I’m persuaded!

I’m persuaded! January 4, 2008

One other thing: It also shows that the American people have no idea how good their lives are. The strong response to economic grievance-mongering shows that people who are incredibly wealthy by every historical standard are somehow convinced they are barely making ends meet — barely making ends meet while their families have two cars, three TVs, four cell phones, and untold numbers of other gadgets in homes they themselves own. There is a word for this: spoiled. Huckabee and Obama are smart enough to appeal to the spoiled Americans who have no idea what real hardship is.-Quin Hillyer, The American Spectator

(HT: Ross Douthat, The Atlantic)

"Your mention of John Courtney Murray is apt, though I suspect he has already laid ..."

Four Episodes from a Consistent Life ..."
"It does make things more complicated and suggests that there's more to be done with ..."

Four Episodes from a Consistent Life ..."
"Joe,thanks for this detailed comment. I appreciate your sentiments about ensoulment though the very uncertainty ..."

Four Episodes from a Consistent Life ..."
"David, I likewise applaud your series on how you came to believe in a consistent ..."

Four Episodes from a Consistent Life ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Catholic
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Phillip

    Yes, even our poor are rich compared to the rest of the world.

  • M.Z. Forrest

    Yes, I keep forgetting how fortunate I am that the powers that be haven’t relegated me to a 3rd World existence. It keeps things in perspective.

  • Sentiment has never before triumphed over substance in American politics. Truly a watershed moment.

    Real hardship is not getting another capital gains tax break.

  • Policraticus

    Yes, even our poor are rich compared to the rest of the world.

    I think I’ll tell the next homeless person I see in downtown Houston to look at the bright side and see if he/she feels better. Only someone utterly detached from the poor in America could make such an armchair statement.

  • “the economic prosperity of a nation is not so much its total assets in terms of wealth and property, as the equitable division and distribution of this wealth” PopeJohn XXIII.

    Remember, the elite during the Gilded Age were also telling the working classes that they never had it so good.

  • M.Z. Forrest

    Personally, I’ve always measured my success against the bottom 20th percentile in Bolivia. As long as I could pump my chest in pride at achieving more than the poor Bolivian, I was okay. Now that I’m threatened with becoming as poor as that lower class Bolivian – at least as Quinn would describe as our delusional state – those populists are looking pretty appealing. Now that I’ve had time to reflect, I’m recognizing my own selfishness in wanting a better life than the poorest Bolivian or even my grandparents. If the poor weren’t so selfish and greedy, the rich guy might be able to get ahead in this country.

  • RonPaulForNow

    Are we supposed to measure poverty in our country against Darfur or 15th century Europe? By either standard the American who can’t afford running water, gas, or electricity is still not poor.

  • Jonathan

    A good find, M.Z.!

  • digbydolben

    I have lived outside of the United States for a long period of my life, much of it in the so-called “Third World,” and I’d like to tell you, clearly and bluntly, that, in terms of quality of life (as judged by the presence of beauty, joy, song and dance in people’s lives), and in terms of richness of emotional expressiveness and peace, the people of the “Third World” are MUCH richer, much happier, much more at peace than even privileged Americans are–so much richer that every single day I’m trapped in middle class America I miss the spiritual and emotional abundance of my time in the so-called “Third World.”

  • Okay, maybe I’m missing something here…

    Am I hearing a bunch of socially conscious Catholics getting angry that, despite the fact there is economic inequality in American, it is demonstrably the case that even our poor are much better off than the average person in many other parts of the world?

    Are we saying that Douthat is not pointing out a case of American parochialism and selfishness in pointing out that it is people in a country with one of the highest median incomes in the world who are worrying that the middle class has been left behind?

    Yes we have poverty. Yes we have homelessness. Yes we need to do things about it. But we don’t have some God-given right to have been born into the wealthiest country on earth. This is a country where government subsidized housing offers 100+ channels of free cable. (One of the main reasons some of my less scrupulous acquintances in college applied to get government assisted housing while in college.) Living poor here usually does not mean living on one staple (rice or cornmeal or dark break or what have you) as it has for most people in most of history in most of the world.

    Does that mean we should be complacent? No. But it sure as hell means we should be a bit grateful and maybe think a little more before declaring ourselves ill-used.

  • M.Z. Forrest

    The quote is from Quinn Hillyer.

  • Morning’s Minion

    Darwin- do you or do you not agree with John XXIII on this one? I do.

  • Donald R. McClarey

    A good look at the assets possessed by many Americans living in poverty.

    http://www.heritage.org/Research/Welfare/bg1713.cfm

    Some people lving in poverty are truly destitute: classic examples are of course people living on the streets many of whom are completely destitute. However many people who are poor based on income levels would be viewed as living in conditions close to luxury if the yardstick is how most Americans lived circa 1940 or how most of humanity lives abroad. A not inconsiderable portion of my practice as an attorney involves poor people: filing their bankruptcy petitions. doing their divorces or paternity cases, representing them in criminal matters, etc. Many of them are poor as a by-product of chaotic personal lives: drugs, alcohol abuse, broken relationships, children out of wedlock, poor impulse control. While a rich person engaging in such conduct is merely fodder for the tabloids, Brittany Spears comes to mind, for a person trying to move out of poverty, such behavior is a body blow. Material want is not the main problem in these cases. On the other hand I do see success stories. A hispanic couple I know worked hard, got a bank loan and set themselves up in a small restaurant. They are now expanding their operation. These two were born into very bad conditions, but by being willing to work 65 hours a week each, not using drugs and alcohol, and staying married, I have little doubt they will end up in the top 20% of income earners. Some people are unable to work and they should be taken care of. However able-bodied people with normal intelligence can often raise themselves out of poverty through hard work if they avoid vices that drag so many people down.

  • Blackadder

    The distribution of wealth in a society in one factor to consider in judging its prosperity. It’s not the only factor, however, and I don’t think Blessed John meant to suggest otherwise.

  • MM,

    I agree with John XXIII that wealth that stays with a priviliged few does not make a “rich country” in a moral or practical sense. (Thus, the fact that the richest person in the world is now a tycoon in Mexico rather than Bill Gates or Warren Buffet does not mean that Mexico is a “rich country”.)

    But I also think that Americans are often incredibly self indulgent when feeling ill-used — especially the “middle America has been left behind” line of rhetoric which is popular because it plays to people more politically powerful than the really poor.

    Someone who lives at the 25th percentile in household income in the US is better off than most people in most places in the world now and throughout history. (That doesn’t mean that no one should help him, but it should be remembered.)

    Neither party is immune to this kind of self indulgence. Democrats promise more benefits for middle class Americans while Republicans promise them more tax cuts — when median income families already pay almost no income tax.

    I think that both John XXIII and Hillyer (thanks for the correction MZ) are right.

  • Policraticus

    Am I hearing a bunch of socially conscious Catholics getting angry that, despite the fact there is economic inequality in American, it is demonstrably the case that even our poor are much better off than the average person in many other parts of the world?

    This is funny. I can speak only for myself, but aside from the fact that the homeless I experience in Houston live on sidewalks and can occasionally afford a cup of coffee, there is not much difference between the quality of life in Houston and in Juarez, Mexico, for example. So, no, I am not angry. I am heartbroken that there are social morons who mistake economic statistics for real life living conditions. Spend some time with the poor. I mean real time.

    Are we saying that Douthat is not pointing out a case of American parochialism and selfishness in pointing out that it is people in a country with one of the highest median incomes in the world who are worrying that the middle class has been left behind?

    No.

  • “Are we saying that Douthat is not pointing out a case of American parochialism and selfishness in pointing out that it is people in a country with one of the highest median incomes in the world who are worrying that the middle class has been left behind?”

    There is a double standard. When wealthy people benefit from tax breaks, business subsidies, and political favoritism, they are presented as captains of industry who do special service to the nation. When middle class people or worse demand similar attention/pandering, they’re whiny ingrates who should be thankful for what they’ve got and be quiet.

  • Policraticus

    Kevin,

    How true. Lower middle class, the poor and the destitute of the U.S. just want a Nanny State, the story sometimes goes. My favorite line is “We need free market solutions,” and yet what are these solutions? And what solutions does a private-interest, amoral market provide?

  • Donald R. McClarey

    “And what solutions does a private-interest, amoral market provide?”

    Other that is than taking more people out of poverty than any other economic system in the history of the planet?

  • Policraticus

    No, no, Donald, you misunderstood. I wasn’t talking about a military, imperialist economy, I was talking about free market.

  • Blackadder

    I don’t think comparing the lot of the poorest person in the U.S. with the poorest person in Mexico will give you a accurate picture of the two countries comparative prosperity anymore than comparing the richest person in the U.S. with the richest person in Mexico would. However, it does seem to me that, bad as it may be, the lot of the average homeless person in Houston is appreciably better than the lot of the average homeless person in Juarez (I should add, to preempt a certain sort of objection, that I have been to Juarez and have visited homeless shelters there). While I don’t have facts and figures in front of me, my guess is that the average homeless person in Houston has more access to social services – both private and public- than the average homeless person in Houston; that there are more homeless shelters and soup kitchens for them to go to; that they eat better (both in terms of quality of food and overall caloric intake); that they have better overall health; and that it is easier for them to get out of the trap of homelessness should they choose to do so. I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think so. And while the lot of the homeless in Juarez is certainly quite poor, there are plenty of places throughout the world and times throughout history where it would have been much worse.

  • Blackadder

    I should add that I found Mr. Hillyer’s comments wrongheaded. It’s true that we live in one of the richest countries in the history of the world. Saying that, because of this, people shouldn’t care about their standard of living makes about as much sense as saying that because the U.S. is one of the most free countries in the history of the world means we shouldn’t care about civil liberties abuses or wrongful convictions. The problem I have with some of the reformist/populist proposals being floated by certain candidates is not that they indicate the spoiled nature of the America people, but that they won’t work as advertised.

  • Hmmm. I spent six months (in 2000) making $8/hr (40-50hrs/wk) in West Virginia in a call center. Does that count as having at least a little bit of experience with the working poor? They may have been one or two social ills we didn’t have represented among the 400 employees there, but I can’t think of them at the moment.

    I’m not saying that everyone in this country is rich and that no one needs help — I’m just saying that I think we as a nation get a bit too carried away with the “the middle class has been left behind” rhetoric. It’s true that not every tax cut benefits the middle class, but that’s partly because if you make under 50k per year and have three or more kids you pay no income taxes at all anyway.

    Now, I’ll say this: I went and read the original piece in the American Spectator and it strikes me as “grouchy conservative” in overall tone. I don’t necessarily have a massive beef with Huckabee. (I’d vote for him.)

    But I do think the quoted paragraph makes a good point. (Maybe that’s why I’m a sucker for every Food For The Poor appeal that shows up in the mail with a picture of a starving child on it.)

  • RonPaulForNow

    Hillyer’s point was essentially that we worry about America’s poor too much. Statistically, the middle class IS being left behind.

  • Phillip

    Yes, even though you may hate it, our poor are better off then most of the world. That doesn’t mean there aren’t homeless or hungry. Just that our poor are the envy of a good part of the world. Part of the reason why the class politics of the left are evil.