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The Book on Being Rich or Poor
27 Feb

To become rich, one does not need to be smart, or tough, or caring. One needn’t be honest, principled, or spiritual. Being cultured, humble, or impatient are not requirements either. You can be all of these things, none of these things or some of these things, and become rich. Becoming rich doesn’t even require having a good idea; as one can be born into money, born with fine athleticism, or be taken by the hand of an a rich person in marriage.


To become poor, one does not need to be stupid, or weak, or selfish. One needn’t be dishonest, immoral, or godless. One’s being uncultured, arrogant, or lazy are not requirements either. One can be all of these things, none of these things or some of them, and be poor. Becoming poor does not even require making bad choices. Poverty can be from injury, or be by the fate of birth.


If the skeleton of a community is constructed by its economic laws, neighborhoods are the muscle and blood that grows onto and around those bones. The foundation of the opportunity to be rich or poor is created in this skeleton, within the originating laws of neighborhoods. These are the laws that define how the earth is owned, and how taxes fall on work and consumption.


It is therefore somewhat strange that we think of money alone as being the pathway to becoming rich. Perhaps it is because money is what one has collected when one becomes rich. But the pathway is about more than money. Persistent economic desperation only happens because the structure of society itself leaves people without a choice in their own future. If all the land is owned by other people, poverty can be quite confining. And if the only available jobs pay less than a living wage, because that’s the offer on the table when a poor person is desperate enough for food and shelter, it doesn’t matter how smart or ambitious one is; an economic fate of dire poverty is launched. Such desperate poverty then pulls down the offered wage of other entry level jobs. And lower middle jobs. Dire poverty affects far more of us than just those in the poor area.


Even something as economically basic as access to funds can be dependent upon one’s station in the community. Two people of equal educational achievement, holding identical ideas for business, but from starkly different neighborhoods can be judged quite differently when money is being granted or loaned.


It is by thinking that money is the most important source of opportunity that our economy falters. Empathetic neighbors think we must redistribute money to equalize our positions. Others are more comfortable letting some of us fall through market cracks. But for all the free market bluster some of us sound, we’re not the type of folk who will let people starve or freeze just because they were born unlucky. So as the number of desperate poor grows, their needs become a burden to everyone. More and larger government programs are needed to take care of them.


So yes, money outwardly describes the way we live. But when it comes to the way each and every one of us has an opportunity to change our lives, it is a great delusion. A good-hearted redistribution of wealth is certainly a quick fix, but it can never be an enduring solution. Dollars are always subject to political whims. Desperation must be vanquished forever. The only way to do so, is to actually equalize everyone’s opportunity by rearranging society’s bones. We must go deeper than money in order to forge a political-economy that allows everyone, rich and poor alike, a choice in opportunity. We can’t allow our getting distracted by the ever present fluttering of dollars.


Opportunity is proscribed by the fundamental laws we use to claim property, and by our almost total dependence upon taxing capital. For most of us, this truth is difficult to see. It is far simpler to tweak economic results by having government say, ‘give me some of what you have, we’re going to give it to him.’ It’s certainly politically expedient for a politician to shift money from A to B and say ‘look what I did!’ It’s way more rewarding to have results that are immediately visible than to make changes that will only show great progress over time.


Establishing equal opportunity for all has two barriers against it before it is even discussed; 1 – we don’t see as the solution (because look at that big pile of money of there!), and 2 – it won’t provide results as quickly as changing numbers in a bank account (although in reality, more often than not, a poor recipient won’t have a bank account).


What the rich might begin to see in themselves is that while they deserve to have more than others because of what they accomplished or found, at the same time some of what they have is from a profit inflated by workers being paid less than a living wage. This is the curse of desperate poverty among us. The formative economic laws we follow are what exacerbate inequality. It’s not that the rich are evil. They are no better or worse than anyone else on that scorecard. They are, as well as the rest of us, following the laws.


But if the rich aren’t so universally deserving, it follows that the poor aren’t so universally undeserving. If the rich want to keep what they have earned, and the poor are entitled to economic opportunity, we need to find better laws to allow for both. The search for those laws is what A True Free Market explores. 

About the Author

Written by Stephen Taft

I live in New York City, work on Wall Street, and think about justice...all the time.

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