Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The "Plight" of the Poor

This is anecdotal to be sure, but this story written by a Montana woman who lost a good job through no fault of her own, and is now living on $6.50 an hour, is worth a read. (Thanks to my wife for forwarding me the story.)

Notably, she states emphatically that she's not a victim. She doesn't scream about the unfairness of life, nor does she blame a politician. She doesn't decry the lack of government regulation that might have prevented her layoff, nor does she ask anyone to force her current employer to pay her more.

In fact, she says she's not even really "poor." She owns her own home and has made the decision not to touch her retirement fund. She's not in danger of starvation, and enjoys heat and potable running water and sanitation. And without including a single demand that the government come save her, she outlines the steps she has taken and is taking to climb out of the hole she finds herself in.

To many, this story is a blasphemy to the Religion of Victimhood. The idea that this woman has had and still has choices, that her situation is not immutable, that she is bettering her situation without the government doing it for her, and that she rejects the notion of poverty all demolish the argument for more Robin Hood-esque wealth redistribution. In order to justify further intervention in our lives and further encroachment upon our liberties, they have to believe that such freedom-crushing intervention is absolutely necessary. Stories like this one show that this worldview - usually held by wealthy white liberals who feel compelled to save everyone whether they want to be saved or not - simply isn't true.

This isn't to say that we shouldn't have any safety net at all. But discussion of poverty in this country is usually profoundly dishonest. Many, many of the poor in this country would have
been considered middle class only 20 or 30 years ago. And the author is not alone - many "poor" people own their own homes, have cars, have savings, etc. I don't want people starving and dying in gutters, but it's worth remembering that personal liberty is at least as important of a virtue than is living at some ever-increasing "minimum" standard of quality of life. And if you aren't free to fail, you simply aren't free.

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