Sorry for the extended holiday hiatus everyone. Both Brendan and I have been really busy and have struggled to find time for blogging. But now we’re back, so why not let us start the year with something horribly depressing and infuriating – Happy 2014 everyone!
This is something I saw at the end of last year, and have been meaning to write about since. It’s a list of comparisons of the habits of the rich and poor compiled by a US money guru called Dave Ramsey, culled from a book by fellow money advice guy, Tom Corley. I wouldn’t normally write about the witterings of random “Biblically inspired” American financial advisers, but this list got a lot of coverage last year in the States. Admittedly, a lot of the coverage was negative; but with 470,000 Facebook likes, it obviously struck a chord somewhere.
Here’s a sampling of the points Corley makes (you can read the full list of 20 here):
- 70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day.
- 80% of wealthy are focused on accomplishing some single goal. Only 12% of the poor do this.
- 76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.
- 63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% of poor people.
- 63% of wealthy parents make their children read two or more non-fiction books a month vs. 3% of poor
- 80% of wealthy make Happy Birthday calls vs. 11% of poor
- 79% of wealthy network five hour or more each month vs. 16% of poor
- 6% of wealthy watch reality TV vs. 78% of poor
The clear idea behind the list is that these are the reasons the rich are rich and the poor are poor. These are things that rich people have been doing to help them get rich, but that poor people for some reason shamefully refuse to do. The numbers are based on a small, selected sample of 233 wealthy and 128 poor people that Tom Corley observed (in the most detached, unbiased way possible, I’m sure) for five years.
Even putting methodology aside, some of these points are just self-evidently stupid. The rich are more focused on accomplishing a single goal? Well I imagine it’s a lot easier to focus on a single goal when goals like “Put food on the table”, or “Find the money to pay rent” are taken care of. The rich spend more time ‘networking’? What an amazing insight!
Other points seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with getting rich or staying out of poverty. The poor watch a lot of reality TV and don’t make Happy Birthday calls? How has this got anything to do with anything? Other than saying “Eurgh, look at the tacky TV poor people watch. And, they don’t even get their assistants to schedule birthday calls for important clients – are they even trying!?”. This is true even of the few points that actually have some wider evidence to back them up. There is a social gradient in healthy food consumption, and in exercise levels. But eating right and being thin aren’t going to get you out of poverty, let alone make you a millionaire.
A lot of people though, were impressed by this list. 470,000 of them looked at it and thought “Yeah, that sounds right – I should tell my Facebook friends about it”. Not because of the exact points it makes (which, as you can see, don’t really bear up to close inspection), but because of the support it offers for a lot people’s beliefs about poor people. Basically that poor people are a different kind of person; a worse kind of person who is fat and watches trashy TV and is not like us – that’s why they are poor.
It’s so so tempting to think this way. To ignore all the things about our society that make poverty stick, that make life on a low income different and harder. The stresses and worries that, yes, can sometimes lead to decisions that are harmful, or aren’t perfectly optimised for financial success. For those of us who are doing OK, ignoring all that means we can feel like we’ve been actively doing something right. Whatever it is that makes poor people poor, we haven’t been doing it – so we can feel good about ourselves. It also means we don’t have to do anything economically to help the poor, we can just stand on the sidelines and tell them to listen to audiobooks and spend more time networking.