Sunday, December 08, 2013
Apologia of a "Heartless Hypocrite"
A thoroughly enraged reader took exception to my Thanksgiving entry, claiming that the meal portrayed was inaccessible to most Americans. Here's the meal that caused the apoplectic reader to label me heartless because "most Americans" couldn't possibly have this home-made meal:
I decided to fact-test the enraged reader's claim of general inaccessibility of a home-cooked potluck dinner. First, how many meals did this dinner provide, including the soup that was made with the turkey carcass? This potluck dinner served a crowd on Thanksgiving, 6 more friends the following day, neighbors whom we delivered food to, and multiple meals of leftovers for the three of us. It has already made 40 adult servings of a bountiful multi-course meal, and counting the many meals remaining in leftovers and the soup, the total adult servings will be more like 50.
Our cost of ingredients for the traditional meal was less than $80, or roughly $2 per serving. The cost of all the potluck dishes brought by others was less than $30. The sparkling wine, ginger ale and red wines (all bought on sale) was about $20.
Total cost of the meal: $130, or $3.25 per serving, less than a "value meal" at a fast food outlet. If we add in meals made from leftovers (the turkey soup, etc.), the cost per serving drops to less than $3.
Are the "poor" really too poor to buy fresh ingredients that add up to $3 per serving? Let's start with the fact that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 49% of Americans Get Gov't Benefits; 82 million in Households on Medicaid. That means roughly 156 million Americans out of 317 million total population are receiving cash benefits (i.e. direct transfers) from the Federal government. Approximately 57 million receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
Over 47.6 million people get SNAP food stamps, a non-cash benefit that acts just like cash at the grocery store. Clearly, the vast majority of those with low incomes receive government cash or equivalent benefits.
How many "poor" people routinely buy fast food meals that cost $3 or more? How many buy frozen waffles, chips, snacks, frozen pizzas, etc. with food stamps, purchases that add up to way more money than the ingredients of the Thanksgiving dinner that so enraged the reader? How many households would it take to pool some food stamps to spend $130 to make 40-50 servings of a great, healthy home-cooked meal?
This kind of refutation of victimhood enrages the excusers, enablers and guilt-trippers because it demolishes the primary claim of victimhood: that people have no other choices--in other words, denying that the vast majority of situations offer a range of choices, and that choices have consequences.
The basic assumption of excusers, enablers and guilt-trippers is that victimhood arises not from choices but from Fate or the heartlessness of those with "more."
Can we deny that most people have choices, even in poverty? Can we plausibly claim that poverty is all Fate and choice is inconsequential? If choice is inconsequential, then isn't our entire system of government and all major religions completely false, because they are all based on human will and choice being consequential?
If low-income (i.e. poverty) is fated, or the result of institutional forces that cannot be overcome, then how do we explain the multitudes of immigrants from every continent who arrive in America essentially penniless and who somehow manage to improve their lives despite low income, unfamiliarity with English, a dearth of institutional or family connections, etc. etc. etc.?
How is a low-income immigrant family able to pay off the mortgage on the family home in a few years while others blame the system for their heavy debt loads?
This kind of refutation of victimhood enrages the excusers, enablers and guilt-trippers for another reason: we know from psychology that two primary psychological defenses against accepting responsibility are transference and projection: if we can project our own ills onto others, we feel justified in our self-pitying victimhood.
If we can transfer the source of our problems (i.e. our own issues and failures) onto someone else, then we feel blameless for our own difficulties, i.e. being a victim.
This is the root psychology of the permanently-enraged excusers, enablers and guilt-trippers, i.e. those who have memorized entire chapters of the Book of Excuses: people are victims not from their own choices or a combination of choice and the fate that everyone is exposed to just by being alive, but because the non-victims are heartless hypocrites clinging greedily to everything that victims don't have access to, for example, a potluck Thanksgiving meal that costs $3.25 a serving.
Stripped to its essence, the outrage of excusers, enablers and guilt-trippers is phony and self-righteous, a classic psychological defense against having to accept responsibility: blame the heartless who "should" be giving their own meal away (if you don't, you're a heartless hypocrite, you heartless hypocrite!), blame Fate or something/somebody, do anything but accept that there are choices and that choices have consequences, both short and long-term.
I have a number of disabilities that are "good enough" to claim membership in the victimhood class (one famously "owned" by a Steinbeck character) but they are none of anyone else's business. I think it's self-evident that victimhood and the sense of enraged, self-pitying entitlement it fosters is a dead-end, ethically, spiritually, psychologically, politically and financially.
According to Social Security, I have earned $543,718 in 43 years of ceaseless toil (2013 is not yet included, of course, so I have been working for 44 years), generally working 50-60 hours a week in multiple endeavors. That is $12,644 per year. That was a decent wage in 1977, now, not so much. Inflation makes it difficult to adjust previous years' income into "today's dollars," but however you figure it, it isn't the lifetime earnings of a "wealthy" person. And no, I have never received an inheritance or made a fortune in capital gains or made a ton of unreported income in the black market, nor did my wife have any advantages or unearned wealth.
(In fact, she dropped out of college to spend three years working 60+ workweeks in low-paying jobs to save the money to buy her single-parent mother a modest home. In other words, clearly she too is a heartless hypocrite for daring to spend hours preparing a meal from scratch for family, friends and neighbors.)
Thank goodness some people are so saintly and godlike that they can discern heartless hypocrites without knowing a darn thing about the people they so assuredly toss into the heartless hypocrite class. Now I know how the Inquisition worked: the saintly sinless fingered the heartless without needing any facts.
In 14 of the past 20 years, my net taxable wages were less than $10,000 a year. In other words, by official measures, I have been "poor" for much of my working life.
For the vast majority of those who choose to write for money (as opposed to pursuing an unpaid hobby), one consequence of that choice is a low income. Choices have consequences; there is nothing mysterious about this causal link. If you want another consequence, fire up your will and make another choice.
Improving one's circumstances (health, mindset, spiritual attainment, financial security, networks of colleagues, circles of friends, etc. etc. etc.) is the same process as getting good enough at something that people will pay you to perform that service or make that good for them.
Sometimes it requires moving to a new locale, changing careers, studying hard, and distinguishing between conveniences that are assumed to be essentials but that are actually luxuries that can be sacrificed for thrift in service of long-term goals. In all cases, it requires accepting risks: risks of failure, risk that the study might not pay off, risk that some accident could derail your plans, and so on.
Victimhood is not just a rejection of choice and consequence, but of risk--yet risk is ever-present and cannot be disappeared. Risk can only be managed and hedged, and only imperfectly at best.
Alas, earning a modest income doesn't preclude one from being tossed into the "heartless hypocrite" class if your ceaseless toil includes being extremely thrifty and making your own Thanksgiving meals with family, friends and neighbors. That you have have something others do not makes you a heartless hypocrite, regardless of your own frailties, disabilities, income or indeed, any other fact.
Sadly, there are consequences to the pursuit of victimhood and the denial of will, choice, consequence, risk and fact, and they will be consequential indeed.
Obama’s inequality hypocrisy
Directing attention to the “defining issue of our time,” Barack Obama recently warned the American people of the “fundamental threat to the American dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe.” The President wasn’t referring to terrorism, an economic crisis, the presently occurring healthcare disaster, or human rights violations. Rather, he was talking about the trends of wealth inequality and decreasing economic mobility in the United States.
Curiously, he made this speech in reference to a nation that has suffered under his administration’s policies for half a decade and is only beginning to feel the repercussions. In fact, the income gap is actually deeper under the Obama administration that it was during the eight years of his predecessor. Now, as his empty words navigate the airwaves, Barack Obama’s stint in the Oval Office has done more to accelerate the “threats” of wealth inequality and decreased economic mobility than any other identifiable variable.
Wealth is a fairly simple concept. It is created by the mutual exchange of goods and services–and created in greatest scale by those with the most resources to risk and leverage in the market. When resources are invested into the marketplace, jobs are filled, wealth is created, and the standard of living increases for everyone. A stable economy where enterprise is free to operate makes economic growth a simple, natural phenomenon: when quality jobs are abundant, lower-to-middle-income Americans thrive.
The past five years of tax increases and industry-killing regulations have been anything but stable.
Conversely, the government, having raised about zero dollars of revenue not forcibly poached from private sector pockets, creates no wealth. It plunders wealth and moves it around as it chooses. The more wealth taken, the less there is to create more wealth.
Perhaps, if Obama is so intent on shrinking the American income gap, he should look to places like North Dakota where regulators like the EPA have not yet killed economic expansion through oil and natural gas refinement. There, infrastructure is being built and blue-collar workers without a college degree commonly make six figures.
Obama’s words from the same speech addressing decreased economic mobility for American children born into poverty are actually startlingly accurate.
“[T]he idea that a child may never be able to escape [a life of poverty] because she lacks a decent education . . . should offend all of us.”
Indeed, children forced to attend to attend failing schools because of their zip code and family income should be offensive to each American. Each illiterate child given a high school diploma or who joins a gang after being trapped in a dropout factory is a national embarrassment and a failure to the American principle of equal opportunity. But as the words left the President’s mouth, his budget plan for this very year cuts Washington D.C.’s remarkably successful school choice program in its entirety. His actions defy his every word.
This speech accomplished nothing but shine a harsh light on the negative effects of Obama’s own record to date.
There is indeed a present and fundamental threat to the American dream and way of life, but it’s been grossly misidentified by Mr. Obama. Low-income earners have fewer opportunities because job creators don’t trust the economy he’s sabotaging. His budget would again condemn low-income children to failing schools, crippling them from the opportunity to rise from poverty.
The fundamental threat is the President’s agenda and the policies of his allies.
Family of Six-Year-Old Cancer Patient Loses Coverage, Now Faces Soaring Premiums
A stark and searing reminder that Healthcare.gov's ongoing struggles and security vulnerabilities are only a small component of Obamacare's comprehensive failure. After the website's myriad technical difficulties are at long last sorted out, mass cancellations, rising premiums and doc shock will remain as the devastating residual legacy of President Obama's top legislative "accomplishment." Every one of those consequences represents a broken White House promise. Meet young Ellie Porter and her family, who've experienced the new law's affects firsthand. Heartbreaking:
"Having a child diagnosed with cancer is an unimaginable ordeal for any family, and adding any challenges on top of it can seem overwhelming. Paul and Jami Porter of Kaysville learned last week their insurance plan was terminated under the Affordable Care Act, more than 3 1/2 months into their daughter's fight with undifferentiated sarcoma began. Six-year-old Ellie Porter, who has had one kidney removed, just wrapped up her radiation treatments and is expected to be done with chemotherapy around the first of the year. "You're getting used to what's going on; and then all of a sudden having something like this thrown in is definitely challenging and frustrating at the same time," Paul Porter said. He and his wife are now in the middle of shopping for a new plan that complies with the Affordable Care Act. He said the old plan didn't meet some of the requirements, according to a letter from the insurer. The options the family is weighing have premiums that are more than double the premiums under their previous plan, Paul Porter said. Additionally, the Porters said they had limited time to sign up for a new plan and didn't have all the information they felt they needed to make an informed decision. Like many others across the nation, they were also struggling to simply enroll through the federal website, healthcare.gov."
Ellie isn't an "anecdote." She's a little girl who's very sick:
"This poor family hit the Obamacare trifecta: (1) They've been dropped off of their existing insurance plan -- which they were counting on to help pay for their cancer-stricken daughter's treatments -- because Beltway Democrats decreed that their coverage was "substandard." (2) Their efforts to obtain new coverage in time for 2014 were hampered terribly by Obamacare's broken website. (3) Their options for new coverage entail premiums twice as high as what they were previously paying.
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Posted by JR at 1:35 AM