When We Are Thankful

Please Change Your Tone

The news often reports on the increasing rich-poor gap being at historic highs. The tone annoys me. The tone, not the message, is wrong.

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I believe it is fine to complain that an eroding middle class is bad for long term economics, but I’m against the news complaining in a way meant to appeal to our compassion. That tactic is harmful to the people it’s meant to help. Just like an eroding middle class is bad for long term economic prospects, so is telling people they are victims.

People need to feel advantaged and enabled if you want them to act. People need to know that almost every American is advantaged compared to 6.8 billion other people. Americans are even better off than many Western countries. Unemployment is around 6% in the US while in many European countries it’s 15%, 20%, or even higher. The American poor are still the world’s rich.

Does a man earning $500,000 in Dubai have the right to complain because he is not a millionaire like all his peers? How would an American making $50,000 a year feel if they watched a Saudi millionaire complain of his disadvantaged compared to other Saudis? It would seem insane, wouldn’t it?

More important, though, is that this small perspective change can have enormous consequences. Doesn’t a child have a better chance of applying themselves if they are told they are lucky and born into a country of opportunity? Isn’t that more likely to produce hope and effort than society instead telling the child they are an unlucky victim?

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Yes, Poor Americans Are Poor Because of Our Society

Our education system does suck. But our children still get better education than 90% of the world. Our criminal justice system does suck, but it’s still less corrupt than most. Still, there’s no question that, ultimately, every crime committed is due to our society failing to get the kid on the right path.

  • We fail to remove bad role models.
  • We fail to properly educate many of our youth.
  • And, maybe most importantly, increased regulation makes it difficult for people to start small businesses

In the US, we have successfully blocked off one of the easiest ways for unskilled workers to earn a living. In Thailand (where I currently live), a huge percentage of people make a living running small restaurants and food carts. As in almost all societies in the world, people buy and eat several meals a day and that creates an enormous restaurant industry where entrepreneurs only need to know how to cook a good meal. It is fair to say that restaurants are one of the most common small business in the world.

In the US I tried to start a crepe shop and, as a well paid white collar worker, I couldn’t afford to start the small cafe. This was because the government demanded:

  • Wood floors be covered with professional grade flooring
  • Walls be covered with seamless wall panels
  • Five different professional grade sinks be installed
  • A very expensive hood system be constructed to suck up water vapor from the crepe cooking process

So yes, American society does have responsibility, is broken, and is in desperate need of fixing. We have a broken system that is unnecessarily oppresive. But there’s no big movement crying out for deregulation where it creates hurdles for small businesses. And we complain about our education system but we do nothing. We tolerate over priced educations that send our youth into decade long debt obligations. And we fail to clean up ghettos and environments that promote a criminal lifestyle.

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A Candle Compared to a Roaring Fire

So yes, the disadvantages are real but they are made much worse by focusing on the barriers the poor must overcome. The truth is, if every poor child truly believed they were one of the richest people in the world and were sent the message that they had more advantages than almost everyone else in the world, they might work harder and give up less often. The barriers are real but they are not insurmountable.

When a child is taught to feel oppressed and not advantaged, they lack the motivation and persistence to overcome barriers and, at that point, the barriers might as well be an abyss.  Our media sends the message that the odds are against the poor, trying is futile, and the negativity spreads like a cancer.

The worst part is that when the public provides on excuses for falling short, we remove social pressure. The effect of removing social pressure cannot be underestimated. In every society in the world, social pressure matters. When you start telling people it is okay to fail, people put less effort into succeeding. It is odd that we put less effort into our own success based on what other people think. Yet, it makes sense because success is relative. We try harder when society judges us on success.

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This is Economically Misspent Energy

We demonize the rich for their success. Why? What did they do that others in their position wouldn’t? We need to turn our collective concern to building a system which insulates itself from the fact that 90% of people will always act in their best interest.

Broken systems do not produce better results until the system itself is fixed but, for some reason, we yell and shout about the results (the rich-poor divide) and not the barriers (the broken system). We need to hold our senators and congressmen accountable for reforming laws and regulations. Yet American protestors camped out on Wall Street in New York instead of Capitol Hill in D.C.

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It is a Moral Failing

Our relatively small society of privileged citizens has spent a lot of time complaining and if I were one of the 6 billion people less advantaged than a US citizen, I’d be pretty pissed. I’d feel a bit like a district citizen in “The Hunger Games”. It is insane to complain on moral grounds while most of the world has access to a fraction of the medical care and vaccinations, a fraction of the education, and a fraction of the opportunity.

My message is not that people should take the above luxuries, be happy, and shut up… I just wish people would change their tone. Only when we are thankful will see the problem clearly. When we are thankful, we will stop condemning the success of others and start writing our representatives in Washington D.C. to criminalize lobbying, SuperPacs, and harmful over regulation. Protestors can camp out on Wall Street every day all year, they might as well combat AIDs by shaming those that have it and fight hunger by shaming the well fed.

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