Monday, November 08, 2010

Do The Poor Work?

"If you tax people who work and you pay people who don't... do I need to say the next sentence to you? If you tax rich people and you pay poor people you're going to get lots and lots of poor people."
-Arthur Laffer, quoted on NPR's Intelligence Squared Debate

So, Mr. Laffer, you are characterizing poor people as those who don't work. This is the most "laffable" of social prejudices. That people who are poor don't work, but people who are rich do.

I think we can consider this simply. Let's take your average CEO and your average poor person. The average CEO might work hard for a few years, take "well deserved" vacations of a few weeks a year and, if they get fired for incompetence, has a multi-million dollar severance pay so they can spend a couple years looking for work. The CEO's spouse doesn't need to work at all.

The average working poor family has two wage earners, one of whom probably has two jobs. If they lose one of those jobs-- perhaps she was asleep during working hours because she has only been getting five hours of sleep a night-- then she immediately has to find another job to replace it or else she loses her apartment and then her children.

Now let's look at the average homeless person. This person has been up half the night due to anxiety-- worry about being found out by the police and worry about what he is going to accomplish the next day. He has been pounding the pavement every day looking for work, and all the employers are saying, "Too old, needs to be retrained, there are better candidates for the job." Perhaps he might turn to begging so he could get a motel for the night, and as he stand there, he is greeted with people yelling at him, "Get a job" or "Get a life, you bum!". He is constantly ashamed, constantly worried about what his life is going to be.

I am not saying that all of the wealthy are like that CEO. However, Mr. Laffer, don't ever make the statement that poor people don't work. They work harder than you and pundits like you could possibly know. You can only claim that the rich "work" because you don't know what real work is.

Real work is waking up each morning driven to do something because otherwise your children will go hungry.

Real work is being humiliated before your boss and not talking back because you can't have your family end up on the street.

Real work is having to walk for miles with your children to the closest free meal, only to find out that someone gave you wrong information and the meal was closed that day.

Real work is having to carry a box full of cans and pasta miles home because the bus driver wouldn't allow such a large box on his bus.

Real work is being told by the police to leave their town because they don't want to see "your type" here anymore.

Real work is getting up at five in the morning so you can search through dumpsters for cans before the garbage truck comes, so you can make thirty bucks if it's a good day.

Real work is beautifully playing your violin on the street, only to be ignored by all but a handful of passers-by.

Let's face it, Mr. Laffer, obtaining wealth is part talent, part drive and part luck. Not everyone has the specific talents involved to make large amounts of money-- should those who don't have such talents lack basic human needs like shelter and health? Not everyone who has the talents to obtain wealth decides to use them, deciding to benefit others instead of themselves. Should they be penalized for choosing a profession that supports society? And obtaining wealth is a large part luck. Because even if you have the talent and the drive to make a lot of money, ofttimes you won't because you weren't in the right place or the right time.

I am not talking about the tax debate. I am talking about prejudicial statements against the poor in order to win the tax debate. Show respect to the poor. If the only way to win the debate is by telling lies about the people who most need the truth, then the debate is not worth winning.

1 comment:

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