Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Real Deal On 'The 99%'

There has been a lot of talk over the course of the past year regarding the "1%" versus the "99%" as embodied in the "We Are The 99%" slogan of the Occupy Wall Street crowd. Those persons whom talk in those terms actually make up less than 1% of that "99%". Most of the "99%" don't wish to be grouped with that "1%" and many in the "1%" started out in the "99%". That tiny segment of Left-wing shit-stirrers be they community organizers or union apparatchiks or easily-manipulated college students or fellow traveler artist types or professional anarchists, et al, DO NOT speak for most Americans and DO NOT speak to most Americans. They tend to speak only into the echo chamber of their own narrow little 1% of the "99%".

In reality, our nation is divided in a much more complex fashion than the simplistic and now hackneyed "1% versus 99%" paradigm promulgated by Occupy Wall Street. The "1%" is divided into various shades of Liberal (limousine liberal) and Conservative (country club Republican). Some are dick-heads and some are very cool people who do a lot of good with their money, more good per percentage of their wealth than most other Americans. Many/most elites are somewhere in between those two types of elites.

The Middle Class in which I used to inhabit is likewise rifted with various shades of Liberal and Conservative but more and more they are self-identifying as being in the Middle not just socio-economically but politically as well. Increasingly they espouse neither the Democratic nor Republican Parties in a phenomenon known to political scientists as dealignment. Nor do they much cotton to the increasing militancy of Neo-Conservatism and Neo-Liberalism that dominates the political party duopoly that dominates our political landscape. The Middle Class is the hardest working and most productive class. However, they find their wealth leaving their level and traveling both up and down the socio-economic pyramid as their productivity supports both the Elites and the Poor both of whom do not pay taxes at the rate the Middle Class does.

I am currently living below the poverty line and have been thus over the course of the past few years of the ongoing economic malaise known as the Great Recession. Consequently, I have acquired a life-altering education into how it is to be poor in America. It has been one of the best experiences of my life and my only regret is that it did not come sooner. During this time I have had the opportunity to observe the American poor and how they live and act given that I have been one of them living amongst them.
Strangely enough, in the context of my ongoing poverty I feel more like a gonzo journalist/tourist visiting a strange country from which I intend to one day leave and return home to the middle class.

Following years of careful observation I note there are basically two types of poor people in America. There are the temporarily poor who have experienced one or more shocks in their lives in a relatively short period of time that have knocked the pins out from under them or are new immigrants but whom in any case through hard work and pluck will lift themselves up out of their current condition. Then there are the chronically poor be they native born or new immigrants for whom poverty is essentially a choice given their persistent self-limiting behavior patterns that make it an inevitability they will remain poor their entire lives as they milk the welfare system at each level of government. The former are victims of Fate or perhaps even their own mistakes from which they will learn and move onwards and upwards. The latter are their own worst enemies as well as enemies of those who are productive and are supporting them through their own labors. The chronically poor possess agency in their affairs and deliberately choose to never adapt and learn and improve their station in life but instead elect to freeload while wallowing in a degraded and abased existence.

I self-identify as being in the former category and have great respect for my fellow men and women in this honorable fraternity (I use that last word in the neuter, of course). For whatever reason(s) we find ourselves in a tight spot but we are self-starters and ambitious and entrepreneurial and will fully exploit what opportunities Providence will place before us as inevitably happens to everybody, including the chronic poor who either fail to recognize Providence tapping on their shoulder or deliberately elect to thrust away the hand of Providence.

I met a married couple through a mutual friend a couple of years ago. They lived in Paso Robles in public housing (or publicly-assisted housing) in an apartment complex. Both were morbidly obese because they didn't take care of themselves and both were diabetic. They used their food stamps and other welfare monies to acquire food that was excessively fattening and they shoveled it into their mouths. They cached non-diet sodas all over the kitchen counters by the bottle-full. They used their welfare money to purchase a Wii gaming system with all the fixings and played it all the time, including most of the time I was visiting with my friend. The man of the house at the time I met him had just undergone surgery for testicular cancer (paid for by the public treasury, of course). Quite recently his staples had come out so he had just come back from the hospital. He complained that while he was in there the staff did not wish to take the time to check his blood sugar as he had requested. He had the temerity to wonder why the obvious and complain. Since he didn't care about his blood sugar enough to eat and drink right and was a recurring nuisance visitor to the hospital why should they care any more than he did? In a broader context why should the public treasury be funding this sort of cluster fuck of a wretched publicly-subsidized and non-productive existence? By what factor can this couple's case be multiplied to represent a true picture of the American landscape at the bottom of the socio-economic pile?

I used to spend a lot of time up in the Willits, CA, area both before I had a girlfriend there and then while I was with her. This gave me a lot of exposure to how the White Underclass lives. The picture I observed was dismal and dismaying to say the least. The entire town is covered with some sort of dark cloud of bad karma and in the town are a lot of bad actors to use a counter-terrorism term. Dependency upon public subsidy is rampant in the Little Lake Valley in which Willits resides as well as in the surrounding forested mountains inhabited by folks who could easily be cast as extras in any remake of the movie "Deliverance".
Having traipsed all over Northern California for much of my life I can say that while Willits is a bit of an extreme example there are plenty of places like it spread over the state. Add to that all the poor urban black areas as well as poor urban and rural brown areas across California and indeed across all of America of all ethnic extractions and you get a clearer picture of how big a problem this sort of deliberate impoverishment is and how expensive it is to society as supported disproportionately by the Middle Class.

The chronically poor of their own agency and volition choose to live lives that are frequently degrading and uninspiring. So many poor folks I have met could immediately be in a better station in life if they consistently made better decisions and lived more enlightened and elevated existences. The following is my short list of common bad habits or catastrophic setbacks of the chronically poor.
  • Getting pregnant (or getting someone pregnant) early in life - limits options and costs a lot of money.
  • Having too many kids - for chrissakes replicate within your means - failure to heed this is expensive.
  • Getting a criminal record - limits options throughout life.
  • Drug use - undermines productivity, limits options and costs a lot of money
  • Smoking - dirty and unhealthy habit that costs a lot of money.
  • Regularly heavy alcohol consumption - undermines productivity and costs a lot of money.
  • Tattoo collecting - limits some employment options and costs a lot of money
  • Pimp rides - spending all that money on something as utilitarian as your transportation is dumb.
  • Electronic gaming - in excess it limits productivity and costs a lot of money - get off your lazy ass!
  • Processed food consumption - it costs more than preparing your own food and is less healthy. 
  • Associating with rabble - in any human grouping, everybody goes to the lowest common denominator
  • Failure to network - build a network of helpful associations and fully exploit that network.
  • Lack of personal initiative/entrepreneurial pluck - get off your ass, use your head and get after it.
One disclosure I must make is that am receiving both federal Pell Grant money to help me go back to school as well as California's Board of Governors is fully paying my tuition. Essentially my society is investing in me and betting that by helping me out right now I will later on be productive and paying taxes into the treasury that far exceed the sum of money invested in me by my society at present. I have accepted that challenge and intend to prove society right. I work hard and do my best and get good grades. I am achieving. I am productive. I will eventually pay back what was given me and not only to the public treasury but the aforementioned now-ex-girlfriend invested in me, too. I will prove her right in her investment as well. I say all this to clearly define and differentiate between my smart-bet subsidy and the sort of dead-end subsidization of the chronic poor that is the epitome of throwing good money after bad as perpetrated by the U.S. Federal government as well as state and local governments across the land.

1 comment:

  1. Kevin - Portland, ORJanuary 22, 2012 at 2:40 AM

    Aw, c'mon Kim. Tell us how you REALLY feel!

    It's nice to hear someone else say things I have been saying / thinking for quite some time.