Archive for the ‘decline of the middle class’ Category

“Foolish Spending Habits” of the Poor – Now Explained by Economists

June 24, 2015

steak

In America, middle-class people get angry when they see the poor buying steak and lobster with their food stamps, especially when they themselves can’t afford these items.

In India, the middle and upper classes get angry when they see the poor without enough food to eat, wasting money on lavish religious festivals and funerals (up to 40% of their household’s yearly income).  The King of Swaziland banned lavish funerals in 2002 for this same reason.

In Morocco, the middle and upper classes wonder how the village poor can have a satellite dish, a television, a DVD player, and a cell phone, and yet, are subsisting merely on bread and sugary tea!

In all countries, many of the poor seem to be making very poor food choices, spending their very limited food money splurging on junk-food items, rather than on healthy foods which would provide adequate nutrition for their families.  For example, in Britain, George Orwell describes poor British workers as subsisting  on an appalling diet of white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potato.  They prefer this to living on a more healthy diet of brown bread and raw carrots.

So why are the poor, the world over, making these seemingly bad decisions?

The answer, according to economists who have studied this question (Banerjee & Dufflo, Poor Economics, 2011),  is that  things that taste good, or things that make life less boring are a priority for the poor.

“The less money you have, the less you are inclined to spend it on wholesome food…When you are unemployed, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food.  You want to eat something a little tasty.” Examples of tasty food might be cake, fried foods, chocolate,  a bag of chips, or even just a cup of sugary tea.

In America, a poor man in in his early 20’s, with numerous debts to other people, spent his paycheck on personal pleasures.  He purchased new tattoos, new clothes,  a weekend vacation, and some upgraded accessories for his car, instead of making payments to his creditors.

In rural villages, life can be quite boring for the poor.  “There is no movie theater, no concert hall, no place to sit and watch interesting strangers go by.  And not a lot of work, either.”  In modern Morocco, Banerjee & Dufflo found that many men lived in small houses without water or sanitation, and struggled to find work.  “But they all had a television, a satellite dish, a DVD player, and a cell phone,”  even though their families had very little food to eat.  When asked why, one of them responded, “Oh, but television is more important than food!”

So how do the poor survive depressions?  George Orwell explained it perfectly.  “Instead of raging against their destiny, they have made things tolerable by reducing their standards.  But they don’t necessarily reduce their standards by cutting out luxuries, and concentrating on necessities; more often, it is the other way around…Hence, in a decade of unparalleled depression, the consumption of all cheap luxuries has increased.”

According to economists Banerjee & Duflo, “The poor are skeptical about their supposed opportunities, and the possibility of any radical change in their lives…Therefore, they focus on the here and now, on living their lives as pleasantly as possible, and on celebrating when the occasion demands it.”

–Lynne Diligent

 

“No One Told Them to Have Children!” Is Becoming a Mainstream Attitude Today

March 7, 2015

Poor people having children

An economic trend and a social trend have combined today such that parents are now being judged today by a completely new set of criteria.

With the decline of the middle class, more people than ever before are being judged by the criteria, “No one told them to have children!”  In other words, the new criteria means that instead of full adulthood being conferred only upon those who have become parents and householders, that adults are now judged as being irresponsible for becoming parents, unless they can provide a middle-class standard or above for raising their children.

How did this change come about, and in only two generations?

The first element was a social change, with the sexual revolution, with availability and acceptability of contraception and abortion, and more young married adults choosing a child-free lifestyle.  A generation ago, those choosing to be child-free were called selfish.  Now, they are called responsible, especially if their incomes are not up to an upper-middle-class level.

In today’s America, getting married and having children is no longer the normal progression of adult life.  Now, it’s about finding a job or career which pays enough to afford a middle-class lifestyle.  Anyone who has children, by choice or mistakenly, without having achieved that, is now judged harshly as being a burden on society.

Thus, the middle classes are very careful now to have only one or two children. A few upper-middle-class  families have several children, and can well afford them, but more are having only two children.  Lower-middle-class  parents, as well as any parents who are struggling financially, are now viewed as irresponsible, and that their problems are of their own making.  “No one told them to have children!” is now a common judgement by those without children.

The poor (even the married poor) are judged most harshly for having children, whereas in the past the married poor would have been expected to have children.  The poor often have more children, but not always for the reasons (irresponsibility) that the childless or better-off imagine.  (Those reasons are not the subject of this post.)

In the past, only Catholics were judged for having too many children and being poor because of it.  Now, all poor families are judged for having any children at all.

To other cultures, the new situation in America appears incredible.  Other societies view children as the foundation of their growth and family support of the different generations throughout life as a necessity.  Other societies place less burden on young parents, whether they provide free daycare for working mothers (European societies) or inter-generational child care for children, or even the support of having maids at home,  to enable parents to work.

Two generations ago, the norm was that women were at home caring for children, while men worked.  But as women have gone to work, American society has not provided any workable childcare solution compared to other societies.  The result is that now, it has become socially acceptable and even common to judge that whole classes of people should no longer be having children at all.

–Lynne Diligent


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