-Hannah Mead, MCPP intern, 2008

Over at Freakonomics blog Sudhir Venkatesh journals his experience introducing a millionaire donor to life on the streets. It’s a long article, fairly interesting, and hits that all-important point: you don’t understand, you never could, but it’s still your fault.

Because I’ve never lived in extremely difficult circumstances, I can’t possibly understand those who lead such lives. There is a gap that our common humanity cannot bridge. It is a gap created by my narrow cultural experiences and is even more evidenced by my concern than by my apathy. The rich man’s questions show his ignorance, and his ignorance shows his in-bred insensitivity — even though he tries to learn out of care for his fellow man. We relatively wealthy ones fall all over ourselves to deny any knowledge of a poor person’s lifestyle, but even this is scorned as somehow presumptuous.

But I can’t help but wonder if sanctifying this gap isn’t just glorified otherizing. Even if we call ourselves the “other,” we still insist that we have little to nothing in common with the destitute. How does this help?

I think, however, that comment 8 displays the least grasp of the world around:

A lot of people in academia and in government make the case against minimum wage as it is anathema to free markets. I pose a challenge to these people especially now that a lot of them will be on summer recess. Why not spend at least 30 days living on minimum wage and see how they cope? This will give them the experience and moral compass needed to address the issue with the right knowledge.

Duh, the “squatter” in the story is NOT RECEIVING MINIMUM WAGE!!! If you read carefully, maybe you’d see that what jobs he has have to be under-the-table because of union regulations and, yes, minimum wage. Imagine how his life might improve if people could hire him legally, huh?

But my thoughts on this subject are clearly utterly discredited, because, see, my financial stability means I have no “moral compass.”


One thought on “Narrow-Minded

  1. 1- Thanks Hannah. i caught wind of this story a month or two back when i read another part of this series of articles. i had forgotten about it, though, and am glad You pointed it out.

    2- @”comment 8 poster” The minimum wage was never designed to be a living wage. It is a supplemental wage, for those who are out to get some extra money on the side – high schoolers who want a new ipod, for example.

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