"Poor people are as smart as rich people."

Some goon on NPR last night said the following (and this is as close to a direct quote as I can remember, I’m not paraphrasing)

Except do anything or make anything for which other people are willing to give them money for, apparently.

My take: this guy may be a complete loon. To provide you some context, he was teaching classes in inner cities to poor people, and the classes focused on the humanities: literature, art, history, sociology, and the like. Now, if what he means is that poor people are as able to appreciate art or good literature as are rich people but they don’t have the time because they’re trying to make ends meet and whatnot, then I think he does have a point, and is niether a goon nor a loon.

However, if he wants us to take his statements at face value, then he’s completely off his rocker. I think that differences in intelligence go a long way (over half the way, i’d say) to account for differences in net worth and lifetime income (see The Bell Curve on this point)*, and the fact that this guy would choose to deny the existence of this relationship to me is totally ludicrous.

Whatta y’all think? I’m wondering how the majority of folks feel about this and what you think the implications of believing one way or the other are.

*The parts of this book about race and intelligence caused a bit of a firestorm that obscured the excellent scholarship in other areas. I may google up an online cite discussing this (and feel free to GIY), but it’s really a matter of opinion anyway (because it relates to how intelligence is defined, etc.).

I think it is true that, as you wrote, “poor people are as smart as rich people.” At the start, that is. However, unfortunately, intelligence has to be trained and encouraged and educated, and all that requires money the poor do not have.

I wouldn’t argue that net worth and lifetime income correlate to intelligence. They relate more to level of education, it seems to me. Which can cost a lot of money.

I’m not sure I like blanket statements. But let’s take an individual person.

Just because one is poor does not mean one is stupid. They may not be interested in having a big time successful career. They may be more focused on family, the arts, whatever. Different priorities.

In other words, just because somebody is poor, does not follow that that person is stupid. Or that because someone is rich, they are smart.

Not everyone is striving to be rich. It helps, but it ain’t the end of the world.

I don’t know Magickly Delicious. You probably do have a point at the middle and maybe even high end of the intelligence sprectum but probably not at the low end. What I mean is that most people with average or above average native intelligence could be rich with the right drive towards that goal and a little luck. However, if you are simply born dumb as dirt then then the only chance you have to become rich is to inherit it (unlikely) or win it in the lottery (apparently many do judging by the number and type of people I see in line at the 7-11). :slight_smile:

I would generally agree with the OP with the qualification that many not all intelligent people strive to be rich. Some simply want to be the best high school teacher that they can be. Also, intelligence in one area certainly does not equate to the ability to make and manage money. My own family certaily has more academic intelligence than my wife’s family but we were practically starving while I was growing up while my FIL is a self-made deca-millionare with just a high school education.

Magickly Delicious

The Bell Curve discusses this, and I only read it when it came out, which has been a while, so please bear with me. The Bell Curve stated essentially that folks that are born in one of the top centiles of intelligence but one of the bottom centiles of wealth on average overcome the poverty and are able to get an education and rise in their level of wealth.

Also, remember we are talking about averages here on a societal level, so just because I disagree with the goon on NPR doesn’t mean that I think that any given person is stupid just because they’re poor . I just think that when predicting whether a given person is rich or poor, if you know their intelligence, then you’ll be right more often than you’re wrong if you guess that a less intelligent person is poorer than a more intelligent person.

On preview I see that Shagnasty has expressed fairly closely the same thing I was planning to say.

Just let me add then, that my neither my husband nor myself finished high school. We have done very well nonetheless. Hard work and perserverance played as much a part as our native intelligence. But I think you could say that for many rich people (not that we’re rich, just comfy) regardless of their level of education.

I would disagree on your point about luck, though, Shagnasty. In our case, it was the old saw “the harder ya work, the luckier ya get”.

This is a tricky question because everyone puts their own subjective spin on rich/poor intelligent/dumb.

Even the poor in industrialized nations are rich compared to the poor in some third world countries.

I won’t delve too deeply into what passes for intelligent these days… it would just depress me.

That said… I don’t consider myself rich or stupid. I went to college and ran out of cash to finish. Then I found a job I really loved, cake decorating, and I made a career out of it until carpal tunnel killed it. Then I was blessed with a beautiful daughter! I will stay home with her until she starts school and then I will decide what to try next for work. I feel following this path is more important than dying with money in the bank.

Rich is not possible or a priority for everyone and the insanely rich like it that way.

Not all poor people are stupid and certainly not all rich people are intelligent. Just look at hollywood and the white house!!

Yeah, the willfully underemployed (artists, teachers, talented and passionate cake decorators, etc.) are most certainly an exception to all this, and I swear I meant to discuss those in the OP and my previous post, and forgot both times.

Additionally, it’s interesting you bring up the president, because being the president is almost always an example of willful underemployment. Just about anyone that has the ability to get elected president could make a whole lot more than $200,000/year in the private sector (and most presidents do indeed come to the job with cash a-plenty).

So Anna Nicole Smith really is smarter than most of the rest of us?

No, but she’s laffin’ all the way to the bank !!

Take my family (please !!! ) JUST kidding. :stuck_out_tongue:

My dad is a classic structural engineering nerd-guy. He had 5 kids and raised us on a professor’s salary. He’s a smart guy, but not a rich guy.

My oldest sister made a 30 on her ACT. She has a degree in Behavioral Psychology from U of Chicago ~ 4 year, 4.0. She prefers to teach ballroom dance in a loft in NYC. She’s a smart gal, but she’s not rich.

My brother is another professor (English this time). He spent a lot of his life being happily self-employed as a carpenter. You get the picture, he’s a smart guy but he’s not rich.

OK ! Two more sisters, one has a math degree from Tulane; she’s an office manager. Baby sister has a Mensa IQ but lives in a trailer and works the salad bar at the Student Union.

I’m a single mom working out of my house.

Sometimes I think the truly smart people are the ones who don’t surround themselves with $$ rewards.

Ya’ll, please don’t think I’m slamming anyone with this; the funny thing is, I never thought about it until I read this thread!! :wink:

My own $.02 (why isn’t there a cents symbol on keyboards? off to GQ next)
I test in the top percentile for inteligence. Due to emotional illness, I have trouble sticking to a job for any length of time. I never finished High school(got my GED), and am very broke, but not starving/living in a box poor. There seems to me to be a lot of other factors than intelligence involved in wealth.
I am going to college, to be a programmer. Even if this leads to a great job, I don’t think I will ever be rich. I just don’t care that much about money. Once I reach a comfortabvle level of money, I don’t have the desire to get much more. I think education has more to do with earning capacity than native intelligence, and the desire to be rich has even more to do with it.

I think the term “smart” is relative, but it still applies. I am a pretty durn smart kid. I’ve got a very quick wit, (it needs coaxing sometimes) am good at match, a moderate computer buff, and I generally have good charisma (not on the SDMB). However, when it comes to jumping through hoops and getting a job, I’m as dumb as a rock. I just now realized that I can get a job REALLY easily by just stopping by the local Subway restaurant and getting an application. When it comes to simple, mundane things, I’m a lost cause.

I believe there was a study done recently that I saw on the news that said, in effect, “Poor people choose to be poor.” It conceeded that it wasn’t all entirely their choice, but many of their decisions in life lead to their small rumination (ah, there’s that wit that I was talking about) for the jobs they have, or lack there of.

We still agree. What I meant about “luck” was more about the absence of misfortune. Even a hard-working, relatively intelligent person can have circumstances that preclude building up material wealth even if that is one of their goals. These can include poor health, a devastating lawsuit on their business, unplanned familial responsibilities, or any other disaster. A person may or may not be able to overcome that but it will almost always be a big setback. I was just thinking about the nightclub fire that killed almost 100 people in Rhode Island. Of the two brothers that owned it, both are “successful” and one is a fairly well known Boston area newscaster. All it took was one flame to take it all away, probably forever.

Another point that I would like to make is that building wealth is a skill all its own. I come from a family of educators with Ph.D’s. They certainly had the intelligence to be wealthy if that was a priority in their little world but it never was. My mother, who is now an internationally known speaker in education, has learned to hire people to handle her most basic financial management even though it has taken her 35 years to figure that out. She lived and worked around people that either believed or told her that money simply was not important. I got a full tuition scholarship to Tulane. When I asked her for the $3000 check for the first semester room and board, she did not have it. It never even occured to her that she might need money for her future or her children’s future even when it came to education.

My wife’s family, on the other hand, all started as working class Italians. Hard work and business smarts were drilled into them at a very young age and education was just seen as a means to an end rather than a goal in itself. My FIL has built up his importing business over 40 years and each of his kids will inherit several million dollars. That was his dream. Her family is smart in a completely different way than my family.

IMO, the real problem comes when you don’t live in a sub-culture that focuses on either of these skills. If you don’t care about money or some type of education and service then most of the remaining possibilities lead to dead-end jobs, poverty, or crime. That is the situation that many of the lower class poor find themselves in.

Well sure, if you define being rich as being smart. This seems to be an American trait. I think Kurt Vonnegut discusses this well (slightly exaggerating) in Slaughterhouse Five in the same place where he discusses how America lacks legends about virtuous poor people.

I think many poor people ARE smarter than many rich people. I think the speaker is sending a positive message to people in inner cities. I think his message is often true. I think net worth and lifetime income have plenty to do with the value placed on education, work ethic, luck and social position. I have many wealthy and successful friends whose parents emigrated to Canada with nothing, like mine.


You do realise that it costs more to be a poor person than to be a rich person, right?

It’s all about the boots theory of socioeconomic unfairness. Those at the top don’t have to work nearly as hard (or be nearly as good) to stay there as those at the bottom have to work to get there. And rich people have to be inept to get to the bottom of the ladder.

Then, of course, you have the infamous “debt trap.” Bizarrely, this will stand more chance of affecting you badly the poorer you are. Again, debts and high interest rates (low interest rates on loans are a luxury for rich people) can really drive up the average cost of living, your cashflow, your weekly expenditure. I used to work on and off with a charity called CAP, and their definition of “poverty” was simply “having more going out than coming in every month.” This can happen to anyone, but those at the bottom of the ladder are especially susceptible to it.

Then, there’s the issue of education. Poor people don’t get educated as well as rich people. The schools aren’t as good. They don’t get funding for textbooks. Private schools get to filter disruptive or difficult children out - public schools do not. And, a key, key, key issue is this: children from poor backgrounds do not learn how to deal with money from their parents, because their parents are poor. They don’t know who to turn to to start a business. They don’t know about tax, or investments, or accountancy. If they learn these things, they pick them up as they go along. Who do they turn to? Dad doesn’t have an accountant, which one should I choose? What’s a good rate? He’s charging me $60 an hour, is that right? Will I look stupid if I ask? What do these bank charges mean?

Oh, and don’t forget nutrition! Eating healthily affects your ability to retain information, which affects how well you do in school, which affects your self confidence, etc etc. And poor people tend not to eat as well as those who can afford better quality stuff.

Starting out at the bottom puts you at a disadvantage straight away. Of course, people are going to end up “less intelligent,” if you’re using the narrow definitions of “can’t convince people to give them money etc etc.” Their parents couldn’t buy them private tuition. They couldn’t afford to send them to college. They didn’t get the grades to get to college because their home life was disrupted. It doesn’t mean that if you took them out of their situation and placed the same opportunities in front of them that Joe Crabapple whose dad pulls in $500K per annum, net, has, that they would do any worse. It doesn’t mean they would do better, either. It means, in fact, that there are so many other factors to weigh in as to why people don’t move upwards through the system, that to pin it to “intelligence” or any other one is, well, a touch simplistic.

I think what bothers me most is that in the OP Taxguy makes it seem like if someone doesn’t make a certain amount of money in his lifetime he’s a moron and nothing else he did could change that. I guess they don’t get much dumber than Mother Theresa and that Anna Nicole should be lecturing at Harvard.

Oh well… just thankful I’m not in his RL social universe… I wouldn’t fit in…

“To provide you some context, he was teaching classes in inner cities to poor people, and the classes focused on the humanities: literature, art, history, sociology, and the like.”

IMHO… and Lord, am I going to get piled on for saying this… his students would likely be better off* with some classes in personal finance than art appreciation.

*No pun intended.

Correlation is not the same as causation.

Many factors, some previously cited, (poor parenting, poor schools, drug/violence culture, lack of opportunities, racism, poor nutrition, lack of positive role models, etc.) are highly correlated to low scores on intelligence tests, so to reduce a complex social phenomenon to a single highly multicorrelated variable is more than a bit academically dishonest if one should know better.

It’s not like there’s a simple dichotomy of rich and poor. There’s a whole big middle ground, and most are living there. NinetyWt’s relatives aren’t rich, but they certainly don’t sound poor from her descriptions.

But the OP contrasts the endpoints. I’ve been financially poor, and I suspect there are very few of us who haven’t. I’d hate to be living through some of the scenarios of my late teens and 20s again. And now I do much better, but I’m certainly not wealthy.

Some choose not to pursue wealth, but unless you’re limited by intelligence, psychological barriers or extreme circumstances, you can certainly avoid grinding poverty in North America, Europe, South America and lots of the rest of the world.

Some are wealthy due to efforts not their own, but most of the wealthy have a certain “get it together” snap that a lot of us middies possess as well. We’re just not as driven to point our efforts towards material acquisitions. And a lot of the underclass don’t have that snap, and never will.

A couple of points occur, related to perceptions of “class.”

At the NYC 'fest several weeks ago, I conversed with Houseman (Biggirls’s husband), and we got onto the “underclass” headset. I offered up the observation that, if one was born into a social setting, say, in East L.A. or Bed-Stuy or Gulfton, and being coerced into the gangsta lifestyle was a problem, why not just move to Phoenix (severing all the negative ties), get a job moving furniture (a little more sweat, a little more pay), get through two years of junior college, transfer, etc., and move up? Houseman agreed that was a viable alternative (and he’d done something similar himself), but also made a very convincing case that, “They can’t.”

“They” have a mindset, and this I’d class as a psychological barrier rather than one set by intelligence, that requires the support of the homies, who constantly reinforce their perception that they’re on the bottom of the pile, and can thus live a little more criminally. But a great big dose of intelligence does occasionally draw one around the bend.

Alternatively, I grew up in a house dominated by parents who were academics (my father was a Dean and professor at Rice University, and a self propelled son of a Canadian lumberjack; my mother was a lecturer in archeology (ABD) at UH). There was no money to speak of.

My dad was of the “Well, we’ve got to feed 'em until their 18th birthday, and then they’re responsible for themselves” mind, so I went on my own then. Actually, a little bit before. BTW, he was a pinko liberal.

The point is that, while my parents cut me loose fairly early on, and I certainly stayed in the sub-five-figures for many years, I didn’t feel “lower-class.” I felt just fine, although a bit cash tight.