Contrasting Views on Wealth and Poverty

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A Pew Research study shows sharp contrasts between Republicans and Democrats in attitudes toward wealth and poverty. By more than three-to-one, Republicans say hard work, rather than a person’s advantages, explains why people are rich. Among Democrats, only 29% agree about the value of hard work, while 60% say financial success comes from  “advantages in life.” In explaining poverty, re poor, 56% of Republicans cite “lack of effort” but only 19% of Democrats agree with them. Meanwhile, 32% of Republicans and a whopping 71% of Democrats blame “circumstances beyond their control.”

Surprisingly, ideology has more influence on attitudes toward wealth and poverty than does current economic status: nearly a third of low-income respondents admit “lack of effort” explains poverty, while 37% of high earners see their good fortune as based on undeserved “advantages in life.”  These surprising results suggest that our approaches toward rich and poor stem more from world-view and inclination, than from current standing or personal experience.

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  1. Ty  •  May 12, 2017 at 5:09 am

    Michael, you had a guest on named Gregory Clark who wrote a book called "The Son Also Rises"

    Do you remember what the thesis was? Lineage = destiny

    The guy went back into history for hundreds of years using British data and checked the results of surnames and status. High status surnames were far more likely to hold onto that status over the generations, and that effect was persistent over time with much smaller drop offs than one might expect.

    What does this suggest? That the elites of society are partly based on something beyond mere effort, they are based on luck of the draw in something else passed on through the generations. I'm pretty sure it's partly genetics, and that undercuts the conservative worship of a pure meritocracy.

    I used to be more conservative, I know some won't believe it. I voted for McCain in 2008, turned myself into a bit of a neocon listening to Hitchens and David Frum and some talk radio. I never bought into the notion that racism was the keystone in modern times holding black and brown people back. But I never COMPLETELY bought into the idea that the differences we see in the world were purely a function of the CONSERVATIVE/LIBERTARIAN fantasy, hard work with a pinch of luck and circumstance.

    Why? Because I have eyes. Anyone that has ever gone to school knows that some kids are smarter than others, some siblings from the same family, that went to the same school coming from the same homes still have differences in their natural aptitudes. If part of that is inherited, it stands to reason that some families will be more or less likely to pass on the attributes that lead to greater or lesser aptitude, and THAT my friends affects the fates of men in todays world more than it ever has.

    Conservatives have a deeply flawed model of outcomes. They seem to think it's a function of

    (O) Outcomes = (E) Effort + (V) Values + (M) Marriage (l) luck (lower case since they think this is a lower effect)

    Typical conservative model, internal locus of control, every variable is something individuals have control over, aside from that last bit of luck, which they tend to discount.

    The liberals tend to focus on their own incomplete picture:

    (O) Outcomes = (E) Effort + (En) Environment + (S) Societal influences (racism/sexism/classism/etc) + (l) luck

    The model that is closer to the real world, is what I mentioned above, by Gregory Clark.

    (O) Outcomes = (E) + (V) + (M) + (l) + (En) + (S) ……….. + (A) Aptitude

    See that last variable? Does anyone on this earth choose their aptitude? Choose how smart they are? Does that not have ripple effects throughout an entire life? Even more in modern times where less skilled labor is in the dumps and skilled college and beyond labor pays the real premiums?

    THAT is why libertarianism and conservatism is the wrong answer on so many issues, it presumed some perfect legitimacy of a pure meritocracy, but if a portion of our outcomes is based on a variable beyond out control, aptitude, how can anyone consider a society based purely on a meritocracy just? This is why I want special carve outs for things like healthcare as a liberal. We can't make everyone equal in their abilities and the rewards they receive in life as a consequence of them, but we can make sure that even IF you rolled snake eyes in the stats of life, there is some minimum level of societal support that will NOT let you fall all the way to the ground. So in the end, I do not are if you do not make enough money to afford healthcare, beyond a trip to the emergency room for a cancer treatment, I want society to foot that bill through taxes. I do not want EVERYTHING subject to what someone produces in society, things like life and death, and the intrinsic worth of a human being. I'll let conservatives treat people like throw away filth that they'd rather let wither than pay a dime in taxes to get them well.

    • SM  •  May 13, 2017 at 9:38 am

      TY – I found your post interesting and generally well reasoned. However, your last sentence in effect negated the credibility of your entire post.

      • Ty  •  May 13, 2017 at 1:24 pm

        It was uncharitable, but I've heard so many conservatives focus exclusively on external factors that affect the fates of men, and then use that as a catalyst to argue against almost all efforts of redistribution because the reason some people are in the gutter is their own damn fault.

        I see the priorities of republicans and conservatives seem to have one constant. The North Star of conservative elites in power seems to be to lower their own taxes, cut social services. They were never legitimate in the first place, robbing from Peter to Pay Paul? No thank you, we want people to keep more of the money they earn!

        And if the problem is not keeping more of the money a person earns, but the fact that some people have chronically lower earnings because the meritocratic nature of a capitalistic society values what they have to offer less? Never mind, if they earn less, it's because of their own failures in life, their own refusal to delay gratification, to work harder.

        I sometimes wonder if they actually believe that, or if they secretly think what I think is the case but maintain the above narrative to justify keeping more of their own tax dollars. A sort of, I've got mine attitude, so what is the problem? Why should I care about them over there? And it's easier ethically to maintain that attitude if you can easily place all the lesser outcomes on things people do rather than things outside their control.

        The legitimacy of a pure meritocracy relies on the assumption that outcomes are almost entirely based on what you put into something.

    • helping Ty  •  May 25, 2017 at 5:30 pm

      You don't have to be "high status" or be an "elite" in order to live a good and conformable life. And plenty of "high status" and "elite" people are not very intelligent. I don't think that book supports your views like you think it does. Also, in this country, even a person a below average intelligence can live a nice life if they make good decisions. Making good decisions depends on that "wisdom" thing that people like you want to denigrate in favor of "higher education," which in a very large percentage of cases is useless to knowing how to live a good life.

      And your comments about intelligence are an example of what people like you do best – you come up with an idea that sounds great but then you don't actually look at evidence to see if it is true. The idea that unintelligent people are doomed to poverty is ridiculous. I know a person that I am sure has a sub 100 IQ. She has owned her own business for years, hasn't had to work a lot of hours, and her income alone puts her above the average income for an American family. I know another family with a very intelligent, good looking and charismatic son and a not too bright, homely looking daughter. Guess what happened? The intelligent son wasted his life away and is now being supported by the not too bright sister. I know a family with four sons where the two best looking, most intelligent have both ruined their lives and are dependent on their parents but the two sons that aren't so intelligent or good looking are living fine middle class lives. People with low but functional intelligence can do fine if they have the wisdom base to make good decisions.

      You conflated "merit" with intelligence. Merit has more to do with hard work, being honest and ethical, and treating people well as it does intelligence. Even low IQ people can work hard, be honest, and treat people well.

      And conservatives don't worship a "pure meritocracy." A "pure meritocracy" couldn't even exist because so much of success is based on who you know, being in the right place at the right time, etc. But those who show great merit should live better than those who do not. There is nothing wrong with rewarding those who produce. And the fact that conservatives give more in time and money to charity shows that they also believe in the value of those that show no merit. You know – that Christian thing that you despise. That is one of the biggest problems with liberalism – it wants to reward bad behavior and punish good behavior. Liberalism thinks everybody deserves a middle class life-style whether they do anything to get it or not. That idea is unjust.

      Ty, I hope some day you open your mind and are as skeptical of your own ideas as you are of those of others.

    • Pat Allen  •  May 27, 2017 at 5:09 pm

      For the most part a well thought out and articulate argument. You might of had me (a conservative) before you resorted to name calling in your last sentence. I do not know any conservatives that want people to starve to death, die in the street without medical care or live in the woods. We disagree on how to get there… a good start in all of this would be civilized debate and discussion and not name calling, which you just couldn't not resist at the end of your piece.

  2. Rizzo  •  May 14, 2017 at 11:21 am


    Just keep denying and denouncing personal responsibility.
    Typical leftist… Punish achievement, reward meritocracy, redefine success and, at the end of the day, reward failure.


    • Ty  •  May 14, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      Optimal strategies for better outcomes.

      Individual level: Treat outcomes as if they depend almost entirely on your own personal efforts, shoot for the heavens, and if you only reach the mountains that is better than the ditch.

      Societal level: Treat outcomes as something not entirely based on individual effort, and as a consequence, use redistribution to minimize the lower bound of outcomes due to bad luck and circumstance, individuals making bad choices and mistakes in life ( because we do not as a society presume omniscience in human beings when it comes to how their choices in life will lead to what outcome ), not having the natural aptitude in modern society to thrive as easily as others (consider a man with one leg hiking up the mountain of outcome vs a man with both legs that is completely healthy).

      Note, people will still take hits for bad behavior and choices, they can go bankrupt, they can make much less than they would have made if they decided to move instead of stick around in a town that was on the decline, but a lower bound means that even if a series of unfortunate events in life occurs (impossible to avoid for some people, even those who do everything "right") there would be some floor above the dirt and pit of outcomes that they would not fall without willfully deciding to break through.

      How awful, better to have the libertarian and popular conservative solution of

      Can't allow any moral hazard to creep through!

      And after all, some/most people who wind up in the gutter of outcomes are just LAZY!

      Ty: Correct (on the some, not true on the most). And your point is? Ah, right, because putting some bound on lower outcomes through redistribution will ALSO assist people that are lazy, it's not worth doing, never mind the point that it still would not be worth doing for many of you for the people that were not lazy and just fell on hard time.

      And there it is, that core viciousness of the conservative soul. You would rather PUNISH the wicked, than help the decent. A creature that errs on the side of retribution than mercy. Better 10 innocent men stay CHAINED or helped out of a ditch, then let a guilty man go free.

      • Rizzo  •  May 14, 2017 at 12:50 pm


        What alternate reality do you live in?

        -SNAP benefits cost $70.9 billion in fiscal year 2016 and to aid roughly 44.2 million.
        -Medicaid expenditures do not include administrative costs, accounting adjustments, or the U.S. Territories. Total Medicaid spending including these additional items was $574.2 billion in FY 2016.
        -Jobless Americans have collected more than half a trillion dollars in benefits over the past five years. State and federal unemployment insurance programs have cost roughly $520 billion.
        Federal Debt Clock
        Today’s Federal Debt is $19,846,227,292,251.07.
        The amount is the gross outstanding debt issued by the United States Department of the Treasury since 1790 and reported here.
        But, it doesn’t include state and local debt.
        And, it doesn’t include so-called “agency debt.”
        And, it doesn’t include the so-called unfunded liabilities of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.
        Federal Debt per person is about $60,822.


      • Ty  •  May 15, 2017 at 2:49 am

        And a large chunk of conservatives want most of what we have wiped away. You toss out the fact that because we have implemented redistribution in the past, and still have some of that now, that you conservatives don't want to tear it all down. For once in your life, be honest. You don't like food stamps do you? Don't like unemployment benefits and disability, do you? Don't like that government expense on medicaid and medicare.

        Perhaps I am mistaken about your intentions. Are you merely upset that you think the money is being spent ineffectively, or that it is taken from you and spent on others in the first place? What if it was effective, but we still took money from a portion of your taxes to fund those redistributive efforts? Then you would be ok with it? I thought not.

        Don't you dare try to use those programs as a shield because you don't have jack to say in their defense. It's like when conservatives trot out the government mandate that hospitals must treat people that show up to an emergency room (conveniently ignoring that that was GOVERNMENT FORCING private hospitals to care for peoples immediate health issues, whether they can pay or not), but then they go on railing about not wanting ANY government involved in healthcare. Then why the HELL do you keep talking about people not being turned away? Why do you think that is not allowed? The goodness of hospitals heart? Why did they even BOTHER with the law if there was not some problem before that was MANDATED?

        Free riding parasites. Wanting all the benefits of civilization, none of the burdens for its maintenance. Wealthy liberals do not complain that their tax dollars go to help those who are doing worse than they are, at worst, they worry it is not being spent effectively, but they do NOT have a problem with some of their excess wealth in income going to assist others. Conservatives, squeal like they are bean flogged in Stalins Russia.

  3. Rizzo  •  May 15, 2017 at 10:21 am


    "conservatives want most of what we have wiped away" You mean the $19,846,227,292,251.07 in Federal Debt? Then, YES!
    History has already proven… NOTHING is so permanent as a temporary government program. So don't worry little child, you and your ilk can continue to live at the expense of other people.
    But, what happens when government goes BROKE? Who is government going to help, when it's bankrupt? Government is utterly and completely incapable of doing all of these Unconstitutional redistribution SCAMS. Government is Bernie Madoff to the Nth. degree.
    BTW, it has been proven time and time again that conservatives are FAR MORE CHARITABLE than tight-wad leftists libs.
    So how much more shall we spend? What is the price-tag for government controlled Utopia? How much more freedom do we need to surrender, to reach your leftist, Heaven on Earth?
    Libs will NEVER answer those questions.
    It's PATHETIC.

  4. Rizzo  •  May 15, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    After having thus taken each individual one by one into its powerful hands, and having molded him as it pleases, the sovereign power extends its arms over the entire society; it covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated, minute, and uniform rules, which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot break through to go beyond the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces action, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupifies, and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

    I have always believed that this sort of servitude, regulated, mild and peaceful, of which I have just done the portrait, could be combined better than we imagine with some of the external forms of liberty, and that it would not be impossible for it to be established in the very shadow of the sovereignty of the people.
    – Alexis de Tocqueville

    Seems very familiar.
    But let's not listen to and learn fom Alexis de Tocqueville. Let's pretend history started the day we were born. Let's pretend that Will Wilkinson, of The Washington Post is the greatest, most enlightened thinker ever to have existed.

    • Ty  •  May 16, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      What worked well in small town America a couple hundred years ago is NOT the ideal model today, in 2017.

      You want to see a model and cultural attitude and ethic that is CLOSER to America in the early 1800s? Go look at rural america. Very free spirited, very not wanting government interference and influence. And those areas are WITHERING compared to the more statist and restrictive and tax laden LIBERAL cities.

      But that is that typical conservative arrogance. No need to update any assumptions. What worked ~200 years ago is EXACTLY the blueprint for prosperity in modern times. Like a law given from god himself, etched into stone tablets, unchanging, not improvable.

      You'll take those first principles all the way to the grave, oh? New circumstances change the effects of those strategies compared to some other more liberal strategies? NOT POSSIBLE, for ALL TIME MY ideas are the ideal solution to all problems.

      Ugh, I can taste the bile of conservative conceit wafting off of you. This presumption of perfect knowledge, if we just go back to how the founders did it, or Americans a hundred years ago did it, we'd all be better off !!!!!!!

      They bled Washington to death, we know more now, we've made… wait for it… PROGRESS !!!!!!!! We, today, living in 2017, have a better grasp on the problems and solutions of people today than those who lived 200 years ago.

      • Rizzo  •  May 16, 2017 at 5:14 pm

        If you claim to "know more today, living in 2017, and have a better grasp on problems and solutions", then why do your answers predate The American Revolution?
        There is NOTHING new with government tyranny. I guess the only REAL thing that's new, are the useful idiots cheering them on.

      • Rizzo  •  May 16, 2017 at 5:39 pm

        Here Ty…. Deal with this "New Assumption", the US is BROKE.
        America is $19,846,227,292,251.01 in debt… and the solution to this problem ain't more spending and handouts.
        Surely, even a simple-minded, modern-day leftists can grasp this FACT.
        Those dummies 200 years ago, with their antiquated solutions, didn't have to deal with this nonsense.
        So brilliant, you leftists are today…. $19 trillion in debt and we are supposed to believe that's "progress"!?!?!?!?
        You can go shovel that crap somewhere in Europe, where they will welcome it.

      • helping Ty  •  May 18, 2017 at 11:53 pm

        Your comments are hateful, arrogant, condescending and just plain rude. You are one of those people who knows so much, she isn't aware that she actually knows very little. You don't even know what you don't know. Let go of the hate and you will think more clearly and will also be happier.

      • Rizzo  •  May 19, 2017 at 8:47 am

        Yes… any FACT that refutes the leftist dogma is hate.
        Wow, you are so thoughtful.
        Thanks for sharing.

        Just in case you missed it…. SARCASM

  5. Rizzo  •  May 15, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    And… Let's pretend that Gregory Clark is also the greatest, most enlightened thinker ever to have existed.
    I mean seriously, history only goes back to circa JFK.

  6. Rizzo  •  May 16, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    Can somebody please step-up and represent the leftists a little better?
    Ty is embarrassing himself again and he is exposing your movement for the fraud that it is.

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