Tonight I had the extreme displeasure of reading a blog post written by The Famous Dave Ramsey, someone many of my friends love for teaching them how to manage their money. I won’t deny that his program works for untold numbers of people. I’ve seen it in action. But his stance on the Occupy movement is unforgivably inconsiderate and clearly takes place from a position of clear privilege.
So I’ve decided to write a point-by-point response to Ramsey’s blog post. I’m not a political expert. The last couple of years have been, for me, a sort of crash course in caring about politics. But I do have a lot of opinions and a lot of feelings, and I think that denying anyone the right to a life above the poverty line is unforgivable.
Ramsey introduces his post by saying that the Occupy movement doesn’t have any clearly stated goals. This is a fact, but it’s not the end of the story and it does not make them unworthy of thought.
Yes, I agree that it is problematic that the national Occupy movement has not made defined demands. But at the same time, this is a growing movement that gains momentum by the day. When I wrote my first piece about this, we were in the middle of a media blackout (now that we’re in a ‘media circus’ over it, it’s easy for the media to say that’s what it was). Now, it’s all over the news. Every time I turn on NPR, they’re talking about some aspect of it. All presidential candidates are discussing it in all debates and all are now coming up with tax plans to win the people over. This movement is not going away, and it’s silly for anyone to pretend otherwise. There’s a reason there haven’t been any demands made. There will be demands made, but this movement must make it into the hearts, and more importantly, the platforms, of politicians before the change we so desire can take place.
“No Government Bailouts!”
Banks and big companies should not receive taxpayer money for a bailout while their CEOs are making hundreds of millions of dollars. If that’s your gripe, then you’re protesting in the wrong location. Pack up and head to Washington, D.C., to deliver your message to the current administration. Don’t get me wrong—I totally support a company’s freedom to pay their leaders well. I just don’t believe that I, as a taxpayer, should subsidize those huge salaries in the form of taxpayer bailouts. I pay my own team members; I don’t need to pay everyone else’s too.
Honestly, this isn’t that bad. I think pretty much everyone can agree on this one. The bailouts did some good in 2008, but if you’ll notice, we’re still floundering financially. The promises made were not fulfilled. Corporate restructuring did not turn out the way everyone expected it to, and we’re still in a mess.
No, there should not be government bailouts. But there should be government restrictions and government regulations of big business. Call me whatever you like, but that’s what I think. There is no reason we should be in this mess other than corporate greed, which brings me to our next point.
“Down with Corporate Greed!”
If you believe a specific company is acting purely out of greed, then don’t just get mad—do something.Point out where and how they’re greedy and let the world know. Stop doing business with them. If enough people listen to you, the company will get the message because you’ll hit them where it hurts: the bottom line. If they don’t get their act together, then they’ll go out of business and another business will take their place.
We’re all in agreement that greed is bad. It’s not one of the Seven Deadly Sins for no reason.
But the fundamental problem with Ramsey’s argument here is that he assumes those who most need financial help are able to choose where they shop, able to choose where they spend their money. For those who live at or below the poverty line, it’s impossible to make such a “discerning” choice. Shopping at the nearest, cheapest supermarket is often the only choice. Those who live paycheck to paycheck frequently work odd jobs in the service and/or no-collar industry, where they have irregular hours and have to go to the supermarket when they can. This often requires the use of public transportation, which only runs at certain hours. Because this person is either going alone or with one or more children (more distractions while you’re trying to shop quickly), he or she can only take what is easy to carry and probably non-perishable, since the journey probably takes at least half an hour each way.
There’s a reason the people spending their days at the Occupy movement are able to do so. Yes, they are privileged. They have enough leeway in their lives to be able to protest. Why? Because they do so in defense of not only their own struggles but to take on the struggles of those who cannot be there. They protest for the people who are working three jobs to put food on the table and pay bills, and turn around and do it again the next day. Those people are not protesting because they cannot afford to take the time to do so. We need to take on the burdens of those who are unable to do so and help them become self-sufficient. Is helping the poor not what Christ teaches? Helping the poor in 2011 is not just taking food to the local pantry and dropping off used stuff at Goodwill. It is fighting the battles for those who do not have the time, energy, or money to spend on this, but who need it more than we can ever imagine.
Does that make it a little more clear? These people can’t just “shop elsewhere.” Many of us do have that privilege and choose to exercise it for leisure rather than necessity, and maybe this does fall on us. Maybe we should be doing more to exercise our freedoms. But for every person who does so, there are dozens more who either don’t understand or don’t care about – or worst of all support – the way things are. For those in poverty, capitalism doesn’t work. It takes money to make money, and when you have zero extra money after bills and living expenses, there is no way to rise above your current situation.
To throw in a little fun fact here, let’s talk about grocery shopping versus eating fast food. If you spend any time at all on the Internet, you’ve probably seen the graphic that looks something like a comparison of $25 of fast food versus $20 of groceries, claiming that what one family will pay for one meal of fast food could feed them for at least a few days on groceries. In fact, I’ll just pull it up here for you.
Take a good hard look at what you see here. Salt and pepper for 5 cents? Where’s that? Look at these prices. When was the last time you saw foods at this price? 37 cents for an onion? No way. Rice doesn’t come in cups – you have to buy the box or bag. Same for most of these. These costs are unrealistic. There’s a reason people buy fast food. Groceries are hard to come by for those in poverty, and once you have those groceries, you have to have time to cook something. Fast food is simply easier, faster, and satisfies hungry children more than healthy food generally will. That’s hard, but it’s true. And most often, these households don’t have time to cook because they have to be working to be able to buy food. It’s a vicious cycle and because they can’t take a break to “pull themselves up,” they cannot and will not ever be able to break out of it without help.
By the way, if you think food stamps are a viable option, they’re not. They’re not even viable as an income supplement. It’s practically impossible for one person to support him- or herself on food stamps, let alone a family.
“Wall Street is Evil!”
If you have this painted on a sign, well, now you just look ignorant. Wall Street is a street that people drive on. The New York Stock Exchange is a building where people exchange stocks in New York. This is the flea market of the financial world. Don’t turn Wall Street into some terrible monster attacking American citizens. It’s just a road with some buildings on it.
If you want to talk about ignorant, this is it. Yes, this is a factual statement, but I’m going to give Ramsey a crash course in symbolism here. Wall Street is representative of the financial state of the nation. In 2008, it was no problem to talk about Wall Street as an umbrella villain, but now it’s not? That’s unacceptable. Wall Street represents the most important parts of American investment and banking. If it’s just “a road with some buildings on it,” why is the 1929 Crash also well-known as the Wall Street Crash of 1929? Obviously the street didn’t fall down around itself – it was the companies, the stock exchange. Wall Street has symbolized United States investment finances for many, many, many years, and it’s truly ignorant to pretend otherwise.
But here’s what happens. Sometimes when people don’t understand something, they start to fear it. And as the fear grows, it turns into anger. But just because you don’t understand something, you shouldn’t see it as bad or frightening or a conspiracy. You should just think of it as an opportunity to learn something new—something that could actually be a blessing to you.
It’s true, the vast majority of Americans don’t work on Wall Street. And it’s also true that much of the 1% we’re discussing here don’t actually work on Wall Street. Maybe we don’t have a full understanding of “the way things work up there” on that “road with some buildings on it.” But that doesn’t mean that we don’t see some problems that need to be fixed, stat. One of the best analogies I’ve heard regarding the situation is that of a post-surgery patient lying in a hospital bed, able to feel that the doctor has left an instrument inside his or her body during surgery. She complains to the nurse that something is wrong and that she wants to see the doctor immediately to see what exactly is wrong. The nurse says that the doctor knows what he’s doing and the patient should just stop worrying about it and continue to heal and live life to the fullest – because if you aren’t a doctor, you obviously don’t understand when something feels wrong in your body. The job of a doctor is to take care of the body, not damage it, just as the job of those working on Wall Street is to be financially responsible with our investments and protect us rather than take advantage of our lack of knowledge and rob Americans because they are unable to be there. Speaking of theft…
“Wealth Redistribution is the Answer!”
I’ve heard a lot about wealth redistribution over the past few years, and I’m sure you’ve heard it too. Call it whatever you want, but this is how it usually sounds to most Americans: “We are the 99% of Americans who don’t have as much as the 1%, so we’re mad and think the government should take their wealth and property away so that I can have a piece of it. Wealth inequality is a moral breakdown! We should all spread the money around so everyone gets a fair share!”
I have my toughest critique for those who believe this: You are a thief. When someone takes my money and gives me no say in the matter, that’s called theft—whether they’re using a gun or the government. At the core of this demand is envy. And that’s not the same as jealousy. Jealousy just says, “I want what you have.” Envy is a different beast. Envy says, “I don’t think I can ever have what you have, so you shouldn’t have it either.” Decades of horrible economic teaching and the politics of envy have kept this monster alive and growing and moving forward.
Here is exactly where Ramsey has gone wrong. Suggesting that the wealth of the 1% be forcibly taken from them and spread around is, I’m pretty sure, not what anyone is suggesting here. Maybe some fringe activists are blabbing that to the news, but someone needs to come get their folks on that one. The protest is that capitalism has gone awry and needs to be rearranged so that the poor aren’t getting poorer while the rich are getting richer. That sounds like a rhyme you’ve heard before, right? Well, now it’s especially true.
And that makes no one a thief. No one is recommending stealing from anyone else. Yes, I think it’s fair to say that those who go without because they can’t afford to buy food are probably envious of those who eat whatever they want, whenever they want, just because they can. I am incredibly incredibly lucky and privileged that I do not have this as one of my problems, but many do. Refer to the graphic above if you’ve forgotten.
This way of thinking makes you assume that all rich people are evil and have scammed their way into wealth. That may be true in the tale of Robin Hood, but I choose to live in the real world. Sure, there are some scoundrels, but the vast majority of successful men and women got that way by working hard and serving people—lots of people.Steve Jobs and Bill Gates changed the world in ways we’re just now starting to realize. Their positive impact on the world has helped all of us live better lives, and they made fortunes for themselves by doing so. Why is it that you’re holy if you help one person but evil if you help a million? That’s just stupid.
Well, Bill Gates also didn’t go to college and became a billionaire, right? That’s something else people seem to cling to. Look at him, living that American Dream. I can do that, too! You know what? If you’re reading this, you probably can. But this isn’t about you. Let me say that again: This conversation is Not About You. Look at your privilege. Bill Gates is self-made, but he did not come from extreme poverty to there, and this is what Ramsey and other anti-Occupy speakers are suggesting.
Let me share with you the most frustrating sentence of this entire post, because it’s right here:
“That may be true in the tale of Robin Hood, but I choose to live in the real world.”
Listen, Dave Ramsey, your folks need to come get you because that is the most classist statement I’ve heard in a long time. You live in a vastly privileged world where you are able to do and say whatever you want because of your own opportunities and privileges. Dave Ramsey does not live in the “real world.” Again, if you’re reading this article, you live in a world where you are able to be on the Internet and surf blogs for fun. The real world, as he so whimsically was about to refer to it, is where people have no choice but to work multiple jobs and live paycheck to paycheck just to make ends meet. Just so they won’t starve to death. Just so their families will have clothes and coats for winter. Last year, it was so cold in Oklahoma that OKC schools shut down because so many of their children walk to school without coats – because they cannot afford coats in the winter. In Oklahoma. It’s not even that cold here most of the time. This is not fair. This is not right.
My problems aren’t his fault. And my problems aren’t McDonald’s fault or Home Depot’s fault or Walmart’s fault, either. My problems are my fault! And the more people these companies serve, the more money they make—and that’s none of my business! If you don’t like McDonald’s, then here’s an idea: Don’t eat there. But don’t walk into the restaurant and demand a portion of their proceeds for the day.
Do you want to know why so many poor people eat McDonald’s? Because it’s cheap. Because one person can eat a “full meal” for two dollars, if you call two items off the dollar menu a full meal. A family doesn’t spend $27 on a meal at McDonald’s unless they’re looking to blow money. McDonald’s is cheap and it’s everywhere. It’s an alternative to eating food from the local gas station because that’s as close as many people can get to a grocery store. If you say that’s not true, you need to check your own privilege and get out in the “real world,” this so-called land of opportunity.
Celebrate the Land of Opportunity
This is the greatest country on the planet, but even here, you’re not guaranteed wealth, talent, fame, a full head of hair or six-pack abs. Those things are not in the Constitution. You are, however, guaranteed the freedom to make your life what you want it to be. And when you do that, when you build your life around your dreams and passions and hard work, you’re guaranteed the right to keep it. No one has the right to take it away from you.
No, no one is guaranteed anything. And you know what? No one is guaranteed freedom anymore. Our lives are so manipulated and controlled by those in power and those who control our investments that we don’t have that freedom. Someone can, in fact, come take that away from you. You can be put in jail for following your dreams, by going to college on loans that were guaranteed not to bankrupt you and in fact did that very thing.
Many, many Americans do not have the luxury to build their lives around their dreams. They have to build their lives around what pays the bills, and I would say a good 99% of the time, that does not involve any dreams, but it does involve a whole lot of hard work. Following your dreams takes time away from earning money and being productive, and most people don’t have that luxury.
So to summarize, I’m not very impressed at the moment. I’m not impressed by your temper fit. I’m not impressed at your lack of goals and focus. I’m not impressed by the fact that the only thing I see about your movement is ignorance, immaturity and envy. Grow up—and get a job.
Of course Dave Ramsey is not impressed, because he is unable to check his own privilege long enough to understand that getting a job is Not That Easy. In fact, it’s nigh impossible, even for college grads. The job market is flooded with those who earned bachelor’s degrees, who were told that having a college education was a guaranteed job and a leg up in the world. What happens when that world comes crashing down and you are unable to survive?
Also, there are people of all ages in this protest. Many of them are over 40, many of them war veterans, many of them who have lost their jobs in the last five years. It is not a hippie’s protest. This is an American’s fight for the right to survive in a country that promised them everything and then pulled the rug out at the last second.
Yes, there are jobs out there. There are jobs out there that haven’t even been invented yet. Go create the next Facebook or Weed Eater. Go pick up so much dog poop that you can start your own fertilizer company. And stop complaining that companies are TOO RICH while also complaining that they aren’t RICH ENOUGH to hire you! I’ve seen a lot of you guys. I wouldn’t hire you, either. But if you take all of that energy and excitement and pour it into something new and creative, you’ll get the chance to serve a whole lot of people really well, and over a decade or two, you’ll get to become the very thing you’re now protesting: rich people who actually earned their money.
I’ll go back to what I said about following dreams. Creating your own job is impossible. It takes start-up cash, loans, investments – all of which are impossible for people who need to get above the poverty line. It’s insane to think that anyone should be able to up and create the next Facebook or Weed Eater. Creating your own product takes a lot of money and a lot of trust by investors, and these days, who has either of those just floating around? Oh, that’s right – people who don’t need that much money to begin with. It’s a cycle of wealth that poor people cannot win. I am 100% positive that there are great ideas out there, but they lack funding and representation and investment, and I’m 100% positive they will never get any of those things. Because so many people are living day to day, there isn’t time for dreams.
This is the problem with anti-Occupy speakers. Those who would deny its legitimacy would also say that the American Dream is still a viable life plan. They would say that the Bootstraps theory applies to every American, regardless of background, when this is Simply Not True. It just isn’t.
This is a cycle of privilege that is upheld by those who live in it. Those who live in the 1% have been there all of their lives and will never fall from that position, barring an extreme financial crisis (but would only be knocked down to maybe middle class, not poverty). They are unable to understand why those in poverty cannot just pull themselves up and make something of themselves because they’ve never had to do it. Sure, they go to work every day, but they don’t have to worry about the money. It’s always going to be there for them. They aren’t living paycheck to paycheck, and their families aren’t constantly looking for their next meals. I’m not saying we need to take money from these people, but the way they make that money must change. There is no reason for them to be making that much money while millions are unable to pay for basic human necessities.
Do you want to know WHY millions of young adults take out thousands of dollars in student loans? Because their whole lives, they’ve been told that they can grow up to do anything they set their minds to as long as they work hard and get a good college education. But now those people are left without the idealistic, high-paying jobs they were promised for their very hard work at the most cost-efficient educational facility for their dreams. And they’re stuck with enormous monthly loan payments that they are unable to pay off. Citizens should not be saddled with debt because they are doing what their parents and authority figures instructed them to do from childhood. Trade jobs are vilified as low-class and underachieving, and so many people think they need to go to college to get a good job, when this is simply not the case. Millions of people do not need to go thousands upon thousands of dollars into the morass of loan debt so they can once again be refused the opportunity to work their way into the middle and upper classes. Those in poverty save to send themselves to college to get out of poverty, and yet are slapped with loans, which leads to low credit, inability to buy and/or rent permanent housing and/or transportation, and therefore they are often worse off than before. They are actively being denied the American dream because they believed in it, and that is wrong.
I know that I’m a liberal, and I appreciate a difference in political values. I understand the necessity. But what is absolutely unfathomable to me is that anyone, regardless of political stance, would refuse to see the fact that there are millions of Americans (to exclude the rest of the world) who live in a state of constant poverty and are unable to “pull themselves up” because of the endless circle that is living below the poverty line.
This is a movement that began in NYC, but has now spread to the entire world. There are movements and demonstrations in major cities all over the world. This has been a long, long time coming, and the worldwide divide between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of us has grown for years. It’s time for that to be over. Without a wealth restructuring plan, this will not change. Poor people cannot change this. Only the wealthy can, and if they won’t, we as a democracy must make the change happen. It’s not “taking money from people who deserve it.” It’s making sure everyone has enough money to feed themselves and their families and stop living paycheck to paycheck. We’re on the cusp of some extreme financial changes in the United States, and I hope you’re all prepared.
Privileged people, come get your folks. Just come pick them up. I haven’t even touched on the racism or sexism that falls under these categories, as well. I didn’t have time to go into the absolutely wildly insanely ludicrous Tea Party comparisons that are being made. There isn’t time. This post is already almost 4500 words in length. There just isn’t time to go into that.
What do you think? If you made it this far, I am truly proud to know you. Let me know what you think.