You are correct that showing up on time is not luck. Doing the work is not luck. Taking advantage of every available opportunity is not luck.
However, if those Protestant work ethic traits are all that are necessary for success in our American meritocracy, I find it interesting that so many poor people do exactly these things and more. So many people work their fingers to the bone every single day of their lives–more than I’ve ever done–and never manage to rise out of intergenerational poverty. Why?
I also find it very interesting that many people can routinely show up late, not do the work, and scoff at opportunities, and yet become quite successful. Why?
Is there a part of me that wants to attribute my success to what I, alone, have done? To the choices I, alone, made? Of course. I used a lot of strategy playing that Monopoly game. But the fact is those choices led to success not because I was a hard worker, but because I was very lucky and many other people were not. Plenty of people I grew up with worked even harder, and made better choices, than I did and are still living in The Projects.
Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor. — James Baldwin
As for “not wasting every penny on wasteful consumption,” we can quickly get into a classist argument about consumption and spending of the poor because they waste their money on cigarettes and McDonald’s when they should be saving that money and buying vegetables.
There is plenty
A BAT and a ball cost $1.10 between them. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does each cost? By paying…www.economist.com
of other writing
By Maggie Fox, Senior Health Writer, NBC NewsBeing poor affects your ability to think, a new study shows. Those coping…www.nbcnews.com
on why that
NEXT time you shake your head at the cash-strapped family heading to the nearest fast food chain, or splashing their…www.news.com.au
is patently false
In August, Science published a landmark study concluding that poverty, itself, hurts our ability to make decisions…www.theatlantic.com
And this is a lived experience for me. That Atlantic article links to a Gawker comment that describes in painfully accurate detail the situation I grew up in:
I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It’s not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s. It’s that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to. There’s a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there’s money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.
If one has never struggled with poverty, it’s easy to point out that the wasteful consumptive habits of the poor are the cause or some justification of their poverty. We live in a meritocracy where everyone can achieve anything if they work hard enough and make the right decisions. That is our religion, and rejection of that is blasphemy. I’m a heretic, however, because I have lived without money. I understand at a visceral level that the definition of a rational decision changes in a life of perpetual fiscal scarcity. I understand that hard work and good decisions mean you might succeed. And the chances of success are weighted by the circumstances of your birth.
Wasting every penny on wasteful consumption is an easy thing for me to avoid now, because I have plenty of pennies, so I know plenty of pennies will still be there if I get sick, or my car breaks down, or a storm hits, or someone else rear-ends me, or any host of events that I have no control over but that can take every penny I have as I try to recover. What some people can weather without much thought or difficulty is, for those in poverty, essentially financial catastrophe.
If I know all of my saved pennies are probably going to go to someone else due to circumstances entirely outside of my control, what is the difference if that someone else is an auto mechanic, a doctor, or Wendy’s or a cigarette manufacturer?