Monday, July 23, 2012

What Do The Poor Deserve?

A newspaper in New Orleans recently published a story about a public housing project where the residents had to be moved due to a possible looming health threat.  The comment section of the newspaper became full of outrage, not because the state allowed some people to be in physical danger to save a few bucks...but because the accompanying photograph with the story had a young boy playing with an iPad while sitting out in front of the housing project. 
Many of the commentators strenuously objected to the idea that this young boy should have had such a piece of equipment, most stating that they felt it was too expensive for him to have while living in a housing project.  Some such sample quotes:


Say what you want, but i and many other taxpayers drive our clunkers from our overpriced apartments past the projects every day and see big fine automobiles parked all over the place and we think "wtf?". If you think it is fair that our Robin Hood government is paying broke people to have more kids, you are lost. That is the entire reason that this and every other city is plagued with crime. I resent that I bust my butt running my own business and see people who work at Burger King living better than me.

I don't have an I Pad because I can't afford it, because I'm too busy working to pay for my own house, my own food, my own cell phone, and my own healthcare. Other tax payers give me NOTHING and if they did I would say THANK YOU.

You're missing the point, as usual. The controversy wasn't over what poor people should have, but over whether people who can afford to buy an i-pad (which I cannot) need to have the rest of us subsidizing their housing.

Should poor people have nice things?  There is widespread condemnation about the idea of poor people having a few “nice” things.  Since the Reagan era, Republicans have railed against the “welfare queen”, the stereotypical (usually black) single mother who has a large number of children, yet drives a Cadillac to the welfare office to pick up her welfare check.  Needless to say, this isn’t really the case. We feel an urge to police poor people, and infringe on their behavior in a way that could never be tolerated for supposed “freedom-loving” Americans.  We seem to want our poor to be live lives as unjoyously as possible, and begrudge them even the least bit of happiness (check out the story of the councilwoman berating a poor person for buying Rice Crispy Treats.) The thought of even a child on welfare having something considered a luxury item drives people wild, even if that item has educational potential.  As the author of the story puts it “The sight of a kid in public housing with an iPad doesn't offend me. Actually it gives me hope. So many poor people have no access to the digital world. They fall behind in school because of it. They miss the opportunity to apply for certain jobs. Yes an iPad is an expensive gadget, but we can't deny its usefulness. As computers go, an iPad comes cheaper than most laptops and desktops.”


  1. And I have a posit here: many private schools now have requirements that their students have laptops or iPads. Suppose this poor child has an enterprising family, who has managed to get him/her a spot in a private school (school choice, right, Rs??), where there is an iPad requirement. What if the iPad were even paid for out of a scholarship fund? Romney is always saying he avails himself of everything government allows him. Why would he, or any "bootstraps" R have a problem with that?

    And another side note: this is how the abortion/birth control debates go, too. There is widespread belief among the well-off that should they/theirs need an abortion or birth control, they would be able to get them. The debate is about whether poor and working class women (even soldiers, even rape and incest victims) should be able to have access to birth control and abortion.

  2. At bottom, it's a kneejerk reaction to assume the worst about other people (and, of course, assume the best of oneself).

  3. I agree. Human beings seem to have a strong urge to control other people, while hating to be controlled. At it's base, most political conflict seems to a clash of those two urges, in one form or the other.

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