No true poor person

Conservatives say that they do care about the needy, but only those they see as the truly needy — not “lazy people” who only work over forty hours a week at two or three jobs but can’t meet basic needs. Frankly, the irrational disdain the right has for the poor is disgusting, especially when rich suits on conservative media brainwash poor people to swallow this line of rhetoric. Conservatives have essentially created a "no true poor person" fallacy, which says anyone who is poor should blame themselves, foreigners, and taxation of the rich — never the system.

I shared a post by Occupy Democrats on my Facebook page (see the image). It basically details how difficult it is to escape a cycle of poverty, while privileged conservatives demonize those stuck in this cycle, laying all the blame on them and none on the systematic economic oppression they face; poor people are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. In response to this post, an offended Republican said that Occupy Democrats' post does not represent Republicans, while he at the same time reinforced the point the post was making by rambling about “lazy people” and “leeches” and how hard work equals success, as if poor people working two jobs are not working hard enough.

The ideas that the fault lies with those who are stuck in poverty and that hard work will bring success are factually wrong; this isn’t a matter of opinion. Poverty is an evil cycle that perpetually repeats itself without help from the outside or a change to the system, such as an increased minimum wage or tuition-free education. It is a conservative myth that the current system in the U.S. (and elsewhere) is fair and that wages are determined in a fair way. If that were the case, a full-time job would pay enough to meet all basic needs and have money left over for leisure and savings. If an employer doesn’t pay their full-time employees enough to make a living, they are quite literally stealing labor from the workers, who are not properly compensated. In addition, the wealth distribution does not adequately represent how hard people work. Does anyone honestly believe those at the top of the corporate ladder work hundreds, if not thousands of times harder than those at the bottom? Because that is what their paychecks say, even though it is the workers at the bottom of the ladder who enable those at the top and the corporations to rake in such insane amounts of money.

Supply and demand do, in part, determine wages, but in a free and global marketplace, this becomes a race to the bottom. This is neither good for workers nor the economy, but conservatives like to pretend that results from the free market are always fair, justified, and good, which is obviously not the case. Capitalism, as we see it today in America, is made by humans; it is not a deeper truth which must be revered. As such, it is up to us to change this system so that it works for everybody, including the working poor, because there shouldn’t be any working poor in a fair and balanced system. There has to be a guaranteed minimum. It is our duty to regulate the market and change our societies to improve the standard of living for as many people as possible in feasible ways; right-wing policies do not achieve this, because they are only concerned with the bottom line and growth.

Nobody I’ve seen is saying people who work and study hard and make a career for themselves should not be compensated well, but this is what conservatives seem to imagine the left is saying. What we are saying is that everyone deserves at least a living wage, a fair minimum for fair work. To be brutally honest, conservatives have to think in those terms in order to justify their views to themselves. Even though it is leftism which is usually criticized for trying to create an unrealistic utopia, it is the right which actually peddles in this nonsense. They believe unregulated capitalism with as few government programs as possible is the key to prosperity for everyone — well, everyone that matters. To justify this utopia, all they have to do is to demonize all those who are crushed by economic oppression and dehumanize all the “lazy people” who hardly even count as human beings in the world of the right. The right-winger who commented on my post is a good example; he talked about how food stamps are meant for people who cannot afford to feed themselves, while at the same time saying they are not meant for “lazy people” and “leeches” (like those annoying poor people who can’t afford to feed themselves, am I right?) — a perfect way to demonize and dehumanize those who do not fit the conservative narrative of “hard work equals success.” Think about it. Who are the “lazy people” and “leeches” exactly? It is never specified and seems to apply to a wide range of people, including the working poor. Obviously, even conservatives have to care about the needy to at least put on the appearance of being decent people, but they create this “no true poor person” fallacy so they don’t have to look at the system with a critical eye — they can just blame the poor people! The idea of this narrative is basically that social programs such as food stamps are meant for those who need them, but those who need them are lazy leeches who don’t work hard enough — even though they likely work over forty hours at more than one job for starvation wages.

The irony of the Republican narrative is that it often concedes the point that there are needy people, which is to say that "laziness" is not the only factor in creating poverty. But at the same time, it regurgitates the right-wing dogma that hard work equals success and poor people are just lazy. Because if there are people who are not lazy and still need financial aid, then surely the current system is not working. And what is the point of dogmatically assuming poor people are lazy if one has already conceded that poverty is a real problem in America? If one agrees it is a problem, why not propose any solutions and why spread lies about the solutions that have been proposed? In the case of the richest one percent of Americans, they always want more no matter how much they have, and the quickest way of achieving this is to pay starvation wages and low taxes. In the case of ordinary people on the right, it is probably because they would have to let go of the idea of the conservative utopia — the unrealistic dream that they will one day be part of the one percent.

The conservative utopia isn’t economically feasible either. The circulation of money is vital to a healthy society; money does not circulate when the majority of people get less and less and a minority get more and more. It might look pretty in the short term when corporations and the fat cats who run them make money hand over fist, but the majority of people don’t get to share in this prosperity and eventually there will be a crash which will hurt ordinary people most of all. Right-wing capitalism is neither good for the people nor the economy in the long run. There needs to be a counterbalance to capitalism for it to work even remotely well. Unions can be quite effective in some areas, but they must be big enough to be able to make an impact. Regulation by the government can work when unions aren’t available or where unions cannot be effective. A progressive tax system in which the rich are taxed more than the poor is not unreasonable; we all have to contribute to the society of which we are part and which enables our prosperity in the first place. Fair pay for any and all work is not unreasonable; there is no reason a person working full time should live in poverty. Creating a financially stable population which has spending power is not unreasonable; it is necessary for a healthy society and a strong economy. The bottom line is that capitalism without socialism is broken and corruptible — a society is only as strong as its people, and an economy is only as strong as its workers and consumers.

Finally, I want to summarize and get back to the original point of this blog post. If a worker does not make a living wage from a full-time job, they are not being properly compensated and their employer is stealing from them; it really is that simple. But when workers have several jobs and work over forty hours per week and still barely make enough to meet basic needs, conservatives demonize and dehumanize them and call them “lazy leeches,” because there is no one who is truly needy in the mind of a conservative; they lay the blame on those the system has left behind, because then they don’t have to blame the system itself. This is the “no true poor person” fallacy, and we cannot let the right get away with pushing this narrative — otherwise, the system may never be changed, and the working poor can work harder than ever and still get nowhere.