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Posted by on Jul 30, 2014 in Philosophy, Politics | 15 comments

“I was poor, but a GOP die-hard: How I finally left the politics of shame”

Thi is a great article from Salon.com. I have started it off here, but it is well worth reading the lot. I think it is fascinating, the crossover between philosophy and politics is something which I blogged about some time ago and I think the more you understand philosophy, the more liberal you become, politically speaking. This is because it is hard to establish elitism, I wager; that one person or group of people is inherently more praiseworthy than others. Especially if you take into account a lack of free will!

Anyway, this article shows how insane it is that people who are poor and seeking social mobility should be the last ones voting for right-wing parties, who favour, with tax breaks and legislation, the rich and the corporate. So why is it, then, that a substantial core of, say, the Republicans and the Tea Party are from this demographic? Who rely, themselves, on help from the government and taxes which they hypocritically attack?

I was a 20-year-old college dropout with no more than $100 in the bank the day my son was born in 1994.  I’d been in the Coast Guard just over six months. Joining the service was my solution to a lot of problems, not the least of which was being married to a pregnant, 19-year-old fellow dropout.  We were poor, and my overwhelming response to poverty was a profound shame that drove me into the arms of the people least willing to help — conservatives.

Just before our first baby arrived, my wife and I walked into the social services office near the base where I was stationed in rural North Carolina. “You qualify for WIC and food stamps,” the middle-aged woman said.  I don’t know whether she disapproved of us or if all social services workers in the South oozed an understated unpleasantness.  We took the Women, Infants, Children vouchers for free peanut butter, cheese and baby formula and got into the food stamp line.

Looking around, I saw no other young servicemen.  Coming from the white working class, I’d always been taught that food stamps were for the “others” — failures, drug addicts or immigrants, maybe — not for real Americans like me.  I could not bear the stigma, so we walked out before our number was called.

Even though we didn’t take the food stamps, we lived in the warm embrace of the federal government with subsidized housing and utilities, courtesy of Uncle Sam.  Yet I blamed all of my considerable problems on the government, the only institution that was actively working to alleviate my suffering. I railed against government spending (i.e., raising my own salary).  At the same time, the earned income tax credit was the only way I could balance my budget at the end of the year.

I felt my own poverty was a moral failure.  To support my feelings of inadequacy, every move I made only pushed me deeper into poverty.  I bought a car and got screwed on the financing.  The credit I could get, I overused and was overpriced to start with.  My wife couldn’t get or keep a job, and we could not afford reliable day care in any case.  I was naive, broke and uneducated but still felt entitled to a middle-class existence.

If you had taken WIC and the EITC away from me, my son would still have eaten, but my life would have been much more miserable.  Without government help, I would have had to borrow money from my family more often.  I borrowed money from my parents less than a handful of times, but I remember every single instance with a burning shame.  To ask for money was to admit defeat, to be a de facto loser.

To make up for my own failures, I voted to give rich people tax cuts, because somewhere deep inside, I knew they were better than me.  They earned it.  My support for conservative politics was atonement for the original sin of being white trash.

In my second tour of duty, I grew in rank and my circumstances improved.  I voted for George W. Bush.  I sent his campaign money, even though I had little to spare. During the Bush v. Gore recount, I grabbed a sign and walked the streets of San Francisco to protest, carrying my toddler on my shoulders.  I got emotional, thinking of “freedom.”

… Continue reading from here

You can follow Edwin Lyngar on twitter @Edwin_Lyngar

  • kraut2

    I come from a blue collar background, and heartily despise anybody without any sympathy who votes and acts against his class interests.

    You have not to be a communist or socialist to realize that the capitalist society is stacked against your interests, is only interested in the maximization of profit, wealth and unfettered political power for those who already have in abundance, are willing to cut services to the bone to keep the proles in fear and wage slavery as is the case with the crony capitalism that dictates policies and is the master of so called democratic governments.

    All I can say – fuck you, you deserve what you get or what will be coming your way if you do not wake up and start thinking for yourself.

    That is also true for the immense anti Russia campaign launched right now, from a government that suddenly is becoming trustworthy again in its propaganda after it was found lying on a continuous basis. Does nobody remember Snowden anymore? Does nobody remember the Iraq war lies anymore? The torture lies, the black prisons? The incessant lies?

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Thanks for the comments, kraut. Interesting stuff!

  • Geoff_Roberts

    Free market capitalism is the best system yet devised and that allows for more upward mobility than any other system. A robust private sector with private property rights, competition, and limited government provides the best opportunities for everyone.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      This is a bold claim – what is the empirical evidence for this?

      • Geoff_Roberts

        I don’t want you to think I’m ignoring your question. I need a little time to give a proper response.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          Sure, no probs. All in good time, sir!

      • Geoff_Roberts

        The evidence is comparing the degree of economic freedom of different states and countries. Singapore and Hong Kong rank at the top of the scale with North Korea and Cuba being near the bottom. The more economic freedom that exists the more the economy will be robust. I understand there are more complexities involved but when the private sector is allowed to flourish with innovation, competition, and the free movement of goods and services everyone benefits. Government intrusion to redistribute wealth may have good intentions but on a practical basis simply doesn’t work.

        In the early eighties the Reagan policies reducing the government footprint unleashed an economic expansion that lasted many years.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          I think this is perhaps simplistic. Here is an interesting quote from a review of a book on this very topic:

          Instead, Clark’s research reveals that the global level of social mobility is basically unchanged over the past 800 years. In England, for instance, he finds that the level of social mobility was the same after the Industrial Revolution as it was before it. “The rich beget the rich, the poor beget the poor,” Clark concludes. “Social status is inherited as strongly as any biological trait, such as height.”

          But Clark does not say that mobility doesn’t exist, or that social positions never change. Indeed, his research reveals that upward and downward mobility are both continuously at play in human society. One critical factor is the intermarriage between rich and poor, which over time creates a constant regression to the mean. “In the end, the descendants of today’s rich and poor will achieve complete equality in their expected social position,” explains Clark. “This equality may require three hundred years to come about,” but it will inevitably come, unless a family takes dramatic steps (for example, through its choice of marriage partners) to maintain its position in society.

          http://www.strategy-business.com/blog/Does-Capitalism-Create-Social-Mobility?gko=62f43

      • Geoff_Roberts

        My previous post wasn’t finished. The Reagan policies unleashed a period of unparalleled prosperity. Sure some people benefitted greatly and others more modestly but everyone benefited. The socialist model of centralized planners trying to divide up the economic pie equally can never work and is counterproductive to its intentions.

        • Roger Lambert

          Unparalleled prosperity? I think you need to do more research. The highest median prosperity for Americans was when unions were at their peak, way back in the sixties and seventies – after many years of Democratic policies took hold. Remember those days when families flourished with only a single wage earner?

          And “free market capitalism” has never existed in the U.S. – not when money is free speech and the only the rich, the connected, and corporations can afford to buy politicians and the media.

          Most of Europe puts our standard of living to shame – their citizens earn more, have more wealth, have free health care, child care, and usually college tuition. They are happier, and healthier, and their infrastructure is new, not collapsing like ours. And none of them have “free market capitalism” – they have a mixed system – heavily regulated capitalism with generous social programs – the exact opposite of the Republican ideal.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/may/22/social-mobility-data-charts

      • Britain has some of the lowest social mobility in the developed world – the OECD figures show our earnings in the UK are more likely to reflect our fathers’ than any other country

      • Social mobility hasn’t changed since the 1970s – and in some ways has got worse. For every one person born in the 1970s in the poorest fifth of society and going to university, there would be four undergrads from the top fifth of society. But if you were born in the 1980s, there would be five

      • 24% of vice-chancellors, 32% of MPs, 51% of top Medics, 54% of FTSE-100 chief execs, 54% of top journalists, 70% of High Court judges …went to private school, though only 7% of the population do

      • Education is an engine of social mobility. But achievement is not balanced fairly – for the poorest fifth in society, 46% have mothers with no qualifications at all. For the richest, it’s only 3%

      • Parental influence still makes a big difference to a child’s education in the UK, especially compared to other countries – in fact in the UK the influence of your parents is as important as the quality of the school – unlike Germany, say, where the school has a much bigger role

      • Higher education is not evenly balanced either in terms of aspirations – 81% of the richest fifth of the population think their child will go to university, compared to 53% of the poorest

      • … or achievment: 49% of the poorest will apply to university and get in, compared to 77% of the richest

      • There is a strong link between a lack of social mobility and inequality – and the UK has both. Only Portugal is more unequal with less social mobility

      • If you are at the top, the rewards are high – the top 1% of the UK population has a greater share of national income than at any time since the 1930s

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Furthermore, the most capitalist of developed nations, the US, has one of the comparatively worst social mobility rates. So I would be interested to see how you reached your conclusions.

      It actually seems that far greater economic equality is a marker for greater social mobility.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socio-economic_mobility_in_the_United_States

      According to journalist Jason DeParle

      At least five large studies in recent years have found the United States to be less mobile than comparable nations. A project led by Markus Jantti, an economist at a Swedish university, found that 42 percent of American men raised in the bottom fifth of incomes stay there as adults. That shows a level of persistent disadvantage much higher than in Denmark (25 percent) and Britain (30 percent) — a country famous for its class constraints.[19]

      Meanwhile, just 8 percent of American men at the bottom rose to the top fifth. That compares with 12 percent of the British and 14 percent of the Danes.Despite frequent references to the United States as a classless society, about 62 percent of Americans (male and female) raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths, according to research by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Similarly, 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths.[4][20]

      The Economist also stated that “evidence from social scientists suggests that American society is much ‘stickier’ than most Americans assume. … would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap. The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.”[13][21]

      Intergenerational immobility versus economic inequality.

      In 2012, a graph plotting the relationship between income inequality and intergenerational social mobility in the United States and twelve other developed countries—dubbed “The Great Gatsby Curve”[22]—showed “a clear negative relationship” between inequality and social mobility.[23]Countries with low levels of inequality such as Denmark, Norway and Finland had some of the greatest mobility, while the two countries with the high level of inequality — Chile and Brazil—had some of the lowest mobility. The curve was introduced in a speech by chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Alan Krueger,[23] and the President’s Economic Report to Congress.[24]

      • Geoff_Roberts

        Can we ever achieve complete income equality? The answer is a resounding no. There are many variables to how successful one may become including genetics, intelligence, support of family, ambition, personality, willingness to work hard, luck, and many others. It is not possible to equalize those factors and the world would be a drab place if we ever did. The question is which system allows more ordinary people to improve their lot in life?