Why Rich People Don’t Understand Poor People

June 7, 2011 — Leave a comment

But the core of the breakthrough is that resolving conflicts among choices is expensive at a cognitive level and can be unpleasant. It causes mental fatigue.

via Why Cant More Poor People Escape Poverty? Psychologists Have A Radical New Explanation. | The New Republic.

Gavin clued me into this article in the New Republic which is fascinating, and has far reaching implications (such as, why are the impoverished more given to obesity). It in a very real way addressed the nature of the human condition that Paul struggled with in terms of the human bent to sin, or maybe better put, our inability to resist temptation at times.

However, I want to flip this article upside down a bit, for I have been thinking for quite a while that folks who are in the upper range of economic well being simply don’t understand the choices that poor folks are faced with, thus equating poverty with laziness or lack of ambition. This is tied in my mind to the work work that Emerson and Smith did in their important book Divided by Faith, which focused on research in the differences between white and black evangelicalism. However, as the article above suggests, folks of affluence simply don’t understand the mental anguish folks at the lower end of the economic spectrum have to go through to make ends meet . . . anguish that is made even worse in a world in which consumerism is lifted up as a virtue, and in which advertisers suggest that a lifestyle of spending is in the reach of all of us, and if we don’t have the cash we can simply charge it to get what we want right now. This lack of understanding leads to folks who are overburdened simply because for others it’s no big deal. “Sure we can expect parents to pay thousands of dollars so that their kid can go on a band trip…” rich folks say when that thousand dollars 1/100th of the annual income. But for folks for whom a grand is a significant part of the monthly income, that decision comes much harder, with having to choose between letting down your kid or hearing the wrath of a bill collector. And don’t start talking about picking the right priorities, for in fact they are usually ALL valid competing priorities in which there is no easy answer. That leads to mental anguish and fatigue, which leads reduced creativity and productivity, which undermines one’s ability to get ahead.

I recently heard a report on NPR I think in which researchers had determined whether money indeed buys happiness. What they were able to determine was that the question is relative to the society in which you live, and that yes, folks with more resources were generally more happy than folks at the bottom rung of the ladder . . . to a point. They identified the point at which a family needs to make in each country/society to alleviate the mental fatigue of always living on the edge, and in the U.S. that worked out to an annual family income of $75,000 or more, and as being part of a family that made right at that level before we moved to being a single income family, I can say that we were far from rich.

So, what do you think? Read the article first and then tell me if you think that the differences in the meaning of spending between affluence and poverty lead to a complete disconnect of understanding from both sides of the fence.

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