Hulk will smash!

I was going to write a nice post about getting facts right in fiction (may still, depending how time runs), but I’m feeling annoyed at once again seeing successful writers explain how poverty is clearly the poor’s own fault.
At Forbes, middle-aged white guy Gene Marks tells us that “If I Were a Poor Black Kid” (link is not to the article but you can click through), he would get out of the projects by working hard, networking and becoming a computer professional. For starters, study hard, get good grades, apply for a scholarship to private schools——oh, and buy a computer so you can work on the Internet, they’re affordable even to poor people now.
I’m not sure if this was Marks genuinely trying to be helpful——but given he’s writing in Forbes and not anywhere poor inner city kids are likely to find his words of wisdom, I have my doubts. Regardless, as Mighty God King points out at the link, the piece is monumentally clueless about the obstacles that face people (of any race——Marks doesn’t notice that his advice would make just as much [non]sense to poor white kids in the backwoods of the South). As MGK points out, it’s true that some poor kids can succeed by making a superhuman effort to excel, but not all (there’s only so many scholarships private schools will give out). And that Marks seems to be saying that if poor black kids only need a superhuman effort to attain what a middle-class white kid gets easily, then the system works fine (much like this argument that if you have to work 60 hours a week to survive, that proves the economy is in good shape).
I’ll add to that that even Marks’ basic premises are crap. I was dead broke in my twenties, and there’s no way I could ever have bought a computer, even if they’d been available at today’s lower prices. I certainly couldn’t have afforded Internet service either (and I don’t think bicycling to a hotspot with my computer in my backpack is the best way to take careof it). And I only had to support myself, not a family.
Over at Atlantic, pundit Megan McArdle has the amazing insight (again, not a direct link) that “it’s all too common for well-meaning middle class people to think that if the poor just had the same stuff we do, they wouldn’t be poor any more (where “stuff” includes anything from a college education to a marriage license to a home). But this is not true.”
If it sounds counter-intuitive to you to suggest that having a house doesn’t affect your economic status, what McArdle means is that poor people are poor because they make lousy financial, professional and life decisions; even if there was a way to give them nice things, they’d just blow it all. Her proof: A middle-class friend of hers who married a drug-dealer, sunk into the lower class, works menial jobs and gets fired from most of them. If her situation is the result of bad decisions, isn’t it condescending to the poor to suggest they don’t have the power to make those decisions (yes, according to McArdle, telling the poor it’s their own fault is a sign of how much she respects them).
Let’s try this in another situation: I recklessly run a red light, get hit and wind up in a wheelchair for life. By McArdle’s logic, we should assume that everyone who winds up disabled because of an accident did so because of bad choices, not freak accidents, lack of medical care, etc.
For commentary on poverty that involves thought rather than privilege and snobbery, here’s John Scalzi and Lance Manion.


Filed under economics, Politics

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