Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

It Pays to Remain Poor

Posted by Jerry on June 20, 2007

There is so much that is wrong with the new anti-poverty experimental program in New York being instituted by Mayor Bloomberg; even the one seemingly postive factor that the program will be funded by private money as opposed to tax dollars is actually not redeeming.

By private money, obviously, Bloomberg does not mean to indicate his own bank account but most likely that of large corporations, whose monetary support is actually extorted by soft coercion rather than fair and mutual benefit. [See end of this article for an instance of this soft extortion from corporations.]

The program works as such that selected poor people in New York will now be paid for “good” behavior like visiting the doctor and getting vaccinated; presumably, the monetary incentive is to encourage positive choices that will help the poor escape some kind of “vicious cycle” of poverty and improve their lives.

The theory behind cash rewards is that poor people are trapped in a cycle of repeated setbacks that keep them from climbing out of poverty. A person who doesn’t keep up with his vaccinations and doctor’s visits, for example, may get sick more often and struggle to stay employed.

Bloomberg, a billionaire Republican, said he believes paying people in such circumstances to make good decisions could help break those patterns. The program “gives New Yorkers in poverty a financial incentive to look ahead and make decisions that will improve their prospects for the future,” he said in a statement.

Among the possible rewards in New York’s program are $25 for attending parent-teacher conferences, $25 per month for a child who maintains a 95 percent school attendance record, $400 for graduating high school, $100 for each family member who sees the dentist every six months and $150 a month for adults who work full time.

So, for example, I get paid if I remain on a job that pays! But, what if all this payment coming in makes me reach a level of wealth just above the defined level of poverty, in which case I would lose all the incentives I have been receiving thus far! Hmmm… I think I have a *greater* incentive to continue remaining just below the threshold of poverty–now, that would be comfortable living!

And what about the rest of the folks who make decisions like visiting the doctor regularly, getting vaccinated, scoring good grades in school, staying on the job, etc., on a regular basis simply because this is the rational self-interested thing to do!? Do we get any monetary rewards to continue being rational? Why not?

The incentive to be rational is simply that it makes survival and living so much easier and pleasurable. Visiting the doctor and getting vaccinated just means (among other things) that I can more often avoid being sick and enjoy my health with friends and family. Having good grades in school just means I can get better jobs or better higher education to improve my prospects of earning a higher income. Staying on the job just means I will continue to have some disposable income that will enhance the kind of leisurely activities and vacations I indulge myself in.

Are these not incentives enough? Is the rational self-interested pursuit of happiness in life not a strong enough incentive for the poor (or ANYONE!) to make good decisions? If money–pieces of paper–is the incentive to make good choices, then one must ask–to what end will the money be used? Is money inherently pleasurable or is it a means to further happiness? If money is the means to happiness, then why is the *end*, i.e., the happiness, the achievement of values, not regarded as the proper incentive instead of regarding the *means* as the incentive to that end?

If you believe that the poor are “trapped” in some cycle of poverty beyond their control, then it would seem that never in the history of humanity–over all millenia–did any one poor person ever escape the shackles of poverty on their own accord. It implies that every poor man who climbed out of poverty did so with the help of some hand-out, some charity, some morsel thrown at them. It implies that man is incompetent, inefficacious, and the universe is malevolent and unresponsive to our rational actions–that no matter what actions we take to improve our condition, the universe (reality) is inherently antagonistic to our betterment (This is the “malevolent universe premise” identified by Ayn Rand). It implies that altruism is the only answer to poverty, that man can only hope to survive if someone else is willing to support their survival for them.

There is so much wrong with all of this. I could go on… but I won’t.

On the related note of soft extortion of corporations being asked to support causes and programs not related to their own benefit and at the point of the altruistic gun, see this article of a documentary film that is explicitly against consumerism and shopping.

The film follows the white-suited, big-haired Rev. Billy and his 35-member choir as they hit the road in two biodiesel-fueled buses in December 2005.

They invade shopping malls, megastores and Starbucks coffee shops with a message preached in mock-religious fervor that there is evil — a looming “shopocalypse” — at the heart of U.S. consumer culture.

The movie has received early praise.

But director Rob VanAlkemade said the movie’s message makes it a tough sell to potential distributors.

“Major distributors have backed away because Wal-Mart pushes half of their DVDs,” VanAlkemade said after a sold-out screening of the movie on Sunday at the Silverdocs documentary festival near Washington.

Starbucks — a frequent target of Rev. Billy which got a court order to keep him out of its California stores — pulled out as a sponsor of Silverdocs. The festival is presented by the American Film Institute and the Discovery Channel.

Festival spokeswoman Jody Arlington said Starbucks expressed discomfort with the movie and raised security issues, but it let Silverdocs keep the sponsorship money even as it withdrew its logo. [emphasis mine]

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