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:
- The “I Am Not Responsible for My Circumstances” School of Thought and
- 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.