“Do You Have To Travel the World To Know What Poverty Is?”

Yves here. I’m sure most of you are gobsmacked that anyone would ask the question in the headline, and even worse, perceive or actually find that enough people were puzzling this deep matter over to merit an agony aunt answer. Steel yourselves because this wee discussion of where aspiring upper class anthropologists need to go to look at poverty…as if looking at poor people or maybe even getting among them a bit gives any appreciation of their lives…says way way too much about class stratification and why squillionaires like Deval Patrick and Mike Bloomberg labor under the delusion that Americans would want them to be President.

And of course, as the author does address, the tacit assumption is that true poverty isn’t all over the place in rich economies, you need to travel to find authentic (because poverty must be exotic) poor people. Mind you, not to diminish the fact that populations outside the US face hardships that we don’t, like the risk of river blindness, malaria, and cholera, and the ravages of war. But poverty tourists are unlikely to get that close to acute distress. Too risky and upsetting.

And Westerners tend to mix up all sort of myths, like the Noble Savage with the nobility of poverty (the Christian renunciation sort) which combined with facts like Nigeria, one of the poorest countries in the world, also consistently scores as one of the happiest.

But as the author points out way too gently, it’s not as if poverty is hard to find. New York City’s Gini coefficient is as high as China’s. We have Hep A in Los Angeles, human feces in open air in the city center in San Francisco, and plenty of horrors like the one Sanders highlighted in a recent video: of already desperately poor people, imprisoned by debt on trailers (!!!) having open air sewage fields set up next to where they live.

But the affluent in the US find it easy to shield themselves from encountering poverty. Service staff, even in not-terribly-flashy places like Starbucks are trained to be chipper, which amounts to doing emotional labor on top of dispensing coffee. The new servant class of nannies and yard men know their place and even more important, know that minimizing friction and unpleasantness with their employers is key to what little job security they have. These wanna-be rich are comfortably insulated from the sweatshop labor cost (in third world countries and Amazon warehouses) of their cheap goods, or the exploitative wages and work conditions across the gig economy, from TaskRabbit and MechanicalTurk to Uber and Lyft to Deliveroo and Instacart. The coddled well off not only don’t go to WalMart, where it is too easy to see the fatigue and even despair in the faces of checkout clerks (it’s pervasive in the WalMart hard by the Greenbriar resort, for instance), or of underpaid, overworked nursing home employees, they are somehow not able to see the wear on the faces and bodies of construction workers rounded up to work on a casual basis for cash by contractors they’ve hired.

But on some level, the very rich do know, as attested by their investments in panic rooms and bunkers in New Zealand. But those investments won’t protect them from a revolution or collapse.

By Eve Andrews, who writes Ask Umbra, Grist’s civic advice vertical. Follow her on Twitter. Originally published at Grist

Q. Dear Umbra,

People say that travel to less developed countries is good because we see how poor people live in other cultures. Can’t we do that here?

— Every Moral Path Arcs Toward Home


There is, without question, poverty in countries outside of the United States that is very different from what we see here. But is observing extreme poverty the reason that people say travel is good? Because I have to say that I don’t think that’s why the vast majority of people travel. Nor do I think that “poverty tourism” is … productive.

What you’re referring to may be a rationale that some people provide for their travel: “This carbon-intensive plane trip is worthwhile, because I’m understanding the world’s problems better, and that will improve the world in some way.”

Let’s call this hypothetical traveler “Georgette.” Even for the millions of tourists who travel simply to get outside of the normal boundaries of their own lives, no grander purpose claimed, it’s possible to experience simultaneous delight and distress about your surroundings. Georgette knows that the bliss of a warm, white-sand beach can exist alongside a truck full of armed paramilitaries. She can marvel at a Buddhist temple while being heartbroken by children begging on its steps.

But having experienced those complicated feelings, does Georgette really understand something fundamental about the lives of those children, or the people who live every day in fear of those paramilitaries — or even the paramilitaries themselves? Put another way: What tangible good did it do for Georgette to “see” the people who live that way of life? She goes home, and their lives don’t change.

(Obviously, we have to acknowledge that tourism is a valuable or even critical source of income for people in many developing countries, but that doesn’t mean travel serves a moral purpose, or that tourism is the best way to get economic resources to the Global South.)

Georgette might make major changes to her life after her trip. She could go on to found a wildly successful NGO with a much-lauded methodology for addressing poverty in the developing world. Or, Georgette could be a billionaire heiress who is inspired to devote the entirety of her vast fortune to alleviating poverty.

We have to admit that these are notably rare outcomes of the average trip to, say, Indonesia. I think that the likeliest outcome is that Georgette’s experience will be valuable to her own sense of her place in the world, but not yield much — if any — meaningful change for others.

But this is all almost beside the point, because I don’t believe that everything you do has to be some grand altruistic exercise. Sometimes people just need to be, or to rest, or to observe and think, and travel is a pretty good way to do all that. Georgette doesn’t have to invent a grander purpose for a vacation! (Though there are ways to limit her vacation’s carbon footprint.)

The more complicated element of your question is the assumed importance of “see[ing] how poor people live in other cultures.” “You can take a tour of the U.S.; you don’t need a passport,” says Tom Hirschl, a Cornell sociologist who studies social stratification. “Most people understand poverty as a problem of urban neighborhoods, which is an aspect of poverty in the U.S. But there also is rural poverty, and if you go to rural areas, you are in some ways going to another country.”

Hirschl notes that there are communities all across the U.S. that live in very impoverished circumstances with very different cultures from what’s considered “the norm”: colonias around the Mexico-Texas border, Native American reservations, the plantation belt of the South, “hollers” in central Appalachia.

There is no dearth of research on poverty in the United States, so let’s look at some statistics. By one estimate, as much as 4 percent of the U.S. population lives below the global poverty level of $2 per day, which is a rate comparable to Thailand’s. By another estimate — defining poverty as the inability to take care of survival needs — it’s closer to 0 percent. We have social welfare institutions, like public housing and food stamps, that don’t exist in many developing countries, so the poorest Americans can meet the absolute bare minimum of survival. (However, the services that such institutions offer in the U.S. are inferior to those in almost every other wealthy country.)

Do you understand poverty better from those numbers? Statistics can be valuable because they enable comparisons: This person is living with this much less than I am. But, just as you don’t really understand someone else’s life by visiting where they live, nor do you really understand it by quantitatively comparing it to your own.

A qualitative fact about poverty — which has been conveyed over and over again through sociological and psychological studies, first-person accounts, and journalistic works — is that it removes a person’s sense of agency. And especially in a country like the United States, with so much wealth and cultural focus on wealth, it also ostracizes and isolates. These facts, I think, are fairly easy for a reasonably empathetic person to understand. Every human fears losing control and feeling left out.

Obviously, awareness and understanding of poverty are important — but only as prerequisites for action. Awareness can spur you to take useful steps like donating money or time to reputable organizations that provide job opportunities, education, shelter, and food in impoverished areas, or voting for candidates who support reforming our poverty-trap health and housing systems.

But do you really need to gawk at people with difficult lives to believe that they are suffering, and to want to help alleviate their suffering? Why do you need to see them with your own eyes? My perhaps ungenerous assessment is that the urge to bear literal witness to adversity is a symptom of either spiritual aimlessness or a savior complex.

There are so, so many useless things on the internet, but one useful thing it offers in abundance is rigorous journalism about the causes, circumstances, and complications of poverty. If there is a reader of this column who thinks that he isn’t “aware” enough of poverty as an issue to meaningfully help address it — with money, time, or political action — then I’d recommend that he start his awareness journey with a Google News search, not a soul-searching vacation.



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  1. Clive

    I rarely get involved in YouTube fracases, I get into too much trouble here as it is to invite any more, but I did feel compelled to wade in to a tech YouTube’r who is based in Louisiana that I follow now and again because he is a good engineer and I learn a lot about the differences between on-the-ground practice in energy saving regulatory initiatives and what public policy makers thinks happens when its bright ideas meet the people at the sharp end.

    Although I had a short vacation stay in Baton Rouge a while back, what I failed to appreciate was that Louisiana is quite a poor state. The HVAC guy just covers the engineering angles, but I learned a lot through watching his output about US working class and underclass life, in a way which because it is happenstantial, isn’t poor shaming or poverty porn like you get on almost any media reporting.

    The tech guy got pretty well flamed and even a little trolled because he tried to help out a customer who, although the footage was only incidental, lived in a trailer home in what was obviously pretty dire straights. He had a completely busted HVAC system — the compressor was fried (which he was hoping to get replaced) and his electric heat was in need of repair. The HVAC tech had begged (his words) the owner to not spend any money trying to fix the existing HVAC system but instead to replace it. But the owner of the trailer didn’t haven the money. All he could afford was patch ups. I wondered why he asked for the heat to be fixed first (living in Louisiana, not renowned for its cold climate) not the cooling, but I think the people there have had a cold snap and been down to the 20’s just recently, so I’m guessing it had become a “must do” not a “nice to have”.

    But even though the HVAC guy tried his best, when he fixed one thing, as often happens, more things then broke. The A/C was basically unsalvageable, but the owner had already spent out on the repair, despite advice to the contrary. As the tech said, he was gambling with money he didn’t have. I did my best to redress the balance of the comments and appeal for a little more in the way of charitable spirit, but made little headway.

    This is everyday life for people. But so many comments came in blaming the trailer owner, blaming the tech guy, basically looking for happy outcomes which were vanishingly unlikely to be possible given the givens. What, I wondered, has happened to people’s consciences?

    Same sort of thing happened right in front of me in a supermarket a few months back. A man was literally scrabbling round for small change (£2-3 or so) to buy a basic meal. No one seemed to bat an eyelid.

    1. notabanker

      This is everyday life for people. But so many comments came in blaming the trailer owner, blaming the tech guy, basically looking for happy outcomes which were vanishingly unlikely to be possible given the givens. What, I wondered, has happened to people’s consciences?

      This is the inverse of the “American Dream”. Surely if anyone can can make it big, then if you haven’t it’s your own fault. I saw this same attitude in a comment link the other day from a Berkley Phd student who basically said rural Americans are to be shamed for making bad life choices and not moving to the city.

      It’s deeply ingrained in the American psyche and a real problem. It’s also a good counterpoint to the premise of this article. When you go overseas and see poverty that is obviously systemic, you realize there is likely no way out for huge swathes of that population. Here, they just made bad choices, like being born in the bajou.

      1. inode_buddha

        “I saw this same attitude in a comment link the other day from a Berkley Phd student who basically said rural Americans are to be shamed for making bad life choices and not moving to the city.”

        The infuriating irony of his statements is that I can assure you, those rural poor are far, far more resourceful, independent, and earth-friendly than he is. It has been my experience, anyway — the urban, educated, liberal types really are in a bubble regarding how life actually happens.

        What happens to their urban utopia when civilization finally collapses? Those rural poor will be the last ones standing, because they know how to survive on their own, without having the rest of an unsustainable civilization supporting them. Of course, I’ve been saying for years that we should stop selling food to the cities, and see how long they last. Maybe they’ll change their minds about a few things.

    2. False Solace

      That’s the trouble when poverty becomes too common. If it’s an isolated occurrence of a person who can’t afford a meal, it’s easy enough to help. But should you encounter instance after instance of people with terrible problems, you have to turn off your feelings or go broke helping them all. Most of us prioritize ourselves and our family members. It’s the cruel logic of scarcity which the pathological hoarders of wealth impose on us all. Once your empathy is broken it’s easy to point your finger at the poor, blaming the symptom instead of the cause.

      It’s like Jimmy Dore says — watch out for those who save their anger for people with no money and no power. The kind who sit around on Youtube yelling at the poor or griping about socialists who want free stuff. Tumbrel remarks from the lips of the think-they-haves.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        This is a very astute comment.

        One of my mother’s caregivers (which she hires through an agency she is about to terminate, they charge through the nose and look to be profiteering rather than passing through more to staff, have 10% professional ‘tude of the worst sort when their service is not so hot, and clearly restrict the hours their engage their aides so as not to have to buy them health insurance) clearly has health problems (she is “menstruating” most of the time, which could be a sign of cancer or internal bleeding). She’s not getting treated. She rejects my mother’s efforts to give her small supplements like extra food. Agency won’t allow her to give $, even a Christmas tip, they don’t want clients stealing the better caregivers.

        My mother had a cleaning woman for decades who got an aggressive case of rheumatoid arthritis. My mother kept her on and even started using her for more tasks, and was paying her well over market and what she had previously paid her ($30 an hour). She also lent her several thousand for car repairs. This woman got in a fight with my mother on bizarre grounds and disappeared. I can’t imagine she can last long given her financial situation (she needs to work and increasingly can’t).

        When you don’t know what to do or can’t help effectively when you see distress in your face….

  2. JBird4049

    Well, people can try really hard to not see what they don’t want to and demanding that poverty be exotic means not having to see the tens of millions of Americans living on less than a large cup of coffee per day. Or living in vehicles, the streets, and the hills. Golden Gate Park has some fine examples of small groups living in the bushes. And all the libraries as well. And not just in San Francisco, but about the Bay Area.

    I will sound like some old fogey, but I really am not that old; things really have changed from when I was a child.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you and well said, JB.

      Speaking about parks, there’s a shanty town opposite the entrance to Auteuil racecourse. The surrounding suburbs are well heeled. One wonders if the residents notice.

      Overnight, two young women, about early 20s, have begun to sleep under the arches by Cafe Nero on London Wall. One wonders if City workers and commuters notice. There are a few women only groups around.

      1. ambrit

        Similar things happening here. The Hobo jungles are moved about, at the urging of the local gendarmerie, on an irregular schedule. The “official” homeless shelters, all ‘private’ here are full up every night now that the cold has arrived. Yet, the City’s response to degraded or quasi abandoned housing stock is demolition.
        The plight of homeless women is indeed dire. I could temporize and say that such was always the case, but that would be avoiding the question.
        An anecdote to explain; I will give alms, I have adopted the traditional formulation because it seems to best describe the social situation today, when I have the odd cash available. This is a constantly lowering amount as inflation eats away at our purchasing power, we being on fixed Social Security payments. (Let us not mention the travesty of COLA adjustments to ‘indexed’ income streams as formulated by the American Nomenklatura.)
        But I digress. To continue, there is a young woman who seems to be living on the streets locally who I have given the odd bob to. Several months ago I saw her across the parking lot of a local supermarket. I recognized the signs and was hoping she would not see me because I only had a few dollars left from doing the shopping. She saw me, with that psychic radar the poor develop I assume. When she reached me, I was getting into the car.
        “Uh, can you give me a ride?” she asks.
        “Come on now. You know and I know that you are going to ask for money.” I reply.
        She looks down and mutters, “Yes, I was.”
        I asked her, really interested now, “Why me? I saw you over there and you made a beeline in my direction. Do I look rich?”
        “No, not particularly,” she answered.
        “Well then, why?” I asked.
        “Because you don’t demand a blow job for your money!” she whispered.
        I was thunderstruck.
        “Does this happen often?” I asked.
        “Every day,” was her reply.
        I gave her what I had in my pocket and watched her walk away in search of other ‘touches.’
        Now, perhaps I am a fool, but I have seen enough in my life to believe the woman’s story.
        This young woman had no obvious markers for drugs abuse or ‘moral decay.’ Well dressed for her circumstances, well behaved, the recipient of largess from other good hearted people I have acquaintance with. I once saw her ‘working’ in the thrift shop of one of the “Faith Based” charity concerns, so she is in good with that lot, and they are severe in their judgments, I can assure you. She might have mental problems of which I am not aware. That being so, why is she out on the street? Has our society abandoned it’s responsibilities to the weak and poor amongst us?
        Ah well. It makes me want a drink, but I make it a rule never to take a drink before breakfast. (It is noon here at this time.)
        Given the possibility of a Jackpot coming soon, I wonder if the “horsey set” might turn their hands to raising Percherons and Shire horses, for plowing, and perhaps to mount knights.
        Be well!

        1. Chris

          Are there no poor houses? No factories?

          If there is nothing else for such as they, let them die, and thereby decrease the surplus population…

          Hail Scrooge in this season, an eternal winter of neoliberal disregard and disruption, with no kindness or care to go around :(

        2. Benny

          Sorry, but if you’re unemployed and homeless in the UK you are either severely mentally ill or addicted to hard drugs (the latter basically a specific mental illness). The minimum wage is enough to live on and afford basic shelter. Minimum wage jobs that require zero qualifications and zero experience are available in vast abundance. The vast majority of homeless in London have hard drug problems. You’re not helping them by giving them money. You’re keeping them sick.

          1. FluffytheObeseCat

            ambrit does not reside in the UK. He’s in the U.S. Deep South. Where it is entirely, easily possible to be clean living and homeless.

            1. ambrit

              Thank you for that FluffytheObeseCat. This instance is a case where one’s ‘handle’ can cause confusion.
              To your point, I do indeed know people with regular jobs, or as regular as is common now for the un-credentialled, who are sleeping on friend’s couches for want of sufficient resources to afford their own places to stay.
              UK commenters correct me if I am wrong, but there used to be ‘squatters rights’ there to let the ‘down and out’ create a living space out of society’s discarded infrastructure. Not so here; thus my comments about the City demolishing run down housing stock. One repairable house from the 1940s was demolished last week, situated three blocks away from where we live.
              As for the druggies around here, I assume that the drugs policies in the UK are light years ahead of those in America. Treatment, even for those who want it, is spotty at best. So, I use the strategy of “fool me once, shame on you…” It is an essentially Romantic conception, but everyone deserves one chance, at the least.

          2. notabanktoadie

            A couple of questions:

            1) Why do so many citizens needs jobs in the first place in order to afford shelter? Why is wage-slavery the norm for most people? Whatever happened to family farms, businesses and the commons?

            2) Do you have drug testing in the UK for non-safety related jobs so as to preclude a functioning drug user from obtaining a job?

            And a comment:

            My understanding is that before 1914 in the US, many (10% or so, iirc) US residents used heroin and/or cocaine but still were able to work and raise families.

        3. notabanktoadie

          What is desired in a man is kindness … Proverbs 19:22, etc, etc.

          Also, Proverbs 31:6-9.

          You do well to satisfy the needy even (especially?) if it just means allowing them to temporarily escape their misery.

          Of course a just economic system would have minimal drug use to begin with. Therefore, that so many have a great need for drugs, including prescribed stimulants and pain killers, cigarettes and alcohol is an indictment of our economic system, not the drugs nor the users.

    2. jrs

      The thing is the examples of poverty have gotten so extreme that I suspect that in itself alienates people from it, yes sleeping on the streets is extreme poverty.

      What i mean is there used to be a survivable working class poverty, it was poverty and I’m not saying otherwise, but it wasn’t homelessness and developing diseases only the homeless have etc.. But high rents and destruction of many working class jobs, have increasingly squeezed it to near death, and now it’s just frank utter and extreme desperation, and the former was probably easier to relate to and come in contact with etc..

  3. Ignacio

    Somehow this post connects with the previous post in which virtual reality is offered as an eco-friendly alternative to travel and gives some validity to the proposal. The reasons given here are different: you don’t need to travel much and far, If you to want to be aware of many things, or simply to be open minded. Travelling can indeed be an eye opener as well as the contrary. Sometimes (many times), travelling serves simply to reassure one’s schemes and prejudices. How many times I heard someone “I visited London, and you see how weird are those English that blah, blah, blah… sooo weird!” It is your attitude, not travelling, what gives or removes.

  4. Ignacio

    Why do we love the blaming game? I identify at least to reasons: 1) not making the least minimum effort to put ourselves in others’ position. 2) try to appear smart all of the time. The appearance theme looks important to me.

    (this was intended as a reply to Clive’s post)

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      “not making the least minimum effort to put ourselves in others’ position.”

      there, but for the grace of god, go i…and walk a mile in my shoes.
      these are rather simple concepts,lol…and should be easily integrated into the mindspace of folks in a so called “christian” nation…but they ain’t.
      as usual, this post makes me think of people i know or have encountered…in this case, my stepmom.
      she grew up in abject poverty, but married my pretty well off dad…and never looked back.
      it feels like her blindness to the lived experience of the poor who are literally all around them has a deep, unconscious, psychological basis.
      when the maid(!) can’t make it because her crappy car went the way of the buffalo:” why doesn’t she just get a better car?”…incredulously,lol.
      or the yard crew sitting down in the front yard to eat the tortillas and barbacoa they’ve had warming on the dashboard, laughing and joking in the way that po folks often do: “why are they so loud? why are they sitting down? can’t they go to a restaurant, instead?”
      whereupon i grab a six pack and go out and join them,lol…to her horror.
      people fail to see what they cannot fit neatly into their Narrative…especially if it forces them to question their own sense of worth and morality.
      i love her, and all…but what she spends on westie art(https://www.etsy.com/market/westie_art) would put the maid in a much nicer car.
      i believe that, much like the racist can be cured by suddenly having a black sister in law…or the homophobe by discovering that his brother is gay…that exposure is the panacaea for poor shaming.
      how to accomplish that without some authoritarian program is, however, unknown. the (relatively) well off and/or comfortable go to great extremes to insulate themselves from those on rungs lower than their own….and much of that insulation is unconscious…and even more of it happens in the mind(rather than physically, like gated communities)

  5. notabanktoadie

    with the nobility of poverty (the Christian renunciation sort) Yves

    The Bible does not ennoble poverty but rather justice and mercy – qualities that would make poverty rare if not non-existent in a nation.

    This is especially true in the Old Testament (but not missing in the NT either).


    “Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field,
    Until there is no more room,
    So that you have to live alone in the midst of the land!

    In my ears the Lord of hosts has sworn, “Surely, many houses shall become desolate,
    Even great and fine ones, without occupants.

    “For ten acres of vineyard will yield only one bath of wine,
    And a homer of seed will yield but an ephah of grain.”
    Isaiah 5:8-10

    1. Synoia

      Many in the US claim to be Christian and follow the bible.

      Few actually do.

      When I moved to NC, and went sight seeing, I saw a shack on the side of the road, with a person emerging from the shack.

      The shack ws much, much worse than a Basuto hut, or a house in an in Alexandria or Soweto black townships near Johannesburg.

      1. notabanktoadie

        Few actually do. Synoia

        Our economic system is such that if one is not a villain to some extent* then he/she is purely a victim instead.

        Surely there should an option to be neither villain nor victim, neither slave nor slave driver, neither oppressor nor oppressed, neither robber nor robbed and it shouldn’t require that one have the character strength that few could muster and which might easily ruin them (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:16).

        *e.g. using what is, in essence due to government privileges for the banks, the public’s credit but for private gain.

        1. notabanktoadie

          … it shouldn’t require that one have the character strength that few could muster and which might easily ruin them (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:16).

          That is, the strength to not victimize anyone one’s self but to be a pure victim.

  6. Jesper

    Something worth re-iterating is that it is expensive to be poor, here is yet another example:

    “Decreased demand for non-prime loans as a result of increased savings or income could result in a loss of revenues or decline in profitability … For instance, an increase in state or federal minimum wage requirements … could decrease demand for non-prime loans.”

    Being poor can often mean having fewer choices and people with few choices often have weak bargaining power leading to exploitation. (The first by the post system is great for that – leads to few (two or at most three) parties of relevance and therefore a poor selection of available options, but I digress).

    Being poor is tough, being poor and feeling that the system is rigged against you makes it worse.

    & then we have stories like this:

    You have to pitch over and over again while the guy next to you loses hope after one rejection. You have to improve your prose while someone gives up because it’s too hard

    This mindset isn’t exclusive to writing, either. It applies to everything in life

    And it is probably good for the individual, however, not everything good for the individual is also good for the collective and not everything good for the collective is also good for the individual. The latter part is something that I probably did not need to say, so many others are saying it so often that it is drowning out the first part – not everything good for the individual is also good for the collective.

    Closing paragraphs from the linked to story:

    When others sprint ahead of you, don’t get discouraged. Keep your pace, and pass them when they burn out.

    Stop focusing on your imperfections, and ask yourself whom you’d rather be: The fastest runner on Earth, or the one who got away from the bear?

    Standing together against the bear isn’t an option any longer? Did cave-people have more togetherness than our current society?

  7. Mucho

    Some observations as a European (Dutch) visiting the US: poverty in the US seems to me, striking. I feel like, for large parts, the US is essentially a third-world country. And visitiing a wealthy city – such as New York – , there is this feel of relentlessness and of desparation. I’ve also never in my interactions with people been so reduced to my income bracket or (perceived) wealth.

    I also have a friend who visits the US multiple times every month (he’s an airline pilot). He’s not left at all, and not that concerned with inequality, He actively disikes the US experience because the experience of inequality is so visceral, and seems so ingrained in american culture as normal, or as a matter of fact of the world.

    When we were talking about this some time ago, we agreed that US culture felt “hollow” .. important values seem to be supplated and replaced by money and profit. People seem to have forgotten what constitutes a good life, even if they can afford it. Of course this take is reductive, but this weird feeling I’ve felt in the US I’ve never felt anywhere else. Sadly, I also feel like the Netherlands is moving more and more in this direction.

    1. JohnnyGL

      Do keep in mind NYC hardly represents the US as a whole. I visited recently and found the place pretty high strung…even compared to my home in Boston.

      But if you want more of that callousness amidst horrifying inequality and the anxiousness, and depraved culture that necessarily comes with it….you ain’t seen nothing until you visit Latin America. Specifically, Brazil brings that special combo of great wealth and stark poverty.

      1. Mucho

        I know NYC is different from the US, but I’ve had the experience in multiple cities (though admittedly, NYC was the worst).

        Interesting you mention Brazil: I’ve visited many times. The inequality there is indeed horrifying, but I find the spirit there totally different from the US (and much more to my liking). But as with the US: Brazil is like a continent, with many different places.

        1. Sancho Panza

          I’ve also never in my interactions with people been so reduced to my income bracket or (perceived) wealth. – Mucho

          I understand why you say what you do. Another indicator is the regularity with which, “so, what do you do?” invades a room of first time acquaintances. There are so many other dimensions of a person to explore besides what they do for a living. There is a pressure to perform and achieve here that flattens everything that is not commercial in nature.

          1. jrs

            You thinking that’s about money is an interpretation, could be, but maybe noone actually cares what you earn.

            The mentality of a wage slave, and I speak as a wage slave, is sometimes just: I wish there was some escape from the prison that is MY job, I wonder what other people do for money, maybe that offers an escape etc….. Oh we’re here in prison cells, checking for occasional daylight, prisoners thinking: “I wonder if this object would work to bend the bars, etc.”, and maybe that’s what we sometimes ask when we use the unoriginal and oh so socially acceptable line “what do you?” It’s really the prisoners way of asking: “do you have a file? cuz uh I could use one …” At least as often as it is: “what size is your wallet?”

            But truthfully you reach a point of realizing everyone’s job pretty much sucks, noones wage slavery is enjoyable, and then it’s no longer so much the youthful “what do you do/do you have a file, a pen, a knife?” But “prison walls sure like nice today don’t they?”.

    2. Paul Easton

      I was born in NYC and after I finished school I mostly lived there until a few years ago. I thought that Bensonhurst Brooklyn where I mostly lived was quite ok. When I was a kid it was mostly Jewish and Italian. Now it is plurality Chinese who migrated from Chinatown on the D train. But there are many other nationalities including Muslims and Russians from Brighton Beach. There was a great variety of restaurants and food stores and the shopping was excellent in general. It was a cultural desert with not even a movie house but you could always take the subway to Manhattan.

      In some neighborhoods in Manhattan the people looked stressed out and desperate. I figured they were people from other places who came to NYC to make it big and they were stressed out by the effort or by not making it or by the fear of falling off the ladder.

      Now I am living in Hartford CT where almost everyone is poor so I feel I fit in better. Again it is a cultural desert and there is no subway to Manhattan and in fact no subway at all. But I don’t see much poverty except for hard core addicts. CT is a pretty liberal State so there are decent social services and Hartford is the capital so the State tries to support it. The biggest industries are Churches and methadone clinics and digging up the streets.

    3. Ford Prefect

      Much of the American story in the 20th century is about the active physical segregation of the country by race and economic class. One of the reasons that the homeless problem is becoming focused on is because it is taking poverty and physically putting it on the street where the wealthier segments of society are instead of keeping it segregated in urban or rural areas where the wealthier parts of society have no reason to go at less than 60 mph on an interstate.

      Most people live within a few miles of poverty. Its just that those are the areas where “you don’t go,” so they travel to other countries to see it instead.

  8. Ook

    Plenty of extreme poverty at home. Theroux’s book “Deep South” is full of observations such as this: “Still a disgrace fifty years after Clinton lived in town, still poor and obviously neglected, Langston looked like a black “location”in South Africa, ripe for uplift from an NGO (though none was in sight), the very sort of place that should have been a target for improvement by the Clinton Global Initiative, but wasn’t.”

      1. Paul Easton

        But White Flight leaves good housing cheap. True of Hartford CT where I live and El Monte CA. El Monte has a fast train to downtown LA.

        1. ambrit

          That might have been true once, but today, an increasing share of the population cannot even afford the ‘leftovers.’

  9. inode_buddha

    Dunno, all I have to do is look out the window, and be grateful that I have a window. A block away, there’s somebody in rags, pushing a cart full of empty cans into the 7-11. Sometimes I buy them a meal, or give spare change. All the while a voice inside is screaming at me, that this is the richest country in the world, and I’ve been out of work for 6 months with medical problems.

    1. ambrit

      I have that same inner voice. I appreciate the extreme radicals of the past more and more as time passes.

  10. Joe Well

    I have lived for short periods of time (several months to a couple years) in middle-income countries like Mexico and the Phillippines, and what it taught me was not what poverty per se looks like, but what inequality looks like (because you stop seeing the conditions in your home country).

    Tiny, unfinished servants quarters in luxurious upper-middle class apartments. Educated South Americans making the princely sum of USD$ 1000/month who talk about the poor indigenous people like Marie Antoinnette and have disdain for their leaders. The stifling of innovation because everyone wants to just cling to what they have rather than make something new that could be stolen somehow. Hermetically sealed upper-middle-class social networks because people first do not trust and then become uncomfortable with outsiders. Rampant xenophobia and petty, extreme nationalism (territotial disputes are part of the bread and butter of Latin american news) alternating with “this country is a dump, how I suffer nobly to live here.”

    And I see that the US is becoming more and more like that. The elite xenophobia was the most shocking. And here as there, the problem is not just the squillionaires but the merely affluent and indeed everyone who sees the person below them, or some outsider somewhere, as the enemy.

  11. JohnnyGL

    So, to answer the question…

    I think there’s a tricky contradiction…you may need to travel to see the poverty if you don’t know it exists…or think it’s overblown. This can often be the case in places that market themselves as tourist destinations. Advertising warps perceptions…which is, of course, why so much money gets spent on it!!!

    It may be most impactful when encountered in a time/place you don’t expect.

    1. Paul Easton

      I know people who went to Rio and couldn’t leave their hotel without getting mugged by gangs of homeless kids.

    2. Paul Easton

      When I first went to India there were people dying in the street in Delhi. Don’t know if it is better now.

  12. jeremyharrison

    Rant time:

    I’ve lived in the 3rd world, and currently my life is devoted to working with charities who lift people (especially children) out of TRUE poverty – not “fatigue and despair in the faces of cashiers at Walmart” poverty. I mean TRUE poverty, as in “living in garbage dumps with no clean water, no sewers, malnourished, malarial…and 5 years old” poverty.

    Comparing the two, IMHO, is obscene.

    Continuation of rant: I live in San Francisco, where our Government of the Eternal Progressives wrestles with poverty (some of it almost 3rd world – the small % of the homeless who are so mentally ill that they have no way of taking care of themselves and just sleep in their own feces, while many of our homeless are kids who came here for the “street lifestyle” – easy to score smack and meth, compassionate people to panhandle (in other words, enablers), and many others who could actually be housed and have a job in a far more affordable town, but prefer being here.

    SF has shoveled over $200,000,000 per year to our “homeless” for the last 30 years – it’s now up to $300,000,000 per year. That money is a powerful magnet, both for homeless people across the country, as well as smart folks who have set up over 100 “non-profit homeless corporations” (they sprout like mushrooms here) – none of which provide any accountability of results for the millions they receive, but do happily quid pro quo both $$ and campaign workers every election to help elect our progressive politicians who keep promising to “help the homeless”. It’s such a beautiful marriage that it makes us sentimentalists weep as we watch them dance together, happily, like Fred and Ginger.

    Aside from funding the (ahem) “Non-profits” (some of which have heads who have bought homes in the comfy hills of the East Bay, where everyone would have the cops there in a heartbeat if they ever saw a homeless person on their block), much of our massive expenditures go to “permanent housing for the homeless”. My, that sounds SO nice on a campaign flyer – but the latest project of permanent housing paid for by the City is going to come in at over $1,000,000 PER UNIT (mix of studios, 1 BR’s, and a few 2 BR’s) – because the City bid against private developers in a gentrifying neighborhood (the Mission) to obtain the land.

    Let that sink in. 7,000 homeless people in SF – and our “solution” is to build million dollar apartments for about 100 of them (via a bond measure – paid for by added property tax), while the other 6,900 get to divvy up this year’s usual $300,000,000 – much less though after passing through many hands.

    Now, where would I rather have my money go? To taxes that get routed through non-profits and get very little bang for the buck (except for the politicians who choose which non-profits get the tax $$$) – or to charities in the 3rd world, which have 4-star Charity Navigator ratings, full disclosures, nominal salaries to founders and staff, plus lots of local volunteer help) where it doesn’t take $1 million to house a homeless person, but instead, it takes a tiny fraction of that to feed and house a widowed mother and her 4 kids, and get them into school, and get them vaccinations?

    It might be true that you don’t have to go to the 3rd world to see examples of true poverty (although you do if you want to see them on a massive scale) – and you can find pockets of it here and there in the US – but if you’re looking for solutions, you’re NOT gonna find any in the Progressive cities of the US – at least I know for sure that you won’t find any in the Progressive Mecca of San Francisco.

    I do whatever I can to minimize taxes paid to my home city, and every dollar saved goes to The Cambodian Children’s Fund, where it actually makes a difference.

    1. Clive

      Your comment is redolent of two long-standing and equally long-discredited notions.

      The first is the idea of deserving and undeserving poor. This was the flawed basis of the English system of workhouses in the 19th century. So-called deserving poor got state assistance. Undeserving poor had their lives made miserable and lacking dignity with the intention that this would somehow increase their incentives to work. To instil compliance, in other words. But this classification required the Judgement of Solomon. Unsurprisingly, this proved to be impossible to maintain in practice, at least with any consistency. Your characterisation of those who are unfortunate enough to be chemically dependent is typical of this kind of thinking and the kinds of as a minimum arguments and worse-case blatant injustices which arise. The medical model of addition and treatment demonstrates the change in understanding of those who are addicted. Adding to an addicts suffering does not guarantee a cure. Nor does the provision of treatment.

      But you don’t let any of these complexities deter you from making broad-brush assessments of addition-as-a-lifestyle-choice vs. addiction-as-a-disease. Addicts frequently move between these two states. Sometimes it is voluntary. But sometimes it is totally beyond their control. No-one can predict which way their addictive careers will go, even professions in treatment centres cannot tell despite 20 years or more working in the field. You offer nothing to solve this intractable problem, save what sounds to me suspiciously like moralising.

      Then you introduced your second concept, which is a sliding scale of suffering. Here, in your worldview, there is what I can only infer is really awful horrible suffering and — how shall I put it? — “suffering-lite”. The first of these is deserving from what you tell us of amelioration. The second is only to be met by, I’ll need to read between the lines here so please correct me if I’m doing you an injustice, some form of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps or, alternatively, grinning and bearing it.

      While I doubt it is your intention, you are inadvertently perhaps demonstrating a lack of humanity. Suffering is suffering. My mother-in-law suffers, but not through any material want. She is sometimes (I fear not infrequently) lonely. She worries about health and how healthcare (here in the U.K.) will fare now that the has to rely solely on the NHS (which is at constant and real risk from crapification). She dislikes being reliant on family not just because that puts you at the whims of others but because she is an independent-minded person who hates having to impose on others. She is most definitely not in the same position as a Cambodian street child. But she deserves compassion and to live in a society that cares, whatever that caring requires and however the care has to manifest itself. Both Cambodian society and (as in my example case) U.K. society need to become far more caring. The application of the caring needs to be invoked in hugely different ways depending on the needs of each country, which are very different. But the demonstrable lack of care is the same demonstrable lack of care (or empathy, or charity, however you want to label it) in each of these widely differing states.

      For you, though, there seems to be a point where care and compassion cease to be appropriate. A vague line where need stops being need and somehow ends up being merely less-worthy outpourings of individual “likes” or “wishes”. This is a dangerous oversimplification. The preface to the post was entirely correct in pointing this out — Starbucks baristas forced to smile and make nice to customers (else face retribution and even being fired) are just as pernicious a facet of diseased societies as children forced to beg on the streets. The barista in Starbucks may not, on a superficial analysis, be at immediate risk of death. But declining mental health, stress and the loss of hope (and the constant threat of becoming homeless due to their precarious employment situation) might just as well kill them slowly, over a much longer period, than the Cambodian street urchin dying from a lack of access to sanitation.

      1. jeremyharrison

        Let me simplify:

        It’s not a matter of “who deserves it more” or “Who is suffering more.
        It’s a simply question of “What is the most I can accomplish with my charitable dollars?”

        In my experience, a couple of thousand dollars can move a small family in Phnom Penh out of living in a garbage dump, and into sanitary housing (which, by US standards, you’d probably consider “horrible housing” – but to them, it’s a paradise compared to where they were before), and pull the kids out of malnutrition and start to heal the aftermath of early childhood malnutrition, and to get the kids into school (not all kids get into elementary school in Cambodia – it costs, not much but more than lots of families can afford). In many cases, these are kids whose future, without any education, can easily be victims of sex trafficking, etc. But a few thousand $$$ can stop that – for one family.

        Compare that to what it costs to stop the suffering of someone in the US – and as a comparison, I used what my city does to “house the homeless” – a few lucky lottery winners get to live in an apartment that cost the city $1 million to build – and then that doesn’t even start to address their other needs – food, mental health care, addiction treatment.

        It’s not a matter of which one deserves help more – it’s simply a matter of how much more impact I can have in Cambodia than I can have in own hometown. Simple, simple, simple….

        As to Germo’s disgust on me “skipping out on paying my taxes” – I don’t “skip out”. I minimize. There’s a big difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion. I use legal methods to reduce my tax burden – because I know damn well that any money I save on taxes I can use FAR better than San Francisco’s city government can.

        “Greatest good for the greatest number” is the phrase….

        1. notabanktoadie

          You’ve convinced me. Where can I send a check to?

          Not to belittle misery and injustice in the US, but I would like to get a lot of “bang for the buck” with at least some of what I might give – not that I can give much without endangering my own security.

          But also, please lay off poor drug users since that is not Biblical (c.f Proverbs 31:6-9).

          1. jeremyharrison

            @not bank toadie – If you’re serious, here are some links:



            And I don’t think I was being moralistic anywhere about drug users – my only point is that my dollar goes further helping out kids in abject poverty than it does trying to help out someone with a serious addiction problem. I totally support anyone who chooses to work with getting folks into rehab – it’s just a personal choice of mine that I’ve realized that I can do more good with my limited means in other ways.

            1. notabanktoadie

              I totally support anyone who chooses to work with getting folks into rehab jeremyharrison

              Which totally misses the point of Proverbs 31:6-9 which is that the poor are to be GIVEN the means to forget their bitter lives.

              So drug and alcohol use are not the problem in the case of the poor but instead their poverty (“…the ruin of the poor is their poverty” Proverbs 10:15).

              And poverty would be far, far less in the US if we had a just economic system – which we don’t.

        2. Krystyn Walentka

          Why should I care about someone in Cambodia?

          And when has charity ever fixed poverty instead of acting as a safety valve for the capitalists?

          Maybe working for third world charities is not the most “efficient” use of your time.

          If you are in a tax bracket that can do any kind of “tax avoidance” I do not think any of this will sink in…

          1. jeremyharrison

            @krystyn Your comment of “why should I care about someone in Cambodia” and your insinuation that I’m stupid (“I do not think any of this will sink in”) are…well…

            I have no comment to those, except to say “I have no comment to those.”

            1. Krystyn Walentka

              No, I think you cannot answer because you cannot say why you or I should care about someone in Cambodia over someone right on our street. I do not even think you know why or you would have said so.

              I would have more respect for you if you tried.

              I do not think you are stupid, just inexperienced. I know you can learn, but you need to examine yourself and take in the rest of the comments here.

            2. Yves Smith Post author

              You can go to hell. If you were a regular, you would know Krystyn has been homeless and has other serious problems which I won’t belabor. Her reaction to your complete rejection of distress in the US was astonishingly restrained, as was her second comment. She didn’t try playing her moral trump card, perhaps intuiting this would be lost on you. For you to be so dismissive (and make a point of articulating a deliberately unresponsive comment, as opposed to simply not answering) smacks of privilege.

              And her insinuation that you try to denigrate is spot on. Holier-than-thou willful blindness looks an awful lot like stupidity. The fact that you have no empathy for WalMart workers (whose pained and worn faces in a setting where they are supposed to feign cheerfulness is a quiet statement of desperation…financial and Lord only know what else….their health? The health of significant others? Addiction and suicides of people close to them? Oh, but I forgot, you hold addicts in contempt, even though it has been documented that Purdue Pharma set out to create addiction via claiming it had a 24 hour opiate that actually stopped in 10-12 hours, and then told doctors that told them patients were still in pain to up the dosage rather than increase frequency). But it is of no import to you.

              1. jeremyharrison

                Yves, I have no idea who “Karen” is. I was responding to someone named “Krystyn” who was asking why he or she should care about people in other countries, and criticizing me for spending most of my efforts working for charities in 3rd world countries by saying that’s probably not the most efficient use of my time, implying that I’m not smart enough or (as she corrected above) experienced enough to understand why that is.

                My reply was, yes, dismissive, as I find it shocking that someone would openly say they can find no reason to care about people in other countries, and following that up by implying that my work with 3rd world kids is based upon ignorance.

                So now you’ve informed me, apparently, of the life circumstance of this person who was accusing me of this, of which I had no idea (how could I?) – while telling me to go to hell. I know nothing of your life circumstance, so forgive me in not knowing how to respond to your wish to see me in hell (not that i believe in hell) – I don’t mean to be dismissive to you – I just don’t know how to respond to someone telling me to go to hell, except to wish them well, which I do. I wish you well.

                Since Krystyn (or Karen, or whomever) replied to me and rather than implying I’m ignorant, politely asked me to explain why I choose to do the charity work I do – I’m more than happy to reply to that comment with equal politeness, and I appreciate the dialogue.

                So….if you’ve read my comments, you’ll see that I never said that anyone should care more about kids in Cambodia more than they should care about people in closer proximity to them – what I HAVE said repeatedly is simply that with my limited means and time, I’m capable of doing more good for kids in poorer countries than I’m capable of doing for people in a much richer place than where I live – so wanting to do as much good as possible, I find it pragmatic to focus my work and limited funds to 3rd world kids.

                As I’ve said over and over, I wish to get the biggest bang for my buck. I can see the difference that my support makes in the slums of Phnom Penh – I can follow kids as they are moved out of living in garbage dumps, where they scavange for a living, rather than going to school – and track them as they get into housing and into school, and get fed and immunized. For the same amount of money, I couldn’t make a fraction of the difference in the life of any homeless person here in SF – the city is already spending $40,000/year per each homeless person in trying to help them – I can add $1,000 to that $40,000 and it wouldn’t make much of a difference, while that same $1,000 can get a kid in Cambodia out of a tin shack in a garbage dump, and into survivable shelter, and fed, and into school. It just feels like I’m able to accomplish more there. Does that sound reasonable?

                I’d love to hear back from you and continue the conversation – and in any case, I certainly wish the best for you, as I do for everyone. And I appreciate you clarifying your criticism of me – I understand it better after your 2nd comment.

                1. Yves Smith Post author

                  My computer auto corrected to “Karen” and I did not see it till late.

                  And you HAVE made a great deal about your life clear. You have expressed open contempt fort people who are concerned about people in distress in their immediate environs, where the “bang for the buck” might come as much from personal engagement, not just writing checks.

                  You have also implicitly made clear you have no interest in addressing yawning inequality in the US…which as we have documented from the very outset of this blog, exacts a health cost on everyone, even the rich.

                  And regarding your circumstances, you have already told us a great deal. You make enough that you have stated you engage in considerable tax avoidance, if not evasion. That requires tax attorneys and they don’t come cheap. You profess to give half your income away, yet you live in the highest cost area in the US and clearly are not suffering personally since you say you do travel to Cambodia regularly, which means you can afford to. Readers can gross to to a reasonable guesstimate as to what your minimum income has to be.

                  1. Krystyn Walentka

                    Thanks Yves, I do get tired of talking about my life, and trying to explain to these “charity” folks why it is gross that, after making all their money off of the backs of people in the U.S., they want to let that wealth help someone “more deserving” than the sucker whom they have exploited. It is demeaning and I wish they could see it. Maybe it is just that they see Amerikkka as a true meritocracy so the WalMart worker is there because they are too lazy to grab their bootstraps. (You have to bend over to pull up your boots traps ya know.)

                    It is also weird that he says the city is spending “$40,000 a year” on the homeless in SF since I never have seen a homeless person walking around with that much cash. But $1000 would get a lot of people I know most of a deposit to help get them off the street and into a shelter. Or maybe it can buy them a plane ticket to Cambodia where they might finally be worthy of help.

                  2. jeremyharrison

                    Yves – It’s a treat to get to converse with the person who runs a blog that I consider to be one of the very best, even though I often disagree with its positions. So I’ll respond to your comment, point by point.

                    I’m afraid you’re reaching some conclusions about my personal circumstances that are incorrect. I try to maintain some privacy on the Internet (we all know how that goes….) so I have to be a bit oblique about it. That said:

                    1 – I don’t track the results of my charitable giving by “traveling to Cambodia regularly” (and I never said I did). I track it in other ways. Fact is, I have severe, progressive health problems and disabilities, which make even going grocery shopping a serious challenge.

                    2 – These same health problems affect my ability to, as you suggest, do “personal engagement” with the homeless around me. I have serious speech/hearing disabilities. This limits my ability to engage directly

                    3 – I have never expressed contempt for those who sacrifice to help people in distress in their immediate environs – what I HAVE expressed contempt for is people who profit from exploiting the situation in the name of “helping” – our local politicians who wastefully allocate money to political allies, with zero accountability, and achieve very, very little in the way of benefit, especially with the vast sums they allocate. I often directly express my support to volunteers who work directly with people in need, but I also directly express my outrage at the politicians involved in wasting funds that largely serve their re-election campaigns. I don’t equate those 2 categories.

                    4 – My income is far less than you assume. My “tax minimization” involves things other than income tax, and requires no attorneys. For privacy reasons, I prefer not to go into it – but suffice to say, I am far, FAR from a 1%’er. I was fortunate to have great health in my early years, and worked 70 hour weeks at my own business, and live off the proceeds of that, which isn’t all that much.

                    5 – You are correct in saying that I express little concern about wealth inequality, and am far more concerned with people who, through no fault of their own, cannot survive, or suffer needlessly. You and I might differ on politics here. I’m sure I have more to learn, but my take is that it’s more important to have that as a focus – i.e., if everyone had a survivable standard of living, and opportunity to improve themselves, that’s more important of a goal than making sure there are no billionaires. Similarly, if the world had full “wealth equality” but that equality was “equally unsustainable of life and health”, “equality itself” isn’t much of a good. Yeah, I know it gets complex from there – which is why there’s a wide spectrum of political philosophies, where people of good will and good intent can agree on the goodness of outcomes, but disagree on the goodness of the means to get there.

                2. flora

                  You’re looking for the best bargain for your charity dollar. The best bargain currently is offshore, just like workers’ wages.

                  1. Yves Smith Post author

                    Yes, I was going to say that one of the reasons readers are reacting the way they are is not just the contemptuous rejection of doing things in your backyard (which denigrates the work some and perhaps many people on this site are engaged in) but the logic is the flip side of the Larry Summers garbage idea, of sending waste to Africa because it is cheaper to ditch it there.

                    Jerry has managed to elicit non-symapthy for his evident very large personal commitment to charity because he is openly critical of those who want to help the (according to him) less deserving in the US and other advanced economies. Which is a shame. The squillionaire class wants to be praised for donations that almost never reach 1/10th of his proportional giving.

                    But he also prefers individual action, when the only developing country in modern times to move its citizenry out of poverty is China….as a result of national policies. You may not like government, but government is the only way to change lives on a mass basis.

                    1. jeremyharrison

                      Just to re-iterate, I never said that people in need in the US are “less deserving” – I’ve said that it takes less money and work to ease the suffering of people in much poorer countries.

                      And I’m not critical of people who genuinely help those in need in the US. I AM critical of inefficiencies, and even more so of politicians and their allies who benefit from those in need by siphoning off from the compassion (and taxes) of those who do try to help.

                      And your point on China is well taken. I’m well aware of how they’ve succeeded in raising masses out of poverty. I didn’t fit that into the conversation cuz that opens a whole ‘nother can of worms. :)

                      Also, I’m not looking for sympathy – just chatting. But if anything, I do like to persuade people to examine my choice of charities – I see them get big results for very little in the way of contributions. The Cambodian Children’s Fund is a breath of fresh air in a field that’s often corrupt – and has an amazingly inspiring story to its origins.

                    2. jrs

                      jeremy: “And I’m not critical of people who genuinely help those in need in the US. I AM critical of inefficiencies, and even more so of politicians and their allies who benefit from those in need by siphoning off from the compassion (and taxes) of those who do try to help.”

                      suspect the solution here to the extent it’s government that is badly using funds, is voting and activism to try to change how funds are used. This may be more or less of an uphill fight of course, depends on what interest groups and ideologies dominate local politics, but probably the only way. Better than just throwing up one’s hands at the problem.

                    3. GERMO

                      The rational philanthropist angle is a nice veneer underneath which is a thick layer of contempt for individuals in poverty and for governments that use his tax money to help people he clearly hates. In the Bay Area I can imagine this form is echoed a lot.

        3. Joe Well

          This is why charity is awful in principle and we should fight for government entitlements. The businesses that create social problems should pay to clean up their messes and to maintain society, not random donors whose donations will be eaten up by fundraisers and bureaucrats.

          Your biggest buck bang is a donation to the Sanders campaign.

        4. jrs

          “There’s a big difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion.”

          the difference is entirely what class you fall into nothing more.

          If you have money there are ways to evade taxes legally, if you don’t, the only way to avoid them is working under the table. Of course many people just pay their taxes, being neither rich enough to evade them nor in the black market. And please don’t give me “but charitable deductions” garbage, because especially under the Trump tax policy, it’s very difficult to exceed the standard deduction with that alone, ok fine you give half your income to charity … well fine then I’d stand corrected.

        5. orange cats

          I don’t dispute your depiction of city government’s wasteful, greedy exploitation of the homeless population but you are mistaken that you are getting “more bang for your buck” with Cambodian Chidren’s Fund. You have no idea what you are getting for your money. I worked for a charity organization in southeast asia and know something about how they operate– there is rarely ANY fiscal transparency or accountability, much less basic standards of care. Your organization is another so-called orphanage where many of the children are brought to reside while their parents remain in the countryside and sign them over before they can get any aid. Then the children are used in ads to attract more funding. It’s often called poverty porn. Cambodia Children’s fund is very successful at this. Do you know how the children are actually living day to day? When is the last time you visited? Do you think white men starting charities and assuming loco parentis status in a developing country is the solution to poverty? The white guy I worked for was a unprincipled narcissist who didn’t care about kids at all and had to be constantly prodded to do the right thing. You would not know this unless you were THERE every day.

          1. jeremyharrison

            @orange cat – You’re absolutely right that there are many scam charities in the 3rd world. It’s a real problem.

            I had to do a lot of research and vetting before choosing the 2 that I work with the most – Doctors Without Borders and The Cambodian Children’s Fund. charitynavigator.org is a helpful starting point (both of these charities have their highest 4 star rating – CCF actually has a 99 score out of 100 – last I checked, DWB is low 90’s – still decent though.

            The scammers never get a rating from Charity Navigator – they fly under the radar, and yes, use “poverty porn” in advertising to raise funds that are never well-accounted for – AVOID AVOID AVOID. Some are outright exploitative of the very people they say they help. One has to do one’s research, and follow up.

            Thanks for pointing out that problem – it’s a serious one.

            1. orange cats

              I’m not just talking about the outright scammers, I am talking about your Cambodian Children’s Fund. I repeat, you do not know where your money is going or how effective this charity is, Charity Navigator ratings notwithstanding. Charity Navigator has not investigated this program other than examine their tax information. Charity Navigator’s well compensated CEOs have not been to Cambodia and verified all the wonders that you claim Cambodia Children’s Fund has accomplished with your money. You really need to educate yourself about donating to charity operations in foreign countries.

        6. Lambert Strether

          > “Greatest good for the greatest number” is the phrase….

          How true. I don’t care what you do with your money. But as a matter of public policy, if your views — “I know damn well that any money I save on taxes I can use FAR better than San Francisco’s city government can” — imply what I think they do, I regard your views as pernicious. Like it or not, government scales. Personal charitable efforts do not.

          1. jeremyharrison

            My words have no implications beyond the specific example I’m using. I tend to take issues on a case by case basis whenever possible.

            I CAN extend out and say that I think I can use my own money more wisely than the US government as a whole as well. To generalize further would get into abstract political philosophy, where you and i might sometimes agree, sometimes disagree.

            You’re absolutely right that government scales. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes that’s not such a good thing. Depends on what they’re scaling. :)

    2. GERMO

      I honestly have a really hard time believing anything this comment puts forward — the “magnet for homeless” people is one well-debunked howler for example — but when you boast about how you skip out on paying your taxes, well, that part rings true. This was a stunningly ugly proclamation that I truly wish I’d never allowed myself to read.

      1. JCC

        In defense of part of jeremy’s post, he did not say he he skipped out on paying taxes, he said

        I do whatever I can to minimize taxes paid to my home city, and every dollar saved goes to The Cambodian Children’s Fund, where it actually makes a difference

        And I understand part of his frustration even though I don’t fully agree with his “blaming the victims” stance after reading this:

        Right now in San Francisco, bringing an affordable housing development to fruition generally takes around five years and $700,000 per unit.


        So, although he exaggerated the cost (maybe -who knows how much more the cost will inflate), if I lived in a city that considered a $700,000.00 apartment “affordable housing” and that it took 5 years to make them available (even though they were needed yesterday), I would do all I could to minimize paying taxes to this city, too.

        1. JohnnyGL

          If the price is really $600-$700K per unit….I’d question whether the goal is really to ‘provide affordable housing’ or if it’s more about getting contracts for property developers.

          Keep in mind, the property developers are often very powerful local powerbrokers.

          The article did little to sway me from this idea. It did a decent job of telling me how they were divvying up the pie, but little about what went into the pie, itself. How much are they spending on buying out existing slumlord owners looking to bilk the city?

          1. jrs

            It’s them, if one is honest it’s unionized labor, which the contracts must use. Private developers doing non-government development don’t have to, but government contracts do – which is definitely at a much higher wage rate.

            And what about LAND costs, because in SFO that’s gonna be huge. And then there is debates about locate the homeless where land is cheaper or where they actually live, and then the fact that every NIMBY in the world will come out of the woodwork to fight the development in their backyard, so options may end up constrained, and if they want to there are a lot of motions NIMBYs could take to delay it. California: where we really want to house the homeless in theory, why we really really do … just NIMBY!!!

            1. jeremyharrison

              In the case I cited, it’s the land cost. Upper Mission area – 16th and South Van Ness, to be precise. It’s an area that is gentrifying, and private developers were bidding for the land – to build out much-needed apartments – IIRC, 75% market rate and 25% “affordable” housing (subsidized – all new development in SF requires some % of “affordable units” – it becomes a negotiating point in the permit process. The City came in late in the sales action, and outbid the private developers. They could have built FAR more units for the homeless in more outlying areas of San Francisco, but they paid (and I do mean PAID) for this plot, which is a location that would have drawn very high rents in the private sector – because the politicos like the talking point of “economic diversity within neighborhoods” – (although “affordable housing” has NEVER been built anywhere CLOSE to Pelosi’s neighborhood – or that of the local supervisors, for that matter – very NIMBY-ish). So, in pursuit of this goal, rather than building units at $400,000 per unit in another neighborhood that isn’t gentrifying, they’re paying $1 million per unit – meaning they will house less homeless people, but gain a talking point.

          2. JBird4049

            The corruption and rent seeking in the Congressional Military Industrial Complex that results in such turkeys as the F-35 and the aircraft carrier USS Ford is also happening in the NGOs or non-profits, where most of the funding for such items as housing does not go to housing. There are books on the subject if you want a proper amount of nauseous rage.

            There is as well including the deliberate strategy, proposed by (paid) consultants, by state and municipal governments throughout the United States to drain the trusts, SSA/SSI/SSDI funds, savings, and inheritances as a form of taxation rather than using the funds allocated by state and federal taxes to support the programs that help the orphans, poor, disabled, and homeless. Much of it is probably illegal, like the illegal, but common, unofficial, municipal debtors’ prisons now common across the courtroom after having sprung up in the last twenty to thirty years.

            Keep in mind, most, though not all, of this is bluntly illegal, with legal, but still corrupt, practices has infested a vast amount of the charitable, governmental and private, institution and organizations. However, even when the Supreme Court has flatly ruled, just in the last few years, that the unofficial debtor’s prisons being run are illegal, it takes overworked nonprofit lawyers to go to the individual various counties and cities to inform them again, that what is being done is illegal. That is not to mention often counterproductive as it usually cost more to try to squeeze money from the indigent than to forgive those court fees, fines and penalties. There have been studies on it. But I think there is always a collective and surprised Oh!? from the courts and local governments on both the legality and costs.

            So jeremyharrison is absolutely right to be angry about the funding issues as the various cities and their associating proliferating and parasitic nonprofits are not trying to solve homelessness and the other associative ills; it is more profitable to appear to be doing so as solving the problems will make the gravy train leave.

            1. Paul Easton

              This is the logical outcome of an economy based on the Market System, aka the Profit Motive. All levels of government, all major political parties, and most NGOs, become cash cows for the ruling class and their minions. The system is rigged so that money is pumped uphill, from the poorer to the richer. Austerity programs imposed locally or by the IMF or EU are an important part of this.

              A corollary to this is that national governments are not allowed to interfere with the free flow of international capital. If they try to they will be removed by military action, economic sanctions organised by the US Government, or by externally generated coup.

              The US is “the indispensable nation” because the US Government is the designated enforcer for the profit system. If USians want to make a lasting contribution to humanity we need to stop cooperating with our national government.

    3. diptherio

      Ah yes, the old “someone else has it worse than you, so you don’t really have it so bad” line. I’m very familiar and very unimpressed. Your perspective is one that conveniently allows you to feel superior to the people who live in your own country, while also feeling like a saint for your oh-so-selfless work in Cambodia. Spare me. Your charity is nothing more than an excuse for self-righteousness.

      1. anon y'mouse

        the first thing that sociologists say is that “poverty is relative”.

        meaning the entire first paragraph is true, except for the statement that the “better off American poors” are not in actual poverty.

        i would posit a definition of poverty is that you can’t live a basic decent life by the standards of whatever geographic location you happen to be in.

        it just so happens, a basic decent life in Cambodia probably costs a few thousands a year. whereas in the Bay Area (where i was born and raised, in the ghettos) it costs almost a hundred thousand a year or more. manymany of our “not really poor” poor people work. if you slave your life away and you get almost no better than the homeless except that you can now afford a car to sleep in, then you are in POVERTY in this country. you probably also have multiple health problems, or soon-to-be health problems from living that way.

        as for whether people are “drawn to an area” because of something, i have heard actual street people say that they come to the west coast because they can more easily survive the weather there.

        the key word is “SURVIVE”.

        1. False Solace

          Agreed. Shelter is a fundamental human need. If you can’t afford a roof over your head, you’re desperately poor by any common sense definition.

          1. JBird4049

            >>>as for whether people are “drawn to an area” because of something, i have heard actual street people say that they come to the west coast because they can more easily survive the weather there.<<<

            Much of California has a great climate, but not everywhere and not always, which can make it worse. When an infrequent storm(s) come from the cold north instead of the warmer Pacific, it can be a week, or more, of very windy, cold heavy rain. Not quite snow, but close. The kind of rain that gets everything, every layer, and just soaks you to the bone, ripping that warmth out of your body, unlike the normal rains or even the snows in the mountains.

            So the average Bay Arean, including the homeless, is equipped for normal Mediterranean weather instead of the week or three every few years of the northern storms. The average person can just grab a really appreciated hot cup of something, and a change of clothes. After a few days some of the government agencies and nonprofits do start to flip. Trying to save lives and bodies, but what can they do when the storms are already there to help the people living rough (way) out there?

            1. jeremyharrison

              Yes, weather is a big draw. I can’t fathom homeless folks living in Chicago where it gets to 20 below in the winter. That’s a heartbreaking level of helplessness, to be unable to panhandle enough to get to the West Coast….

              So yeah, Seattle, Portland, SF, and other West Coastal towns are big draws – but the biggest one is LA, where you don’t deal with that bone-chilling rain of the other 3. The number of homeless migrating to LA is mind-boggling, but it makes perfect sense why they’d choose to find their way there – via any means they can…..

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                You really do like right wing urban legends, don’t you?

                The reason California has much a high level of homelessness is the housing costs.

                The myth that homeless people moved to California has been debunked multiple times, see recent examples:



                1. jeremyharrison

                  Please don’t hate on me, but there are often problems with the surveys like the ones you provided (there are many more).

                  First, yes, many homeless are indeed previous long-term residents of the area where they are now homeless. But, it’s hard to pin down numbers, because:

                  1 – Most surveys aren’t done by “non-interested” parties (at least in San Francisco, which is the area I’m most familiar with – the one you linked for LA surprised me with their figure of 65% of LA homeless having lived in LA for at least 20 years – but I’m less familiar with the homeless service non-profit orgs in LA who did that survey). In SF, most are done by non-profits (contracted out by city agencies) whose funding depends on both the number of homeless reported, and on the most sympathetic portrayal of their backgrounds and reasons for being here.

                  2 – Definitions are “squishy”. In SF, most come in with about 70% of homeless as having been “SF residents” before becoming homeless. However, when these surveys have been looked into, definitions of “SF residents” have often included people who moved here, paid for a week or two at a motel, or paid friends for a week or two to crash on their couch, and then ran out of money and moved to the streets. But since the surveys are done by parties with a stake in the outcome, they skew towards the most sympathetic portrayals they can attain. A report that would say that half the homeless population came here last week from Oklahoma would mean less funding eventually. It’s almost like asking Boeing or Lockheed to assess US air and missile defense needs for the Pentagon.

                  3 – The surveys are pure self-reporting, with no proof. Walk up to someone camped out on the sidewalk and ask the survey questions. Streetwise people know how to give streetwise answers. Except for the seriously mentally ill, they are NOT dumb people. When a surveyor asks about their prior residence, most would be loathe to say “Just hitchhiked here. Nice town you got.” They get treated better if they say “I lived here for 10 years and lost my job.” True in many cases, but with no follow up verification, we’ll never know how many are being completely honest.

                  I don’t think you or I can come up with reliable figures. I’ll agree that many homeless in SF or LA are former long-term residents who fell on hard times. It stands to reason – when one becomes homeless, it’s good to be where one knows the turf, and maybe even has some social support. Why else would there be lots of homeless people staying in Chicago or Fargo? Not all migrate away.

                  But since I don’t think either of us can come up with objective percentages from disinterested parties, it also stands to reason that when someone becomes homeless, and has no family or friends who are willing to take them in, the smart thing to do is to get to a city with better weather and better homeless support networks – and a tolerant population.

                  Other cities are hip to this too – some have been found to be giving their local homeless people free bus tickets to San Francisco. And when they do, when a homeless person is given a choice of “stay here and we’ll hassle you endlessly, or take this ticket and head to California where you’ll be treated better”, that’s a no-brainer.

                  1. Lambert Strether

                    Strange to see a professed humanitarian advocating clearance operations for the homeless. It’s a funny old world. Too bad Greyhound doesn’t go all the way to Cambodia….

                  2. GERMO

                    Jesus what part of right wing urban legend do you not get, man? You can’t possibly believe that people reading Naked Capitalism have never looked into poverty or homelessness and and will believe this stuff. This is really Fox & Friends level and looking at people’s responses to these posts now and again today I’d have to say, nobody’s impressed with your imitation of a big shot philanthropist and expert.

      2. jeremyharrison

        @diptherio, who says “Your charity is nothing more than an excuse for self-righteousness.”

        My my. You’re very quick to ascribe character traits to people you don’t know, aren’t you? That’s not an attractive quality.

        1. flora

          I can see you’re having fun with this. But seriously, there are many good, sound US charity and religious groups that spend the bulk of their donations helping those in need. You get the same tax write-off. (The need is constantly increasing in this our neoliberal paradise. )

    4. False Solace

      How remarkably narcissistic to think that the person living on a different continent is somehow your problem to solve while your neighbor living in your own city is not. Very anti-Christian thinking, typical of centrists and the right, who go out of their way to blame suffering on the poor.

      1. jeremyharrison

        @false solace, who says “Very anti-Christian thinking” to choose to help people on other continents rather than one’s own neighbor.

        As I said repeatedly, my motive is getting the most bang for my buck – I can do far more to help those who live in the most poverty-stricken areas than I can in less poverty stricken areas, so that’s what I choose.

        I would argue that valuing people less because they happen to live on another continent would be the action that would be “less Christian”, or better yet, so as not to get into religious debates, perhaps “less ethical”. I value all humans equally – and choose to help the ones who I can best help, over the ones who I can’t help as much. It’s like triage which is color-blind.

    5. jrs

      Yes the LATTER the faces of the Walmart workers, is probably MUCH worse, because after mere survival EVERYTHING is about social belongingness. And only a society can ruin that. I suppose you think people are just biological machines and so only keeping the biological machine functioning matters. It matters of course, but people are actually fundamentally social creatures, and anomie kills, and that’s what extreme inequality produces for those on the lowest rungs.

      As for there being corruption and misuse of funds etc. sure. I don’t believe in charity though (charity is a sorry substitute for justice) but I pay my taxes even though I recognized that they are often misused. The solution to that is not @#$# and moaning about it, but activism to change it.

    6. The Historian

      You’ve really missed the point of charitable giving, haven’t you?

      YES, taking advantage of the poor is now big business – but that isn’t the fault of those in poverty, is it? Because you don’t like the NGO’s and other organizations that exist to make money off of someone else’s suffering, you are going to punish those in need?

      There are many organizations that are worthwhile and do their best to help the poor without benefiting themselves, food banks for example. Why aren’t you looking for those organizations instead of punishing those in poverty because they can’t do anything about those in Poverty, Inc. who do wish to take advantage of their circumstances?

      Perhaps it is time you stopped seeing humanity as cash transactions and saw them as what they are – people who have value that can’t be measured in dollars. Or perhaps it is time you broke through the me-my-I prison that you live in and began to actually look outside yourself and realize that charity isn’t about getting more “bang for your buck”. I guess we should all be grateful that you do give something – there are many who think like you who don’t and who would like to stop government from doing what they won’t do.

      This article has been up all day and yet no one has made any comments about why we hold those in poverty responsible for the greedy behavior of Poverty, Inc. Doesn’t anyone here understand how those in poverty are being punished twice? Once because they don’t get the help they need, and secondly, because they are then held responsible for Poverty, Inc.’s abuse of them

  13. inode_buddha

    All I have to do is look out a window, and be grateful I have a window. A block away, there’s somebody in rags pushing a cart full of empty cans into the 7-11. Usually I see them rooting through the garbage to find them. Sometimes I buy them a meal, or give spare change. All the while a voice inside is screaming at me, that this is the richest country in the world, and I’ve been out of work for 6 months with medical problems.

  14. Ignacio

    Comparing the two, IMHO, is obscene.

    Well, I don’t think so. In fact poverty is a matter of comparison always and is more striking poverty in the middle of oppulence than plain lack of development. Another striking part is those that make their living within the first world garbage or those exploited in the third world to make stuff for developed countries. But precisely because they are in the same ‘food chain’, this is what makes it more miserable.

    1. jeremyharrison

      I would respectfully disagree that “poverty is a matter of comparison always”.

      To me, it’s not a measure of “I have less than those immediately around me.” as much as it is “a matter of fundamentals”.

      What’s defined as “Poverty’ in the US is a standard of living that would be the envy of hundreds of millions of people – so my concern isn’t “Who has more of what.” – it’s more like “which kids are so malnourished that their brains are not developing” or “Which kids are surrounded by open sewers next to the tin shack that is their house” or “Which families agonize over which daughter they’ll have to sell into a live of sexual slavery to the local “snakes” so the rest of their kids can eat”.

      This is not hyperbole. In places I’ve lived, I know of 13 year old girls who have been sold into slavery by their parents for less than $500 (this was 20 years ago – the price now is around $1,000 in some places)

      I don’t measure their “poverty” by comparing it to how much their neighbors own. I compare it to how the rest of the world generally lives – or more importantly, I compare it to ‘How much can I charitably give – and what is the most suffering I can alleviate with that limited sum”.

      1. diptherio

        Poor people in America should stop complaining because people in other places have even less than they do…and you should know, right? because you spent a bunch of money to fly around the world to verify that fact.

        How about this, since you’re such a selfless guy: give all your money to those poor Cambodians and try being poor in this country. Live like that for a decade, then come back and tell me about how it’s a life worthy of being envied.

      2. Alex Cox

        It is outrageous to suggest that someone living on the street, without income or health care, in the richest country in the world, would be “the envy of hundreds of millions of people.”

        You need to work on your compassion, if you can, and – as Clive said – give up this Victorian notion of the deserving and undeserving poor.

      3. Ignacio

        The definition of poverty is the “lack of something (property, wealth, money that someone else already has)”. Merriam Webster adds ·”something that is usual or considered socially acceptable” so by definition the main aception of poverty is by comparison. I have lived for some time in, lets say, the wilderness of the Orinoco river where tribes still make a living on fishing, gathering fruits and hunting and are very marginally attached to the rest of the society. On a dollar per year basis they would be considered poor though I doubt they consider themselves as poor. They have their own standard of living quite different from yours and mine. When you go to a town in the region is where you see real poverty.

      4. dbk

        You might be interested in this report of his U.S. visit by the UN Rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston in Dec. 2017. Alston may fairly be said to know a thing or two about extreme poverty (internationally/comparatively), and he was shocked at what he found in the U.S.:


        I doubt whether the conditions Alston found in the cities/regions he visited would qualify as the “envy of hundreds of millions of people” – Alston himself certainly didn’t see it like that.

        And here’s a long-form piece in The Guardian, one of whose reporters traveled with Alston: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/dec/15/america-extreme-poverty-un-special-rapporteur

        (Note: one of the cities he visited was San Francisco)

      5. Sol

        What’s defined as “Poverty’ in the US is a standard of living that would be the envy of hundreds of millions of people…

        Please stop.

        It’s possible that this justification of the poverty outside our own back door at least partially explains why the “richest country in the world” with the “best economy humanity has ever known” still has so much poverty.

        This is not a rational statement. It is a rationalizing statement. Please reconsider it thoughtfully.

      6. jrs

        Whatever, I believe you that things in the 3rd world may be bad indeed. But please read Durkheim (On Suicide), sure that’s an old and the original book on this, I’m sure you can find newer and better, and understand social belongingness and anomie, because it’s this that being economically outcast in a society that is nearly 100% economic (U.S. society, not everywhere, but in U.S. society one’s social worth is one’s economic worth mostly) does as well … and this kills human beings (from deaths from despair sure plus actual health problems which aren’t just about lack of access to healthcare but inequality itself). And I’m not shedding tears over the middle class not getting a raise here, I’m talking about much more real economic suffering: poverty and unemployment in the U.S..

      7. Lambert Strether

        I have seen something of the working class and the poor in Southeast Asia, and I understand what you’re saying. It’s worse because “rice in the fields, fish in the river” is disappearing with exproriation, so the land is far less likely to feed you than it once could.

        That said, the 50-year-old woman with bad teeth, no health insurance, and a medical condition who works three shit jobs so that she can send a check to the kids and not fall into homeless is “poor” buy any stretch of the imagination. If she lives ib Flint, or many other cities, she’s also drinking poisoned water too, given that the entire country is treated as an open sewer by capital. Surely her suffering should be alleviated as well.

        Nobody is saying you have to give money to the Walmart lady. Confusing personal charitable giving with social systems is a category error. One could argue, of course, that our first duty as a nation-state should be to take care of Cambodia (assuming we wouldn’t completely screw it up, which I think is probably). However, we have a natural experiment to look to: The destruction of flyover as we moved our industrial base to China and built a middle class there. How’d that work out? This is not an internationalist perspective, but the politics of having the United States end poverty in Cambodia while not taking care of its own citizens might as well have been invented by a preposterously Machiavellian billionaire with the object of making both projects fail.

        1. jeremyharrison

          I never said that the state of being homeless in the US would be the envy of hundreds of millions of people in the world. I said that the standard of living that is categorized as “below the poverty line” in the US would be the envy of hundreds of millions. “Below the poverty line” in the US can mean living in a house, having clean water and adequate food, sanitation, and free education K-12. So yes, there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who would love to trade their situation for that standard.

          I’ve met plenty, while doing volunteer work in the worst slums in SE Asia. If my failure to doubt that folks in these slums would gladly trade their lot for a life in the US just below the poverty line means to you that I “need to work on my compassion”, or that I seriously need to rethink that assertion – we’re somehow really not understanding each other here….

          1. jrs

            I suppose in rather unique circumstances (ie paid off house, living in mom’s basement etc. – that is cases of stored wealth or economic dependency) below the poverty line might be ok.

            But in almost no places in the U.S. is the minimum wage considered a living wage, i.e. meets basic living expenses, and that’s quite a bit above the poverty line.

          2. Sol

            Below the poverty line” in the US can mean living in a house, having clean water and adequate food, sanitation, and free education K-12.

            Clean water… sure. If one counts unclean water one is required to pay for by municipal code, regardless of quality – frequently low quality, uncomfortably often unpalatable and yet no one will speak of the quality since it only affects the poor. Lets just assume its clean without bothering to check or hold anyone accountable when it isnt though – far easier.

            Free education – that has no marketable value, doesn’t even pretend to educate, while inflating housing costs to offer this “free” useless pittance.

            A house. Sure. Maybe a couch inside a house, where one is subject to strict oppressive rules so that the owner/full tenant can maintain control. Maybe a driveway wherein one can park their van and have access to a bathroom for the same price those third-world worthies could have accomplished true secure housing.

            People are sold as commodities in America. People die of easily cured medical issues in America. Real humans in America cannot eat, go hungry. Women are given to men that please those in charge in America. Bless your heart that you do not know this.

            These are fairy tales. I’m happy you sleep content because of these tales – and yet please do not pretend your sound sleep and happy tales are reality.

            Question your own society’s bad results. SEE your own society’s bad results. Only this can gain the perspective needed to get better results.

            It’s delightful that you can see Cambodia and identify places where you can help. It is astonishing that you cannot do so when it happens in your backyard.

          3. Lambert Strether

            > I never said that the state of being homeless in the US would be the envy of hundreds of millions of people in the world.

            Please do not straw man. I made no such claim. I wrote:

            That said, the 50-year-old woman with bad teeth, no health insurance, and a medical condition who works three shit jobs so that she can send a check to the kids and not fall into homeless [sic] is “poor” buy [sic] any stretch of the imagination.

            Do you not understand the meaning of the word “not”? What you did write:

            TRUE poverty – not “fatigue and despair in the faces of cashiers at Walmart” poverty

            In other words, the poverty of the Walmart worker is not “TRUE.” I think that doesn’t pass the laugh test. (I also know Southeast Asians who have emigrated to the United States on the assumption that the material advantages of the United States would make live more worth living. Not all of them found that to be true. Often what we imagine to be true is not.)

            You are also projecting views onto me that I never expressed. I did not say, or imply, that you “need to work on your compassion.”

            What I did express — let me put it more strongly — is that if your view is that only personal charity to the most “deserving”, as opposed to society-wide, i.e. governmental, programs, is virtuous, I find that pernicious. The United States did, in fact, conduct an enormous and successful reduction in alleviating poverty in China, by de-industrializing flyover. As blowback to that effort, the country created political conditions such that a society-wide effort to heal Cambodia is impossible, because most voters feel that the State should heal its own first. Some are trying to change those political conditions.

            With regard to your fundraising efforts, the United States is the imperial hegemon, and the horrible effects of that hegemony must be addressed at source.

            I have no hesitation in saying that funding efforts in the United States that will address our Imperial hegemony are as virtuous, and possibly more virtuous, than individual charitable effort, in the same way that curing a cancer could be said to be more virtuous than dealing with the cancer’s side effects (even if the latter is in fact virtuous, and not a palliative).

            1. jeremyharrison

              Lambert – I”m not straw manning you – Alex Cox in this thread said that I said that, though I never did, so pointing out that I never said that was directed at him (her?)

              The SE Asians you know who moved to the US in hopes of a better living are not the SE Asians I’ve worked with in the past, or contribute to now – they can’t afford a bus ticket across town, much less a flight to the US.

              The accusation that I “need to work on my compassion” was never said by you – it was also said by Alex Cox, not you, so my response to that accusation was directed to him, not you. I know you don’t act that way.

              On your points of US hegemony and its effects, we agree.

  15. jefemt

    Precariat- The Other.

    With AI/ automation/robotics, 50% of jobs disappear over next 15 years?

    Who will buy the Thneeds, who will pay the debts and taxes?

    It’s a relief the Smartest Guys In The Room(tm) are organizing for this and creating a cogent cooperative smart landing.

  16. Albus

    Travel the world to know poverty…we might as well add the homeless population to the local zoo as a new attraction.

  17. Robert McGregor

    “It’s a relief the Smartest Guys In The Room(tm) are organizing for this and creating a cogent cooperative smart landing.”

    Hey, Yang2020.

  18. Sol

    Astonishing medical marvels and new wonders of science mean nothing to a person who will never be able to afford them.

    The richest society in the world means nothing to a person not allowed to partake in it.

    Oh, how I long and dream and even pray (desperate measures seem appropriate!) that one day very soon we can cease competing to be seen as human and worthy, that we can stop seeking to assign blame, and come together cooperatively to work for solutions.

    Mankind does not appear to be an eusocial primate, but oh! the things we could accomplish if we made the extra effort to act as if we were.

      1. Sol

        Have you read the mouse utopia studies by Dr. Calhoun, in the 60s and 70s?

        I have a hypothesis. Historians and biologists maintain that modern homo sapiens sapiens has existed for 200,000, perhaps 300,000, years… while doing ostensibly nothing for all of it; only inventing industry and civilisation and whatnot all in the past 4000 years.

        I have a doubt. I suspect we regularly expand and fall. Stability breeding fragility. This has all happened before. This will all happen again. And… perhaps… i have fond thoughts that it is the cooperative, foresighted, kind and thoughtful humans who survive our continual collapses caused by our terrible need to compete for worth and thus value as humans. The successful being the last to realize they need to adapt to survive, naturally.

        Shorter Sol: it is perhaps human capacity for empathy and foresight that enables our apex predator species to survive at all.

        Just a thought.

  19. CloverBee

    I have a family member who speaks at *world forums* on Poverty. This person follows the Catholic teaching of no birth control, because it is amoral. This person is extremely wealthy now and grew up as such. Has never worked for a wage to live on, much less support a family on. They travel to view world poverty, but believe firmly in “conservative” principles at home. Not raising the minimum wage, no government support of the poor, because America is not like that. I love them, but it makes my heart ache.

    1. Sol

      I recall an article that came out shortly after the last presidential election. Some sociologist seeking to “understand” the sort of poor, rural, uneducated person who could have inflicted Trump upon us all.

      Roughly 3000 words devoted to the urban professional’s mild surprise to find “these people” were indeed recognizably… people. It struck me that, as this professional verbally meandered through the lives of these strangers, the ruralites were nameless pale blobs, albeit pleasant blobs.

      Then the professional went home to the city to quote named, important urban people on what was actually going on in “those people’s” heads.

      Says it all, really. To some, there is no need to ask the subjects at hand what they think, what they feel, and then take the answers as if given by an autonomous human equal to oneself. Not when one can take a safari to examine the wildlife and then return to civilization and navel-gaze with real, recognizable humans about what they learned on safari.

      If this is the state of us, I weep for humanity. What survives is surely successful, I merely question if it is still human.

      Thank you for your comment, Clover.

  20. cripes

    Is this some weird experiment to illustrate the Poverty Porn Travel Syndrome of this post?

    A faux-commenter who embodies the precise degree of blindness it takes to live cheek to jowl with obscene wealth and deprivation, and declare he must, absolutely must, send all his pennies across the world to orphans but none for junkies who travel cross-country for the bennies can’t be real, can he?

    1. Sol

      When people tell us what sort of person they are, I suspect we should believe them. How fortunate for us that people are ever eager to weigh the worth of those around them, for it says little about those around them and yet tells us exactly who they themselves are.

      Character: how one treats those who can do nothing for them, or to them.

    2. jeremyharrison

      He’s real.

      My tax dollars go to the junkies in my neighborhood. Nothing goes to the orphans in Phnom Penh unless someone voluntarily sends it – so that’s where my voluntary money goes, and gets results.

      You got a problem with that? Then talk to me. Just please don’t put words in my mouth if you do, as many have done in these comments. Thanks.

      1. smoker

        My tax dollars go to the junkies in my neighborhood.

        Which tax dollars, exactly? What percentage of your income, and assets value, including the possibly minuscule tax (given Prop. 13) you pay on the market value of the roof over your head?

        Everyone who is poor – many of whom are homeless yet working – in the state of California is paying a far, far higher percentage of their income and minuscule assets value in mostly regressive taxes, and punitive fees and fines which target the poor, towards your well being, then you are towards theirs.

        Further, you’re perpetrating a venal myth that all on the streets because they were junkies – though I’m positive some may fall into to it to numb the ugly horror of living amongst the hateful Meritocratic™ such as yourself; you most likely would to, if you were impoverished yet living among vast wealth (generally inherited, or made on the backs of those impoverished). Millions in the US could never afford to live in San Francisco, let alone globe trot to Cambodia, particularly those who work the most honest and necessary jobs for humanity.

        Further still, I’d lay odds that many overseas impoverished – even the youth, just like in the US – are not at all without self medication drugs in the form of opium, etcetera.

        1. jeremyharrison

          this is a reply to cripes, who specifically said “junkies”. I never implied that all homeless are junkies.

          Sigh. This is one more reply after many many comments to me which most ALL completely misstate anything I say, or have said. I’m being eviscerated for commenting that I prefer to give my limited charitable time and dollars to 3rd world children in dire need, rather than the homeless in SF, since SF spends $300,000.000 a year on them – and no one except volunteers spend a penny on kids living on the edge of death in the 3rd world – my simple point being that I get more bang for my helpful buck in the 3rd world than I do in SF – so that’s where I send it. That is all. That is all. That is all.

          I am really sick and tired of people “reading” my comments and then telling me what I said when I never said anything at all like what I am being told that I said.

          At least you were polite – and I realize you probably didn’t see all of my comments – and all of the vitriol hurled at me above for my comments. And it was easy to miss that I was only tossing the term “junkie” right back at the critic who threw it at me as part of his snark.


          1. smoker

            I read your initial comment yesterday, and was seriously disturbed by it, that was enough. I wasn’t going to comment at all until I noticed you still defending your arrogance. You deserve the outraged responses you’ve gotten.


  21. cripes

    “How fortunate for us that people are ever eager to weigh the worth of those around them, for it says little about those around them and yet tells us exactly who they themselves are.”


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