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me-conomics part 1: poor, poor you.
how america has built and maintains 'disposable' lower classes
by maigen thomas (@Maigen)

In India, there’s a clear caste system. When you’re born to a particular class of people, you stay - generally speaking – within that class of people. (Karmically speaking, if you play nice, you might be reincarnated into a ‘better’ caste in your next life.) On this side of the ocean, we don’t have such blatantly defined social ranks, but the American people are still distinctly separated by economic status.

In America, social status is constantly being jockeyed for, but the caste lines are blurry due to the amount of debt any one person or family is willing and able to accrue in order to be perceived as being part of a higher social circle. This debt accumulation is being stimulated and encouraged by a lazy, filibustering government that can barely regulate itself, much less have any beneficial effect on the people it is supposed to be supporting.

How do the poor stay poor? Rules and regulations designed by wealthy people in order to help wealthy people. Everyone else is ground beneath the heels of the ‘upper class’. There’s a vast disparity between the rich and the rest of us. This chasm of difference may not have originally been a purposeful construct by our government – a government which no longer seems to be ‘by the people and for the people’ – but it has been relentlessly exploited in many ways by it.

Taxes are one of the key elements of a society that wants to keep the rich and the poor separated. These taxes are supposed to be collected to pay for infrastructure projects, security, general and health services as well as many other projects. People who make more money are supposed to pay more, and people who make less money pay less. If only it actually worked that way. Most people get to claim a standard deduction on their taxes every year. If they choose not to do so, they can itemize what deductions they think they are entitled to. It’s not quite as easy as all that, but a CPA can be paid to itemize these deductions, which comes at a cost. The rich can afford educated and savvy CPAs, people educated in the needlessly complicated and difficult to navigate tax rules, finding ‘breaks’ that are intended for and only available to the ultra-wealthy.

Lotteries are usually installed and offered to the people under the unassuming guise of educational benefits. Unfortunately, referring to lotteries as a ‘Stupid People Tax’ is absolutely accurate. The poor and uneducated are by far the most prolific spenders on lottery tickets. A number of studies on lottery play, though imperfect, have found that ticket sales are highest in low income urban areas. In some regions of the country, they are as much as three times higher than sales in the suburbs. The difference is even greater when expressed as a percentage of household income. These lotteries target and advertise to the underprivileged and under-educated, those people in our society with the grossest need for assistance and have the least disposable income.

Healthcare is another thinly veiled extortionist scheme. An insidious cocktail of malpractice insurance, educational costs, the litigious nature of the American public, inflated health care costs, drug research and development and miles of bureaucratic red tape have effectively created a monster out of one of the most basic human needs: staying healthy. When you put a governing body in charge of a socialized healthcare movement, things get messy. An example is the ‘individual mandate’ – which has recently been ruled as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Florida – decrees that individuals are obligated to buy health insurance or face a fine. It’s patently absurd to even entertain the thought that a person who is already unemployed, underemployed or otherwise not offered a form of healthcare by their company can possibly afford to buy insurance to partake in a healthcare system designed to milk those who need medical care of every cent they have. But it’s going to take massive reform of the legal, educational and healthcare systems to change things, and those changes don’t appear to be coming any time soon.

According to Brillig.com’s debt clock, the National Debt is over 14 trillion dollars. That’s more zeros than you can imagine, and that somehow makes each citizen of the US responsible for a forty-six thousand dollar portion of it. That doesn’t count personal debt. The average household carries $8,000 in credit card debt. Add a mortgage and a car payment or two. Personal bankruptcies have doubled in the past decade. The housing bubble collapsed. One very troubling aspect of debt is that many Americans don’t see their income as a spending cap. Our economy is so reliant on plastic currency, inflated spending and these forms of invisible debt it’s almost impossible to see how we can dig ourselves out of the hole we put ourselves in.

Speaking of debt, another fancy word for it is subsidy. A subsidy is a "grant paid by the government to an enterprise that benefits the public." There’s a long-term problem with artificially stimulating our economy that is caused by offering these entitlements. California has subsidies on water, to grow crops which would not normally grow in an arid climate. Farmers in the Midwest receive subsidies to grow corn, which in turn is used in the production of many things, both good and bad, including the highly-contentious High Fructose Corn Syrup and Ethanol as well as corn-fed cattle and alcohol. Which raises the question of interpretation and transparency in government operations – Why do these subsidies still exist in a capitalist economy where consumers demand products offered at prices that the ‘market will bear’?

Social Security is another huge issue. We all know it’s running out. The Baby Boomers are retiring (if they haven’t already) and there just aren’t enough people in the workforce to generate the amount of money necessary to keep offering the same benefits as before, especially with unemployment hovering near 9%. (And while we’re on the subject, let’s just be clear: Social Security is a Socialized retirement plan. Why, then, is ‘social’ healthcare considered such a scary idea?)

Without having a four year degree (and don’t get me started on how that piece of paper depreciates before you even lay hands on it) – I’m essentially guaranteed to spend the rest of my life working and STILL never see my liquid assets anywhere close to my alleged (and growing) portion of the national debt. Don’t forget that we all need to be saving for retirement, too, because at the rate the country is going, there won’t be any Social Security available when my generation retires.

The poor stay poor (or get even more unfortunate and downtrodden). It seems as if our state senators and representatives in congress are too busy trading pork belly futures, playing pork barrel politics and living high on the hog to vote on what their constituents actually need. I wish more people were like Rep. Anthony Weiner (D. – New York) who finally lost it (please see “The Gentleman Will Be Seated!”video if you haven’t already) and when it was his turn to speak, castigated Republicans, and demanded that they vote how they believe and how is desired by the citizens whom they supposedly represent.

Americans may never end up being visibly divided by class systems as in other countries, but without educating ourselves we are allowing our government and our society to divide us into economic sub-classes.

My goal in writing Me-conomics Part 1 is to sketch out the basics of why even the middle classes are not as well-off as they think they are and why the poor are still poor. In Part 2, I will explore ideas for bettering society by bettering (and educating) ourselves.


Maigen is simple. is smart. is wholesome. is skeevy. is spicy. is delicate. is better. is purer. is 100% more awesome than yesterday. She';s traveling the world and writing about her experiences with life, love, yoga, food, travel and people. Mostly people. Because they';re funny. hear more of her random thoughts @maigen on twitter.

more about maigen thomas


me-conomics part 2 of 2: education experimentation
build a better society by bettering yourself
by maigen thomas
topic: news
published: 4.25.11

basic human rights
where do you draw the line?
by maigen thomas
topic: news
published: 3.25.09


robert melos
2.21.11 @ 5:30p

Amen! Brilliant article. The lottery is my retirement plan.

william carr
2.21.11 @ 11:12p

I have some reservations about replying, since Part 2 is yet to appear. One of the things I've often heard from people in generations before my own--I'm an early boomer--especially those who endured the depression in the 1930s, is that they "didn't know they were poor." They didn't have "a lot," but they managed to be content with what they did have. Many of these people were/are part of what some are calling America's greatest generation--or something like that.

We have become different, and not better--and I know my own discontent. We can point fingers at the government, the wealthy, Madison Avenue.... I believe formal education remains important, at least, an undergraduate degree--and I'm still pursuing my doctorate. But many of the most important things I learned, I learned from my grandfather and my father--things that might be in books, I just didn't get them that way.

If Part 2 includes how we can "better ourselves" by being content with less, instead of reckoning that we must have what someone else has, you'll do us all a service.

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