Is Wealth and Poverty the Result of Choice or Circumstance?

When Dave Ramsey posted the article “2o Things the Rich Do Every Day” on his website recently it immediately went viral. A prominent CNN blogger posted a scathing rebuke of the article. The Huffington Post put their two cents in, as did the Daily Kos and many blogs around the country. Thousands voiced their approval or disapproval of the article via blog comments. That article hit a social nerve. After the fog cleared I realized there were two opposing schools of thought surrounding poverty that were driving the controversy and responsible for it going viral. These two schools of thought are as follows:

  1. The “I Am Not Responsible for My Circumstances”  School of Thought and
  2. The “I Am Responsible for My Circumstances” School of Thought

“I Am Not Responsible for My Circumstances” School of Thought

This school of thought argues that poverty is outside your control. You are poor because of your circumstances. You are a victim. Individual responsibility, behaviors and habits are irrelevant. Life screwed you. Circumstances beyond your control dictate your poverty. These circumstances may be that you were born into a poor or dysfunctional family, or you were raised in a bad neighborhood, or you chose to work in an industry that pays low wages or you were simply the victim of random bad luck. What makes this ideology relevant is that, at the margins (meaning for a small minority), there is some truth to it. Disabilities, medical ailments, and any number of conditions can and do work against you in a random manner. Unfortunately proponents of this ideology extrapolate these exceptions and apply them to the whole of poverty.

“I Am Responsible for My Circumstances” School of Thought

Advocates for this school of thought believe poverty is the byproduct of individual behavior, poor choices and bad habits. They believe that you have the ability to change your circumstances and can rise above poverty if you work hard, engage in continuous lifelong self-improvement, make good choices in life and form good habits. This school of thought believes those who continuously seek to better themselves and their circumstances create their own good luck and wealth will follow. They also believe those who do not seek to better themselves and their circumstances create their own bad luck and poverty will follow. This ideology believes you are not a victim but a willing accomplice.

When Dave Ramsey posted the “20 Things” article it raised the ire of many of those who believe poverty is not your fault; that you are a victim. If you were to read any of the blog comments from those in this group you have no choice but to reach the conclusion that they see the poor as good and the rich as evil. What’s frightening about this ideology is that it is growing in popularity. This “I Am Not Responsible for My Circumstances” school of thought is nothing less than an all out assault on the American Dream. It seeks to redefine the American Dream from one of individual responsibility, unlimited opportunity and unlimited prosperity to one that espouses victim status, dependence and limited opportunity. Worse, it does nothing to help the poor. In fact, it actually contributes to poverty by rationalizing away individual responsibility for your circumstances in life.

This is antithetical to being an American. In America, no matter what your impoverished circumstances may be, you can choose to pursue the American Dream and become successful and wealthy. It is what made America the most prosperous nation in the history of civilization. It is why immigrants from the four corners of the globe seek to reach our shores. And it is a right of every American.

If you are not engaged in daily self improvement, every day, you will not improve your circumstances in life and you will remain poor. If you do not believe you can become successful, you will not improve your circumstances in life and you will remain poor. Do not buy into the “I Am Not Responsible for My Circumstances”  ideology. Those who push this ideology either do not know any better or have an agenda to keep the poor poor.

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Thomas C. Corley About Thomas C. Corley

Tom Corley understands the difference between being rich and poor: at age nine, his family went from being multi-millionaires to broke in just one night, due to a catastrophic fire that destroyed his Dad's thriving business. For fourteen years they struggled with poverty. There were eleven in Tom's family, and they lived in constant fear of losing their home.

Driven by the desire to unlock the secrets to success and failure, Tom spent five years studying the daily activities of 233 rich people and 128 poor people. He discovered there was an immense difference between the habits of the rich and the poor. During his research he identified over 300 daily activities that separated the “haves” from the “have nots.” Tom decided to write a book to share what he learned. That book, Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals (1st Edition), went on to become an Amazon Bestseller in the United States forty times over a three year period. To give you some perspective, in order to be a true Amazon Bestseller in the United States, where you actually receive a specific Bestseller designation from Amazon, you need to be in the top 100 of all books sold by Amazon in the United States in a given day. Rich Habits did that for nearly thirty straight days, rising as high as #7, eclipsing such Bestselling authors such as Stephen Covey, Robert Kiyosaki and J.K. Rowlings. Imagine that - an unknown, first-time, self-published author selling more books than J.K. Rowlings!

Tom now travels the world, sharing his Rich Habits and motivating audiences at industry conferences, corporate events, universities, multi-level marketing group events, and global sales organizations’ presentations and finance conferences. He has even spoken on the same stage with famous entrepreneurs and personal development experts, such as Sir Richard Branson, Robin Sharma, Dr. Daniel Amen, and many others.

Tom has shared his insights on various national and international network, cable, and Internet television programs such as CBS Evening News, NBC News, Yahoo Financially Fit,, India TV, Australia, and a host of others. He has been interviewed on many prestigious nationally syndicated radio shows, including the Dave Ramsey Show, Marketplace Money, and WABC.

Tom has been featured in numerous print magazines—such as Money magazine, Inc. Magazine, SUCCESS Magazine, Entrepreneur magazine, Fast Company magazine, More magazine, Epoca Magazine (Brazil’s largest weekly) and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine—and various online publications, including USA Today, CNN, MSN Money,,, and the Huffington Post. Tom is a frequent contributor to Business Insider,, and a few other media outlets.

National publicity has garnered international media attention for Tom and his Rich Habits research spanning 23 countries. Broadcast media, online publications, and television throughout Asia, the South Pacific, Europe, the United Kingdom, and Central and South America have shared his powerful message.

In an effort to help parents, grandparents, teachers and adults become success mentors to the younger generation, Tom released his second book, Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to be Happy and Successful in Life in 2014. This book was the self-help category winner of the 2015 New York Book Festival and Runner-up in the prestigious 2015 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards Contest. In 2016 Tom released his third book, Change Your Habits, Change Your Life. This book provides the latest science on habit change as well as more of Tom's unique research on the specific habits that helped transform 177 ordinary individuals into self-made millionaires.

Besides being an author, Tom is also a CPA, CFP, and hold a master’s degree in taxation. As president of Cerefice and Company, CPAs, Tom heads one of the premier financial firms in New Jersey.
Phone Number: 732-382-3800 Ext. 103.
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  1. Tom,
    I couldn’t agree more… E+R=0 is the only way to go. If we blame the Event and not our Response we have no control over the Outcome. The only control we really have is over ourselves and our behavior. I’m not sure why people can’t see this relationship.
    Thank you for continuing your mission.

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