputation for being fairly lazy.

    When it comes to small business owners and the more every day rich people, I have yet to meet a lazy one. They are some of the hardest working people I've met. So maybe laziness has something to do with being in the opposite boat?

    Poverty can be a mix of both laziness and bad luck. Poverty in Africa for example isn't something that can be blamed on laziness. The opportunity to succeed just isn't there in many cases. Poverty in the US? Even the poorest people in the US have cable TV, internet access, running water, electricity, etc, with some exceptions.

    A huge contributor to poverty in the US is the idea of "I'll never succeed so why try." That coupled with "I work very hard and I'm not getting ahead so working hard must not work" are the recipe to be poor your entire life. What most people don't take into account is the fact that working hard at a low paying job isn't going to do squat for your situation. Low paying jobs are good for one thing, working while paying your way through school. Sometimes life decisions are to blame for being unable to afford college, but if somebody is young they should be able to work a job and pay their way through a community college to get an education.

    Then there's the idea of entitlement and standard of living. In America at least, having a new car payment is widely accepted as a normal part of life. Having a tv, computer, going out to eat, going to movies, having a nice cell phone, buying clothes you don't need, etc are all things that people put on credit cards. There are a ton of people who rack up huge credit card bills with frivolous spending. If you can't afford it and it's optional, don't buy it. Simple as that.

    Of course unemployment is a problem too, there's no way around that. Icegoat made a thread a while back that addressed the issue of Americans not wanting to take bad jobs. I don't know if this is the same in Germany but here it seems like if an unemployed person was offered a job as a janitor or something dirty or strenuous they won't take the job. There is a reason the classified jobs sections in our newspapers here are always full of those types of job openings.

    I'm a big fan of Dave Ramsey's approach to finances. He has a nationally syndicated radio show here as well as a TV show where he gives guests advice on how to best handle their finances and get out of sticky situations. One thing he says quite a bit to people who are struggling to get ahead is this:

    "Live like no one else, so later, you can live like no one else."

    Basically, don't buy into the "Everybody has this so it's ok if I buy it too even though I can't afford it" theory. Live below your means now, cutting out optional expenses and everything but the necessities so that later on, after living responsibly and setting goals to work for, you can live like no one else by not having debt, not being financially strapped, and actually having some freedom with your finances.

    But most people will read this post and say "Nope, it's just bad luck." After all, nobody wants to blame themselves for their situation.
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2009
  4. Bananas

    Bananas Endangered Species

    Poverty is mostly down to luck. Its a form of classism to which the boundaries are hard to break, some do it, most dont. Its easier to make money if you already have money.

    I was speaking to a friend about this the other day, his wife is constantly stressed out about money and insists they cant afford things, whilst he is never bothered by money to that extent. I should point out that they are well off and have a tidy income. We realised that this fear of being broke she has is that she is from an impoverish(working class) background, where your last £ is your last £. Whilst he is from an upper-middle class background and his last £ is a trip to the bank to get more £££'s. She sees the mortgage on their £400,000 house as owing the bank £200,000, he sees it as having £200,000 equity. Its more than just the pesimist/optimist view though, it is a whole new concept of what money is to life. Do we work to live, or do we live to work?
  5. CaptainObvious

    CaptainObvious Son of Liberty V.I.P.

    I find it curious you slanted your view with this last sentence, "their idea of freedom", last time I checked I if I earned something I should keep it, call me crazy but that just seems fair....:rolleyes:

    Anyway, it can be a product of both or neither. Some people are poor because they're lazy, some because they've had bad luck, and some are born into it. Being poor is not the issue to me, it's what you do when in that circumstance. I do believe with hard work and determination anyone can succeed in this country, anyone. It doesn't always work out the way you'd like it, but no one has to stay in the class you're born into. The cycle of poverty can be broken pretty quickly. The problem is many are sucked into the cycle of dependency then it becomes to easy to blame society for their problems.
  6. Tucker

    Tucker Lion Rampant

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  7. MenInTights

    MenInTights not a plastic bag

    I think throughout the American experience luck and hard work have been in a tug of war. Certainly there were times when luck was the victor and many people had the misfortune of being poor forever because of their race or where they grew up or the times they were born. The trick is to always keep the game fair so that if you work your ass off, you can all but eliminate the factor of luck. In my generation, that has been the case, I think since I was born most everyone has had a chance to succeed in life if they work hard enough. And I hope that's what the future holds although I have no clue.

    The biggest problem I have with contributing things to luck is I think you curse yourself and your family with that attitude. I remember reading the story of John Huntsman and Clarence Thomas. They both grew up in extreme poverty. One of the 2 actually grew up in a cardboard house! That's the sort of poverty that if you chalk success up to luck, you will curse yourself to be unlucky the rest of your life. Chris Gardner, the inspiration for "The Pursuit of Happiness" is another guy that proves the point. That guy had a lot of unlucky things happen to him. But, rather than giving up, they were temporary setbacks. I just have such a hard time with handouts because it can so easily snuff a man's spirit. In the OP, the idea of of proving that you have been rejected for a job is great. I believe that is how the US unemployment system works. I think having clauses like that are true compassion.

    As far as my personal life, I am very much a risk big-win big person. In one year, I had a car and house reposed, lost everything I owned and got kicked out of the apartment we were living in. With 3 kids, we made less than $20,000. We barely had food and we never took any sort of assistance from the government. That was 4 years ago! EVERYTHING is different now. When I was down, I got an old computer from work, I spent countless hours in the library learning eCommerce, audiometry, website design and I built a struggling but successful company.

    I used to ride a bike to work in winter in Alaska! This is actually the post I made on GF in 2007 after buying my 'new' car:
    link That's when things were looking brighter for me. I could actually afford a 20 year old car with a bad transmission. :lol:

    My point is, I've been rock bottom not too long ago. I thank God for those times and his protection during. I don't mind helping out, its just that telling someone they've got bad luck is just dooming them to never get out of the hole they're in. In America, no matter where you're at, you can turn your life around.

    Further, my post only applies to the knowledge I have of America. I do not know the status of your country. Sadly there are still many counties where who you were born into means everything. There are other countries where the poverty is too great to overcomes. Still other countries where taxes are so high the reward of improving yourself has been eliminated. This is what the American Dream or rugged individualism is all about and this is what I'll fight to keep a part of this nation.
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  8. CaptainObvious

    CaptainObvious Son of Liberty V.I.P.

    That's a great story, MIT. I've been there as well but no from luck, I was born into it. My parents struggled and we lived paycheck to paycheck but we never took any either. My mom says my grandfather used to say when Johnson instituted his "war on poverty" that it was going to ruin man's will to work and I think he was proved right. I thank God for his protection during those times also, and I thank the closeness of my family during those times. My parents both grew up poor in the "Mexican side of town" during an era of a lot of racism, but they always stayed positive and always taught us to work hard and not make any excuses. I do agree with Jeanie though that many people don't have that kind of parental support at home.
  9. redsoxocd

    redsoxocd living on the border

    It definately goes both ways. In some cases its bad luck. There are some countries where people literally can not bring themselves to a point of not being poor.

    BUT in America if someone in born into proverty I feel that they can grow up to be above the line. I mean, there are public schools...its actually illegal to not send your kids to school (well at least in Boston). To me, everyone can over come proverty if they put some effort into it.
  10. Wade8813

    Wade8813 Registered Member

    Laziness, bad luck, stupidity, being the victim of a crime - there's lots of reasons. And there are obviously rich people who did nothing to deserve their wealth - whether they inherited, stole, got lucky, or won the lotto (actually, now that I think about it, I'm not sure I'd put inherited money in this category - while this person didn't work for it, someone in their family did. Shouldn't the person who earned it have the right to do what they want with it, including giving it to their offspring? Why does being given a gift make the money less legitimate?)

    I don't know if I'd be okay with a law if all it did was take from the wealthy that didn't earn it, and give it to those who are poor through no fault of their own.

    But taking from someone who did earn it, to allow someone who's lazy and a drug addict to keep being lazy? That's not okay by any stretch of the imagination.

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