Whose fault is poverty?

Now that he’s registering a pulse in presidential polls, Herman Cain is getting more attention when he says something.

Today he said something that will probably define his candidacy, for however long it should last.

“Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks,” he told the Wall St. Journal in an interview. “If you don’t have a job and you are not rich, blame yourself!”

“When I was growing up, I was blessed with parents who didn’t teach me to be jealous of anybody, or to be envious of anybody. It’s not a person’s fault because they succeeded, it’s a person’s fault because they fail,” Cain said.

Cain was reacting to the Wall Street protests, which he said are organized to distract the nation from the “failed policies” of President Obama.

His comment, however, may serve the same purpose because it may spawn a renewed debate over whether it’s the fault of poor people that they’re poor, and whether the nation’s 14 million people without work have no one to blame but themselves.

  • matt

    Expectations are an internal so you might be poor because you think you are poor. If you were transported by a magical machine to Ethiopia you might not feel so poor. If you were transported back 150 years you might not feel so poor. There are two person families that bring in $25k/year that do not feel poor and 2 person families that bring in $35k/year that feel that they are poor. Cain also brings in success and failure which are completely different than poverty but can greatly affect whether or not you think you are poor.

    If we just use an arbitrary stat like a poverty line to classify people as poor can we just ignore the sentiments of the “poor” person. NY Times article about Colorado farmer that tried to get locals to work his farm rather than migrant workers only to find the locals walked off the job in the first 6 hours because picking corn for $10/hour was too much work – poor because of their own fault. Ezra Klein article about Occupy Wall Street participants who are saddled with too much student loan debt – did they gamble and lose? Were they sucked in by great marketers? Is the American dream just an ideal that people have mistaken for a birth right? I put 50% on them, 35% on their parents and 15% on society. Born black in the inner-city? That falls on society 98%. However if you wait for society, who has subrogated poverty relief to govt, to fix your problem you claim an extra 2-5% culpability with each year past your 15th birthday.

    14 million without work is not a homgeneous group so you can’t paint them together. No, not all 14 million deserve unemployment, nobody deserves it. Of those 14 million some are trying harder than others. Some are trying hard but there are prices they wont pay (accepting a lower job, moving, working nights).

    In the end it would be hard to deny that for most of us the the biggest contributer to any success we have is our own efforts, it should be equally hard to deny that we have a similar impact in our failures.

  • It certainly IS my fault. It’s my fault I lived (thus far) 63 years, that I was laid-off last November, that those over 40 are the least likely to be considered for the vast number of job-openings out there, that some employers won’t hire people not already employed. I am sooo sorry that I am such a worthless deadbeat. Thanks for pointing that out, Oh wise & worldy Pizza Man. This should take care of my daily sarcasm allotment.

  • Heather

    Right. The big banks had NOTHING to do with the economic breakdown that has put millions of people in straits they never dreamed of. Move along. Nothing to see here.

    matt, I think you’re being unfair to recent grads with student loan debt. The formula has been, for years, graduate high school + get college degree = better job and economic advancement (including the ability to pay off those loans). A LOT of us — students, recent grads, homeowners, experienced workers — have done our best to follow the script of success in this country, but things are not, right now, as they were when that script was written. People have been caught mid-course in a lot of ways, through no “fault” of their own.

  • “There’s class warfare, all right, Mr. (Warren) Buffett said, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

  • “There’s class warfare, all right, Mr. (Warren) Buffett said, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

  • I think there is plenty of blame to go around, which is unfortunate. One thing I’ve realized is that many people just sit around and wait for someone to hire them. It’s like we’ve all lost the ability to get up and do something for ourselves. There are so many needs out there. Food that needs to be made, houses that needed to be painted, websites that need to be designed, and so on and so forth.

    The last 100 years or so seem to have sucked the entrepreneurial spirit from our nation. The rich keep getting richer because we all want to work for the rich.

    Of course the lack of available credit is the fault of society and the banks. Which is another piece of the equation. This makes it extremely difficult for those without access to a decent income for a few years to save enough to set off on their own.

  • C

    Have we really become a country where we blame individuals for problems which are partially, if not primarily, structural?

    The economy shed millions of jobs during the recession, did not create as many jobs as were lost, and many young people joined the labor market when they graduated college or graduate school. Yet now employers openly admit to favoring applicants who currently have jobs. For those who lost jobs during the recession, can we blame them?

  • Cara

    If everyone in the US of A were starting at the same point, with the same tools, I could agree. But for those who are starting far behind that point, with no tools, is that their fault too?

  • V

    Hmm. Sesame Street is talking poverty too in the same week, with a special episode. (Click on my name for more info.) Wonder who my money is on?

  • Joanna

    Yeah! all those hungry kids, it’s their fault! they should be working on the treadmill! and you sick people, quit your whining! You could walk if you just had enough moral fiber!

    /rant>

  • Jay

    And while I’m at it, I should also blame myself for not having clean air to breathe or an unpolluted river to drink from. Last time I checked, I didn’t live in a chamber free from the billions of other variables that might also play into my current situation.

    Poverty is rarely completely the fault of the impoverished.

    But Herman does have a point. He just needs a simple revision to his statement: “If you don’t have a job and you are not rich AND it’s your goal to have a job and be rich AND you’ve made no effort towards that goal, blame yourself!”

  • Yes, I suppose it is my fault that I started working when I was 10 doing babysitting and then to a regular job when I was 16. I worked myself through high school and college and got good grades. Went to work for my state…civic service…low pay but high reward. Work hard and produce…budget cuts cost me a job loss through NO fault of my own…shove it Mr. Cain..u succeed if you are born with a silver spoon or stick your nose up someone’s…Ps..I have money in investments too and they are taking a beating without my help.

  • Jessica E

    This is our nation’s “Let them eat cake” moment, brought to us by a man whose campaign mantra is “Beat Obama with a Cain.” http://www.facebook.com/Beat.Obama.with.a.Cain

    Could it get any more perfect for the ignorant Tea people?

    Too bad his parents weren’t around when his Wall St buddies were teaching him about the success of stealing, lying and cheating.

    He’s darn right I’m a “failure” by his standards, but what have I got? I’ve got a handful of friends who are literally feeding and clothing me right now. With those kinds of comments, I don’t think he’s going to make it with at least one sixth of America.

    A much wiser man said that the poor will always be among us, and it is how we treat them that sets us apart. Blaming hard working, honest people who’ve lost good paying jobs that can’t be replaced at the nearest pizza place, is a poor showing right out the gate. With the growing uprisings, I don’t think any headlines are going to read, “Cain Killed Able In Last Night’s Election.” anytime soon.

  • Shannon

    Here’s what I think: Cain’s a relief for the Republican vote. They have a black man they can side with/ who sides with them. This evens out the racism card. I think Obama’s getting a lot of heat (and always has) for his being black, not because of what his polices are. Now everyone can side with Cain and be like “I”m not racist.”

  • Jim Shapiro

    Shannon – Great analysis. I’m gonna steal it, but I promise I’ll credit you. 🙂

  • matt

    @Shannon – Does this mean that Democrats all are cleared of racism because they voted for a black person first? Which is the worse racism? Democratic paternalism or republican separatism?

    Both parties use govt to institutionalize their racism playing the laggard to society which is moving past racism at a much greater pace regardless of the anchors.

  • CT Burns

    “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks,” he told the Wall St. Journal in an interview. “If you don’t have a job and you are not rich, blame yourself!”

    -said the blind, man who refused to take responsiblity for his hand in the world consuming plague, of greed.

    “When I was growing up, I was blessed with parents who didn’t teach me to be jealous of anybody, or to be envious of anybody. It’s not a person’s fault because they succeeded, it’s a person’s fault because they fail,”

    and if that doesn’t reverberate undertones of a dysfuntional religious upbring of shamefulness I’m a wonky donkey begging to be freed from pergatory.

    and there lies the problem. Those who seek utter wealth and can’t seem to have enough, there always seems to be more to be had; I want it all.

    Imagine if we all lived within our means there would be enough and should be enough for every one on the planet where we have the capabilities to deliver food shelter and clothing to people in the most remotest areas of the world.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Matt – more often than not it’s a pleasure to read your comments, and often I learn something. Nobody bats 1.000 though: “Does this mean that Democrats all are cleared of racism because they voted for a black person first?” C’mon. Reductio ad absurdum.

    Your conclusion, however, is typically well-stated and hard to argue against.

  • Shannon

    @matt I would offer that many Democrats rather openly admit their racism. I’ve learned that unless I was raised on a island far from exposure from print, television, school, church, work you name it- it’s kind of difficult not to consider oneself a racist. (Words I’ll never forget from Jane Elliott.) I think that many Tea Partiers and Republicans like to shield themselves using a sort of coded language and verbiage {“take our country back” for example} as their way of not openly and clearly stating their real thoughts. And like I say, voting for this guy will rectify their prior actions, thoughts, feelings toward Obama.

  • Avera Bullchatter

    There are basically 2 ways of regarding the poor’s need for self-blame…or the lack of such…and these are…the resentful way and the non-resentful way.

    We can understand that!