Previous posts in this discussion:
Post"Poor" is Relative (Timothy Brown, USA, 06/12/18 6:31 am)
In response to Richard Hancock, I'm curious. Define "poor." Does that mean unable to feed, house, clothe and clean oneself, à la village life in central Africa? Or does it mean unable to have steak once or twice a week, purchase, own, furnish and maintain a house in which each can have a separate bedroom, a suit or appropriate dress for a social event, take a hot bath or long shower using lots of soap at least once a day?
For what it's worth. I've spent days in northeast Lao and indigenous peasant villages on Mindoro, in indigenous settlements in Mexico and in small farming communities in Martinique, France and Costa Rica. And what is rich and what is poor in a Lao rice farming village, a mountain peasant settlement on Mindoro in the Philippines or the meseta central in Costa Rica? And in every one of those places whether or not one was seen as well off or poor was relative to others within the same society, not comparable to everyone else in the world.
JE comments: Is the traditional, self-sufficient peasant "poor"? When societies and economies break down in the more developed regions, the peasants are the only ones who can take care of themselves. Tim Brown also points out another truth: you don't feel poor when everyone is in the same boat. (Friends and family who grew up under socialism always say this.)
Yes, "Poor" is Relative
(John Heelan, UK
06/12/18 4:57 PM)
Tim Brown (12 June) is correct--"poor" is a relative adjective of feeling. resulting from comparisons one makes with one's neighbours or those substantially less advantaged.
One interesting viewpoint is the following:
There are three types of parents. Rich Parents, Poverty Parents and Middle-Class Parents. Rich Parents teach their kids the Rich Habits and their children grow up to become happy, successful and wealthy. Those who are raised in Rich Parenting households represent about 5% of the population in America. This 5% do not struggle financially, have nice homes, vacation at the nicest places and are generally well educated. Having learned the Rich Habits from their parents, they pass along what they've learned to their children and their children grow up to become happy, successful and wealthy. This cycle of wealth perpetuates itself from one generation to the next and it is the reason the rich get richer.
Poor Parents teach their children Poverty Habits and their children grow up to become unhappy, unsuccessful and poor. Those who are raised in Poverty Parenting households represent about 30% of the population in America. This 30% struggle financially, rent small homes, have infrequent, inexpensive vacations and are generally not well educated. Poor Parents pass along Poverty Habits to their children and their children grow up to be unhappy, unsuccessful and poor. This cycle of poverty perpetuates itself from one generation to the next and it is the reason the poor get poorer.
The third type of parents, Middle-Class Parents, teach their children some Rich Habits and some Poverty Habits. Those who are raised in a Middle-Class Parenting household represent about 65% of the population in America. Here is the middle-class breakdown:
20% are upper middle-class
35% are lower middle-class
10% are middle middle-class
Those in the upper middle-class have slightly more Rich Habits than Poverty Habits and so on.
One of the times we felt poorest was when we were trying to raise four children on a student grant. I recall my personal disposable income at the time was about £2/week. Yet the irony is that we as a family now look back at those times as one of our happiest periods as a family. We did not have to compete on owning worldly goods, we owned our house thanks to the inflation of property prices in the 1970s and were able to survive by my taking on short-term professional jobs, by strict budgeting and bulk buying of necessaries to last the winters. However I am not sure that our children have ever forgiven us for their suffering home-administered haircuts as teenagers. That period of relative poverty gave us great confidence as a family: we knew that we could always survive whatever Life threw at us.
JE comments: I read through Tom Corley's bullet points on "rich" vs. "poor" behavior. Some make little intuitive sense, such as the idea that the rich eat and drink less and exercise more. The rich have addictions just like the poor. Corley's biggest assumption is perhaps the most problematic: are the rich necessarily happier? The poor Heelans did just fine, thank you.
I Grew Up Poor
(Istvan Simon, USA
06/19/18 4:59 AM)
Though there is undoubtedly some truth in the claims of generational preservation of wealth (see John Heelan, 12 June), one should not put too much into these poorly formulated theories.
Take my father as a counter-example. Dad's family was definitely much closer to poor than even lower middle class. My grandfather died when my dad was 10 years old. Their situation, which was already far from comfortable, became nearly desperate. My father at the age of 10 was the only man of the home, with 4 sisters, all older than my father. To help the family survive, my father carried milk jugs on his back at the market at the age of 10.
Then came the Nazis and the horrors that came with it. My father was deported to Oranienburg, where he was starved and used as slave labor in the Henkel aircraft factory. He barely survived, having lost more than half of his normal body weight. Indeed had he perished, I would not be telling this story. Yet having come from such modest background, he got a mechanical engineering degree in night school, and worked at the Ministry of Heavy Industry under communism. When we left Hungary there is not much that we could take with us. My father spoke not a single word of Portuguese. Yet he brought up his three sons and wife in relative luxury compared to the economic conditions that existed in Hungary. All three of us got engineering degrees at the best engineering school in Brazil.
My life has been incomparably easier than my poor father's. Yet I too can be considered a counter-example to these theories. Indeed my father was employed as an engineer at the Ministry of Heavy Industry in Budapest, but nonetheless we were far from comfortable. The first time I saw an orange in my life was in Vienna, after we left Hungary. I have never gone hungry to bed in my entire life, yet I had usually no more than 2 pairs of pants. For the first 10 years of my life we lived in rather modest conditions.
I walked to school from where we lived, a good half an hour walk. So did my father walk to his place of work. We could not dream of having a car, or even taking the bus. We rarely could afford butter. Usually I put lard on bread to eat lunch. Our economic conditions were not altogether that different from the children one would see in Vittorio de Sica's movies with Sophia Loren in Italy about poor folks in Italy after the war. Indeed the contrast between life in Budapest and in Vienna when we finally left Hungary was so dramatic, that it affected my political outlook of my entire life.
We arrived in Brazil in debt. Yet two years later we bought our first car. There is no question that our economic conditions were much better in Brazil than in Hungary. There were plenty of economic upheavals in Brazil while I grew up. But both my older brothers ended up getting PhDs at the best universities. I owned my own home in Campinas, Brazil debt-free. No mortgage. I built it with my own savings. The story of my father's life and my own are both examples of stories of major upward economic mobility. Neither of us was born with a silver spoon in our mouths.
JE comments: I always enjoy WAIS posts on the impact of history on real individuals. Nicely done, Istvan. May I ask an indiscreet question? If your father was enslaved in a Nazi factory, why would he choose to pursue a career in industry after the war? Or did the Hungarian communist authorities "assign" him to engineering, given his wartime work experience?
- I Grew Up Poor (Istvan Simon, USA 06/19/18 4:59 AM)