The Conservatives’ Rules That Keep Americans Poor

06.01.18
Steve Baker/Flickr
Politics /01 Jun 2018
06.01.18

The Conservatives’ Rules That Keep Americans Poor

A successful political and economic system has to be designed to fit with how human beings work. If your system misunderstands how humans will react to rules, opportunities and policies, it will fail. People with different cultural values react to laws, opportunities and policies differently. A policy that works well for people who hold one set of cultural values may fail spectacularly with a group that holds another. Our environment teaches us lessons about how the world we live in works. In broad strokes, people act in accordance with the rules of their culture.

The rules that a child growing up in a single-parent, poor, urban household learns about to act are vastly different from the ones that a child growing up in a stable, two-parent, middle-class, suburban household learns about to act. Class and cultural rules are learned from the world we see, the society we live in, and are inherited from the family we have. People often arrogantly and stupidly assume that the cultural values they grew up with are the default values that are automatically and intuitively present, or should be present in everyone else’s life. But, of course, they aren’t.

Middle Class VS. Low-Class Culture

If you grow up in a stable household, if your parents have money in the bank and steady, good-paying jobs, you’re going to be a believer in planning for the future because you’re sure that you have a future. You’ll go to college, get married, buy a home, etc. Of course, you’ll have to save your money, stay out of trouble, stay healthy, and work hard. Your stable household with parents who earn a good living and have money in the bank will cause most kids to have these typical middle-class values.

If you grow up in an unstable household, if you have an absent father or a drunk father or a jailed father, if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, if there is no money, no savings, you won’t plan for the future because you can’t even plan for next week. College or vocational training is almost impossible because there is no one to feed, clothe and house you while you’re being trained…Let alone pay for tuition, books and transportation costs.

Saving money is a foreign concept because you don’t have any money to save. As a member of the lower class, you learn to live for today. If the only people like yourself who have money are drug dealers and criminals, that’s the principal avenue you will see for yourself as the way that you can get money. If you see something you can take without getting caught, you will take it because that opportunity may not come again. If you see a way to get some quick money, you will take it. Life is short and not very enjoyable. Your future is crap. If you see some easy pleasure, drugs, sex, alcohol, you will grab it. Live for today, look for a short cut, following rules is for suckers, look out for number one — those are the low-class cultural rules your environment will teach you.

Middle-class people are quick to look down on low-class people and sadly shake their heads. “Morons; they should be saving their money instead of spending it on alcohol and cigarettes. Why aren’t they planning ahead? Why aren’t they working two jobs and trying to better themselves? What a bunch of lazy losers. — Get a job!” they shout at the images of the homeless people on the evening news.

If you have ten dollars to your name, you aren’t going to think any farther ahead than wondering where your next meal is coming from. You just aren’t.

Turning People with a Middle-Class Culture into Ones with a Low-Class Culture

Start with a middle-class American family and ship dad’s good-paying manufacturing job to Asia and leave him only capable of getting minimum-wage work. Now add a divorce and leave his two kids in a tiny apartment in a single-parent household. Raise those two kids in poverty and see what kinds of social and cultural values they develop. Let ten years go by. The boy is now the father of an illegitimate child and the daughter is the mother of a child with an absent, minimum wage father. Those second-generation children will not have middle-class values. They will have low-class values.

The only way to break the cycle is to provide a mechanism that provides a way for low class people to go the other way, to move into the middle class. That mechanism is either providing unskilled jobs that pay middle-class wages or training low-class people to perform skilled jobs that pay middle-class wages.

When people have a job that pays them enough money to pay their bills with something left over, they have the breathing room to think about saving. When life isn’t a constant struggle to just survive, marriages are less stressed and last longer, alcoholism and drug use declines. When home life is more stable and there’s enough money to think beyond next week, people can start thinking about educating their children for a good job and a better life. When life is not a daily struggle you can afford middle-class values, you can start thinking that your kids may have a future. But, it all starts with access to a job that pays a middle-class wage.

One of the conservatives’ foundation beliefs is that any poor person who is willing to work hard can have a decent life without needing anything from the government.

Conservatives believe that poor people just need to exercise extreme middle-class cultural and character values — willingness to work 60-80 hours a week, be really determined, delay gratification, avoid drugs and alcohol, save for the future, make decisions based on a long-term cost/benefit analysis, etc. The converse is the conservatives’ belief that those people who remain poor do so because they’ve chosen laziness, chosen to spend rather than save, chosen to ignore the long-term consequences of their actions, etc. In short, that they’ve chosen low-class values, so screw them! By not practicing middle-class values conservatives arrogantly dismiss low-class people as being morally responsible for their poverty and therefore people who don’t deserve to get any help from the taxes paid by the “good people” who do practice those middle-class values.

In order for low-class people to work their way out of poverty the conservatives demand that they already possess and practice extreme middle-class cultural values. But, being low-class people with low-class values they don’t and can’t practice middle-class values. You need middle-class values rather than low-class values before you can struggle out of the lower class and you can’t get those middle-class values while you’re still in the lower class with low-class values.

Conservatives Have Intentionally Blocked All Paths for Low-Class People To Enter The Middle Class

Conservatives have worked hard to block every passage from the low class to the middle class. They have created a one-way system where people who fall into the lower class can never get out: Conservatives aggressively oppose a living-wage minimum wage. Many conservatives oppose the idea of any minimum wage at all. That slams closed one possible door from the lower class into the middle class, namely, unskilled jobs that pay a middle-class wage. Conservatives aggressively oppose legislation that would prevent U.S. companies from sending good-paying manufacturing jobs abroad. The loss of those jobs shoves more formerly middle-class people into the lower class. Conservatives aggressively oppose unionization of unskilled and low-skilled jobs, which might raise wages enough to move workers into the middle class. Conservatives aggressively oppose publicly funded job training, which might qualify low-class workers for middle-class-wage jobs. Conservatives aggressively work to cut food stamps and end publicly funded medical care for people in the lower class, which impoverishes them even further and makes it even harder to get out of the lower class.

Conservatives work hard to block every avenue where unskilled, low-class workers might be able to earn enough money to enter the middle class and, in fact, conservatives have supported policies that have pushed existing middle-class unskilled workers down into the lower class in the first place. Then these oh so moral and decent conservatives drive past unemployed people and homeless people and shout: “Get a job” and complain that “those people” could earn their own living and get their own medical care if only they were willing to work hard and live by middle-class cultural values like the “good people.”

In making the assumption that people who are broke, unskilled, and on the bottom, people in the lower class, can work their way out of poverty, conservatives assume that poor people already have or should be expected to have the conservatives’ own middle-class cultural values. Conservatives think that middle-class cultural values are the default values that everyone is born with and are automatically available to “good” people. That’s nonsense. Cultural values are just that, values imparted by the culture in which the individual lives. Raise a hundred children in the middle class and most of them will have those middle-class values. Raise a hundred children in the lower class and most of them will have lower-class values.

It’s a total lie to tell people that they can move from the basement to the second floor anytime they want if they would only make use of one of the ladders that, by the way, you’ve moved to the second floor. It’s a total lie to tell people with low-class cultural values that they can gain financial success anytime they want if they would only live by middle class cultural values, values that they would only learn through years of already having lived in the middle class.

Transplant a tightly-knit, poor, immigrant family with traditional middle-class values into the U.S. and they will have a reasonable chance at achieving some success. Why? Because they will work cooperatively to pool resources. They will work very long hours. They will save every penny possible. They will postpone gratification. They will pursue education. In short, they will combine the benefits of a tight-knit, cooperative family group that pools resources with those middle-class values that they already possessed.

Under the conservatives’ policies, entering the lower class is a one-way trip. You can check in, but you can’t check out.

The conservatives’ rules provide only one way out: the extreme practicing of middle-class values as part of a strong, cooperative family environment, and both those middle-class values and the strong family environment disappeared when the family was squashed down into the lower class in the first place. And you wonder why so many desperate people believed the promises of Donald Trump?

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