I Have Been Broke More Than Once, But I Have Never Been Poor (EP.313)
Broke is a financial condition. Being poor is a mindset. A choice. And the poor mindset is being taught, even encouraged.
That is the subject of today’s 10 minute episode.
Broke simply means that you don’t have any money. Thinking of yourself as poor means that you have accepted not being able to make or hold onto money. Broke is temporary; poor is a lifestyle choice. And that choice is being taught as inevitable, as one’s fate, as being part of victimization, in more and more places, including schools, the media and by an increasing number of politicians. More accurately–and diabolically–the poor way of thinking is being presented as a fait accompli, Calvanistic, with victimhood and the related “I’m poor.” determination being set in stone by uncontrollable circumstances.
People can consciously take vows of poverty; some religious orders require it. When an individual takes the vow of poverty, he or she chooses to renounce personal worldly possessions and instead engages in communal sharing of resources. In certain cases, the vow of poverty rebukes the acceptance of any personal material profit, such as profits from labor. Others believe this fate, poverty, is involuntary, being thrust upon them by unfair people, groups and circumstances beyond their control.
That is not only complete nonsense, it is dangerous and destructive. Let’s hear from the Brookings Institution: “Let politicians, schoolteachers and administrators, community leaders, ministers and parents drill into children the message that in a free society, they enter adulthood with three major responsibilities: 1. At least finish high school, 2. Get a full-time job and 3. wait until age 21 to get married and have children. Our research shows that of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class.” Critics complain that this is hard. Citing the cost of contraception, they say it is not always possible to plan parenthood. And they point out that sometimes people get laid off. Nothing worthwhile in life is easy. This set of rules does not seem especially difficult to follow. But it does require commitment and consistency. And it works.
After the Army, I returned to the University of Colorado to pick up where I had left off. I went to school weekday mornings, and worked in a piecework sweatshop in the afternoons. When I wanted to go somewhere, school, work, the laundromat, grocery store, etc., I walked. And when I had to carry any kind of bulk, I used my old Army duffle bag. A typical Saturday found me walking from my room to the laundromat, where I put things into the washers, and would head to the grocery store. My usual budget was $5, so I needed to be careful. A pound of hamburger, any bread that was on sale, margarine (the kind that was yellow only on the outside), and other items as my needs required and budget allowed. Then back to change my laundry to the dryer, then home with clean laundry and some food. Ah, home. One room with a closet and bathroom. A mattress, a one-burner electric hot plate, an electric hot dog cooker and a few cooking and eating items from the 88 cent store, and I was in business. I cleaned myself in the shower, and my dishes and cookware in the sink. I had to hide the hot plate when the landlord came by each month to collect the rent in person.
And I was comfortable. It was warm and cozy, there was enough space to have friends over (floor seating), and I kept it clean and picked up. I had the huge advantage of never once thinking that anything was unfair, or that I deserved better. My work paid for tuition and the essentials I need to live. I knew that if I kept going that things would improve as I earned the improvements. I never, even once, thought that there were other options, options that others would pay for, or that there was even the tiniest thing wrong or unfair in my life
I want to share a scene from an old black and white movie. I don’t remember the name, plot or the actors, but the scene will never leave me. The setting was the Depression; Mom and three young children were at the kitchen table–Dad was out looking for work. Mom had a small collection of coins in hand; she was fielding requests for spending from each child in turn. As each child made their pitch, Mom would either agree, transferring some coins from her pile to the child’s, agree but reduce the amount to be spent, or simply say no. The oldest child’s request for new shoes was refused. Mom inspected his shoes, telling him, “These can last another week.” When she was done, she still had coins left in her pile, prompting her to say, with obvious relief, “Another week without having to go to the bank.” Mom was motivated, and she taught invaluable lessons to her children every step of the way.
The Biden administration has made it clear that they support “bubble up” cash infusions instead of “trickle down” tax cuts. Tax cuts have worked under Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and Trump, but I will set that argument aside, and concentrate on the bubble up approach. When all you do is give out mailbox money to individuals, there is very little to bubble up. Perhaps there will be a brief overall benefit as the recipients spend the cash, but even that is in doubt. The year 2020 saw the highest rate of savings in 50 years, strongly suggesting that people have money, but no place to spend it in a COVID regulation restricted economy.
The main point about mailbox money is that it neither teaches nor motivates, two vital processes that need to be successfully in place before anything can bubble up–or bubble anywhere. Remember the saying about giving a man a fish (call it a mailbox fish), and you feed him for just the day? Let’s look at that saying, and give it a much needed expansion. The fish-based piece of wisdom points out that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach that man to fish, you will feed him for a lifetime. Sound good? Well, not so fast. In order for someone to want to fish for themselves, buying and maintaining the tackle, sometimes going out in the cold and rain, and occasionally spending most of the day and coming back with nothing, they must be motivated. Without motivation, they will still want the free fish.
Now, let’s add one more level to using fishing as a metaphor for feeding humanity. Teach a man to teach others to fish, and how to motivate himself and others, then you feed a nation.
Giving a man a fish may make the giver feel better, but it does nothing at all lasting for the man himself. Knowing how to fish is the important how. Motivation is the crucial why. Mailbox money is nothing more than the free fish. The all important how and why are missing.
Today’s Key Point: Mindset and motivation are everything. Promoting and supporting self reliance is hard, much needed and produces lasting positive results. Promoting a poor, victim mindset is easy, destructive and borderline sinister.
We’ll close with a fun thought: Have you ever heard of stewed tomato disease? If not ask me about it sometime; I invented that name for a rash I got from #10 cans of stewed tomatoes that were on sale during one of my $5 shopping “sprees” back in the day.
Tell me what you believe. I and many others want to know.
As always, whatever you do, do it in love. Without love, anything we do is empty. 1 Corinthians 16:14
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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.