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03 August 2012

Belief That the Poor Are Lazy

I'll keep this brief and mostly anecdotal.

In an article in New York Magazine a patron at a Romney fundraiser had this to say:
Obama wants to take my money and give it to do-nothing animals.
And less to that quote and more to the feeling I get from my friends and peers. If you're poor it's probably your fault - you should work harder. People make some allowances but not many. At some level most people believe this to be true. A meritocracy is a comforting and dare I say, logical, thing to believe in. It takes quite a leap of imagination and distrust in humanity to believe otherwise. But it's just factually not true. Your income has little to do with how hard you work. I could cite statistics and show graphs but facts rarely convince people.

The evidence is overwhelming. The largest single indicator of future earnings potential for an individual is their parents wealth. Full stop. Not education, IQ, hours worked, race, gender, etc. It's your genetics. We have less class mobility than old world Europe.

The reality of the world today is that jobs that used to take dozens or hundreds of people can be done by one person. In the short term this hurts people but in the long run it helps everyone. It's what has made everything from clothing to food less expensive. Every time we destroy jobs in this fashion we free up workers for other jobs which raises worker productivity (money generated per person). In the last several decades these gains have more or less all went to the people at the top. About 90% of people have seen their wages/standard of living stagnate since the 1970's. Did people stop working hard? Of course not.

If you think the poor are any lazier than anyone else then answer me this: why aren't the Amish billionaires and why weren't medieval peasants rolling in the dough? What we want to believe and what is reality are different things.

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