Thursday, April 5, 2012

Poverty Was on My Mind

I found I wanted to claim that the weak are weak due to oppression. Unfortunately, I had previously claimed that the weak are weak simply because they are. To resolve this, I looked into the details. Lucky for me, in both cases I was thinking about poverty.

Do I think that poverty is caused by the individual, or by their environment? I wonder if I have any other contradictions?

I think even in the freest society there would still be poverty. I also think that there's a lot more poverty now than the minimum. (Optimistically, there would be about half. Pessimistically, one-tenth or less. There's even a tiny possibility that poverty would be an entirely different thing.)

Specifically, I'm sympathetic to the conservative bootstrap theory of poverty. The bum probably could get a job. At the same time, I can't help but notice that the government does many things which hinder the working classes, and they're hardly a lone gun in this arena.

Looking more closely resolved my belief into an objection not to the oppression theory of poverty, but rather to the implicit causation model. The weak are not weak because they're poor. They're poor because they're weak.

The lotto forms a wonderful natural experiment - what happens if you give the weak a lot of money? Do they becomes strong, or do they stay weak?
The universal failure of welfare programs is easier seen this way too. If they're implemented in good faith, they're attempting to reallocate status, not money per se. I discover that giving money away doesn't lower anyone's status.

You can verify the weakness theory of poverty by looking at the kind of stock returns elected officials achieve.

There's probably some level of irredeemable poor. Which is sad, but simply not solvable. Our society tries to lie to them, but I haven't noticed many getting taken in.

For the rest, strength cannot be redistributed. However, I could run interference against interfering busybodies. One of the primary busybodies are other poor. All normal conditions become norms - in a slum, poverty is a norm and anyone violating it risks tribal retribution. Of course this retribution can only be achieved coercively. There's also the 100% effective marginal tax rates.

I have little doubt there are other, subtler forms of keeping the weak in their place.

If the status/envy line of inquiry isn't corrupt, then it follows that the bulk of the populace overall like poverty. It puts someone lower than them on the ladder. They may want to relieve the worst symptoms, but poverty itself? Hardly. Also a second reason the poor hate anyone getting un-poor.

This sentiment will manifest in institution features that entrench poverty, rather than combat it, as it would appear. For example, I understand the Church would take orphans off the street to be trained as clergy. Only, I also understand that clergy took vows of poverty...

Strength cannot be redistributed, but I can see few hard limits on who can decide to develop strength, once everyone else is prevented from ganging up on them. The poor are not oppressively prevented from using their powers, they're prevented from developing them in the first place.


Jehu said...

There are two types of poverty, although one is very rare in the US presently, although perhaps not for very much longer.
The first type is what I'll call 'functional' poverty. Poor people in this position can be helped through fairly ordinary means---e.g., helping them get a job or get through a rough time. Charities do a very good job of dealing with these cases, which is why they're very rare in the US right now. The second kind is dysfunctional poverty, which is poverty that is the result of another major dysfunction. This is what most of the poverty in the US is now. Back in the Depression it was mostly functional poverty. Perhaps in our coming new and improved Depression we'll see a lot of it again.

Alrenous said...

I see power centres, e.g. the state, intentionally increasing dysfunctional poverty. Would you agree?

Jehu said...

Certainly we've aggravated the dysfunctional poverty problem---mody notably by promoting single motherhood and perverse incentives. But a lot of the residual is the result of bona fide mental illness.