Friday, March 18, 2011

Of Vime's Boots and Wellfare: Or Why Poor People Have Iphones

If those on welfare are so damn poor, why do they have a TV?  If those on welfare are so damn poor, why do they have a Cellphone?  If those on welfare are so damn poor, why do they have an Ipod? If those on welfare are so damn poor, why do they have a <whatever>.

This is a common question amongst critics of the welfare state (which believe it or not Yanks is NOT a dirty word across the pond)

"..And don't forget about the welfare state!"
  Let me quote a recent complainer who took downright offense to the poors lack of squalar.

the question of exactly how many luxuries we should allow the poor...we shouldn't even ask the question
Yes we should. And this is coming from someone who is currently on the dole (GA-U here in WA, as a result of my recent hospitalization.)
I dealt with the same thing when I was a bench mechanic. Our union/company's big charity cracked down its giving with some stricter criteria. And I had to agree with this change. It was offensive to go at the holidays to give gifts to a "poor" family and walk in to see they have a big screen TV and video game systems, etc. (realize this was when big screens were a big deal.)

So yeah, why do those who are impoverished have toys?  Why do those who are desperate seemingly wasting their money on frivolous things?

To answer this question requires a bit of background and I'd like to start with Vime's Boots

Sam Vimes is a reoccurring character in Terry  Pratchett's novel series, Discworld.  Vimes started out as a small time city guard and has climbed his way through (to his horror and shame) into the upper class.  In one of the novels Vimes is struck by a revelation as he recalls back in his poor days how he had to buy boots.  This lead to the The Sam Vimes "Boots" Theory of Socio-Economic Unfairness'

The reason the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in the city on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

Basically, it is more expensive percentage wise to be poor than rich.  We know this.  Poorer people spend a greater % of their income while the Rich save a greater percentage.  As a side note this is also why the idea that giving tax cuts to the rich will stimulate the economy is profoundly stupid (Simply imagine 10 home owners versus one homeowner who has wealth equal to the other tens each of them gets a clogged sink.  For the wealth (the combined ten versus the one) how many plumbers does each employ?  The ten unwealthy houses generate ten times as much work as the one house of comparable value.  Jobs need to be stimluated at the bottom not the top).   If you're wealthy you can aford things of good quality that last, good shoes, good cars, good house.
Unlike my goddamn Toyota POS that cost me $500 today

The poor spend more money replacing things.  It is tougher being poor.  You're running as fast as you can to stay in place!

If you want to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that!

So what does this have to do with poor folks and their dang spinning rims and cornrows and what not?

Well imagine you're in the lower income community.  You make money, but not that much.  You can't afford your own house, you rent or are in a projects...but you're earning SOME.  You run as fast as you can and maybe you have some left over every month...but not all that much.  Your earning is so "meh" that saving up for something like a car or a house seems like a pipe dream.  You're too poor to ever "afford" to get out of poverty.  Especially because of, due to how some of the systems are set up, the state PENALIZES you for saving.  They'll remove your benefits if you save too much and it's easy to get stuck on that line of falling back into poverty because you tried to pull yourself out and got docked.   So you could save, but that seems like it'd barely help, why  not invest in something nice for yourself?

That I think is why poor people have "Toys".  They're in a sandwich where they can't afford to climb out of poverty, seemingly cannot afford any of the Vimes Boots like college, car, house, stock investments etc...but they can afford some trinkets.  They'll save up for the trinkets because Lords knows, trying to actually save up for anything meaningful is a waste!  Think to yourself, in your income bracket as a presumably middleish class, was the toys they have that big a dent on you?  Such trinkets are their highest end investment...where your's is what?  A house?  Rented apartment?  A Car?  A boat?  University?

So next time you see someone from the inner city with a phone that you think is too fancy for them or a pack of smokes bought with what you think is "your" tax money stop and think.  Is what you're seeing an abuse of the system, or is it a pair of raggedy old Vimes Boots?

EDIT: This is of course discounting the people who had some items before slipping onto hard times, or people who received items or such through charity.  There would still be people who with the stress and hopelessness of actually saving would make the decision to invest in a more immediate gratification they are fairly sure to have rather than a delayed one they probably never will

Note the lack of straps from which one could pull themselves up