“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” — John Galt
understanding class warfare
When we think of class warfare, we think of a political effort to pit the poor against the rich. The premise is that someone who has more than you is your enemy, which I suppose would be correct if you intend to satisfy your own needs by means of “might makes right” — by taking from them through force or coercion.
But, assuming that both you and he are capable of producing, free trade holds that someone who has more than you should be your friend. They say that you can’t get a job from a poor person, and it’s hard to imagine a better relationship with a rich person than one which makes both of you richer. It’s certainly more productive than a relationship which seeks to make you richer by making him poorer.
An interviewer once asked Ayn Rand if it was okay for some men to have caviar while other men want for bread. (For some reason, such questions seem more valid with a Russian flavor.) If we know that caviar costs a hundred times as much as bread, then we can imagine that a hundred poorer men could buy bread with the money a single rich man might spend on caviar.
But money, bread, caviar — even men — do not really work this way. A price is a balancing point between supply and demand. While bread and caviar have their own balancing points — prices — which can be compared to each other, there is no direct translation between bread and caviar themselves.
Consider the middle class family: An air-conditioned house, two cars, a refrigerator, a couple TVs, some cell phones. Cable or maybe satellite service, ample clothing and food. Even special food for their pets.
And who is a poor person? Well a poor person is not someone who doesn’t have caviar — he’s someone who doesn’t have bread. A poor person is not somebody who isn’t rich, he’s somebody who isn’t even middle-class. A poor person is someone who wants for the things the middle class has. You’re not poor if you don’t have a Cadillac; you’re poor if you don’t have a car.
Prices are a balancing point between supply and demand, necessary because demand is always greater than supply. A price is set at the level where products are being consumed at the same rate at which they’re being produced. Set prices too high, and goods accumulate on shelves. Set them too low, and shelves go bare until the next shipment arrives. This is basic economics. Consumers are in competition for goods, and a price is something that discourages consumers until there are just as many people consuming as there are goods being produced.
The poor, then, are people who are losing the competition with the middle class. Think about it: Society never says, “This poor man needs a Learjet.” You wouldn’t raise money to help the family down the street because it can’t afford caviar. The poor aren’t in trouble because they don’t have money — but they are in trouble if they can’t get bread. And you don’t have to look in the rich man’s pantry to see where the bread is actually going. Poor people don’t go without because rich people have a lot of money; they go without because the middle class buy up all of the goods.
So while we think of class warfare as a struggle between rich and poor, it’s really a struggle between the poor and the middle class. The rich are just scapegoats — convenient scapegoats, since they do happen to have wealth. Class warfare is based on the notion that we can settle a dispute over goods, between the poor and the middle class, by simply taking wealth from the rich — the same wealth which is often the basis of middle class jobs.
What’s surprising is that this is simply not that complicated. It’s easy to get hung up on money, and to see poverty as “a shortage of money.” But it’s not particularly difficult to see the real issue. The problem is that there’s an entire movement of politically-motivated people who need you thinking about it in a certain way in order to advance their own agenda. And while it may be beneficial for them if they can convince you to see things their way, it won’t necessarily help you — or the poor, for that matter.
Truly solving problems starts with truly understanding them. And the people who promise to solve the most problems never seem to explain them truthfully.
There are cheats and there are fools. I can’t do anything about the cheats — they’re going to lie to you forever. But maybe together we can do something about the foolishness.
That’s the John Galt Line.
Locust: Take a look at the site listed above, read what you find there, understand what is to come.
If you haven’t already read Robert Rector’s excellent Heritage Foundation backgrounder on poverty, please give it a look. He really nails it.
For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. But only a small number of the 37 million persons classified as “poor” by the Census Bureau fit that description.
In other words, most Americans have no clue what actual poverty is. Poverty comes with its own language — starvation, cholera, malaria — words that aren’t used in America today. Most Americans have never even seen any of the horrors associated with true, abject poverty. Just remember, when libs refer to “poverty,” the word was chosen for specific images they’re trying to evoke in your mind. But the living standard of all but the very poorest Americans is considerably better than that — better, in fact, than most of the middle class of the world. Our poor are still rich for human beings.
Today, the expenditures per person of the lowest-income one-fifth (or quintile) of households equal those of the median American household in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation.
This is so important! The poor do not keep getting poorer — our poor are not just richer than the global middle class, they are even wealthier than our own middle class of only thirty years ago. Microwave ovens, cell phones, cars with computers, airbags and anti-lock brakes. Color TV, home video, access to resources like the internet. These were not just luxuries — in my own lifetime many of them were science fiction. Now they are all part of everyday life — even for our poor.
Think back thirty years, and try to imagine all the things the stupid libs would be describing as “rights,” demanding that government guarantee for all. I’m pretty sure that microwave ovens, cell phones and color TVs were not on the list, but healthcare and higher education probably were.
Now in 2009, when we’re being told how important it is that healthcare and education be given to the poor, I ask: Why they can’t buy those things themselves? If you ask me, the poor have squandered their opportunities to buy these essentials by instead buying microwave ovens, cell phones and TVs. I think we should demand that they surrender those luxuries until they’ve secured their own healthcare and education, but lo and behold, suddenly those luxuries have become “rights” as well.
Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family’s essential needs. While this individual’s life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.
The fact is that poverty is no longer a material condition of being impoverished. Today, it is a political condition of simply not being adequately wealthy for the age Americans live in. And the debate between the left and the right is not about how unwealthy our “poor” need to be; it is about what decade our poor really need to be living in. As Rector points out, our poor are doing quite well compared to the middle class of the 1970s. Go just a few decades further back, and our poor are downright rich.
And all the wealth and luxuries that have become “rights” between any point in the past and now? Those were just shifts in priorities, and the real reason other “rights” have gone unmet. Do you see someone without healthcare or education? Because I see someone who has a cell phone, cable, a car, a private apartment — or who even owns their own home — instead of buying health insurance or tuition. Rights are not being deprived; rather, poor choices are being made.
Here’s the most important part:
While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity.
And my problem with this is the question of how much more we could be doing for the very few who are genuinely needy, if only our social programs weren’t clogged up by the not-so-poor who are simply structuring their lives so as to receive a handout. How much better off could the few truly poor be, if only we weren’t wasting our goodwill on our garden variety “politically” poor?
As long as it pays to be poor, people will strive to achieve it. Don’t be so foolish as to think there aren’t people carefully arranging their affairs to qualify for welfare they don’t need, at the same time rejecting freedom they simply don’t use. Thiscosts us all — but it costs the poor the most.
That’s the John Galt Line.