calling bullshit on bullshit


Freddie deBoer used to blog at, and may again someday. Now he blogs here.

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67 Responses

  1. Rortybomb says:

    My favorite part of the Andrew “Scratch Beginnings” experiment is that he quit the experiment 10 months into the year-long tourist trip because someone in his family got sick. I like that idea: “I was loving this vacation, but with health care costs and access and all, I need to quit being poor now.” Fantastic!

    It should not surprise us that younger, healthier people like Andrew would be fine at Wal-mart, because it is their strategy to replace older and middle aged workers with youngers ones.

    Freddie I know it is your gut reaction to phrase the challenges faced here by hyperghetto residents, but I think it’s more useful to realize that the health care issue would block access from many otherwise well-integrated members of society. Walmart, from their stated goals above, would rather take a 19 year old stoner than a 55-year old laid-off factory worker with a questionable ticker.Report

  2. Freddie says:

    Freddie I know it is your gut reaction to phrase the challenges faced here by hyperghetto residents

    too true, too true, bah.Report

  3. Bob says:

    Andrew S. provides another link of questionable value, “What Was So Wrong With Renting, People?” Andrew links to a Will Wilkinson post at The Week. As Andrew often says, the money quote from W.W.

    “Government-subsidized borrowing gave us the housing bubble, precipitated financial Armageddon, helped prompt recession and mass unemployment. But, as the infomercials say, that’s not all! By zealously pushing home-ownership, federal housing policy has pinned to the map many now-jobless Americans who otherwise would have moved to find new work.”

    Wilkinson provides not one fact to prove his assertion, “…would have moved to find work.” He sights a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study finds that people are loath to move, give up their homes at a loss, and find it burdensome financially to move but not a single fact, or even one example of some one having the prospect of work in another place but staying put because of home ownership. A shoddy piece of work from Will.

    I’m thinking these two examples from Sullivan are just more of the conservative “echo chamber.” Will Rush be next to pick up on the glorious life style WalMart affords, and another talking point to disparage home ownership?Report

  4. enargus says:

    bit frothy-mouthyReport

  5. E.D. Kain says:

    I don’t know, Bob. I think the whole “ownership-society” is problematic. Then again, I think the concept of single-family homes is problematic. I think the drift away from extended-family living is not the direction humanity was supposed to move. It creates undue burdens on workers, on the State, on the individual. Ironically, I just began Gladwell’s Outliers, and there in the first chapter is at least a little validation for this point. Everything is bound to community, and yet we now do our best to tear away at that most essential fabric of society.

    Was the world built to sustain homes for every family? Perhaps, but perhaps families were meant to work together, multi-generational efforts, to realize this. Now we all want everything.Report

  6. Bob says:


    1. You state your beliefs. “I think…’ownership-society’…problematic.” “I think…single-family homes…problematic.” “I think [ drifting away] from extended-family living…not direction humanity was supposed to move.” This unnatural drifting away from the path humans were “supposed to move” create “burdens” that you do not bother to list. You think Gladwell might hold similar views, “at least a little validation” for your positions. Okay, given your spiritual bent this thinking seems in step with other views you have expressed.

    2. You don’t really know about the sustainability of “homes for every family.” You see “multi-generational efforts” as a possible better way of life. But please keep in mind, A. not all famlies live up to you ideal B. not all indivduals will find this “multi-generational” model to their liking.

    3. “…we all want everything.” Hyperbole, but again consistent with views you have expressed on other postings here.

    4. I’m sure you will have objections to the words, but I see you describing dystopia and utopia.

    5. So I am forced to ask, who, or perhaps better, what forces are responsible for these perceived ills? The National Association of Home Builders, real estate agents, Chamber of Commerce, The Lolly Pop Guild?

    6. What examples from history do you look to and say, “see, this is what I’m talking about.” Brook Farm, the Oneida Community, hippie communes, Amish? Perhaps a European, Jeremy Bentham or Robert Owen?

    7. Large historical forces brought about the conditions you seem to dislike. Discovery of agriculture, domestication of animals, division of labor, rise of cities, industrialization, and perhaps the most recent development the micro-chip, which brings both macro and micro results with regard to society.

    8. I don’t think Wilkinson had any of this in mind in his short post on the evils of home ownership and jobs, but you are certainly within your rights to change or expand the subject.

    9. I stand by my criticism of the Wilkinson post. He offered no statistics to back up his claim that home ownership hinders the filling of jobs.

    10. I don’t want everything.Report

  7. “I would dearly love these guys, or Andrew, to step into the body of a single black mother from Hartford with two children, no high school diploma, an alcohol addiction and no background of being properly parented. ”

    Why did she not take elementary precautions against getting pregnant? Why did she have such poor choice in judgment in her lover? And, hell, even if she screwed up once, why in God’s name TWICE? Why didn’t she graduate from high school? Why does she abuse alcohol?

    Seems to me that her destitution is well deserved and hard earned.

    Succeeding in life means more than being a diligent 9-5 worker. You need LIFE ETHICS, not just a WORK ETHIC. That reality once constituted the heart of the “American fiction” of which you speak so sneeringly.Report

  8. Freddie says:

    My point exactly: Philip Primeau does not know of what he speaks.

    It’s easy for everyone who’s not in it and hard for everyone who is. Funny about that.Report

  9. Both conservatives and liberals are responsible for the destruction of the American dream (or its transubstantiation into a fiction): Conservatives (and their neoliberal bedfellows) for allowing the dramatic exit of American industry, that foundation of the middle class; liberals for shamelessly championing of a culture without judgment, a culture wherein a single mom with two children and a booze problem and no HS diploma is somehow – hah! – a victim.

    Additionally, doing the bare minimum is not “working hard.” I don’t want to hear about “hard working” Wal-Mart cashiers, unless they’re like twelve years old. To be “hard working” is to go above and beyond, to be entrepreneurial and intrepid; to start one’s own business or actively climb the ladder of an established one; to (ding ding!) CAPITALIZE on those fortunes afforded all Americans by virtue of their birth in this find land, namely access to a democratic and dynamic market system that can be manipulated through intelligence and diligence to produce untold riches.Report

  10. “My point exactly: Philip Primeau does not know of what he speaks.

    It’s easy for everyone who’s not in it and hard for everyone who is. Funny about that.”

    How do I not know of what I speak? How hard would it have been for that woman to buy condoms, skate through Ghetto High, cop a steady (if ill paying) job, and use that money in combination with loans to attend community college? And so on and so on. Plenty of people do it. But plenty don’t. The ones who don’t are the losers. They’ve always existed, the unrepentant wretches, and they always will. Boo hoo.

    America doesn’t promise a fortune for every man. But it does promise that every man has a shot at one. That many are too stupid or lazy to do so is a pity, but no surprise.Report

  11. Philip Primeau says:

    Really, how funny is it that Freddie thinks that a woman with two kids, no husband, no high school diploma, and a booze problem has been victimized by anyone save herself?Report

  12. Freddie says:

    Struck a nerve, I see.Report

  13. Philip Primeau says:

    Well, I suppose the father … fathers, probably … are also to blame, but they’re probably equally pitiful failures who’ve shot themselves in the feet so many times that they can no longer walk, either.Report

  14. Philip Primeau says:

    As the son of a dude who’s pretty much the American dream incarnate (single parent family, lots of siblings with little money, barely graduated high school, no college, now a well established businessman, but only by working 70+ hours a week), yeah, I think it’s bullshit that you’re calling bullshit on our country’s ancient promise. America was built on the shoulders of millions of poor bastards with little education and families split by disease and alcohol and abuse. Get over it. Enough of the sob stories. The pathos is disgusting. There’re winners and there’re losers, and the category in which you end up is largely in your own hands.Report

  15. Bob says:

    Philp asserts, “…liberals for shamelessly championing of a culture without judgment, …” Please pleas please explain. Examples would be really really really nice. I’m so tired of bold asserations without facts to back them up. Is every one tring to be Will Wilkinson?Report

  16. Freddie says:

    There’re winners and there’re losers, and the category in which you end up is largely in your own hands.

    I’m sorry, Phil, but that’s just utterly at odds with real life, and believing it disqualifies you from the ranks of the thoughtful.Report

  17. Philip Primeau says:

    ““…liberals for shamelessly championing of a culture without judgment,”

    Freddie’s post is a great example. The irresponsible skank isn’t a cautionary tale, a public drain to be condemned. No, she’s a victim of some tragedy beyond her making who cannot be held accountable for her lazy, brainless actions. What a joke.Report

  18. Philip Primeau says:

    “I’m sorry, Phil, but that’s just utterly at odds with real life, and believing it disqualifies you from the ranks of the thoughtful.”

    “Real life” as perceived by the narrow, ideologically colored perspective of Freddie dB. Oh noes, faith based community, blah blah blah.Report

  19. Freddie says:

    I am calling, in fact, for a society with the integrity and the honesty to include itself in its criticism, and one which confronts the fact that its central narratives are pleasant fictions. Your father’s hard work played a major role in his life. Again and again, that hard work was subject to pure chance, random accidents, crass casualty. And they, more than anything else, are responsible for the final content of his life, like they are for anyone else. That’s not comfortable, but it is true, and since it’s true, we should work to craft a society that doesn’t praise itself for its justice and equality while it punishes those who have the misfortune of having been born in the wrong time and place. That’s judgment, for you, real judgment, the kind that’s less interested in narrative and more interested in reality.

    If you think that Paris Hilton has really not enjoyed a life entirely the product of the accident of her birth, I’m afraid I don’t know what to tell you.Report

  20. James Williams says:

    Excellent post, Freddie, and excellent last comment. I’m so glad to see that your recent hiatus from blogging was just a hiatus, and not a retirement!Report

  21. Bob says:


    Freddie is the, MAN. But does not qualify as an example of “liberals… championing culture without judgment….”

    I’ll bet a bizillion dollars that less than .0000000001% of the population has even a remot idea of the identy of Freedie De BoerReport

  22. E.D. Kain says:

    It’s true, happenstance plays a major role in how we end up, not the least of which is the accident and fortune or misfortune of our birth. That’s why a society that values order and humanity will do its best to provide the best possible network for its citizens. A strong middle class is the surest way to create better opportunities for the most people. I’m afraid our current trajectory promises more pain than stability, and it’s high time to re-evaluate that course.Report

  23. Philip Primeau says:

    All this talk of chance and accident: What trash! What a nasty, sneaky way to sully the achievements of fine men.

    I’ll be sure to tell my rough-handed, tough-minded pop that he should thank “crass casualty” for his success, not sharp wits, keen vision, and 12-14 hour work days. “Crass what,” he’ll probably say, “I’m tired. I have worked hard today. Let me rest.” And so I will. (If he’s had a couple beers, though, I’d rather you tell him that yourself.)

    “Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men,” wrote E.B. White, and said Thomas Jefferson, “I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” Two rather thoughtless fellows, eh?

    Anyway, we’re talking about something quite simple here: Social and economic mobility, the possibility and reality of it. (Let’s leave Paris out of it; she’s rich because she comes from a long line of excellent capitalists. She deserves, through that blood link, every dime she possesses.)

    Now, you believe that upward ascent is dependent upon cosmic whims or titanic cultural forces, typical postgrad postmodern nonsense. You would like to take the wind from the sails of those (like myself) who know otherwise, those who know that a man steers his own life. There’re curve balls, sure, but a man deals with the surprises and the clever snares of the larger world. If he is strong and worthy, he can conquer them, even as lesser men who’re red with jealousy try to excuse away their inferiority.Report

  24. Philip Primeau says:

    “Upward ascent.” Heh. Add that to “wet water,” I guess.Report

  25. Philip Primeau says:

    “Success seems to be connected to action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” –Conrad Hilton, great grandfather of Paris.

    And, it should be added, a man nearly destroyed by the Depression. He was mere inches from losing everything. Everything. But he persevered and went on to accumulate great wealth.

    It wasn’t luck that got him through the bad times, nor saw him explode in the good ones . . . not mostly, at least. It was the power of his will, the quality of his mind, the mettle of his spirit.

    (Dude was also a vocal Republican.)Report

  26. Philip Primeau says:

    What is it about contemporary liberalism that causes its adherents to so doubt and despise the awesome potential of the individual?Report

  27. Freddie says:

    I think you’re overreacting, Phil.Report

  28. Chad says:

    This discussion is bringing up an question I’ve always carried around on the subject. Maybe someone here can help me with it.

    Assuming it is poor decision-making, laziness and sloth that keep the poor in their place (for sake of this question), then is it truly desirable for these people to actually pick themselves up? If everyone is a driven, sweat-of-their-brow go-getter, who cleans the bathrooms? Aren’t there always going to be the losers, no matter how hard everyone works?Report

  29. Jerry says:

    What’s missing from both sides in this argument is an appreciation of how “character” is influenced by family dynamics. People don’t make rational choices about what kind of personality traits they will have. No one is born with determination, willingness to work hard and delay gratification, social skills, etc. Children learn these traits when they’re modeled by their parents. In modern-day America, simply having decent parents is a form of class privilege. Our economy, our society, even our public policies are very hostile to families. So many single parents are caught in a trap where they must choose between working to financially support their children and taking time to raise them properly.Report

  30. E.D. Kain says:

    The individual never used to be held on such a pedestal, and modern conservatism has idolized the nature and potential of the individual far beyond what is reasonable. This is not to say achievements aren’t also grounded to some degree in natural ability, in hard work, etc. but the accident of our birth is a huge deciding factor in where we end up. For instance, two equally talented men could be born, one in the US, and one in Kenya, and their lives might not quite mirror one another, despite their best efforts, despite their equal talents…Report

  31. James Williams says:

    “Success seems to be connected to action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” What Phil seems for some reason not up to the cognitive task of recognizing is that (i) lots and lots of not-successful people do keep moving, and remain not-successful through no fault of their own, and moreover (ii) lots of successful people are such for reasons substantially beyond their own not-stopping capacities — it’s easy to not-stop when life has placed you on the moving sidewalk to begin with, and most of all (iii) the extent of one’s not-stopping capacity is itself something that is very frequently not something that is up to one’s own decisions, but in significant ways a function of the social resources that surround, facilitate, and make possible such non-stopping in the first place.Report

  32. Philip Primeau says:

    “lots and lots of not-successful people do keep moving, and remain not-successful through no fault of their own”

    It’s not about moving, it’s about excelling in motion.

    For example, anyone can run, right? (Or nearly anyone, let’s leave the cripples out of this; there fate is at work, but the heavy hand of fate breeds exceptions, not standard cases.)

    Now then, why do many people, after a couple hard laps on the track, slow to a walk, clutching their stomachs and gasping loudly, while others continue to zoom along, picking up steam as they go? The former lack discipline, will, and skill (which is achieved through discipline and will), while the latter possess all three in great quantities because they have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of success.Report

  33. Philip Primeau says:

    QED, foo’.Report

  34. E.D. Kain says:


    Now then, why do many people, after a couple hard laps on the track, slow to a walk, clutching their stomachs and gasping loudly, while others continue to zoom along, picking up steam as they go? The former lack discipline, will, and skill (which is achieved through discipline and will), while the latter possess all three in great quantities because they have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of success.

    That may be true. It also may be true that certain people are genetically predisposed to long-distance running. And again, it may be true that some people were given opportunities to pursue track and field at a young age, by supportive families, while others were not. And further, it may also be true that some people have the leisure to pursue running while others have to work long hours, or at multiple jobs to provide for themselves or their families. There are far, far more factors involved in success than mere determination and will, though that certainly does help.Report

  35. AEP says:

    Having never commented here before, I am hesitant to make broad assertions, but I wonder if Philip is not trolling. While reasonably articulate in stating his point, it is extreme even for those on the right.

    That said, for my money Freddie overstates the degree to which the poor are constrained by their sociological milieu. While options are indeed quite limited for the reasons Freddie states, there are also direct choices that individuals are capable of making (to a great extent, whetherto have kids or no; whether to use/abuse substances; etc.).

    It is as if Freddie were arguing for almost a complete lack of individual agency and Philip is arguing for slmost complete agency. While I would ally myself more closely with Freddie’s position, I do think he has overstated his case, perhaps simply in gut reaction to the Sullivan post that generated his screed.Report

  36. Matthias says:

    “I am not stupid enough to believe that work ethic or intelligence are completely unrelated to individual success, but we see again and again how they are small components in the face of the vast reality of crass casualty.”

    I’m sorry… how exactly do we see that? I honestly don’t see how you are rising above correlation to get to causality here. You seem to feel that because statistics point to the people coming from poor families, being poor themselves and ending up with poor children that there is something more than work ethic or intelligence that drives this phenomena. The fact that things like work ethic and intelligence are either hereditary or culturally bound means that we could expect the exact same results from a worldview that put heavier causation on these things.

    What I’m trying to figure out is how this belief is in any way falsifiable. We can point to Mr. Platt and you feel he didn’t make a good faith effort. We can point to Adam Shepard, who certainly made a good faith effort and you yawn at his “stunt”.

    What possible evidence would you take as a reasonable contradiction to your conclusion?Report

  37. JB says:

    Um, I think you guys might be missing the (lack of) forest for the (lack of) trees. I mean, suppose that there is some component of success (however measured) that is outside Philip’s broadly defined notion of “industry”? And, suppose that a whole lot of society’s “losers” are just that because they made dreadful choices and have to live with the consequences?

    Does either observation get us any closer to an actual policy that “improves” on what Walmart offers to its employees (on “poor worker” vacations or actually poor workers)? Should we force Walmarts everywhere to pay as much as, say, GM so that the luck component is somehow mitigated–at least for those lucky UAW-compensated cashiers? Anyone care to guess how such a program might be effectively implemented without, you know, having Walmart end up like GM?

    Isn’t the availability of better-than-the-alternative jobs and $7.88 shirts good enough to move forward in the world of the second best? Isn’t a hard-to-live-on $10/hr. wage better than a lower one?

    In the end, is anyone arguing that we should abandon capitalism’s claim to the least-bad status, even if we all agree it’s not that great for some, in some circumstances?

    Is Freddie’s point that we need to just insert more distortions (as economists define the term) to iron out the luck bit to the best of the government’s ability? (Do you trust this task to the same chuckleheads who buy $700 toilet seats and build bridges to nowhere.) Is there at least a possibility that, despite the best laid plans, the ironing ends up making everyone–even the industrious and unlucky–worse off in the end?

    In my view, the important thing in such debates is go ahead and be upfront ’bout that stuff.Report

  38. An Onyx Mousse says:

    Freddie et al.: So Charles Murray once proposed a thought experiment: what if we canceled every aspect of the social welfare state (all government benefits of any kind) and just sent a check for $30,000 to every adult in America. Any two adults sharing a household would have at least a decent income.

    I’m not trying to be a libertarian jerk here (as I suspect Murray was), but rather to think hard about what can actually be done to help the truly poor. I mean, once you are a single mother of two and a depressed alcoholic, it’s not really about the difference between $10 and $12 per hour any more, is it? The deeper problem is that it’s really, really hard to help people who have made a hash of their lives. That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve help. But asking Wal-mart to be the primary means of helping them is a heavy burden to put on a frickin’ retail merchant. For people who have the right mix of cultural capital and skills, almost any job will be a path to success. For the truly poor, who through choices or circumstances the lack basic requirements for success in the economy, there is no magic job that will make their life easier. If we really want to help single alcoholic mothers in Hartford, we need programs that are better targeted than union wages at Wal-mart.Report

  39. Freddie,

    I have to echo what Onyx Mousse says above, even though it means addressing someone as “Onyx Mousse.” The commenter Philip is obviously arguing an extreme side. Saying that Paris Hilton has earned every dime through her bloodline makes humans a bit too much like thoroughbreds for my taste; and even horses have to prove it on the track.

    But there’s also an extreme tone in what you say, and it seems to completely eliminate the human element. To Onyx’s point, if everyone had the same resources, undoubtedly social problems would persist. In fact, I’m sure it would be difficult to throw a rock in a middle- or upper-middle-class neighborhood in any major city without hitting someone who is abusive, alcoholic, treacherous, etc. This is not to paint a simple picture of bootstrap-lifting, but I think you paint an equally simple picture of degraded, helpless people simply waiting for the proper government program or slightly higher minimum wage to make their lives successful. This is, to use your own words, “utterly at odds with real life.”Report

  40. Philip Primeau says:

    I’m not trolling (I think Freddie, etc. know that much), and I’m not coming from the right, left, center, whatever.

    I’m coming from a long line of proudly industrious individualists who didn’t thank god or goddamn luck for nothing. I spent a lot of time as a kid in the small but sturdy home of my maternal great grandfather, for instance, a house he built with his own hands (having next to no building experience) during the Depression. He lived in a little shack while it was going up, trading chickens for construction supplies while simultaneously working part time in a factory. He harvested a small vegetable garden for extra food. That same garden flourishes to this day, eight decades later. He dug out a gooddamn pond in his back yard, threw up a dam with stones harvested from the woods behind his plot, and (in his later years, mind you) made a long wooden bridge across the dam. My clan is full of such stories.

    Look, I’m not saying luck and chance have nothing to do with who we are. Sometimes you get an absolutely miserable hand, one so rotten that there’s simply no coming back. That’s a shame, but it’s certainly not usual, at least in a free and dynamic society like our own. (And, by the way, Freddie’s original example was not a victim of forces beyond her control, not really. She was just chronically irresponsible: Using condoms and finishing high school are not difficult decisions to make and follow through with.)

    In the end, a person has an amazing degree of control over his life. We make our own fates. If a guy has a basic education, a degree of liberty, a strong spirit, and a powerful will, he’s damn near indomitable as far as I’m concerned, fortune be damned.Report

  41. at all costs says:

    awww… poor people have it tough. Who cares? the world is overpopulated anyhow.Report

  42. There’s an issue not even being addressed here. Wal-Mart makes a TON of money. How much of that money is being generated by the labor of the people who work there? Is $10/hr really their fare share of all that loot? We have become accustomed to the idea that either salaries have to be lower or goods have to be more expensive. What does it say about the predominance and power of cultural forces that the idea of Wal-Mart taking less profit so its workers will have better lives is completely off the table?Report

  43. Jerry says:

    The discussion so far tacitly assumes that alcoholism, personality “defects,” mental illness, etc., are somehow chosen by the individual, affect only the individual, and can be overcome solely by individual willpower. Nobody chooses to be self-defeating; alcoholism, poor socialization and mental illness have their roots in family pathology. Nor are these just the problem of the individual sufferer. Dysfunctional behavior gets passed on to the next generation. People who cannot support themselves and their families become a social cost. Plus, we’re wasting huge amounts of human and economic potential. No psychiatrist or psychologist would say you can whip a serious behavioral problem through sheer willpower, yet there are very few mental health services available for the poor. In the spirit of enlightened self-interest, it would be cheaper and more efficient for all of us if we worked to break the cycle of poverty.Report

  44. JB says:

    dominic: yes, indeed $10 is a fair share given that there are more bodies than spots at that wage. Economics really is that simple.

    Walmart’s low prices make everyone better off–their dollars (everyone’s!) simply go further when prices are low. Anyone who disagrees is welcome to continue shopping elsewhere when a Walmart opens nearby.

    I suppose you could argue that inflating wages further–exacerbating the labor supply/demand imbalance, somehow with no attendant price rise, would be “better” for society as a whole. (At least, “society” defined as “currently employed Walmart workers.”)

    But what about shareholders? Even if you subscribe to the notion that they’re all fat cats cackling with their proverbial giant cigars (nary a one an actual Walmart employee?), the fact of the matter is that management is employed to serve those fat cats and will be on their collective arses if they fail to do so. And their replacements will restore wages to $10 for sure.

    What then?Report

  45. Christian says:

    Sullivan can be a bright perceptive guy when he’s not in thrall to his Big Daddy ideology. He’s been cackling over the antiquity of print and newspapers and never looks to the economic havoc the lay-offs wreck. He has a fanciful vision that we’ll be in our homes blogging and iphoning our ways to consumer bliss. His narcissism is matched only by his lack of Christian charity — HE makes money blogging so therefore EVERYBODY can. But the fact is that the web is killing economies and free-market fantasists like Sully will be whistling past the graveyard. Of course, this is a man who bows to racial genetic theories and who bent over backwards for Bush’s war.

    By the way, a great commentary and apropos smackdown.Report

  46. GradStudent says:

    What Ehrenreich might mention, actually, is that paid trainings or not, the average Wal-Mart employee makes $10/hour, according to the company’s CEO.

    Hmm, let us see:

    1. Work 8 hours a day for 5 days a week
    2. Weekly wage: 8x5x10 = $400 a week ~ $1600 a month. This is actually more than what I made when I came to this country as a grad student.

    I defy you to tell me that making $10/hour at 45 hours a week, even with no children or dependents, is a livable wage.

    $1600 a month is more than livable wage with no dependents. At that salary level, at the end of a year I had $7000 as savings (and I rented an apartment, actually shared a 2BR with another grad student in a pretty nice part of town). With one dependent (say a child) it is still livable but you will have to stretch a bit (maybe very low savings). I am not to sure on medicaid eligibility.

    It does not impress me. I would dearly love these guys, or Andrew, to step into the body of a single black mother from Hartford with two children, no high school diploma, an alcohol addiction and no background of being properly parented.

    Was she raped? In that case she should have got an abortion (it is legal in all 50 states in case of rape) Otherwise is she got pregnant because of consensual sex maybe she should have learnt to keep her thighs closed. And where is CPS running behind the father for child support payments?

    Alcohol addiction — Is someone forcing alcohol down her throat? Otherwise it is her own dam personal responsibility

    No high school diploma — Isn’t it a shame that with one of the highest per capita public school spending the US still has high school dropouts? Don’t you think it is a problem with the current public schools system? Teachers’ unions, opposition to vouchers?

    More importantly, these experiments are the worst kind of anecdotal evidence.

    But Ehrenreich’s anecdotes are proofs??Report

  47. JB says:

    GradStudent: your calculus leaves aside the (distortionary) taxes the representative full-time Walmart employee would have to cough up to fund further smoothing of the misfortunes of the unlucky.

    BTW, I think you all seriously misunderestimate (to use W’s term–soon his linguistic back flips will be confined to history’s dustbin, so I say use ’em if you got ’em) Ms. Hilton. No doubt she benefited from some financial backing in which she had no contribution. But she maintains an image and persona that generate income and opportunity despite her apparent lack of traditional training and skills that would be recognized as “marketable”–at least in a legal sense–to the less creative.

    Lots of heiresses do (and look) a whole lot worse.Report

  48. shecky says:

    A single black mother from Hartford with two children, no high school diploma, an alcohol addiction and no background of being properly parented is going to have it hard because such a person is unemployable to most of the job market. If this person could get a job at Walmart, even at minimum wage, is to Walmart’s credit. Such a person does not have many choices in this world and will have to find ways to economize in order to make a low wage job work. Is this really all that surprising? Is this Walmart’s fault?Report

  49. juandimensional says:

    I’m surprised that in this entire thread, no one has brought up immigration. Poor people want to come here for a reason.

    While emigres are likely to be more ambitious and intelligent than their average countrymen — being black, or brown, or Asian, poorly educated, unable to speak English, and ineligible for welfare, are all pretty serious handicaps for a new arrival to the US.

    And yet huge numbers of these immigrants establish themselves comfortably within the middle class within ten years or so. Their kids assimilate, and do even better than their parents.

    This happened in my family, and I still see it all around me today. Anyone who believes the American dream is a fiction is willfully blind. But the truth remains that to achieve the dream you have to be willing to work very hard, delay gratification and not make stupid and self destructive decisions.

    And to do that you need to come from a culture that values those virtues. And sadly, the last thing that many of the kindest hearts among us are willing to do– is tell another person they’re not living right. Or that their culture harms their chances for success. Or demand from the disadvantaged the same standards of honesty, decency, and hard work, they ask of themselves.Report

  50. Victor Vacendak says:

    William Shatner said it all in that Pulp song he covered:

    Rent a flat above a shop, cut your hair and get a job
    Smoke some fags and play some pool, pretend you never went to school
    But still you’ll never get it right
    ‘Cos when you’re laid in bed at night watching roaches climb the wall
    If you call your Dad he could stop it all
    You’ll never live like common people
    You’ll never do what common people do
    You’ll never fail like common people
    You’ll never watch your life slide out of view

  51. xor says:

    well gents theorize all you want but I too am unimpressed by a white educated good looking single man well parented with good boundaries and self esteem walking into poverty and claiming it isn’t a problem, just work harder! and I told Andrew as much when he printed that the FIRST time.

    It doesn’t work that way in real life. Even if you aren’t comparing him to the single black addicted mother from Hartford and compare him to a single white woman from middle america – without his looks, gender and education, living in poverty and getting ahead with little income, little or no access to health care, it is hard to get ahead in these americas.

    That is because tall good looking white men even without an education – will always get the job over a small or homely non-white person and most of the time typically any woman unless she is totally over-qualified.

    I know a man who was an expert in IT but he had a name that could be female. Could not get a job or even an interview UNTIL he changed his name to something identifiable as male and then he was hired quickly.

    Gender bias is alive and well. Every one wants the maytag repairman to show up – clean cut good-looking white man – if you vary from this model – your road is much tougher and you cannot replicate that experience by getting a job at Walmart

    I think the experiment (while back) where a white man disgused himself as black and walked the streets of a major city to ask directions and then he did it as a white man – was so telling. People literally crossed the street when he was black.

    Lets have Adam repeat the experience as a black person of either gender and the results would be different.

    Do any of us imagine that Paris would be successful or anyone would be interested if she wasn’t good looking and sexy?

    What if she was homely?

    What if she wasn’t white?

    What if she was born without a father or a functional family?

    I work in an office where most the white men are in administration with the big salaries, all the women are doing the grunt work – with the same or better education. Men are disproportionally at the top? It cannot be just hard work because many would not know hard work if they stumbled on it.

    My point is it isn’t just hard work and frugal living that gives opportunties – it isn’t a fair deal and people who come out of poverty via their own mettle who were very disadvantaged – have my sincerest appreciation. I don’t admire priviledged people their success.Report

  52. Jeff says:

    Bob said:

    Andrew S. provides another link of questionable value, “What Was So Wrong With Renting, People?” Andrew links to a Will Wilkinson post at The Week. As Andrew often says, the money quote from W.W.

    “Government-subsidized borrowing gave us the housing bubble, precipitated financial Armageddon, helped prompt recession and mass unemployment. But, as the infomercials say, that’s not all! By zealously pushing home-ownership, federal housing policy has pinned to the map many now-jobless Americans who otherwise would have moved to find new work.”
    I don’t think the government did anyone a favor by allowing and encouraging low or no down payment mortgages with no documentation of income. The 20%+ downpayment is a useful indicator that the buyer was able to live under his or her means for a period of time. It also gives the buyer an equity cushion that makes it more likely he or she will be able to sell the house without having to bring a check to closing. Folks who would start missing mortgage payments if they have to replace their water heaters should not be homeowners – or perhaps should be in less expensive homes.Report

  53. nitpicker says:


    I think the point is that there are reasons beyond individual choices for the situations in which we find ourselves. A cycle of poor education and bad parenting may be, in part, the cause of the hypothetical woman’s being, as you call her, a “skank.” Your own upbringing is at least partly responsible for the fact you’re a compassionless dick with no real clue about how the world works. I’m guessing you’re a political science major with dreams of the Senate, right?Report

  54. Jeremy Noble says:

    Amazing how effective it can be when someone presents a nugget of whoop-de-doo wisdom (“hard work is very, very, very useful stuff”) and stirringly dresses it up with red white & blue streamers of undercover glory-seeking, nihilism, misogyny, and ancestor worship. Good stuff. Always a sure recipe for wholesomeness. Thanks, Phil.Report

  55. Christian says:

    I eagerly await Sullivan’s next psuedo-study: “Having A Job Is Over-Rated When You Can Blog All Day”Report

  56. Gretchen says:

    Freddie doesn’t have to hypothesize an alcoholic, undereducated Mom for this thread. Just give this guy a baby, and his world falls apart. Babies can’t be left alone, ever, so while he’s doing his upwardly-mobile trainings, he has to be paying a babysitter. Babysitters charge $3-4 an hour. You have to pay that for every hour you work. If the babysitter doesn’t show up, or is late, you don’t get to work. If your employer changes your hours or days, and your babysitter won’t go along, you can’t work. My employer, and Wal-Mart, changes days and shifts with little notice. If your babysitting arrangements don’t go along, you’re fired. If you miss 6 days in a year, or are late 6 days in a year, you’re fired. And the response of the commenters in this thread is that she should have kept her thighs closed in the first place? So I hope all you guys who are so disparaging of women who can’t make ends meet have resolved to never have sex for the rest of your lives, in case you may inadvertently contribute to the problem.Report

  57. xor says:

    Gretchen….. APPLAUSE!Report

  58. Jeff says:

    Gretchen –

    I have resolved never to have sex for the rest of my life…except with my wife.

    It might be useful to examine why out-of-wedlock births are the norm in some communities when contraception and abortion have never been less expensive or more available.Report

  59. Kevin says:

    Hard work is the entry ticket for the success raffle. As the author mentioned, luck and support from other people are just as critical. Problem is, few people really appreciate how hard you have to work to break the mold.

    Nobody gets there easy, unless you define success as being given a big inheritance and managing not to lose it.Report

  60. Gretchen says:

    Jeff- yes, contraception is available. The pill costs $35 a month, or about 1 day’s take-home pay from WalMart, after you’ve paid the babysitter. And it’s good that you’re married. I know several women who married, had children, and expected to be a couple raising children until their husbands thought otherwise and left. The point is, you can plan well, and do everything right, and then circumstances change through no fault of your own. You can’t decide at that point that you can’t handle the kid any more. Children are a life-long commitment, even though jobs, husbands, and support structures come and go. I just get so tired of people who’ve been born on third base thinking they’ve hit a triple, and all their comfort and good fortune is due to their own virtue and hard work, and not a large helping of good luck. A little compassion, please.Report

  61. xor says:

    Again Gretchen applause.

    I am not sure where Jeff lives but where I live abortion is neither inexpensive nor generally available. It costs hundreds an is hours away – and there is no public transportation. Insurance covers Viagra but not birth control.

    I don’t think people “born on third base” can understand how it is to be born into an environment where there appear to be few choices. And it is hard for someone who has not suffered discrimination to know how it feels to be finished before you begin.

    It is easy to say – they should work harder and not so easy to open a door for someone elseReport