People love the concept of freedom.
I am not sure however, whether people really understand all the implications of a free society. I am not talking about geo politics, war and peace, nothing of the kind. I am talking of personal freedom.
Alex wrote this post, where among other things a friend of his describes “how it is to be an American earning a bit more than poverty level income”. The guy has a blog too, so you can read the original.
The point of the original post is that not everyone is rich in the US and that living on a 40k income with a family of 5 is not easy. I don’t doubt that, but I think some things need to be noted since we are talking about anecdotes here. Some years ago, my income was pretty close to 40k. I didn’t own a house. Heck, I didn’t even own a car (I was leasing one). I didn’t have internet cable. My wife and I chose not to have more kids. We didn’t go out to dinner that often. Things were not easy, but we never considered ourselves “poor”.
However, the point I really have a problem with is the one that Alex makes about how being poor is “un-American” and how things are oh so much easier for poor people in poor countries.
He even says that “there is no worse place in the world (US) to be poor”.
Alex was probably going for style here, but this is really a stupid thing to say in any circumstance. You just need to look at what poor people from warm paradises like Mexico and Cuba do to get here. I would expect more respect from such a socially concerned person with the suffering of these folks.
But the issue I want to talk about a bit more is the concept that “being poor” is just something that happens to Americans.
The real question people need to answer is: Do you understand what freedom means?
I could just walk out of my house right now, enter a dealer and buy a beautiful brand new Mercedes Benz. Furthermore: I would probably be able to pay for it and enjoy it very much.
The word here is probably. I could also lose my job tomorrow and have used up enough money that could be used to buy food for my kids for the next 3 years in a stupid car.
Who rewards me for making the *right* decisions in my life? Will anyone write a book about the guy who saved money all his life and was prepared when the shit hit the fan?
Are the decisions made by someone who earns half of what I do that different than mine? Is choosing to have another kid when you earn 40k a year any different than buying a car that is just too expensive?
Should we force people to follow a certain path?
Yes, life is risky, and the US is an especially risky society. Remember that whole thing about “pursuit of happiness” that you learned at school? Do you ever wonder why the founding fathers didn’t say “pursuit of a house, car and 3 children?”
Would you like if someone told you that your happiness is to have a house, a car and three children? Worse: what if someone told you that you would not be allowed to have those things until you earn X dollars a year?
Would you like that?
Liberals tend to focus on the hardships of poor people, never how they got poor in the first place. It is not even clear if liberals want to bring people out of poverty or if they want to make poverty more comfortable. To help people out of poverty would require looking at people’s choices and even worse: it would require telling people what they should and should not do.
It is always easier to picture poor people as having extremely bad luck or somehow being downtrodden by society’s worse. A legion of hard working people who get screwed by another legion of scrooge like bosses who despise children and sleep in pillows made of 100$ bills.
Alex mentions the horrendous Ehrenreich book “Nickel and Dimed”, which describes how difficult it is to have a low level job in the US. I don’t think there is any doubt that working at Wal-Mart is not a dream job. What Ehrenreich doesn’t mention is what she really wants to have done to “fix” this situation. Does she want the government to force companies to pay more? Maybe she wants government welfare so these people don’t need to work! Should we force these people back to school? You are never sure.
So they want to give people freedom to make bad choices but want society to pay the bill when things get tough.
I am all for the government helping people who got the shortest straw. But should we really feel bad for people who just made bad decisions?
I came to this country with nothing but a job and a half good education. Had I lost that job, I would have to leave empty handed. It wasn’t even a fun or well paying job by the way. I had no help from government or family here. Still, I didn’t prosper because of my last name or because of the color of my skin.
The point is not that things could have gone bad for me and my family. This would be the norm in pretty much every other country in the world. The real point is that things worked out. There are very few places on earth where this is actually possible.
I don’t get mad when people bad mouth the US because I am a crazy patriot who thinks Americans are god chosen people who are superior to the rest of the world. I get mad because this country is the closest you can ever get to this crazy idea of freedom. The idea that you are free to choose your profession, how much you want to work, where to spend your money, how many kids you want to have, and even if you want to stay in this country at all.
I get mad because I started from zero, chose my own path and got to a point where I am today.