Noah Smith Trolls Working Class

Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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233 Responses

  1. Damon says:

    Noah has some good points…they are a bit simplistic…

    This is all anecdotal so… I’ve met folks who don’t know what a budget is, how to track their spending or “know where all their money” went. I was also that person once too.
    I also think that our society, as a whole, is very consumerist, and time oriented to spending vs. savings. That should change. That’s how you accumulate wealth: not spending everything you have.
    Where I think you’re on point Ethan, is that of course, it’s much easier for a guy making lots of income vs. the guy who isn’t. I’d view that as obvious, and I think there are some ways to work on that. Generally income increases with education/training and better “life choices”. I think it’s really those “life choices” that are the real bitch and where improvements could be made in people’s situations. The problem is, of course, how to get people to make better choices.Report

    • Ethan Gach in reply to Damon says:

      To build on that, I do think budgeting is important, but I’m not convinced that the lack of budgeting skills is the problem, rather than a symptom of lots of other stuff.

      Smith seems to be asking us to believe that it is precisely the people who have money to save and invest who also don’t know the basics of banking and budgeting.

      True, many lower income people could probably benefit from some simple training in how to list their monthly cash flows–and lots of non-profits try to assist with this. But I also think the people most likely not to know much about banking or be familiar with budgeting are a lot of the same ones who wouldn’t have much left over either way. They don’t necessarily need to budget because the basics alone take up 90% of their income.

      Though still there is most like some overlap.Report

    • Kim in reply to Damon says:

      If 75% of your wealth comes from inheritance, how much bullshit is this man peddling?
      Answer: a ton.

      WHY don’t we look at the institutional pressures that drive people to FLUSHING $12,000 a YEAR down the drain, in depreciating assets?

      OH< because Public Transportation isn't as SXY as moralizing.Report

  2. NewDealer says:

    In related news, Gawker published a different guy doing the same thing this week:

    The issue of thrift vs. spending has been a centuries long debate as far as I can tell and revolves around all sorts of socio-econonmic, political, religious, psychological, and biographical points of view that it is hard to set out the good points from the bad points.

    All of this goes hand in hand with my confusion about when people talk about wanting a non-consumerist economy. What does that mean? Isn’t all economy consumerist? There was a woman of moderate means interviewed a few years ago on Planet Money. She said “You don’t have to buy new things, go out to restaurants, etc…” She basically encouraged thrift to the max. My thoughts when hearing her was that if everyone did what she suggested a lot of people would be out of work because restaurants would close down and then the whole system would shut down because no one would buy anything new.

    I wish someone could come up with a non-hippie answer for what they mean by a non-consumerist economy.Report

    • Ethan Gach in reply to NewDealer says:

      It’s like job hunting advice–great for the individual, but solves nothing for the group as a whole.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        Pretty much.

        Though I probably piss people off when I tell them that there is no difference between the person who spends thousands of dollars on tattoos or the person who spends it on stereo equipment, purses, wine, art, clothing, books, etc. All it reflects is a different set of priorities and preferences.

        Alt/Bohemian leaning people generally don’t like their tattoos being compared to a person who shops at Barney’s 😉Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to NewDealer says:


        • “Though I probably piss people off when I tell them that there is no difference between the person who spends thousands of dollars on tattoos or the person who spends it on stereo equipment, purses, wine, art, clothing, books, etc. All it reflects is a different set of priorities and preferences.


          • James Hanley in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

            Maybe we can make a libertarian out of ND after all.Report

            • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

              Except for my belief in universal healthcare, higher taxes for the rich, generous unemployment benefits, social security, and regulation of the financial services industries, stronger unions (I hate “right to work” laws)…..Plus I would have broken up HSBC.

              I like the budget proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

              I’ve said it before but I think that the far right and far left have a fair bit in common. More than they want to admit. One of those things is a distrust of big things: Big cities, big business, big banks, etc.

              I do think local and independent businesses are important but I am not a rural-pastoral hippie. I love cities and their bigness. There is nothing inherently wrong with big but perhaps some institutions get too big and need to be broken up via antitrust and other laws. I am mad about what happened in the HSBC case as anyone else.Report

              • I suspect that a libertarian could support many of those things. Or more precisely, I think a libertarian-friendly argument could be used to support, for example, state-sponsored UHC, social security, unemployment, and stronger unions. (I know even less about the HSBC case than I do the others, so I’ll decline to add that to my list of largely unwarranted assertions.)

                But then, maybe I’m pushing the envelope too much and seeing room for accommodation where there isn’t much. For the record, I support UHC and robust social security and unemployment.

                I’m very much on the fence about unions and what the state’s role should be in helping them (the latter is the real issue behind anti-union-shop laws that some people call “right to work” laws), but I generally come down to believing having unions is in many cases probably better than not having them, and using the state to help them is probably better than not using the state to help them. But I’m torn.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

                I am also suspicious about the arguments a lot of libertarians make about consent and freedom of contract especially when dealing with disparate bargaining power and contracts of adhesion.

                From my experience many libertarians are against the things I mentioned in my above practice. Even the bleeding-heart libertarians seem more interested in making liberals turn against government efforts than seeing any benefit to the New Deal-Great Society way of things.Report

              • I share your suspicions from the first paragraphs. I do think there’s much to criticize about the New Deal and Great Society, however.

                You probably don’t disagree, either, that there are things to be critical of, but I suspect you and I might disagree on the what and why. I find much of the New Deal to be dangerous experimentation, some of which worked out kind of okay, but some of which was a disaster, albeit a qualified disaster. Still, it’s probably better than what was the most plausible alternatives.Report

              • Roger in reply to NewDealer says:

                I support universal care set up in a fashion which doesn’t destroy the creative price/profit discovery mechanism.

                I support comprehensive retirement planning which doesn’t allow politicians to spend the nest egg before people actually retire.

                I support unions freedom to try (in vain) to raise wages above the market level non coercively.

                I support the top twenty percent of earners paying eighty percent of all taxes.

                I support no privileges whatsoever for financial firms, and a fair and well regulated marketplace to penalize any abusive practices by any of them.

                I support comprehensive safety nets for the poor and unemployed which are designed in such a way that they do not promote dependency

                We don’t seem to disagree materially on anything. Do we?Report

        • James K in reply to NewDealer says:

          That’s the standard economist’s response. Consumerism is about expressing your individuality. When I hear someone decry consumerism, what I hear is “why can’t people be more like me?”Report

          • Ethan Gach in reply to James K says:

            I prefer expressing oneself through what they create or say than through what one can purchase and/or showoff.

            The capitalist would prefer people express themselves through the products they purchase rather than through their work because in both instances it serves his/her bottom line.Report

            • Roger in reply to Ethan Gach says:

              But to get the money to purchase, you must first create in such a way that people will pay you. I spent my career creating things of value that others would buy.

              I think you are missing the feedback loop and that production and consumption are two sides of one coin. Yes, the consumer is sovereign in capitalism, but that is because the opposite often leads to absurdity.Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                Ebay ring a bell? How about RedBull?
                PR is king.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kim says:

                Neither rings a bell, no.

                All the products I built were based upon consumers valuing the product features more than the product features cost us to build. My experience with most of what I buy is pretty much the same.Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                rofl. Dare I ask how much per month you pay on security holes?
                Nah, better not…Report

              • Roger in reply to Kim says:

                I am almost afraid to ask… What is a security hole? to the best of my knowledge I do not pay anything for such holes, but I await your response.Report

              • Kim in reply to Kim says:

                a security hole is any place in your information system which isn’t well guarded and contains critical information.
                Key sources: e-mail, ISP, bank account, trash, credit-cards.

                I don’t know all of your info, nor do I wish you to give it to me.
                But many people pay tons for things that they ought not to.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kim says:

                Then why are they paying? Are they being tricked?Report

              • Kim in reply to Kim says:

                Because they’re idiots. Because discovering that you have security holes is downright illegal (let alone telling other people). And getting people to fix their fucking security generally involves “consequences”.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

                Roger: there’s a trade-off between convenience and security, as with locks and keys. The lock doesn’t have any opinion on who is trying to put a key into it.

                Consider that a landlord still possesses keys to all the apartments he rents. We generally consider this a good thing. When a system is constructed with privacy considerations, the designers consider such things.

                But what about a tenant who loses his keys? Were they stolen or merely misplaced? What are the odds of a thief being able to reconcile the key to the lock on your door, having found it on the street? Should the landlord routinely re-key a lock every time a tenant loses his keys?

                There’s a principle in security I’ve taught many times. In the story of the Three Little Pigs, we know the first two houses were blown down. That’s a brute force attack. But the pigs in the Brick House were not saved by the strength of the walls. The wolf climbed onto the roof and attempted to come down the chimney. The pigs heard him climbing up to the roof and lit a fire to burn him.

                True, the chimney wasn’t the most convenient way in. But getting the landlord to issue you new keys isn’t convenient, either. At most, these days, all it takes is a spearphishing email, some burglar wearing a convincing enough mask to fool the landlord into issuing new keys, or worse, a crooked bit of malware is attached to the email, thus allowing the thief entry into the system, much as in the story of Oliver Twist, where a small boy was pushed in the window to let Fagin in the house.

                A lazy designer will put Convenience before Security every time. Security is usually an afterthought. Me, I design my security model first, with roles and responsibilities such as Landlords and Key-Cutters and Renters before anything else.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kim says:

                That is actually quite interesting. But I am missing how the conversation got shifted to security breeches. I think I am indeed being dense.

                Blaise, do me a favor and explain why it is that security protocols don’t prevent brute force password decryption… Why don’t they have the ability to limit five tries from any given IP address or any given login? This would make brute force decryption impossible, no? Obviously I am missing something.Report

            • NewDealer in reply to Ethan Gach says:

              But not everyone wants or has the capacity or desire to do that and there is a fine line. Sometimes or often you need to consume to produce.

              People who like to play tennis have strong opinions on equipment, so do musicians, artists, home cooks and beermakers, etc.Report

            • James K in reply to Ethan Gach says:

              Not everyone has the talent or opportunity to create expressive works.Report

              • Roger in reply to James K says:

                Makes me think of the zen master in charge of maintenance and cleaning of the pool and men’s looker room at my local gym. This guy takes his job so seriously and with so much pride, like it is a work of art. He is the perfect person with the perfect job and the perfect attitude.

                Robert Pirsig would be proud.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to James K says:

            That or people have decided that the hippie life is good for all and they are just as bad as Evangelicals with pushing their ideology down the throats of other people.Report

      • Plinko in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        Actually, it’s worse. Job hunting advice is zero sum, aggregate thriftiness is negative sum.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Plinko says:

          The paradox of thrift is peculiar to recessionary conditions. Ultimately you need investment for sustained growth, and you need savings to fund investment. In general, higher savings rates means more growth. Even in Keynesian theory, dissaving promotes growth only when unemployment is elevated.Report

      • MikeSchilling in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        Likewise all the stories I’ve seen about how to finance college without loans by getting scholarships.Report

    • Damon in reply to NewDealer says:


      I don’t view going to the mall to go shopping as “entertainment”.
      If I need an item, I’ll get it. I wear clothes until they wear out.
      I keep my car for @ 10 years and don’t cycle them every 3 years.
      I don’t buy unnecessary crap, like upgrading my IPOD everytime a new version comes out, same with my phone.
      I don’t spend large amounts of money for Xmas gifts and sure as hell don’t go into debt to do so.
      When I do buy stuff, I try to buy stuff that will last–clothes, cars, shoes, etc.
      I’m “frugal”, not cheap.

      That kinda stuff. Something along those lines perhaps?Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Damon says:

        “I don’t view going to the mall to go shopping as “entertainment”.”

        You don’t but many people might and neither you or they is right or wrong.

        “If I need an item, I’ll get it. I wear clothes until they wear out.”

        Just because you see clothing as utiliatarian does not mean that other people are wrong for seeing it as aesthetic.

        “I keep my car for @ 10 years and don’t cycle them every 3 years.”

        So do most people. However leasing is fine because that used car just gets resold.

        “I don’t buy unnecessary crap, like upgrading my IPOD everytime a new version comes out, same with my phone.”

        Why are your judgments on what is and what is not “unnecessary crap” final and binding on all of humanity?

        “I don’t spend large amounts of money for Xmas gifts and sure as hell don’t go into debt to do so.”

        Ungenerous and miserly with loved ones, check.

        “When I do buy stuff, I try to buy stuff that will last–clothes, cars, shoes, etc.”

        Here I agree but not everyone has this option and Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier is instructive here (paraphrased): When you are poor, you want something tasty to eat….Report

        • Damon in reply to NewDealer says:

          So I answer your question “I wish someone could come up with a non-hippie answer for what they mean by a non-consumerist economy.” and you give me crap for doing so?

          Maybe you would have preferred me to use calculus and show some equations?

          I don’t fault anyone for doing anything they want to do. Hell, it’s (ostensibly) a free country, and if someone wants to spend themselves into poverty, go them, but I thought we were talking about concepts to help “the poor” get out of poverty?

          And to assuage your feelings that I’m a crotchety old miser, my sister in law would beg to differ, considering she got a bottle of 20 year old Pappy’s for xmas.Report

          • Pierre Corneille in reply to Damon says:

            I do think think that your ability, for example, to buy only good quality clothes or things you need is in part greater because a lot of other people are buying things they don’t need or crappy things that wear out quickly, and their doing so helps lower the prices you pay for what you buy.

            At least maybe. I suppose it could work the other way. I’m just suggesting that you’re still living in–and perhaps in some ways benefiting from–the consumerist society even if you are not “of” it.Report

  3. Michael Drew says:

    I’ve never liked the idea of telling people who barely make enough money to survive to save more, and I think I’ve said so.

    But that’s as a general proposition. If you decide you’re going to talk about addressing wealth inequality, then I don’t really see how talking about the need to save can be avoided. I guess my problem is with telling the working class that they ought to have wealth rather than consuming. Specifically, I have a problem with high-five and six-figure legacy journalists telling people having a hard time getting from the first to the second rung on the economic ladder that they ought to be setting aside more of their paychecks.

    But saying that a necessary part of increasing the wealth share of the middle and working class is for them to save more seems almost axiomatic. Of course, that’s not to say that it’s the only necessary part. It’s also necessary or practically necessary to increase the real wages of those classes for it to happen. But once you increase those incomes, then a greater part of them need to be saved in order for there to be any noticeable effect on wealth. It’s pretty much just aritmentic.Report

    • Kim in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Try telling someoen that they have to spend $6,000 a fucking year to go shop at a big box store, to save ~$100 a month. Yeah, try that.

      The point is that we have systemically cut out rungs. it’s not about savings, it’s about it being impossible to save.

      And you don’t see these people talking about payday loansharks, either.
      NOR about credit unions.

      These people haven’t sat on a damn bus and talked with people trying to get out of a shitty life.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Kim says:

        That’s why I’m all about giving folks a basic income, increasing their earned incomes, and letting them do what they want in terms of consuming versus saving. I don’t like telling struggling people how much of their income they should be sharing. But if you want it to stay in the bank (i.e. become wealth), then you need to not spend it. I don’t have that agenda, though. If you have other realistic ideas about how to increase the wealth share of people who have low net wealth, I’m all ears.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kim says:

        “Try telling someoen that they have to spend $6,000 a fucking year to go shop at a big box store, to save ~$100 a month. Yeah, try that. ”

        So, if they don’t shop at a big box store, they’d be spending ~$7,200 a year?Report

    • KatherineMW in reply to Michael Drew says:

      If people don’t have enough money to make saving feasible or likely, telling them to save more money is condescending (as you’re treating them as if they’re profligate rather than, y’know, poor) and useless.

      The major problem with the wealth gap isn’t that one group of people were more frugal than another. The problem is that the current economic and political system is geared to make the rich become much, much richer and the large majority of people get nowhere. There’s been major growth over the last 30 years, and basically all of it has accrued to the top 10-20% (and the vast majority of that to the top 0.1-1%). (This has happened despite consistently rising worker productivity, so raising productivity isn’t the answer.) That’s the problem we need to be addressing. Talking about what the non-rich need to do in order to be richer is a smokescreen.Report

  4. Plinko says:

    That post almost got me to register so I could comment how dumb it was for someone to suggest that an entire group could thrift their way to prosperity.
    By definition, savings and investment have to sum – someone somewhere HAS to take those savings and try to put it into capital and hope the investment creates more wealth than it consumes – all those people are NOT being thrifty.
    I am 99% sure that there are not a ton of low hanging fruit on investment opportunities for poor people to build wealth.Report

  5. zic says:

    Huh. He presumes people earn enough to cover their basic costs and are able to save.

    Most folk I know are one emergency/traffic stop/illness away from simply keeping afloat. The $350 fine for the tail light that burnt out on their car will mean missing a rent payment, because they’ve got to fix the tail light and pay the fine in order to keep getting to work. They may depend on less-then-trustworthy cludged child-care because of their crazy work schedules or the cost of registered/licensed child care.

    Telling the working poor they’re poor because they’re not thrifty enough and they don’t save is a good indication you know nothing about the lives of most the people who serve you your coffee, bag your groceries, clean your hotel rooms, and clean your home. It suggests you only see people as ‘real people’ when they’re in your economic status or higher (and there is plenty of room there to gripe about folk who don’t understand budgeting, saving, and who live on borrowed money,) but it’s got very little to do with the things that keep poor people poor.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to zic says:

      And if they can save anything, the amount is likely to be so small that it may never accumulate to anything approaching what we would really call wealth. If I can only put away $10 a week, I’ve only saved up $520 a year, and over ten years I’ve only saved up $5200–less than an awful lot of folks’ monthly salary–plus the miniscule amount I’ve earned in compound interest on my savings account. Sure, I’m probably better off for having done so, but I won’t be well off.Report

      • I don’t know much about personal investment, but where am I going to get a steady 8% return? How much risk is there?

        Becasue if I realized one thing while reading Smith’s post it’s that as single individual making above the median household income, could apparently be a millionair before my kids hit high school.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Ethan Gach says:

          Heh, you can’t, not without risk. The assumptions that go into claims like his include people having far more disposable income (income after necessities) than they really do. Sure you can actually have a surprisingly large amount of money if you stop buying cigarettes and your daily Big Gulp, but that means you can buy a better winter coat for your kid, not start a sizable stock portfolio.

          I mean, in a way poor people do waste money, particularly on fast food and things like Big Gulps. But, jeez, who doesn’t? The well off don’t see themselves as “wasting” that money, because they can afford to. But they also could be saving that money and investing it, and that they don’t do so says something about how serious they are about that being wasteful spending, and how much they really think they could gain by investing that money instead. And following the economic standard of revealed preference, or just the old sayings that talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words, it seems pretty clear that most of the well-off probably wouldn’t follow that advice if they were in the poor’s position.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

            Generally, there’s a cost to being poor. It actually takes resources to plan out the execution of the kind of bulk buying plans that people with more available resources can just go to ConstCo and implement without all that much thought. Those resources (time, especially, but also simple energy, like what it takes to accomplish buying in bulk without an automobile) are scare for the poor just like they are for everyone else (everyone’s short for time these days) but they’re also more precious to them for being scarce *while money is also scarce*.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:


            • Plinko in reply to Michael Drew says:

              The poor aren’t so dumb as they get portrayed. Buying in bulk often makes sense in unit costs, but they also have severe cash flow constraints so tying up a lot of your income in consumption goods that take 6 months to go through is not feasible for most people truly living paycheck to paycheck, transportation issues aside (of course, rural poor often do have some form of transportation but they might also be a hundred miles or more from a warehouse club).
              There’s probably some idea in there about setting aside money to get started as a sort of investment in lower personal consumption costs over the long run, but that sounds very hackneyed to me.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Plinko says:

                Not sure if you’re responding to me, but yes, absolutely. I was sort of assuming the cash flow barrier to bulk buying was implicitly understood by people, but I probably shouldn’t do that.Report

              • Plinko in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Sorry, MD, I was riffing, not disagreeing. I thought of that after hitting ‘submit’.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Plinko says:

                Riff on, P. 🙂Report

              • zic in reply to Plinko says:

                Another factor is is actually space.

                If you want to buy six months worth of toilet paper in bulk you need the room to keep six months worth of toilet paper. That great deal on frozen meat requires a freezer big enough to hold it and other frozen things you might have to store.

                Often, poverty goes hand-in-hand with cramped quarters. It can be what the realtors call ‘cozy.’Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to zic says:

                Not mention transience. In any case, it’s apparent that these factors telescope on themselves pretty quickly, creating financial paralysis.Report

              • Dan Miller in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Transience is a truly underrated problem–a lot of people don’t understand just how much they rely on simply having a long-term residence. I’m not what anyone would call the working poor, but I have had 5 addresses in the last two years, and let me tell you, it’s an immense pain in the ass that creates all sorts of unexpected expenses.Report

              • Also, for some people, transportation. If one doesn’t own a car, it’s harder (not impossible, and perhaps it’s even doable, but it’s harder) to go to Costco.Report

              • Kim in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

                not much, fromw here I live. but it’s hard to get tons home if you have to walk a mile after da bus.Report

              • Kim in reply to Plinko says:

                getting to the warehouse asid,e it’s just stupid to be lugging Costco Sized toilet paper on a bus.Report

          • Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

            What is objectionable, culturally speaking, is the person who will willingly spend $10 on trash at McDonalds, rather than buying the hamburger and cooking it themselves, because “my kind doesn’t do that”.Report

        • zic in reply to Ethan Gach says:

          I don’t know much about personal investment, but where am I going to get a steady 8% return? How much risk is there?

          The presumption that anyone will get an 8% return has set many a pension plan with promised payout in the hole. For state and local government, that tax burden is often another hit on the poor via their income taxes, their property taxes, lack of other services they might benefit from, or their rent.Report

          • Kim in reply to zic says:

            8% payout is for fools and people with enough money to pay ’em.Report

          • Patrick Cahalan in reply to zic says:

            5%. If you’re good. Above that, you need to be lucky more than anything else.Report

            • Kim in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

              Not really 8% is about what folks have been promised. Rich folks with money to burn.
              And you gotta be willing to break some knees.

              But hell, it’s all in the money,right?

              And it’s possible to be smart enough to pull a good bit higher than the market, if you’re good.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kim says:

                8% is the historic average of the stock market before adjustments for inflation, no? Actual results can be higher or lower or the same in the future. Nobody knows, and the more someone pretends they do, the more of a fool or a cheat they are.Report

              • Plinko in reply to Roger says:

                I believe the number usually cited is 7%, but given the composition of stock markets are not static over time, it’s not like there is a sensible way to put a number to that.
                On top of that, nominal return rates matter a lot less than real return rate. Some of those years inflation exceeded 7%, any actively managed portfolio is going to have to factor in transaction costs and fees which also eat into real returns.Report

              • Roger in reply to Plinko says:


      • MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

        Actually, after 10 years, you’d have saved either $5210 or $5220. Totally different.Report

      • Plinko in reply to James Hanley says:

        Wait, did you forget to put on your FYIGM T-shirt this morning, James?

        Relatedly, I was lucky enough to receive a gift of a four-figure sum for the gravatar’s college education from a distant relative who falls into the ‘well-off’ group. I figured I’d start saving the money in some kind of index fund account and toss in a little more if/when I could above our other saving attempts. The answer we got from the guy, who is a family friend, was ‘don’t bother, the fees at such a low amount won’t be worth it’.

        I know I have other options, but I’m also relatively financially sophisticated about investing and so I know what else I could do. Would poor people get similarly frank advice about saving/investing outside of traditional deposit accounts? I am highly skeptical.Report

      • Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

        The key is not to save $10 a week, it is to save $1o a week and to increase the amount saved over time. One of the products I tried to build in my past life was a low commission savings /investment program which started at a nominal rate but which increased routinely unless the customer actively suppressed the withdrawal. For example, it can grow from $10 to $20 to $40 per week over three years. In later decades it becomes more than sufficient.

        The benefit of this type of savings program is that it allows a lower income person to establish a comfortable retirement in a comfortable way without too much effort or sacrifice, assuming they do indeed tend to earn more as they age. It just captures a share of their wage increase in retirement planning.

        From a customer’s standpoint, this product works well. ( the challenge I faced was actually getting the economics to work for the agent’s standpoint in a commission driven field. ) My guess is someone is offering a similar product by now.Report

      • “plus the miniscule amount I’ve earned in compound interest on my savings account.”

        I’d hardly call the $0.04 I earned the last three months on my savings account minuscule, thank you very much!Report

      • Barry in reply to James Hanley says:

        ” If I can only put away $10 a week, I’ve only saved up $520 a year, …”

        And there’s a good chance that something slaps you over the course of the year, and your net savings add up to zero.Report

        • Roger in reply to Barry says:

          You guys lack the ability to envision something that hasn’t been built yet.

          Take $5o a month, add $2 per month to that sum and have it taken out from your paycheck in a way which does not allow you to ever get your hands on it, not for emergencies, not for hookers and drugs, not for new shoes for jr.

          If you start this way, in five years you are saving $170 per month. Then reduce the increase to $1 extra per month. In another five years you are saving $230 dollars per month. In fifteen years total time you are now up to $290 per month, and so on.

          Over forty five years, if invested in a target date annuity, You will have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, and made substantially more than this in appreciation or interest. Adjust the stating amount or the monthly increase amount and you can make it either easier to live with or more productive at the end. The annuity can even be designed to guarantee minimum returns.

          The keys are to start painlessly small and to increase it an absolutely neglible amount monthly in such a way that the person never sees the money, and cannot touch it until they retire. It needs to be invested for the long haul.

          This is the solution to the working poor saving for their retirement over and above SS. All we need are institutional solutions that enable us to make this a reality.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

            You’re consistently conflating investing with saving. Even if these people were saving a substantial fraction of their incomes, always prudent in any event, unless it’s invested, it can’t outpace inflation.Report

  6. Morat20 says:

    Hmph. My wife and I make good money. And I’m being “thrifty” — I max out my 401k contributions yearly.

    Which takes a serious chunk out of my buying power. And I’m not going to end up “rich”. I’m going to end up, if I’m lucky, with a decent retirement. I’m not getting wealthy — I struggled for years to get to the point where I’m not gonna be a burden on my freakin’ kids when I’m old.

    Between actual necessities and saving for retirement, I don’t have much left to be ‘thrifty’ with!Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Morat20 says:

      I struggled for years to get to the point where I’m not gonna be a burden on my freakin’ kids when I’m old

      Bah, I tell my kids they’d damn well better change my diapers someday, given how many of theirs I’ve changed.Report

  7. Roger says:

    I won’t go into detail on either Noah’s suggestions or Ethan’s, as I can’t say I agree with either.

    A key distinction between the permanent poor and others is often related to time horizons. Those that invest in themselves and their children and plan and prepare for the future tend, all else being equal, to do a hell of a lot better than those that don’t.

    This does indeed lead to those conservative values that liberals such as us sometimes roll our eyes at. Work hard. Invest in a practical education. Save for emergencies. Don’t waste money on fleeting thrills. Teach these same values to your kids.Report

    • zic in reply to Roger says:

      Work hard. Invest in a practical education. Save for emergencies. Don’t waste money on fleeting thrills. Teach these same values to your kids.

      Those values are not limited to conservatives. I know plenty of conservatives who don’t practice those values, plenty of liberals who do. This is not political ideology; it’s pragmatism and common sense.Report

      • Roger in reply to zic says:

        Agreed. It is the common sense recommendation to those we know that are poor that can most make a difference in their lives.Report

        • zic in reply to Roger says:

          I think the whole point here is the efficacy of that difference.

          If you can only save $10/week, it may take you several years to simply build up enough savings to even cover a months rent. All the good habits in the world aren’t going to get you ahead if you’re locked in the kind of poverty that one disaster sets in the hole that much.

          And those disasters pile up really quickly when you’re poor because you’re always trying to make too little cover too much; you end up being penny foolish for lack of pennies. You don’t replace the tires on your car, so risk an accident that would be financially destructive. You patch the hole in your roof instead of properly fixing it so risk your house rotting. You buy cheap clothes that only last a few washings. You’re hungry on the road, so eat at KFC. etc. etc. etc.

          It takes money to make money. It takes money to save money, too.

          Here in rural ME, I hear lots of folks complaining about the poor guy down the street with three snowmobiles in his yard. Often, what they don’t realize is that he bought those as broken-down clunkers, he fixed them, he enjoys them for the winter, and at the beginning of the next winter, he’ll sell them for a profit and buy a new clunker. Same with cars, farm equipment, etc. My son buys junk cars for a few dollars more then their scrap value, parts them out, sells the part and sells the scrap. It’s hard work to make a few bucks plus obtain the hard-to-find parts he searches for to keep his own car improving. This was the business model of the TV repair shop.

          We throw stuff away, now. So we’ve actually harmed the poor with the industrial trend to planned obsolescence. We’re in the process of destroying the tinker markets.Report

          • Roger in reply to zic says:


            My experience is things last longer now than ever before. Cars. Tools. Electronics.

            Yeah, the manufacturers are constantly rolling out something new, but this just. Eans the middle class throws out what they had before, or sells it in a garage sale or on Craig’s list. The poor sweep in and get toys, clothes, tools, electronics and such at the cost of pennies on the dollar. This is a great time to buy used.

            It also creates the opportunity for anyone with entrepreneurial efforts to make a living buying cheap used and selling off Craigs List. My son figures he could easily make two thousand a month part time on Craig’s list, he probably makes about half this now without seriously trying. I have another acquaintance buying and refurbishing old furniture. It is in effect a black market, tax free business.

            And see my comment above on how starting at $10 a month is actually a great path to a comfortable retirement, if done right ( more for working class than the poor).Report

            • Kim in reply to Roger says:

              Capacitor plague. Things that aren’t built for the heat (“microwaves above stoves”).

              The RICH buy fucking cheap, because you don’t buy fucking volvos if you’re poor.
              Or Mobile disaster laundries, or half a dozen other things.Report

          • trumwill mobile in reply to zic says:

            You touched on it, but I’d add that to the point that obsolescence has great second hand ramifications for the less well off. Yesterday’s technology becomes very, very inexpensive. I have smartphones I can’t give away.Report

            • Roger in reply to trumwill mobile says:

              This gets to the argument of how outrageously overstated cost of living is for most items.* Economists are totally out of touch with how cheap it is to acquire goods using the Internet. We have bifurcated the market into expensive new high tech status goods made by Apple and almost free stuff that is basically just as good but has no shiny status attached to it. All the toys I bought my grandson are basically given away during my spring garage sale. $200 new, $5 used to avoid me the hassle of throwing it away.

              * does not apply yet to anything with massive government interference, such as education or health care, but it will in the future when the dam breaks.Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Roger says:

      Not wasting money of fleeting thrills, or in an effort to keep up with the Jones’ is the biggest part of the problem.

      It was one of the hardest things for me to learn, having grown up poor. One can not hope to get ahead if, when you finally do get paid more/come into money, you spend in all on more expensive things.Report

      • zic in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Not wasting money of fleeting thrills, or in an effort to keep up with the Jones’ is the biggest part of the problem.

        yes. But there’s a wide gulf on always flitting your income away and an occasional thrill/reward. When you see that person in the grocery store pay for lobsters with EBT, don’t always assume this is how they spend their aid; maybe it’s someone’s birthday celebration or reward for an important goal achieved.

        The bleaker your life, the more important it is to celebrate when it’s time to celebrate.Report

        • Roger in reply to zic says:

          Key is to learn how to celebrate in ways which don’t cost money. I surf. It costs a nickel in wax on a used Craig’s list board. Only real expense is getting to the beach.

          All my old work buddies spent $75 to $100 a day golfing. Choices…Report

    • Pierre Corneille in reply to Roger says:

      “This does indeed lead to those conservative values that liberals such as us sometimes roll our eyes at. Work hard. Invest in a practical education. Save for emergencies. Don’t waste money on fleeting thrills. ”

      I don’t roll my eyes at those values (and I agree with Zic that conservatives don’t have a monopoly on those values). What I roll my eyes at are those people who mindlessly repeat these as a way of lecturing people whom they don’t know, in the belief that merely repeating them will solve the problems.Report

      • Roger in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        Bold stance. You stand proudly against people who repeat empty phrases to people they don’t know. Can I join you? Can we get like campaign buttons or tee shirts with snappy logos?

        Seriously though, the point isn’t to lecture. It is to pursue institutional solutions which will reinforce the obvious truth which even you agree with. Right?Report

  8. MBunge says:

    One of the structural problems with saving in America today is that an awful lot of our economy appears to be phenomenally sensitive to interest rates. Before the great implosion, we spent years if not a decade or more seeing the market react sharply to every indication that interest rates were going up or down, with down being the preferred direction. The lower interest rates are, however, the less financial incentive there is to save.


  9. Mike Dwyer says:

    Perhaps this is un-PC to say but the best solution I have found for class mobility is marriage. Pooling our income has opened a lot of doors for my wife and myself and also our children. One job provides better health insurance, one provides better work hours and pay. We both bring strengths to the marriage which support the other. One person at home means the other can tackle additional opportunities or at times for us, a second job. It has been win-win for me.Report

    • MikeSchilling in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      I don’t know what’s un-PC about that: it’s an excellent point. (And yet another argument that making SSM illegal is illegal discrimination.)Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      Our house has a stay-at-home parent (me), which is nice but out of reach for the working class in most places. One of the things that became apparent is how much more difficult it must be for two working parents. And then, single parenthood. Wow. How? A lot more respect in the direction of those that do it and do it well.Report

      • zic in reply to Will Truman says:

        Sometimes, it’s actually cheaper for one parent to stay home; particularly when we’re talking minimum wage work. I’ve done that math with a few new mothers, and they were overjoyed to discover the costs of day care/clothing/transportation, etc. was more then they would earn, and opted for to stay home. I wish doing this exercise was more common, and that families would focus more on which parent’s income brings more into the family unit.

        /and you know you’re one of my heroes for your work, don’t you?Report

    • North in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      Oh and not having kids helps, a lot. Expensive lil guys kids.Report

  10. Ashok Rao says:

    Mr Gach,

    The math is simply against you. Even assuming a much more equal society than ours, and even assuming equal returns for rich and poor, it’s absolutely insane to think the poor can control our aggregate savings. The numbers are here:

    • Ethan Gach in reply to Ashok Rao says:

      So what you’re saying is that the poor won’t be able to save enough to stop being poor?Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        Pretty much, yeah. Considering that inflation outpaces interest rates, it’s absolutely beyond dispute saving money is losing money. You’d have to invest to make any money. The poor can’t afford to lose their money in the markets, therefore it’s pointless to save small amounts.

        This society is engineered to benefit investors, not savers.Report

        • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Engineered? Actively or accidentally? Did it evolve, or was it designed?Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

            Designed. Actively. Designed.Report

            • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

              By whom?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                Oh stop being so obtuse. You already know. The tax engineers. The investment engineers. The swine who walk through the revolving doors from banks to regulators. The banks, the tax haven countries, the credit card companies selling their debt — maybe there’s an investment for the Very Poor, a nice fraction of the interest on each other’s debt. Too bad those big debt buyers don’t sell except over the counter and never on the open market — and that they’ve got their guns out for the likes of Elizabeth Warren, trying to regulate how debt collectors operate.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Actually I had no clue who you would blame. I share your disgust of crony capitalism, but not your belief in conspiracies.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                Conspiracy is such a dirty word. Like treachery, it’s only used of failure. I don’t believe in “conspiracies”. I do believe in power. You, it seems, believe in fairy tales, where the Free Market Shall Solve Our Every Problem.

                Keep clapping, boys ‘n girls. Tinkerbell needs your support.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Quit being a jerk. If you know about some vast conspiracy, please write a post on it.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

                It’s not so much a conspiracy as a predictable outcome of aligning incentives.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Say more, Patrick…Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Isn’t it being a natural evolution of todays financial system worse than it being a conscious conspiracy?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Do us both a favour, Roger. Stop asking dumb questions. You asked, I answered. It’s not a conspiracy when all these investment banks are busily fucking each other in an orgy so complicated nobody can find the hole his own dick is stuck in. That’s just stupidity.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Can someone please monitor the thread? This is totally unacceptable.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                What problems are you referring to, Mike?Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                The ever-lowering rewards for the small savor/investor.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Or, as they used to call ’em over at Goldman Sachs “muppets”. Clueless little people, trusting souls, relying on their investment firms to act in their best interests. Trouble was, the “their” in that troublesomely vague sentence was Goldman Sachs and not the Muppet.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                What ever lower rewards for small investors? I’m pretty sure you don’t mean fees and convenience, which thanks to the Internet and mutual funds are easier and cheaper than ever. Do you mean the low returns on low risk bonds?Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Fees on savings accounts below a certain threshold, low interest rates, the general uninterest in serving small customers other than when charging them usurious rates of interest. Paying 1.5% while charging 30%.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:


                I am not familiar with this world. Seems to me loans are cheaper than ever for good risks. I think you are just glamorizing the past.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                It’s not that simple. Loan rates are low but perversely, the banks aren’t lending much of it. The banks are trying to keep that cash on their own balance sheets.

                Corporations have great wads of cash on hand, too. They’re not deploying it into new investments and they’re not paying it out as dividends.

                So stop with the pollyanna already. This market is crouched like a scalded cat, so risk-averse it’s pitiful. The stock market’s rising, not because things are so great out there, but because there’s really nowhere else to put it. Foreign money is a huge presence as everyone tries to find a seat in this game of Musical Chairs, parking money.

                The Boomers are climbing out of the earner pool and their kids aren’t doing so great. They don’t have the cash reserves for a big down payment for a house, which is what the banks want these days: gone are the days of low down payments and high interest rates: now it’s high down and low interest payments.

                Everyone wants a guaranteed product. All those 401Ks out there, they aren’t interested in speculative ventures. These people are pumping their money into long term health insurance for their old age: a few days in ICU after a stroke will set you back a quarter million dollars. The money’s in Health Care these days: the Baby Boomer Bolus is reaching the end of the line. They’ll all end up broke and on Medicaid anyway: with the price of medical care these days, nobody can put away enough to survive their eighties and nineties with money in the bank. That goes for an increasingly elderly Europe, Asia, too.Report

              • Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Fucking bear raids. Beware the Bears.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                for good risks


              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                So your solution is low interest loans for bad risks with little collateral? Sounds foolproof.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:


                Are you planning on attending the Chicago get together? I am interested in finding out whether you act this way in person*. You are truly fascinating.

                * I seriously doubt it.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                A poor person is ipso facto a “bad risk”. Ken Lay was a “good risk”, up until the day he suddenly wasn’t. CDOs were “good risks” until it all came crashing down.Report

              • Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

                My solution is Bank Failure Friday.
                Solvency issues are NOT liquidity issues.
                Mrowls. Is it Caturday yet?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                So your solution is low interest loans for bad risks with little collateral? Sounds foolproof.

                Wait, wait, I’ve heard this one before. Uhmmm, Great Mortgage Crisis of 2008, right?Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                My career started in underwriting, so I find your arguments unpersuasive to say the least.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Great Mortgage Crisis of 2008

                Is that the one where the big players got bailed out but the smaller ones had to live with the consequences? But they can pay off their underwater loans by putting aside an extra $10 a month.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Cut low!

                That should “school” them pro crony capitalism libertarians!Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                “You know, it isn’t the true free market that’s screwing you into the ground; it’s crony capitalism, and we’re against that.” is cold comfort.Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                Then you can take your vast rightwing conspiracy, and shove it up your ass.
                (What? he’s an ass)Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                Yet another Roger Question. The Roger Question is an interrogative which contains within it an answer nobody proposes, not merely a Begged Question but a Begged Answer. The foolish respondent might choose to answer the question as asked, denying he said such a thing.

                But not me. Here’s your response, Roger:

                The solution for bad banks was low interest loans for bad risks with little collateral. It was foolproof: it was backed with the safest bet of all, US sovereign debt. The current financial landscape was created by massive capital injections for bad banks whose collateral is a stack of bad mortgages, still stinking up the TARP cellar. They are all hiding under bank incorporations and thus the FDIC umbrella. Bank profits are way up but they won’t loan that money to ordinary consumers. The APY on savings doesn’t even match inflation. They have fought any semblance of consumer protection regulation.

                But ordinary people, they don’t deserve such bailouts or such protections. Isn’t that what you’re saying?

                G’wan, Roger. Answer my questions, for once.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Why would you want a response from a stupid ass, tinker bell worshipping person with his d$@# up an orifice?

                Blaise if you want to be treated with respect, you shouldn’t be so unprofessional.

                I won’t answer you except to say you are once again arguing with an imaginary sock puppet. I do not hold any position which you assume I hold.

                Here is something i do believe though… I am pretty sure you are mentally unstable.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                The instant this becomes about me, Roger, I know I’ve won. Step away from the keyboard, get a cup of coffee or something, walk around a bit. I haven’t whacked you where it really hurts. I could though. You wouldn’t be the first person who will never forget me. I say things people always remember.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Cool, now you are threatening me.

                Yesterday you call me a stupid, obtuse, pollyanish believer in fairy tales, and today you declare victory because I made it personal? Touché.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’m not threatening anyone, Roger. You really needed to step away for longer. You haven’t answered my question, though, for all your anger. You asked if I wanted low rate loans for bad credit risks. I answered it in full.

                I know underwriting. Did Citigroup’s policy rule set. Told you about this before: they had me cut their policy ruleset into two halves: what had once been rejected was merely routed into a pricing tree on the other ruleset. The underwriters were completely outraged. When I drove out of the parking lot in early 2006, I looked in the rear view mirror at the Citigroup building, fully expecting it to violently implode at any second. It took until the summer of 2008 but it happened, exactly as I had foreseen.

                You want solutions? I got solutions. I want to see this country investing in its citizens, turning them into taxpayers and not dead weight chained to society’s ankles. Now that’s what I want. We can bail out the banks and even make back a good bit of that bailout money — but we can’t invest in ordinary people, give them the same advantages we give the speculator class? We’d make back that money, too. They’re not bad credit risks, they just don’t have decent jobs and that’s because they’re not qualified for the jobs out there which would make them into good credit risks. You’re supposedly an underwriter, you’re supposed to know all this.

                But what I’m not going to take from you is a spittle-flecked rant. I’m only going to laugh at you. I’ve been out here since before there was a fucking Internet and I have yet to see anyone get angry and win an argument. Now you keep a civil tongue in your head, Roger.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Roger, I might be in Chicago next month. Shoot me an email at if you’re going to be around and interested in having lunch.Report

              • Jim Heffman in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I can’t help but see BlaiseP as Dilbert in this stripReport

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Now I thought that was a perfect little simile, Roger. Perhaps a little too perfect. On the great green greasy tarpaulin of capitalism, where new forms of recondite congress are invented by the ingeniously kinky, there’s nothing quite so novel as stacking one risky proposition on top of another, a Tower of Economic and/or Erotic Babel reaching to heaven.

                As for you, Heffman, seconds out. You haven’t said an intelligent thing since you got here.Report

              • Jim Heffman in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I see a lot of words in your comments. I see a lot of words in the thesaurus. In neither case do I believe that a lot of words implies intelligence.Report

        • BigGuy in reply to BlaiseP says:

          I agree with BlaiseP and Ethan Gach. On the Atlantic blog, I commented that even if the poor could save, it’s nearly impossible to do so in the USA. There are very few financial institutions left in the United States that will do business with the poor without overcharging the poor for the services provided. Most have minimum account sizes and fees for all accounts, including savings accounts. No one cashes payroll checks for free.

          (Note Blaise Pascal argued that no man was truly free unless he was freely allowed to make his own mistakes. The Right wholly agrees with that for the very poor, but not for the very rich, who are deemed to be intrinsically deserving of government support and benefits, unlike the undeserving poor.)

          The simplest solution to help the very poor who are on payrolls and paid by check would be to reinstate Postal Savings Accounts and to allow post offices to cash payroll checks without imposing any fees at all. That would provide full time minimum wage employees about 3+ percent additional discretionary income and put many payday lenders, who should be out of business, out of business. It would also provide a rationale for keeping many post offices open, that will otherwise be closed.

          I believe Noah Smith posted his version of the “prosperity gospel”. Very poor people who act as directed in his essay could rise up from being homeless and destitute to living in section 8 public housing and getting food stamps in less than decade. In less than 40 years, if the whole extended family saves up, and no one in the family wastes money on drugs or alcohol or weddings or sweet 16 parties or baptism ceremonies or medical emergencies, the grandchildren may be able to afford a used car and to rent an apartment on their own. That’s the best case scenario.Report

      • Roger in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        “So what you’re saying is that the poor won’t be able to save enough to stop being poor?”

        My take on the issue is that it isn’t very productive to take such a zero sum view of society. Yes, short term, a tiny bit of extra money chasing returns will have a negligible negative impact on rates of return. The longer term effects though are additional capital investment, more R&D, more new entrepreneurial startups, etc. In other words, I would project long term benefits to the poor, and to society in general.

        In summary, if the working poor can start saving small and slowly raise the amount they save over time, they can gain security. The math works all the way around if accompanied by hard work and basic thrift.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

          It doesn’t and you know it doesn’t. Inflation is at 1.6%. Ally Bank is paying 0.84 APY with a 10K minimum.Report

          • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

            That isn’t the only way to invest money, though is it?Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

              You said “saving”, Roger. If you don’t understand the difference between saving and investing, there is no hope for you.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise, lighten up and quit being so grumpy. Even a casual reading of my comments makes it clear what I am talking about.

                It is possible to start saving/investing for ones retirement when young in a completely painless way and increase the level of in an equally painless way which allows any working class person to supplement their retirement significantly.

                Spread sheets available upon request.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                A closed mouth gathers no feet. Until you’ve got something worth saying, Roger, quit tossing around terms like Savings and Thrift. You furnish no details.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Seriously, dude. Chill.Report

      • Ashok Rao in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        No, what I’m saying is that the wealth inequality is so high that they could increase their savings substantial viz. previous position and still not make a dent in total savings rates to engender any “disequilibrium effects”.Report

  11. Kim says:


    Tell me the man saves 50% of his income, and doesn’t, under ANY circumstance put more than the higher of his and his wife’s paycheck toward essentials.


    NOBODY in America does thrifty. Well, except me. But I tell people about my $125 grocery budget (per month, two adults), and they think I’m crazy. No TV, Cell Phone’s $10 a month (long distance). Very little spent on entertainment at all (write yer own!)Report

    • Ashok Rao in reply to Kim says:

      Wow, you’re such an amazing person we should all come learn from you. You’re the only person in America that learned how to save.

      Jesus, some people are idiots.Report

      • Russell M in reply to Ashok Rao says:

        I find it helps to read most of kim’s posts in Emily Litella’s voice. that way you dont blow a gasket when she says…. odd things.Report

      • Kim in reply to Ashok Rao says:

        Care to wager how many people salt away half their income? Seriously, bet me!
        I’d bet that’s less than 5% of the American population.

        After all 66% of Americans don’t have a grand in their savings account right now.Report

  12. DavidTC says:

    The thing this rich assholes don’t understand is that the poor are not poor because they don’t have money. They are poor because they don’t have _income_, and yet have expenses.

    Jesus Christ, you could give every poor person $10,000 , and they’d either use it responsible or not, but in a year, even the _most_ responsible poor person _is still going to be poor_ because they’re working a minimum wage job that barely pays the rent. A financial-savant poor person might have managed to parlay that $10,000 into saving them $11,000 that year, but they wouldn’t have done it via ‘investment’, they would have done it via one-time purchases of a working refrigerator and paying off credit card bills.

    Hell, does this moron even understand that the poor have _debts_, and hence ‘investment’ would be a fucking stupid idea anyway? If the poor manage to scrimp and save an extra $100 a month, they really need to be putting it towards that credit card bill they racked up when their car broke last month.

    The problem is, that _is_ how it works in this asshole’s world, where all his money magically appears out of fucking nowhere. Oh, I’m sorry, it magically appears out of the bank. So clearly it must that way with the poor. Let’s ignore the interest rate poor people get is actually less than inflation, and that poor people don’t actually have _any extra money at all_ to invest. If they have ‘extra money’, it will be to replace the rotting floor in the bathroom and catch up on car payments.

    Telling a poor person they need better money management skills and that will solve the problem of poverty is like telling women they need to learn more self defense and that will solve the problem of rape. It’s not a _bad_ idea for people to learn those things, and in fact I’m all for it. But that is not the fucking ‘solution’ that society needs to be talking about. Poor people are not poor because they have failed at being rich, they are poor because _they do not have the ability to make enough money_.Report

    • Jesse Ewiak in reply to DavidTC says:


    • Michael Drew in reply to DavidTC says:

      I suggest you look over Noah Smith’s blog a bit before you lump him in with all the other rich assholes. He making one simple point: you can’t accumulate any wealth if you don’t save. That’s unavoidable. I don’t think he’s saying it’s easy; I don’t think he’s saying we shouldn’t be doing everything we can to buttress the incomes of the poor and working class. He’s simply addressing a concern that has arisen in popular economic discourse recently: wealth inequality. And he’s saying that, whatever else we might think to do to address it (if we think it’s important), any change in the situation will have to involve one thing unavoidably: people who currently have low or zero net wealth will have to save more of what they bring in going forward. It’s unavoidable. If that makes you reassess whether you think addressing wealth inequality should be a top economic priority for us, my personal opinion is that that is a reasonable thing to do.Report

      • Plinko in reply to Michael Drew says:

        It might feel nice to flame, but the advice to be thrifty and save is good advice for any person.
        It’s just not especially good advice for addressing the working poor (i.e. it isn’t any better advice for them than it is for any other class)

        In line with Ethan/Mike above, it’s good for any one, but it’s not going to lift them as a group, even if they all do it.Report

        • Plinko in reply to Plinko says:

          ^Obviously meant as a reply to DavidTC, not MD.Report

        • Roger in reply to Plinko says:

          I agree with Mike and Plinko, and will just add that before anything can be saved, it must be earned. And the last data I saw showed that the bottom quintile of families worked around 14 hours per week, a tiny fraction of top tier households (which if memory serves we’re over 5 times as many hours worked per HH).

          Hard work with an eye to preparing for the future is the key to getting out of poverty.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to Roger says:

            Strictly speaking, in order for it to be saved, it has to be received. Not sure where you stand on a negative income tax. I’d point out that the bottom quintile contains a large fraction of the household in which there is at least one person who is unemployed looking for work or or employed part-time who’d prefer to be working fill time, and that the work they do to try to find (more) paying work actually is… work.Report

            • Roger in reply to Michael Drew says:

              I am skeptical of a negative income tax. I fear that even if it starts well it will grow into a permanent way to discourage finding a job. I could be wrong, though.

              Just to reinforce all the excellent points you have made throughout this thread, poor families tend to be single adult households that are either retired, young at the start of their careers, unemployed or part time.

              I am sure there are some people in some places that are capable of working and unable to find jobs longer term. In general though, jobs are out there to be found for those really interested.

              Path out of poverty isn’t rocket science. Work 50 to 60 hours a week. Find a partner who will do the same at least until kids come along. Build social capital by gaining work skills, while saving/investing a minimal amount and then increasing the amount at a slow but steady pace.

              This won’t be true of all though, so we need comprehensive safety nets which are designed in such a way that they optimize support of the unfortunate, while not promoting dependency.Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                And don’t die, or get sick, or get fat along the way.

                Or be an artist, or a writer, or a contractor.

                Or work in the underground economy (selling watermelons, right?)Report

              • Roger in reply to Kim says:


                I think you are being very dismissive of my final paragraph.Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                Not dismissing. Not actually directing any ire at you at all, simply saying that there are a ton of pitfalls along the way, many of which are exacerbated by starting out poor (try -stress-, which has comorbidities with tons of stuff).

                You’re a decent apple, and I’m certain that if you were running the country, more of my friends would still be alive today.Report

              • DavidTC in reply to Roger says:

                Are you serious? Are you goddamn serious? Or is that some sort of absurd attempt at humor?Report

              • Roger in reply to DavidTC says:

                I was. I think Kim was being facetious thoughReport

              • Kim in reply to DavidTC says:

                Umm… serious about what?
                Selling Watermelons is something economists study in the midwest. As they are friends of a friend of mine, I’m minded to cite their research when I want to remind folks that the underground economy is Not Just Drugs.

                If you want to talk about writers, well, yes, I am deadly serious. As in I have dead (successful!) people to point to as evidence.

                Sickness is the proximate cause of bankruptcy for a lot of American households, even those with insurance.

                (I’m not trying to blow you off, but if you were asking about something else in my post, please be specific).Report

              • DavidTC in reply to Kim says:

                I didn’t reply to you. I replied to Roger and his idiotic comments about ‘In general though, jobs are out there to be found for those really interested.’ and ‘Work 50 to 60 hours a week.’

                Which, of course, ignore the fact that the poor often _do_ work 50-60 hours a week…when they can actually find jobs.Report

              • Roger in reply to DavidTC says:

                Quit trying to argue by calling me an idiot. If you want to try to discuss this rationally I will. Otherwise I suggest you go to one of those websites where everyone agrees with you already and you guys can all agree in a giant echo chamber and never learn a thing.Report

              • NoPublic in reply to Roger says:

                And the last data I saw showed that the bottom quintile of families worked around 14 hours per week, a tiny fraction of top tier households (which if memory serves we’re over 5 times as many hours worked per HH).

                For someone’s definition of “work” and “hours worked” anyway.

                In general though, jobs are out there to be found for those really interested.

                Right. All that unemployment is just lazy folk.Report

              • Roger in reply to NoPublic says:


                If you want to be taken seriously, please refer to what I actually wrote. If you dispute that poor households work substantially fewer hours, just say so and we will see how that argument holds up.

                The unemployment paragraph was carefully written to avoid sweeping allegations of laziness.

                It is easy to hide behind deceptive snarkiness. If you want an honest discussion, please put on your big boy pants and try again.Report

              • DavidTC in reply to Roger says:

                The unemployment paragraph was carefully written to avoid sweeping allegations of laziness.

                Yes, we are aware of that. The problem is we are not complete idiots, and you can’t make a statement about how poor people aren’t working enough, and as a single aside talk about unemployment and expect us to put up with the rest of your bullshit.

                Jesus Christ, you _just said_ that poor people only work an average of 14 hours a week. You _yourself_ brought this fact in. Because I’m _sure_ they were offered full time work, but said ‘No, I only need to work 14 hours a week because I wish to remain poor.’.

                You honestly think people are _choosing_ to work 14 hours a week. You have the actual belief in your actual brain that people are _choosing_ to work less than two full days a week and thus _choosing_ to remain poor.

                I can’t even conceive of how to answer such nonsense.

                For the non-morons out there confused about that ’14 hours’, I will point out that a very large segment of the poor are actually elderly and disabled, and hence _can’t_ work any time at all. And others are probably working 27 hours a week because that’s the limit of what their boss can give them without them being considered ‘full time’. (And a lot of those are working _two_ 27 hour a week jobs.)

                AND THE REST ARE UNEMPLOYED. Which in Roger’s world means ‘Choosing not to work’, ignoring the fact we have an _official_ rate of 7.7%. Which mean of that 20%, the ‘bottom quintile’, 38.5% are _officially_ looking for work and cannot find any. (And the official rate is completely wrong. Actual unemployment and underemployment in this country has always been underreported.)Report

              • Roger in reply to DavidTC says:

                David, quit projecting what you think it is I think. You are making a mess of it.

                The average hours worked per household for the lowest quintile in 1997 was 13 hours vs 74 hours for the top quintile. My mistake, I was off an hour. This was a time of near full employment. The reasons are as follows. First, there are fewer adults in lower quintile families on average. Second, many are retired or students or new to the work force. Third, many are between jobs or looking. Fourth many are on public assistance. Some are disabled. Some, like me, just don’t want to work.

                I am not ignoring anything, so quit putting words in my mouth. Seriously. Ask a question or dispute a fact. Do not make up shit and call me an idiot.Report

      • Kim in reply to Michael Drew says:

        … To save more, you must go MORE INTO DEBT.
        Jesus, this is AMERICAN FINANCE 101.
        People cant’ be trusted to save, so you indebtify them into doing it.Report

  13. Brandon Berg says:

    Is anyone else amazed by the fact that, purely by coincidence, most people’s expenses and income are so precisely balanced that they can afford to live but not to save?Report

    • Plinko in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      If that were true, I’m sure it would be AMAZING. But it’s not.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Plinko says:

        Well, yeah. That’s kind of my point. Non-savers’ expenses are balanced against their incomes because they spend up to the limit of their incomes. The only people who truly can’t afford to save are the people who make a literal subsistence wage.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg says:


          Doesn’t this assume a certain static nature of individuals?

          There are many people who might make a wage above the subsistence level, but because of time spent below the subsistence level, financial irresponsibility in earlier days, and factors largely beyond their control, have accrued debt that money which otherwise might be going to saving instead is paying down.Report

          • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

            I would say it is an artifact of two attractors offsetting themselves. Physics is loaded with stable forms which result from offsetting attractors of positive and negative feedback. Same with economics.

            Another amazing fact is that average human prosperity remained at the subsistence level for all of history for all societies. The explanation of course was discovered by Malthus, and the relationship was only broken when the rate of economic advance was allowed to outrun the gains in population over the long haul.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

              Perhaps this simply flew over my head, but what does that have to do with what I’m saying?

              Brandon seems to reject that many people can’t save, citing the lack of believability that so many folks make only a subsistence wage.

              My point is that many people might make above a subsistence wage but are still unable to save because they are paying off bills from when they had a below subsistence wage or no wage at all… or when they had major medical issues and inadequate health insurance… or because they made bad decisions in their teens and early 20’s that they are struggling to get out from under… or because they went to college and accrued massive debt assuming the degree would solve all that only to find out it hasn’t*. Now, in many of these circumstances, these people bear a certain responsibility for their situation. But they shouldn’t be demonized in the way that I’m seeing from some folks. Financial literacy remains a real issue that our education system simply ignores… with dire consequences.

              * Zazzy and I are as well-situated as we are with regards to savings largely because we graduated debt free. Her because of a ROTC scholarship while I was fortunate enough to inherit a sum of money earmarked for education from my grandmother. Many folks our age are not so fortunate.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

                I have no quarrel with anything you have said. You have the cool, clear
                eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth.* I was simply commenting on how some stable relationships seem amazing but are totally predictable if you understand the dynamics.

                I agree people should not be demonized for being poor or running into an emergency. I also believe that there are institutional solutions which would allow the working poor to accumulate significant savings over time. In other words, Ethan is misjudging the situation.

                * I just watched How To Succeed in Biz without Really Trying for first time in thirty years. great movie.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

                “I was simply commenting on how some stable relationships seem amazing but are totally predictable if you understand the dynamics.”

                Can you give an example? I’m struggling to see the relevance of this statement.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

                People earn money to live off it. People spend the money they have. The two balance out.*


                The relevance is that this traps people into an attractor of living week to week and not saving for their future.

                My recommendation, unlike Ethan’s, is simple. We need institutional solutions which allow people to have a negligible amount taken out of their paycheck before they see it. This can start at any irrelevant number, say $10 per month. This then needs to rise by a neglible amount each month, let’s say $2 per month. As long as the withdrawal is automatic and takes monthly action and effort to suppress, behavioral economics assures us that the process will continue. This, if invested according to standard practices of target date annuities will result over forty years into a massive nest egg to supplement the person’s retirement.

                I would actually recommend that the increase be less than $2 per month in later years, as otherwise the sum becomes too large. I would of course recommend it be voluntary and that politicians not be allowed to exploit it for their ends. Rest is details. This of course, applies to the working poor, not non working.Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                ” if invested according to standard practices of target date annuities will result over forty years into a massive nest egg to supplement the person’s retirement.”

                In short, feed people to do nothing. Great Plan! And I’m not expecting stocks to be heading up 8% anytime soon.

                Fix the economy, and maybe this has a prayer of working.Report

              • zic in reply to Roger says:

                Did you know we already do this?

                It’s called Social Security.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

                You are overlooking a few important details. Zic. My suggestion does not involve an intergenerational transfer, is voluntary, and is not exploited by politicians for their own grandiose purposes. Other than that. Yes, it works well.Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                as a Ponzi Scheme.Report

              • Roger in reply to Roger says:

                If it was cool, it could be a Fonzi scheme.Report

    • DavidTC in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      And is anyone else amazed that homeless shelters are perfectly balanced with the amount of homeless people. They’re exactly full every night! And all the food is exactly consumed!

      Most poor people’s _needed_ expenses are larger than their income. By a large percentage. But because they don’t have that money, they simply do without those things.

      Of course the money they _actually spend_ is balanced. How the fuck could the poor spend more than they have? (Well, they can borrow, and do. But they can’t _keep_ doing that.)

      But by all means, let’s go find people who would need 200% more income to buy health insurance, and 30% more income to buy better food, and 50% more income to make car payments so they could get to the bank and Costco and stuff…

      …and let’s stand there and comment how it’s certainly suspicious that they use 5% of their income to buy cigarettes or see a movie, or whichever the hell the current ‘Poor people are actually rich’ nonsense is popular. That 5% could have, with careful savings, bought a week of health insurance every three years! Or something.

      And, in a totally unrelated fact: The savings rate that poor people can get is _under_ 1%. Inflation is _over_ 1%. Why the fuck would they want to save? Why would anyone want them to save except for the banks? What would savings accomplish them?Report

      • Roger in reply to DavidTC says:

        Not sure what your point is, David.

        Is it that life has always been hard in an entropic universe? If so. I concur.

        If it is that life is harder now for some of us, I basically disagree. This is pretty much as good as it has ever been for the poor. And failure to acknowledge that risks losing all the progress we have made.

        If it is that the poor can’t save until they earn, then I agree full stop. Step one is to get and hold full time work, preferably for two adults.

        If it is that the working poor can’t supplement their well being by saving for the future, then you are absolutely wrong. Low risk savings vehicles rarely pay much over inflation. The situation may be marginally worse today than yesterday or whatever it will be tomorrow, but the difference is not material to the long range success or failure of the working poor. The key is to begin saving in an institutional situation which takes the savings in an automatic way and which slowly raises the amount saved each month. This will allow any full time person to build a large sum of money to supplement their retirement in fortyfive years. Do the math…Report

        • Kim in reply to Roger says:

          Can we put some consideration into churn and how to prevent it (raising minimum wage seems to help, actually)? Full time work is awesome, but … how many people actually get it?Report

        • DavidTC in reply to Roger says:

          Step one is to get and hold full time work, preferably for two adults.

          Step one for the poor: Magically find jobs that they currently can’t find. Got it.

          The key is to begin saving in an institutional situation which takes the savings in an automatic way and which slowly raises the amount saved each month.

          Step two for the poor: Save small amounts of money constantly until they retire. Or save small amounts of money constantly for eight months and then use it plus a payday loan to replace the transmission in their car. Whichever comes first.

          The stupid! It burns!

          I said it earlier and I will repeat, and then I am done with morons: Poor people almost always have more _expenses_ than _income_. I want you to actually sit and think about that. In your words ‘Do the math…’ How do they survive? Loans, eating very shitty but cheap food, avoiding healthcare, and doing without stuff that is actually needed.

          Trying to somehow argue that there’s a savings plan out of poverty for people with _negative_ cash flow is completely fucking stupid. As is arguing there’s some magical way for them to get well-paying full time work that they just haven’t _bothered_ to get for some reason.

          And not knowing that poor people almost always are _losing_ ground (Or, at least, doing without some necessity or another), and that poor people _would love to have better jobs but cannot find them_ rather disqualify you and Noah Smith from talking about them.Report

          • Roger in reply to DavidTC says:


            Finding a job is not an act of magic. There really are jobs out there for people that are interested in working. Not for everyone, not everywhere. However, most people could find a full time job if they spent their effort looking. Are you really going to argue that able bodied people can’t find a job long term? If so, the minimum wage and government regulations must be even more out of whack than I thought.

            If a single person works forty hours a week, which would be the minimum I would work if I was poor, I would prefer fifty or sixty, then they will make $400 or more per week. Supplement this with stuff you buy and sell on Craigslist, and some odd jobs that you do for friends of friends. If you want to live more comfortably, find a partner with a job too.

            The key is as I explained above having a job. When you dismiss this you are dismissing everything. Once they have a job the key is to get started with something withdrawn from their paycheck before it gets in their hands. I was suggesting institutional solutions which do this.

            And yes, I recommend safety nets that support them until they DO find a job, as long as they don’t discourage the job finding act.Report

  14. Kazzy says:

    The broader ideas espoused here, as I understand them, aren’t ridiculous. They’re just limited in their application.

    Sometimes I look at similarly-positioned peers and wonder why they seem to live more luxurious lives than Zazzy and I. More traveling, more dinners out, more expensive clothes. I’ve come to realize that most of them aren’t particularly committed to saving. Zazzy and I both tuck away the maximum matched portion of our salaries away plus we currently max out our Roth IRAs. This amounts to approximately $1400/month… certainly not chump change. But for a variety of reasons (including both of us growing up lower-middle-class), this is our preferred option, as tempting as the alternative is at times.

    But… all of the folks I’m discussing here, both ourselves and our more luxurious friends, are solidly middle class in their earnings. Zazzy and I will always be savers… it is in our nature… but we would be saving a hell of a lot less if our income wasn’t what it was. We can *afford* to save, a point that the article seemed to grossly ignore.Report

  15. LWA says:

    I read the Atlantic piece, and agree it was a bit of foolishness. Thrift and good financial decisions can’t lift anyone out of poverty.


    Thrift is still a good thing, and more beneficial to the poor than is acknowledged.

    The biggest source of pain and suffering when you are poor is debt, of constantly being the prey in aworld of predators, of always being at a disadvantage, and stripped of self determination and agency.

    Thrift has the power to break the cycle of debt, and allow people with very low incomes to be independent.

    In answer to New Dealer up above, the non-hippie answer to consumerism is to simply encourage living debt free.

    We are bombarded every moment of every day by advertising that seeks to persuade us that we absolutely must buy, and that going into debt is a thrilling way to reach self-satisfaction. Only a fool would suggest that we- collectively, and individually- are not swayed or shaped by this avalanche of culture.

    Where are the messages of restraint, prudence, caution and thrift? Notice how even these words have an old time musty lavender air about them, like they have been hidden in an attic somewhere.

    Instead of scolding those who live on low incomes to spend less- and thereby validating the idea that spending is a delightful activity- we should scorn idle consumerism as a vice and praise those who are in control of their spending.Report

    • Gaelen in reply to LWA says:


    • Roger in reply to LWA says:

      But idle consumerism isn’t a vice for those with adequate money. If people want to waste their money on designer purses and shoes, or high end electronics, so be it. You “waste” your time and money on something else. So be it.

      The problem is wasting money on frivolities when you cannot afford them. I don’t share your view that it is societies fault.Report

      • LWA in reply to Roger says:

        What liberals call “society”, conservatives call “culture”- that environment of manners and mores that govern our lives.

        Do you really think we live autonomous lives, unaffected by the behavior of those around us?
        You don’t think that people feel shame and embarrassment about their lack of purchasing power?

        What causes this, what shapes and drives this behavior?Report

        • Roger in reply to LWA says:

          Great points and questions.

          I would go deeper though. People are driven not just toward food, sex, stimulation and safety, but toward status and respect. This is innate.

          What isn’t totally innate is how people can achieve status and respect. This is at least partially cultural. Successful societies and cultures channel these drives in productive directions.

          So, the question is whether modern society does a better job on average at directing our innate drives in a productive, positive sum direction (compared to alternative institutional arrangements). In some cultures, you get ahead by stealing others cattle or women. In others you get ahead by proving the ability to use rhetoric to out talk or write your opponents.

          Capitalism, in broad strokes, is based upon the model that you can work hard for others as a specialist in order to gain money which can then be used to attain that which we need or desire, including some forms of respect and status. In general, I approve.

          To get flashier chrome rims and money for Friday night, the market solution is to work more hours in a courteous and professional way. Win win.Report

          • zic in reply to Roger says:

            Capitalism, in broad strokes, is based upon the model that you can work hard for others as a specialist in order to gain money which can then be used to attain that which we need or desire, including some forms of respect and status.

            That’s a very small part of capitalism. The bigger part, what separates the haves from the have nots, is the capital to invest in groups of people who have that work ethic and dream so that their hard work grows your capital. Part of this is that you risk your capital, maybe those people won’t work hard, maybe another idea will make the things you’ve invested in worthless. But if you find the hard workers and a receptive market, you will be rewarded with endless ability for flashier chromes.Report

          • Kim in reply to Roger says:

            “To get flashier chrome rims and money for Friday night”
            One steals money from inattentive investors. Ya oughta know that bein’ a highpowered thief on wallstreet pays more than actually being productive…Report

            • Roger in reply to Kim says:

              I am not sure why every time libertarians recommend mutually voluntary interactions to produce wealth, liberals think it is fair game to switch the conversation to theft and cronyism and assume they won. Mike and you keep doing this.

              Is there some kind of liberal assumption that those recommending voluntary exchange are really recommending voluntary cheating and theft?

              Can you guys please flow chart your logic so an idiot like me can get it?Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                You try being hired by some of these “Libertarians” — that’ll set you straight in a red hot minute.
                YOU try having your money stolen, being put in a lose-lose situation that IS cronyism and theft.

                Oh, we haven’t even started on voluntary cheating and theft. That’s a whole different ball of wax. There are many situations where folks will /let/ you steal from them, because you’re putting them ahead of where they’d be otherwise. Ya just gotta pitch it right.

                Evil? Lil’ ol me ain’t never pretended to be good, sweetie. But I can guarantee I do know what folks who PRETEND to be on your side are doing… and I know for damn sure you would be ashamed, horrified, and want to string ’em up yourself.

                As for me changing the rules? Ya think a cool cat like me don’t have eyes? Can’t see how to steal and cheat like a banshee? SOME of us got sense enough not to earn too much. Don’t mean I ain’t gonna call BULLSHIT when you say that working like I do is enough to pay the bills.

                And that’s all I was doing. Sayin it’s far easier to burn burn burn than to build, and it makes more money in a quicker amount of time too.

                BEWARE THE BEAR RAIDS.

                We clear yet?Report

              • Roger in reply to Kim says:

                Actually I cannot relate. Everyone in my family has found it easy to find and keep a job (or find a new one when one ended). The one exception was in 2008 as the market crashed. One family member had to join the military as a last resort. But he found a job all right.

                Is Pittsburgh that bad for employment?Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

        The luxury market is a tiny fraction of this economy: buying things is what drives this economy. You might call it waste, I call it ringing up sales. All this cheap moralising about Frugality and Thrift, it’s just annoying.

        Nobody can live completely debt-free unless they own the house and land they’re on outright. You might be able to own your car outright, if you drive an old paid-off clunker which will bite you in the wallet at periodic intervals. There are no secure jobs any more, so let’s just quit acting as if you can “Live Debt-Free”. Even the most frugal person has a burn rate per week, per month. One serious illness can destroy any hopes of financial security in the USA. Let’s not kid ourselves about Planning for the Future: people live pay check to pay check because the burn rate is high and getting higher. Seen the price of food and gasoline these days?

        Debt isn’t the problem. It’s the personal debt to equity ratio which matters. People buy cars because they have to get to work. Furthermore, the houses they choose are a function of how far they have to drive to get to work: the closer they are to work, the higher that price will be. People get into houses because there’s a gigantic tax deduction in the mix: take that away and we’d see the real cost of housing.

        Gasoline is not a frivolity. Bread and milk are not frivolities. Prices are rising and wages aren’t. If people are stupid and run up their credit cards, that too is a function of our wonderful capitalist system: their debt is sold like so much beef and when those people lose their two-bit jobs, they are harassed within an inch of their lives. Payday Loan artistes crop up like so many mushrooms on horse turds: we use to call them Loan Sharks.

        Instead of all this hooey about Thrift and Savings, where is the talk about Consumer Protection and Sound Regulation of the Supposedly-Free Market? Don’t talk about that, folks. Let’s blame the poor for their lack of thrift instead.Report

        • Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

          poor folks wages aren’t rising.
          middle class wages are rising just fine.Report

            • zic in reply to BlaiseP says:

              They’re looking at household income; which isn’t a great measure of wage. Hours worked would be a better analysis, and when you look at hours worked, wages have been flat or even declined since the 1970’s.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to zic says:

                That’s true. The middle class rose and fell on the need for skilled / semi-skilled labour, or at least that’s how I think about it. There are various measures of these things but it’s my contention any Middle Class is a temporary phenomenon, a bulge in employer demand. It usually settles out like turbidity: once demand is filled, wages begin to drop for most and rise for a very few.Report

              • zic in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I think you’re right; because wages for that household income to rise slightly, hours worked as nearly doubled. That suggest a significant drop in wages adjusted for inflation, over time.

                And then we need to calculate new costs based on those increased work hours — child care, elder care, declines in community volunteering (schools, churches, etc.), increased commuting costs, less time to home/family maintenance. I’ve yet to find a good economic measure that includes these things in calculating how we’re doing now vs. how we were doing back in the day.Report

              • Kim in reply to zic says:

                Obesity? *smirk*
                A decent economic measure might be “sleep time”, actually. Gets a lot of how much costs are impacting quality of life — and how much people are stretching themselves to make it all workReport

              • zic in reply to Kim says:

                Sleep time would be an awesome measure.

                I feel like we’re playing yin and yang today; good twin/bad twin today.Report

            • Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Different statistics give different pictures.
              I was looking at raises.
              Obviously we’re both correct.
              More hiring down at the lower wages means more competent people competing for jobs that they’re somewhat overqualified for.Report