Poverty Apologists / Apologetics

So after reading this thread and quite a few others over my time here (voter ID threads, for example) it seems to me that there’s a pretty solid cadre of people who seem to have the attitude that the problems associated with poverty pretty much absolve poor people of any actual responsibility, and that any policy that might somehow be detrimental to the poor by virtue of requiring responsible behavior, or requiring poor people to do ANYTHING but merely exist is essentially poor-hating and should be stopped.

Meanwhile, I can’t count the number of times people have jumped to the defense of the poor when people gripe about poor people buying beer, or new televisions, or any sort of minor luxury, as they believe that the poor should be allowed these few pleasures in an otherwise unpleasant existence.

I’m not sure how to reconcile the notion that actually requiring poor people to spend a nominal amount of time to return library books and pay fines, or to get a voter ID card is mustache-twirling evil, while it’s perfectly ok for the same group to have cell phones, cable TV, beer, weed, etc…

It seems to me that this cadre of people seem to not want to actually hold the poor responsible, as if poverty somehow makes irresponsible and short-sighted behavior not only understandable, but ok, and that others should pick up the slack for that behavior.

Am I misunderstanding the thinking here? Is the known concept that overdue library books incur fines somehow not applicable on the front end of the transaction to the poor? Are we not expecting them to know that up front, and not buy so much beer/weed/whatever that they can’t afford to pay for transport to the library and for the fines? Are we not expecting them to learn the lesson eventually?

I’m having a hard time being sympathetic to the consequences of irresponsible choices and actions, as opposed to just a bad situation.

(1) It’s a corrective, which sometimes goes so far as to be an overcorrection, to the idea that poor people are poor through their own damn fault and if they’d just take some responsibility for themselves, they wouldn’t be poor.

(2) It’s a reminder that some of the things that we take for granted as being relatively easy are sometimes significantly more difficult for poor people, in ways that aren’t immediately obvious to the rest of us, because they lack the resources that make them relatively easy to do.

(3) Many poor people aren’t just poor: they also have physical and/or mental disabilities that, if they aren’t excuses, are at least mitigating factors.

I think the OP may be missing the crux of the voter ID debate.

-Voting is a constitutional right, do you care about protecting constitutional rights?
-Requiring an ID adds a burden on a segment of the population who would otherwise vote.
-It has never been shown anywhere that people are willing to sit in line to commit a felony for a possible $10,000 fine and 3 years in jail to fraudulently vote once.

And examples you have oodles, I’m sure, but I’d still like to see some.


It comes down to an empathy thing. Some people have the capacity to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and some don’t. Some people can only see things through the lens of their own experience. I think that pretty much explains it.

To be fair, he is trying. He just seems to think the only motive for people who are not poor to help those who are would be because they believe laziness should be rewarded.

I would like to hear bump’s thoughts on the main contributing factors of why the majority of Americans are poor. That would start this thread off correctly, because then we can address his real misconceptions.

I don’t see what that has to do with approving of weekend Las Vegas splurges and not returning library books.

Compassion should be about suffering alone. Not worthiness.

Come down to it, how do you know the welfare recipient you see buying beer isn’t running an errand for a friend? How do you know they’re a welfare recipient anyway? Should this person have to justify their purchases to all and sundry because they are on assistance? How is this gonna work, exactly? Or is it just an excuse to judge others as lesser? Because that’s how it looks, no matter how you fashion it, I’m afraid.

You’re combining a lot of different situations that may not be comparable , but let’s put that aside for a minute to focus on one constant in these issues . I personally am not (generally) in the business of combining policy making with ethical judgment or the offering of absolution. Yes, they tend to overlap, but I am more concerned with having policies that have beneficial results rather than taking a stand against what may be sub-optimal behavior from some people, or “teaching” people “a lesson”.

Why? Two reasons in my experience:

  1. Rich people tend to make almost as many mistakes as poor people, and the aggregate effects of their laziness, criminality, and bad behavior impact society just as much. We just don’t object to them as much, or hold those people accountable.

  2. Governments that tend to legislate morality and ethics first and foremost tends to trample on the rights and freedoms of minorities and those without power, and tend to govern a terribly inefficient and stifling manner.

Most of the problem I have with people griping about things like this is that they feel they should have some choice over how someone else spends their money, or the money the government gave to them (still their money at that point). I just simply don’t agree. Not only because of the fact that people in every income bracket are “given” money by the government, but also because once you give something to someone, you cannot and (generally) should not attempt to control how they spend it after the fact. Is it prudent to spend money on luxury goods when you are poor? No, but if how someone else spends their money is keeping you up at night, I think you are focusing on the wrong things in life.

But the two things aren’t necessarily connected. What tends to happen when someone is accused of being “mustache-twirling evil” is that they lobby for a policy with the full expectation that the results will benefit them, while using a logical sounding justification as a hollow pretense. You mentioned voter ID laws. Almost everyone pushing for these knows what the effect will be, and that voter fraud of the kind that can be corrected for with an ID is astonishingly rare. They are doing it to create a barrier to voting for the people they don’t want voting. It’s the duplicity that makes it “evil”.

I think it’s more of holding people accountable AT WHAT COST? For example, this is how Utah tackled homelessness. They recognized the following:

Do those people “deserve” apartments when other people are struggling to afford housing? Probably not. But that is not the best public policy given the constraints we’ve set up. That’s the issue. If you want to frame every issue in terms of accountability, you are not going to get good results because people can create more destruction and violence than they can ever be held accountable for on an individual level via policy. That’s just reality. The death penalty can never make victims whole, or exact proportional justice, when a guy kills 20 people. Fines and monetary judgments rarely make things right when the guilty party has no money or assets. Even draconian policies still ensnare a decent number of people with little upside.

I think you are just framing the issue differently than other people. For example, if someone asked you whether we should invade Syria, you might see it as an issue revolving around whether Assad should be held accountable for his actions. It’s fine to use that as part of the calculus, but you need to recognize that many others have a different value system, one that includes the costs. That doesn’t imply they don’t value accountability, or that they think Assad is a good guy; they just don’t think it’s good policy.

I think some of us realize doing the same thing expecting different results is kinda foolish. In the case of the library, what is the point of the library if a significant percentage of the people who would get the most benefit from it cannot use it? Put aside the reasons they are not allowed to use it, since it’s kinda moot at this point. The fines are almost assuredly not a large incentive for the library, and seem to pose a significant disincentive to many who use the library. At this point, the best path forward does not involve doing nothing and kicking poor people out of the library to teach them a lesson.

I think it comes down to believing whether you have an inherently maternal and fatalistic view of the poor or not. Oddly enough, the political sides aren’t completely clear-cut. My interpretation of most Leftist policies on these types of issues are that being poor is just an immutable force of current circumstances and they can’t help it so you might as well just develop policies that mitigate the damage even if it takes resources away from others. Meanwhile many on the Right see the issue as being a simple matter of failure of will.

I can see some of the points of both sides but usually not much of those from the Left. I truly believe that INDIVIDUALS caught up in a cycle of poverty can break out of it just by learning the same types of behaviors that Middle Class people value and those should be encouraged, not ignored or covered up because some people think that they are too hopeless to do it. That includes being treated the same way as everyone else and being held to the same standards with no excuses.

In fact, I know that is true because I am friends with a number of people that came out of some of the worst circumstances imaginable and still made it just fine because others knew they had the ability but they were forced to play by the rules. One is a black woman that is a highly decorated Air Force Bird Colonel that came out of the worst and most criminal family that I have ever known. Against long odds, she became the most successful person in her high school graduating class and was the featured speaker for their 20th reunion. I am told her speech was about the opposite of coddling people that think they have problems and she rocked the room.

The arguments about compassion for groups fall completely flat on my ears. I am very compassionate with individuals that warrant it (and there are many of those) but I don’t think in terms of abstract groups which is why I wouldn’t make a very good Liberal or Progressive. A fuckup is just that in my opinion no matter how much or how little money you have and I have no compassion or sympathy for them. Simply being poor is not a virtue nor a cause for special concern from me if it is largely self-induced.

You might want to read about “decision fatigue:”

"In August, Science published a landmark study concluding that poverty, itself, hurts our ability to make decisions about school, finances, and life, imposing a mental burden similar to losing 13 IQ points. …

As Andrew Golis points out, this might suggest something even deeper than the idea that poverty’s stress interferes with our ability to make good decisions. The inescapability of poverty weighs so heavily on the author that s/he abandons long-term planning entirely, because the short term needs are so great and the long-term gains so implausible. "

“You don’t have bad luck. The reason that bad things happen to you,son, is because you’re a dumbass.” - That 70s Show


Yes, because they’re asking all and sundry to pay for it, justified by their need. I don’t see any reason why they are out of line to not want their money to go towards prolonging this dumbass’s addiction to alcohol.

How do you know they’re addicted to alcohol?

Of course if one is poor and depending on the generosity of others that generosity can be conditional. The problem is poverty apologists try to stifle and shut down debate by demonizing those who want conditions on their own generosity. It’s an attempt at using poverty as a means to empower a subset of the political class and hinder proper debate. Why do you think people are so quick to shriek “that’s racist!” when welfare reform is attempted?

Because that’s the reason the “reforms” are offered in the first place.

One of the things you appear to be missing is that, in the thread you link, it’s children suffering the effects of the policy. For example, an 8 year old girl lost/didn’t return 4 books and racked up $100 in fines. She’s banned from using the library until that fine is paid.

The second thing is that having money goes a long way to absolving one of acting responsibly. To continue the library example, if I lose a library book and they want to charge me $20 or $50 or $100 I just pay it. I make enough where that amount doesn’t make a difference. If our libraries have a sacred duty to teach responsibility then why not make the fine based on income?

I bet if you failed to return a book and were hit with a fine that represented say 100% of your disposable income for a month you’d act a lot like these poor people. Namely, not pay the fine and stop using the library.

Of course it’s racist and hateful to expect people to live a productive or at the very least a non-destructive life in order to receive a handout.

Well, you have set your criteria in a way that will forseeably exclude the very people who stand in most need of a handout, and it’s hard to think you haven’t done that deliberately.

So, hateful, yes. That’s a no-brainer. Racist? That’s speculative; I don’t know that your hatred for them is based on their race.

[This is the generic “you”, you understand. Not you, octopus, but you, the person who adopts such a criterion in their approach to the relief of poverty.]

Each poor person has their own story to tell as to why they are poor. In a lot of cases, yes, poor choices are at the root. But in a lot of cases, the fall to the floor is more complex than that.

A lot of poor people get to a point where they can become unemployable. Poor education and training. A prison record. Mental health issues. Periodic depression. Poor physical health. I think it’s fair to say that they shouldn’t expect the same quality of life as someone who makes ‘good’ decisions. But should they live in misery? And can we as a society do more to encourage better decision making?