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We don't want to read about the poors
December 14, 2010 3:13 PM   Subscribe

There is a firestorm in Bedford, New Hampshire, because a parent wants the school board to take the book "Nickel and Dimed: Not Getting By In America" off the reading list for a high school personal finance class.

From the article:
"This fall, the Taylors complained to school officials about the book's use of offensive dialogue, negative depiction of capitalism, references to drug use and portrayal of Christians."
posted by reenum (131 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I think this book is not a good book for us to use in our personal finance course," said board member Scott Earnshaw. "I did a very unscientific survey of people in my family who have taken this book, and the one word response I got was 'worthless.'"

Well that settles that.
posted by joe lisboa at 3:15 PM on December 14, 2010 [13 favorites]


So long as Porphyry is still taught, then I'm ok with this.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:16 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Some of you may complain that we are trying to censor something," Taylor said. "Well guess what? We live in a country where censorship is a part of life."


posted by The Whelk at 3:16 PM on December 14, 2010 [35 favorites]


"Some of you may complain that we are trying to censor something," Taylor said. "Well guess what? We live in a country where censorship is a part of life."

Well, it's less censored here than in North Korea, right? So it's all good.
posted by tyllwin at 3:16 PM on December 14, 2010 [11 favorites]


Great minds think alike, huh, The Whelk?
posted by tyllwin at 3:17 PM on December 14, 2010


Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the book in question, discussed previously on Mefi.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:19 PM on December 14, 2010


"The administration, and the people with the master's degrees that are taking care of my children ... clearly in this case seem to lack common sense, common decency, and with regards to the civil rights, an understanding of common law," Taylor said.

WTF is this guy talking about? The school board was elected to do a job. They seem to be doing it quite well by ignoring asswipes like Dennis Taylor.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:22 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


So, apparently this guys family habitually steals the book? (or by 'taken' does he mean 'read'?)

Dennis Taylor said all aspects of society, including television, enforce some content restrictions. "Some of you may complain that we are trying to censor something," Taylor said. "Well guess what? We live in a country where censorship is a part of life."

Ah yes, the mind of a censor at work; it's pretty stunning to see in action. Censorship must be okay because we already do it. And while his *broadcast* television might be somewhat censored, I'd imagine he has cable at home; in which case there is possible pornographic material present and certainly much content that isn't allowed to be broadcast.

Oh, also, this isn't an attempt at censorship, this is just content restrictions, so it's fine.

Finally, very very clever rouse to get teenagers interested in labor activism (tell them there is dirty language, stuff they shouldn't see). Very clever.
posted by el io at 3:25 PM on December 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


"Some of you may complain that we are trying to censor something," Taylor said. "Well guess what? We live in a country where censorship is a part of life."

Car crashes are a part of life too, but that doesn't mean I should play in the traffic.
posted by angiep at 3:25 PM on December 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


That is odd, I read an entirely different account several days ago.

“We found the book provided valuable insight into the circumstances of the working poor and an opportunity for students to demonstrate mastery of the ‘Financial Impact’ competency,” the committee reported.

Assistant Superintendent Chip McGee said the committee looked at the value of the book as a whole, rather than judging it on its objectionable passages.

“We need to balance the instructional value of the book against its shortcomings, rather than looking at any isolated passage, and rather than looking at the belief system of the author,” McGee said.

and

The Taylors also took issue with the book’s portrayal of Christians. In one passage, Ehrenreich attends a tent revival meeting and is troubled by its emphasis on Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, rather than his social teachings.

“Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist is never once mentioned, nor anything he ever had to say,” Ehrenreich writes.

The local paper makes the parents sound like asses and the school very reasonable but the OP's linked paper makes everyone sound insane.

posted by munchingzombie at 3:27 PM on December 14, 2010 [11 favorites]


The content of the book (how hard it is to live on minimum wage) is offensive. That's. the. fucking. point.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 3:27 PM on December 14, 2010 [105 favorites]


Yo Bedford if you're not down with scathing indictments of capitalism's failures you might want to do something about the Bedford Mall, that shit is like a skate park in a ghost town populated by dust kitties

*daps dudes from Hooksett, Auburn, Candia*
posted by Greg Nog at 3:27 PM on December 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


Seriously, is there a Greasemonkey script that blocks out the comment section of local newspaper websites? I know I shouldn't look at them, but I do, and then I get depressed for the future of our civilization.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:29 PM on December 14, 2010 [37 favorites]


Oh, FFS. I've read this book. And it's exactly what l33tpolicywonk says -- any "offensive" content in the sense of obscenity or drug use, or even anti-religious content is utterly incidental. It's the message of the book that distinguishes it from prime-time TV.
posted by tyllwin at 3:31 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Did anyone else read the very first comment of the article and start cracking up?
posted by MattMangels at 3:33 PM on December 14, 2010


They object to the negative depiction of capitalism. And they object to the negative depiction of Christianity.

Well, you can hardly expect them to cheer a book that insults both of the national religions.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:34 PM on December 14, 2010 [22 favorites]


In many states, if a family of a student wants a book censored or removed from a reading list (approved list) then the teacher allows an alternative book for that student but continues to use the books assigned.
posted by Postroad at 3:35 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm just tired of conservatives being more willing to stir up a giant shitstorm than admit that they are part of the middle/lower class and that the middle lower classes are getting the short end of conservative policies.

It's almost like the cognitive dissonance is too much for them to handle.
posted by JimmyJames at 3:35 PM on December 14, 2010 [32 favorites]


I'm sick of gasbags.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:37 PM on December 14, 2010


Seriously. I'm tired of living in the same country as these people. Something's gotta give at some point.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:43 PM on December 14, 2010 [17 favorites]


"The administration, and the people with the master's degrees that are taking care of my children ... clearly in this case seem to lack common sense, common decency, and with regards to the civil rights, an understanding of common law," Taylor said.

Mister Fabulous: WTF is this guy talking about?

It's the message from much of the vocal right: the well-educated on the left are spitting for everything our country stands for (that being, capitalism and Jesus). Oh, the second part? No idea.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:45 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a bad book. I would take it off the list. Guess I wouldn't make a ruckus about it though. Everyone insists on having iron control over the curriculum these days. Not possible.
posted by grobstein at 3:45 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, it's amazing how many people can actually survive to adulthood and yet be totally oblivious to reality and throw a hissy fit when other people point out the obvious.

Dude, if you are offended by the book, then instead of being in denial that bad things do happen to good and hard-working people, get off your high horse and do something tangible to make it a better place to live. Sheesh...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 3:48 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's a bad book. I would take it off the list.

Why is it a bad book?
posted by Sebmojo at 3:49 PM on December 14, 2010


Seriously, is there a Greasemonkey script that blocks out the comment section of local newspaper websites?

I'm enjoying Shut Up, which is a Safari extension. The author also mentions a Firefox extension called Stylish, which might suit you.

I didn't even notice that the article link in the FPP had comments. It's nice, especially for newspaper sites.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 3:53 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I would love to be a fly on the wall for an evening in the Taylor home...
posted by jnnla at 3:54 PM on December 14, 2010


It's a bad book.

How so? It's not a great book, but I think it's particularly useful for giving upper-middle class folk a introductory taste of where they might be if that privilege was suspended for a bit.
posted by tyllwin at 3:55 PM on December 14, 2010 [11 favorites]


Of the dozens of community members in attendance Monday, many spoke passionately in support of the book. Several Bedford High School students said the push to protect them from the book was wildly insulting.

Jordan Dempsey, the president of the high school's senior class, told the school board that sifting through the book's controversial content provided a formative learning experience for students.


Good on the kids!

"It's part of the maturity process in school, I believe, that students and teachers work together to look beyond the obscenities and to find the educational value that lies within them," Dempsey said.

Kind of like reading the bible. Zing!

But seriously, people who can get pissed off at a comment about religion in a book that is not focused on religion make me want to ask them about that bit in Exodus 21, amongst other notable sections.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:55 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's no wonder Johnny can't fucking read.

(Or mangage his money. Or compose a grammatical sentence. Or finish a thought. Or realize who is fucking who around here.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:55 PM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


In which, I mean that there are valuable lessons in the bible, as there seem to be in Nickel and Dimed: Not Getting By In America. Discuss the offensive stuff and move on.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:56 PM on December 14, 2010


I hate everyone now.
posted by Ratio at 4:02 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think it would be a great book for such a class. She does a really good job of being humble about her endeavor -- she knows she's an incredibly privileged person in a masquerade, but she's making an effort to understand the reality of the world for people less privileged than she and then explain it to others. There's narrative, there's character, there's story.

It's a thoughtful examination of lives that aren't typically thoughtfully examined other than as abstractions like 'the working poor.'

I got a lot out of that book. Especially about how stuck people can be. I grew up surrounded by working class social climbers, which was partly gross if your hypocrisy radar runs overtime, but it is also the background that let me get a graduate degree and (finally) high-quality dental care. (You can tell so much by looking at people's teeth.)

The margin between being able to make a better life for yourself narrows as you make less money (duh). With a little bit more, maybe you can do community college, maybe become an LPN, dental hygienist, something that will get you out of standing at the bus stop when it rains on you at ten o'clock some November night, after you've gotten off your shift. But take a lot of hits and it matters less and less whether or not you're scrappy or resourceful because the machine's just designed not so much to roll over you but to not notice you're there.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:04 PM on December 14, 2010 [32 favorites]


why can't these people do us all a favor and just burn the book like normal zealots?
posted by arveale at 4:04 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


New Hampshire: Live Free or Die!
posted by ericb at 4:05 PM on December 14, 2010


Dude, if you are offended by the book, then instead of being in denial that bad things do happen to good and hard-working people, get off your high horse and do something tangible to make it a better place to live. Sheesh...

But that means helping out people who aren't like me! [/privilege whining]
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:06 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wouldn't you say that trying to ban a book because the ideas are scary underlines your own weaknesses, and wanting to protect your kids from ideas underlines your failings as a parent?
posted by maxwelton at 4:09 PM on December 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


I think there is a significant minority in America who's only real objection to "sharia law " is not the content per se, but that it isn't "christian"
posted by edgeways at 4:10 PM on December 14, 2010 [26 favorites]


From munchingzombie's linked article:
“We had almost-Ph.D. people letting this fumble through their fingers, and they all said it was grand,” said Dennis Taylor, a conservative Christian. “I think there should be a review of these individuals and perhaps some firing done.”
Almost. Oh, so close! You tell 'em Mr. Taylor.
posted by ericb at 4:11 PM on December 14, 2010


Mr. Taylor: Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, Tits!
posted by ericb at 4:15 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


clearly in this case seem to lack common sense, common decency, and with regards to the civil rights, an understanding of common law

filthy light thief: I think it was the civil rights and understanding of common law part that threw me for a loop. The law likely says (I don't know the school districts particular rules, etc.) that the area votes for a school board to make these decisions. Don't like it? Vote the board out.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:17 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dumb people freak the FUCK out when schools try to innovate, so this is not surprising.

I had an experience with a school board that attempted to have a school adopt some curriculum elements from the International Baccalaureate Program.

I'll never forget the crazed look in that woman's eyes when she turned to the board and screamed, "Are you just going to send our money to Geneva???"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:21 PM on December 14, 2010 [19 favorites]


Dennis and Aimee Taylor have already taken their son out of Bedford High School and have begun teaching him at home.

Nice.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:22 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm tired of living in the same country as these people. Something's gotta give at some point.

I recently heard someone compare the US to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 90s - a collective enterprise in name only, populated by groups that have little in common, can barely tolerate one another, and that could easily be pushed to violence.

I don't know enough about Bosnian history to know if this holds any water, but it definitely gave me pause.
posted by ryanshepard at 4:25 PM on December 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


I mean, I am offended by poverty too, but not because people have to know about it.

I read the book in college and I thought it was amazing because, until then, I have bought into the myth that hard work was all you needed to get by in life. Correction: hard work can help, but privilege, middle class parents, and financial stability are really key.
posted by jenlovesponies at 4:26 PM on December 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's a book that could teach a lot of kids something about Personal Finance. It's good for starting discussion. In short, a terrific book for high school students. I hope the School Board doesn't cave on this.
posted by theora55 at 4:26 PM on December 14, 2010


Or mangage his money. Or compose a grammatical sentence. Or finish a thought. Or realize who is fucking who around here

Um. Hmm.

That actually would be 'manage' and '...who is fucking whom.'

A for effort. C+ for execution.

I keed. I keed.
posted by ericb at 4:27 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't want to speak too badly of my home state because my brother is raising my niece there, and they are kick-ass people. As are the people who raised me, and many of the friends I made there I made for life.

...but this surprises me not at all.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:27 PM on December 14, 2010


Is it really a "big controversy" as the title says? What I get from the article is that one family is pissed off, one school board member grumble about the book's value, and many people and students spoke up in support of the book. Journalistic hyperbole?
posted by Pantalaimon at 4:30 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's not a great book, and I could see taking it off the list for that reason. But the reasons the parents have for wanting it off the list are moronic. And I can't necessarily think of a better book that illustrates the aspects of lower-class life it does—especially those parts about people being stuck paying insane amounts of "rent" to extended-stay hotels. Anyone have any recommendations for another book that addresses those things in a more readable, in-depth fashion?
posted by limeonaire at 4:32 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ugh, sometimes parts of my home state embarrass me. I just bought a copy of this book by way of apology.
posted by theredpen at 4:32 PM on December 14, 2010


I can only imagine what the Taylors think of those filthy hippies and that socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in neighboring Vermont.
posted by ericb at 4:33 PM on December 14, 2010


...but this surprises me not at all.
You know, it's kind of surprising and subversive that they're reading that book in a personal finance class at all. I'm all for money management classes, because students desperately need them, but they tend to peddle a total ideology of personal responsibility. If you just budget and save responsibly, you'll be able to have a decent standard of living no matter how crappy your paycheck. And Ehrenreich totally challenges that narrative. She says that no matter how carefully and responsibly you manage your money, you may still be utterly screwed. You can say what you want about individuals in New Hampshire objecting, but it's laudable that the school board would allow it in the curriculum in the first place.
posted by craichead at 4:34 PM on December 14, 2010 [34 favorites]


New Hampshire: Live Free or Cheap
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:36 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Agreed.. tempest in a teacup more than a firestorm. Nutty parents want book removed, board declines, will review with teacher input at end of year, parents pull kid for homeschooling.

It IS a good book though, and one I've recommended to several people.
posted by modernnomad at 4:36 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


You'd think the state that produced GG Allin would have a little bit more tolerance for a couple swear words here and there.

I know we're not talking about all NH residents here. I love you guys. You're Vermont's gruff but loveable neighbor; the Oscar Madison to Vermont's Felix Unger (in Birkenstocks).
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:39 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: "You'd think the state that produced GG Allin would have a little bit more tolerance for a couple swear words here and there."

Last in line for the school board meeting!
posted by wcfields at 4:44 PM on December 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


You are my new favorite poster.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:47 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that it's that great a book for a personal-finance class. It's an interesting book for what it says about American culture, but I don't know if it really teaches the reader that much about how to manage your money. It's basically "living on minimum wage sucks. A lot."

We're always talking about financial illiteracy and how schools need to do a better job at teaching kids better basic finance skills; I think they'd probably get more out of The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke or A Modern Girl's Guide to Personal Finance.

Are they equally good books? As pieces of literature? Hell no. But I suspect you'd learn more personal finance from them, and if you were using them in a class you'd run less risk of getting off in the political weeds — there's no way you're going to read Nickeled and Dimed and not have the whole class degenerate into an argument about the merits of capitalism. An outcome that would be fine if that were the point of the class, but if the idea is to try and produce students who can (1) make and stick to something resembling an individual or household budget, and perhaps more importantly survive and not get themselves underwater in credit card debt or taken in by shady loan officers (education loans, mortgages, personal loans, auto, payday, whatever).

It's like assigning Dworkin's Intercourse in a sex-ed class. In a lot of ways it's a choice that I'd defend on intellectual grounds, and it might lead to some interesting debates, be eye-opening for certain students, etc., but I'd question it on practical ones: is that really where you want to be spending your time, and not on something like, say, the proper use of a condom?

If you have a very limited amount of time, and you know you're quite possibly the only instruction that your students are ever going to get in a particular subject before they go out on their own and quite possibly make a giant fucking hash of things, maybe shelving the politics — however interesting and meritorious they may be — in favor of a crash course in how not to become a stain on life's floor is warranted.

(The censorious parents, however, are still a bunch of assholes. Ugh.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:48 PM on December 14, 2010 [17 favorites]


I found this to be a really good book and have recommended to many people. It certainly changed the way I look at the issues it raises. What the heck is wrong with these parents?
posted by cccorlew at 4:48 PM on December 14, 2010


Why was he in public school at all? From lurking in Malkin's comment threads, I'd have thought all the Christianists were a-home-schoolin' all theys young'uns these days...
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 4:49 PM on December 14, 2010


When I was in the 9th grade and were covering economics, we had a workbook that featured a skinny, long-haired hippy as the protagonist. We followed him on his journey from lazy beggar to convinced free-marketeer. One chapter in particular stands out in my mind: the one about supply and demand. The faceless narrator, who talks to both the reader and the hippy through captions, talked about how there are all sorts of things the hippy could produce for sale, such as corn. In the panel below the caption, the hippy beams, holding some unspecified leafy vegetable in his hands, asking, "Corn?" On top of this, the chapter ended with the hippy asking, "If the free market is all about supply and demand, how do you explain mouthwash, smart guy? You think people were marching in the streets, demanding someone invent something they could swish around in their mouths and spit out?" To this, the narrator admitted that capitalists often "create demand" by trying to convince people that they need something that they actually don't.

My ardently Republican social studies teacher loved this workbook, and it started a lot of pretty heated discussions about capitalism. And this was when Reagan was president. When and how did capitalism become so much more sacred and beyond reproach?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:59 PM on December 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


That actually would be 'manage' and '...who is fucking whom.'

A for effort. C+ for execution.


I am a poster child for why we need school boards with backbones.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:08 PM on December 14, 2010


I can see where you're coming from, Kadin2048, but I don't think I agree. It's a semester-long class devoted to nothing but personal finance. For one semester, students spend as much time learning about personal finance as they do about English or math or science. (And my high school sure as hell never devoted an entire semester to sex ed. If we did, we'd have had time for something more than "here's a condom, put it on a banana, if you have sex without one of these things you will DIE." Now, I think they spend the same amount of time saying "Jesus, but we aren't supposed to say Jesus, but anyway, Jesus doesn't want you to have sex until you are married.") I think a semester is enough time to cover how to make a budget, why you should avoid credit card debt, various types of student loans, how to pay your income taxes, and also discuss some critiques of the system.
posted by craichead at 5:10 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Car crashes are a part of life too, but that doesn't mean I should play in the traffic.

I don't know, this Taylor guy could give it a shot.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:17 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


You're Vermont's gruff but loveable neighbor

At some point, a friend of mine from Hawaii asked me which one of the two triangles was NH and which was VT. I explained that an easy way to remember which is which is that Vermont, with the wider top, is the one that looks like it's swelling with pride. New Hampshire is the one that's kicking Vermont's legs out from under it.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:21 PM on December 14, 2010 [19 favorites]


Why was he in public school at all? From lurking in Malkin's comment threads, I'd have thought all the Christianists were a-home-schoolin' all theys young'uns these days..

From munchingzombie's link:

Dennis and Aimee Taylor have already taken their son out of Bedford High School and have begun teaching him at home. Both parents plan to attend the Dec. 13 meeting of the Bedford School Board to ask that the book be removed from the curriculum.

So yeah, they did take their kid out of school. And they're still trying to get the book banned. Blargh!

It's a bad book. I would take it off the list.

I don't know if the book itself is bad, but Barbara Ehrenreich rubbed me the wrong way. She brings up very important issues with the capitalistic society we have in America and our lack of a social support and services for the poor. But her attempt to survive in the minimum-wage workplace was half-hearted at best.

She missed an important interview that included a raise because she was up late from drinking coffee one night. She failed a drug test she knew was coming because she smoked a joint the day before. She buys into the whole home-ownership society and seems to think that every person deserves their own home, ignoring that throughout much of history housing was shared among families.

I'm not saying drug testing in the workplace is good, it's not. Just that her character came off as too privileged. Maybe that's part of the point, since the book is obviously written to change the mind of the privileged.

Morgan Spurlock's first episode of 30 days was a much better treatment of the issue, although obviously shorter.
posted by formless at 5:23 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Pantalaimon - It's another News Co/Fox News fueled protest. See Pasadena School District and CAIR 'outrage' from a few years ago. Texas Children Roped Into Islamic Training [on Friendswood Junior High in Houston]http://www.campus-watch.org/article/id/5197
posted by lslelel at 5:24 PM on December 14, 2010


Those comments kill me. Empathy is socialism! Reading is socialism! Sympathy is socialism! Caring for other living things is Muslim Gay Socialism!
posted by GilloD at 5:31 PM on December 14, 2010 [16 favorites]


Kids who might not read The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke or A Modern Girl's Guide to Personal Finance might actually read Nickel and Dimed, especially after they've found out wackos tried to ban it.

I remember reading it in my American Studies class on labor as a freshman in college, which was before I really understood privilege, and it definitely put me on the road to groking that when I wouldn't have before. A semester-long class like this has a LOT of time for discussion about the system itself as well as the ordinary how to balance a budget style stuff; we're talking about 40-50 minutes a day 5 days a week for 18 weeks. Nickel and Dimed is a really quick read, about on par with what the HS freshmen at school were reading for English, and having something like that is likely to keep kids engaged in a class that would normally be a really boring required one.
posted by NoraReed at 5:33 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


MeFites are surprised that some people have strong views, loudly insist that their opinions are the only ones that hold water and demand that things should be as they want?
posted by ambient2 at 5:39 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


The common law part is a common ultra-right wing nervous tic. They are of the opinion that the real law is the common law and that much of the statutes etc are "unlawful" since they deviate from Blackstone's commentaries. It's also typically part of the income tax unconstitutional/fringed flag/access your government social security account shtick.

What's really funny is when people make that argument and then want to have a statutory prohibition against judges referring to sharia or "foreign law" in their decisions.

This is why: the common law is essentially looking at what current customs are, and then reflecting that in judicial decisions. This is the "common," i.e. implied law that is behind everything else. What's hilarious about the sharia freak out is that they are statutorily imposing a bar to judges developing the common law based on community standards.

Also, regarding the whole right wing tax protester shtick, they really don't understand that law is socially constructed. If no judge agrees with your interpretation of the law, and neither do the rest of society, then you have a problem. What various political factions try to do is mobilize enough judges, lawyers etc in their formative education to agree with their ideology. You see this in fights over law school professorial appointments, U.S. Supreme Court nominees, etc. It's also the reason that various highly conservative business interests sponsor groups like the Federalist Society. They become a pipeline for people who fit their sponsors political views, and help them get jobs in government, at major firms, for the judiciary etc. But law generally is a hegemonic ideology that serves to legitimate the actions of various actors in society. The problem is of course, when the ideology seems to vary wildly from the actual actions of various institutions.

Having said that, I do think think there is value in the common law approach, in that it allows us to learn from past mistakes; this is especially true in real property law. There are protections for property owners that have origin in the common law. They are designed to prevent scammers from trying to take your property. That's very relevant right about now in my practice. What's interesting to me is that the common law protections are clumsy and time consuming. That was probably not a big deal back in England when a few people owned most of the land. If we really think about "titles" for instance, we can think about titles of nobility, which were a kind of property right, with rights that the nobles could enforce against the monarch. Think Magna Carta.

In modern America we've tried to make real property ownership very common. The finance sector found that obeying ancient common law principles (some of which have been written into state laws) to be deeply inconvenient-- so they just don't do it. Every person may have the rights of the former English nobility/landed gentry, but the economic wherewithal to enforce that is often lacking. Even worse, we have a court system that treats individual property owners more like landless peasants than landed gentry.

In light of all of this, I actually have strong sympathy for people who are dismayed that their common law property rights are being trampled. However, I will say this to them:
Dear Angry Ultra-Right Patriots,

This is the world you built when you decided you valued screwing over people of color more than you valued an equitable distribution of wealth in our society.

You can talk about rights all you want but if you don't have the money to enforce those rights then good luck with that. And you expect that people are going to just "do what's right" even when doing what's wrong is more profitable for their career? Don't you even read the Bible you say you believe in -- the parts about how people are basically sinful and evil? You profess this and then expect that most people will do the right thing?

This is the result-- you are priced out of justice, and you have a court system that often displays contempt for the little guy. But where were you, conservative, common-law loving Americans, while African Americans were being convicted , incarcerated and executed at vastly disproportionate rates? You blamed them and said it was because they were promiscuous dope heads, and you cheered when the cops cracked heads down on the block, executed no-knock warrants and militarized the 'hood, while your kids hooked up at church camp and smoked dope and popped pills with their buddies at the weekend kegger.

I realize that Ehrenreich's book is kind of shocking and gets you all hepped up about communists. All I have to say is, try remembering what Jesus teaches in Matthew 25:40 "And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done [it] unto me."

Sincerely,
posted by wuwei at 5:45 PM on December 14, 2010 [20 favorites]


negative depiction of capitalism

gasp
posted by DU at 5:46 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a media-created "firestorm." There was a similar one last year in my town, when the principal of an elementary school decided that there would be no Christmas-themed items sold at the school's "winter store." A fundy family took umbrage, but it would have received the lack of attention it deserved, except the Lowell Sun newspaper made it out to be a huge controversy, even though it was just an administrative decision to not allow promotion of one religion over others. Before long, Christian fundamentalists from out of state were packing School Board hearings, and the local forums were debating whether the US was "founded as a Christian nation."

In the Bedford case, it looks like the New Hampshire Union Leader is doing the fomenting. (When did they stop being the Manchester Union Leader, anyway?) Unless it's changed its stripes along with its name, it's an arch-conservative rag. The "Union" in the name has nothing to do with organized labor.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:46 PM on December 14, 2010


I visited Bedford High School this summer and was impressed by the tremendous dedication and respect for learning that so many of the staff and faculty had. That the school assigned and defended this book serves only to cement that opinion.
posted by scrod at 5:47 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Muslim Gay Socialism sounds pretty good actually.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:51 PM on December 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


I recently heard someone compare the US to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 90s - a collective enterprise in name only, populated by groups that have little in common, can barely tolerate one another, and that could easily be pushed to violence.

This map is funny, but I totally see the break-up of the United States as a non-zero possibility before I die. I'm 41 and in good health.

There's no law of the Universe that says these states have to or will remain united forever, or even in the same configurations they're in now.

And I'm not sure I want to remain in the same country as people who think like the David Taylors out there.

West side, baby.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:04 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm currently teaching a personal finance course (well, up here it's actually called Math for Everyday Life). I'm definitely adding this book to my curriculum. Anything that will encourage my students to have a genuine conversation about wages and the real cost of living is a guaranteed "teachable moment"
posted by Go Banana at 6:05 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I thought the comments were classic. It does make you wonder how they manage to get up in the morning without disabling themselves, due to their stupidity.

In my opionion, If every man, woman and child in this world were Catholic, there would be a lot less problems in the world.
- Outsider, NH

What's an opionion? Is it related to an onion? I really like onions. I made my first batch of caramelised onions a few days ago, and it was/they were spectacular. (And having been bashed by a good Catholic earlier this year... I like onions more than Catholics at the moment.)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 6:20 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


the people with the master's degrees that are taking care of my children

This is the logical conclusion of Palinism. (Not that Palin invented resentment of fact and expertise, but she is its leading advocate right now).

These folks have a worldview akin to Mao's Red Guards. "You intellectuals don't know what real living is like! Our common sense trumps your fancypants mumbo jumbo any day!"
posted by ibmcginty at 6:26 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why is it okay for hard right parents to impose their political agenda on an entire school? Even if it is by insistence of omission.

There's always that one family. When I worked for Planned Parenthood, we were not allowed to do an educational seminar in a middle school, despite being in all the other schools in the district, because of this one, insane, right wing mom (who was a NURSE, FFS). Once that mom's kid was gone... oh, wow, yeah, please come now.

I feel like school boards are composed entirely of Democrats- they wouldn't know a spine if one bit them on the ass.

Here, I'll help. "If you object to class content, that is between you, your child, and your child's teacher. The school board stands behind the parents' right to determine what is or is not fit for their child. However, we can not permit you to impose your beliefs, be they religious, social, political, or otherwise, on the rest of the students in a public school."

See? How hard is that?
posted by Leta at 6:26 PM on December 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


You're Vermont's gruff but loveable neighbor; the Oscar Madison to Vermont's Felix Unger (in Birkenstocks).

Don't forget the poncho, the dangling earrings and the spider plants!
posted by ericb at 6:32 PM on December 14, 2010


What's an opionion?

It's sherrifftayloronion's son.


(sorry)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:40 PM on December 14, 2010


I feel like school boards are composed entirely of Democrats- they wouldn't know a spine if one bit them on the ass.

I have some experience with school board politics, having worked a few elections and working on a political team that manages a few. Members of the school board generally consist of:
1) Political hacks who are unfit for any other position. If dog catcher was an actual elected position, they might not have made it to the school board.
2) Placements of political machines. A political group wants to have some control over the school board policy, but it is such a fucking awful job no one in the organization wants to take it. So, one of the village idiots is sweet talked into running with the promise of some other patronage.
3) Good, honest people that care about schools and their community.

In cities, where Democrats outnumber Republicans a kagillion to one, party affiliation has nothing to do with spine and everything to do with incompetence and loyalties to parties that couldn't give a damn about schools.

/angry bitter derail
posted by munchingzombie at 6:56 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's no law of the Universe that says these states have to or will remain united forever

Abraham Lincoln will cut you.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:00 PM on December 14, 2010 [12 favorites]


In many states, if a family of a student wants a book censored or removed from a reading list (approved list) then the teacher allows an alternative book for that student but continues to use the books assigned.

Reason #34,592 why I'm glad to work in higher ed instead of high school.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:04 PM on December 14, 2010


Abraham Lincoln will cut you

Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey is a vampire?
posted by Dark Messiah at 7:05 PM on December 14, 2010


I'm not sure that it's that great a book for a personal-finance class. It's an interesting book for what it says about American culture, but I don't know if it really teaches the reader that much about how to manage your money. It's basically "living on minimum wage sucks. A lot."

Agreed. It is a book on how NOT to live on minimum wage. How to make the worst decisions ever. Because remember, she made these decisions BECAUSE SHE WANTED TO WRITE A BOOK. Of course she is going to do things that make it more sensational.

Everyone hates a tourist. And that's what it was: a travelogue.

No place in a responsible personal finance class.
posted by gjc at 7:16 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Strictly speaking, I'm a New York raised Californian of Filipino/Irish genetics.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:18 PM on December 14, 2010


I can only imagine what the Taylors think of those filthy hippies and that socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in neighboring Vermont

People like that think that Vermont is basically Gomorrah.

I'm not sure that it's that great a book for a personal-finance class. It's an interesting book for what it says about American culture, but I don't know if it really teaches the reader that much about how to manage your money. It's basically "living on minimum wage sucks. A lot

I am sure this is not the book meant to actually teach financial management skills. But I do think it's truly an excellent book to have teenagers read, especially in a state like NH. Even though Bedford is relatively affluent given its surroundings, and many of the kids will go on to college, some won't. And those kids are sometimes liable to take a look around at their home life and their distaste for school and decide that they will be able to do fine on their own - you know, get a service job somewhere locally, move in with a friend or girl/boyfriend, and you know, work their way up. Kids are very prone to overestimating their earning ability and underestimating the living expenses of an adult on their own. The book would serve very well as a wake-up call, I think, helping readers realize in concrete terms that, oh no, maybe that job at the Olive Garden or Jiffy Lube or nursing home isn't really going anywhere, and maybe that additional schooling or training the adults are talking about is worth thinking about.

The book wasn't perfect - I had some issues with her assertions of privilege, too, especially at one point when she got worn out with it all and took weekend breaks. Wouldn't that be nice? But she does a pretty good job of illustrating the difficulty of just putting the pieces together, week after week. If I were the teacher, the book would be a great start to the semester, getting kids thinking about economic issues, earnings potential, the relative compensation of various career tracks, and things like that - which are really the first step in financial management. There's nothing to manage, after all, until you're employed, and the book is about the realities of low-wage employment.
posted by Miko at 7:20 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because remember, she made these decisions BECAUSE SHE WANTED TO WRITE A BOOK. Of course she is going to do things that make it more sensational.

I actually can't recall too many instances in which she made a bad financial decision just to make the book sensational. I do think she didn't take her job trajectory as seriously as she would have needed to (for instance, to get the raise/promotion) if it were really her job, but I didn't think there was much about costs and expenditures that was unrealistic or uncommon. Admittedly, it's a while ago that I read it, but I'd be interested to hear what some of the bad decisions were.

In any case, it's clearly not to be read as a how-to book; it's a cautionary tale and an illustrative account.
posted by Miko at 7:22 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


with regards to the civil rights, an understanding of common law

I know that as someone trained in medieval legal history, I have a very different understanding of common law than active lawyers, but hearing the phrase in this context always makes me think the speaker doesn't know anything about what the common law actually is.
posted by immlass at 7:35 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Per Ehrenreich's decisions, one of her points was that expecting anyone, including people in hard situations, to make perfect decisions all the time was cruel and illogical. We have this myth that you can endure and triumph over poverty if you just do it right. It makes us feel better about poverty, this belief that if someone wanted to, they could just get out of it, by working hard and always making the wise choice.

When the poor, being actual fallible human beings, fail to comport themselves exactly as we, the more-privileged, can see from our comfy hindsight that they should, well then fuck 'em. They don't deserve help. Look at what a stupid decision they made!

What she asks us to do is to look back on our own lives, and try to understand how many times our stupid decisions didn't torpedo us..because of help from parents, friends, and a better starting point that gave us more options in the first place.

Privilege isn't just about money, it's about the number of second chances you get, too.
posted by emjaybee at 8:07 PM on December 14, 2010 [47 favorites]


Americans get the government we deserve and we get it good and hard.
posted by bardic at 8:08 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rhaomi, we discussed Ehrenreich and Nickel and Dimed much earlier than that.

Whatever one's opinion of the book, trying to ban it is just dumb.
posted by NortonDC at 8:11 PM on December 14, 2010


you know you're quite possibly the only instruction that your students are ever going to get in a particular subject before they go out on their own and quite possibly make a giant fucking hash of things

individual teaching strategies based on these assumptions are probably going to be unhelpful. a nation of teachers who don't trust that anyone else down the line (other teachers, parents, friends, internet) are going to be able to pitch in on the education on a given subject is a disaster.
posted by Jagz-Mario at 8:16 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hay we shud also outlaw this book i herd abut, abut this long hair hippie preacher who thot he wuz god and went into the church and thru out the good capalist money changers
posted by orthogonality at 8:38 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


In my opionion, If every man, woman and child in this world were Catholic, there would be a lot less problems in the world.

they tried that in europe - it didn't work

i've never read ehrenriech's book, i've lived it - and yes, it is possible to survive like that - i've done it - but you had better have people willing to help you - and godDAMN, you'd better hope that nothing ever goes wrong, because if it does, you are SCREWED

my impression is that people can get out of it with hard work - although it's depressing as hell to realize just how much hard work on that level is wasted on anything but survival - and luck - but who can guarantee luck?

i got a little 10 years ago and got out - well, a couple of rungs above where i was - but you know something? - it wouldn't take much to put me right back down there again or worse

life is damned hard - and the response of people seems to be that you'd better be damned hard in response to survive - but i don't care how hard you are, something's going to trip you up sooner or later - and then people act like you weren't hard enough

it's a sucky mindset caused by a sucky system and it's thoughtless bastards like mr taylor who want to shelter their kids and themselves from it who are helping perpetuate it

he calls himself a christian? - here's your christian thought for today, mr taylor - "whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled, and he that shall humble himself shall he exalted"

god forbid that you ever look at the people who serve you in the mall and the fast food joints and make your crap in the low paying factories and think about what they are made to go through to give you your precious blindered lifestyle
posted by pyramid termite at 9:19 PM on December 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


No place in a responsible personal finance class.

Every place in a responsible personal finance class. People learn from anecdote, from stories. Otherwise, the dry, factual, logical stuff that makes up the bulk of the course has no context.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:28 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Rock Steady: "Seriously, is there a Greasemonkey script that blocks out the comment section of local newspaper websites? I know I shouldn't look at them, but I do, and then I get depressed for the future of our civilization"

Scientists are on the case!
posted by ShawnStruck at 11:48 PM on December 14, 2010


All I'll say on the matter, is shit, I wish someone had given me this book, when I was about 14, and really needed it. Of course, the book didn't exist then.
posted by Goofyy at 12:56 AM on December 15, 2010


He should stick to snooker.
posted by gene_machine at 5:30 AM on December 15, 2010


I've read the book and as much as I like Ehrenreich the book really does take every opportunity to criticize Christians. Some of the critiques are valid, but some are gratuitous and detract from the central message. I would recommend the book to teenagers but I would be prepared to have a discussion about the detracting issues raised, such as marijuana use and anti-Christian rhetoric.
posted by dgran at 5:57 AM on December 15, 2010


The faceless narrator, who talks to both the reader and the hippy through captions, talked about how there are all sorts of things the hippy could produce for sale, such as corn. In the panel below the caption, the hippy beams, holding some unspecified leafy vegetable in his hands, asking, "Corn?"

So was it corn or not?
posted by Greg Nog at 6:01 AM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


I read the book some years ago and although I am not a christian, what I took away from it was, "There but for the grace of God, go I."
posted by leftcoastbob at 6:01 AM on December 15, 2010


Greg Nog: "So was it corn or not?"

I imagine the hippy let the market decide.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:06 AM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you want to start banning books for incidental content, then there's this windy tract that the religious right seems to love that condones slavery, and murder. Maybe they should start looking there.
posted by codacorolla at 7:23 AM on December 15, 2010


In my opionion, If every man, woman and child in this world were Catholic JUST LIKE MEEEEEEEE, there would be a lot less problems in the world.

In my opionion, If every man, woman and child in this world were Catholic robots, there would be a lot less problems in the world.

In my opionion, If every man, woman and child in this world were Catholic bonobo monkies, there would be a lot less problems in the world.

In my opionion, If every man, woman and child in this world were Catholic dead, there would be a lot less problems in the world.
posted by edgeways at 8:21 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


edgeways: "In my opionion, If every man, woman and child in this world were Catholic JUST LIKE MEEEEEEEE, there would be a lot less problems in the world."

For the record, some of us are Catholic and think "Nickled and Dimed" is one of the most important pieces of investigative journalism of the last 20 years. Not incompatible, as it turns out.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:17 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


@ryan I lived a year in Bosnia, POST war ( that's important!) U think the cimparisin is very apt. People in our country ste getting more strident with bigoted and just plain ignorant, wiifully ignorant speech and behavior. They are doing do because hate actually feels rally good. You feel jazzed when you hate. If you think in times like this especially, you get sad, which means you might not get anything done that needs done. Hate in other words has turned into a sort of crank the cops can't confiscate. Where religion was 'the opium of the masses' hate has become the speed of a certain level of the middle class and their poor imitators. This is a situation that indeed CAN lead very easily to war of the most awful sort.
The same kind of hate based politics is way too much of our lives now. I goota say I don't like it one bit.
Now back to topic, i read the book. Sadly on an even worse level that book has been my life. There does come a point where even trying becomes a waste of your energy. Nickled and Dimed might keep some kid's in school.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:53 AM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


I imagine the hippy let the market decide.

*Invisible Hand slowly extends thumb, raises it skyward*
*green leaves explode apart, popcorn shooting in every direction*
*camera pans out to reveal that popcorn has formed the words "corm is delicious"*
*camera continues panning out to show jesus, on the moon with some angels, throwing a corn party*
posted by Greg Nog at 9:55 AM on December 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


For the record, some of us are Catholic and think "Nickled and Dimed" is one of the most important pieces of investigative journalism of the last 20 years. Not incompatible, as it turns out.

noted... it wasn't about the being Catholic, but the mindset that certain folks seems to think the world would be better if everyone was just {insert category}, and you get those folks across the board
posted by edgeways at 12:01 PM on December 15, 2010


A lot of colleges have books that freshmen are expected to read the summer before they come to school, for discussion in mandatory college-skills classes. A few years back, Nickled & Dimed was that book at a college where my wife was teaching. She taught the EOP [Educational Opportunity Program] version of the mandatory skills class, which was full-semester, graded and for-credit, and populated largely by African-American kids from families of low socioeconomic class.

They absolutely loathed Nickled & Dimed.

For most of them, it was the whole tourist thing. They saw her as whiney and weak. They did all this stuff their whole lives, and didn't understand why they should give a crap about some over-privileged middle-aged white chick who couldn't hack it.

Of course they missed the point, which is partly my point: Ehrenreich didn't help them to read the book any other way.

I haven't read Nickled & Dimed, but I've read Bait & Switch, her book on middle-class unemployment, and read long excerpts from the new one on "positive thinking" (I forget the title). I just don't think of them as very good books, sorry. I would really love to like them, and I respect the program -- help people to understand that they're being lied to and manipulated when they're at their most vulnerable. I just don't feel like she does a very good job at it. I want fewer rhetorical choices (like staying up late drinking coffee), less-sloppy logic, a clearer explanation of why the 'Barbara Ehrenreich'-character in these books is doing what she's doing. It's both too subtle and too simple for my taste.

That said, I think my standards are different from those of others. I've known people who really got a message from her books, and if they can do that for high school kids, then more power to them.
posted by lodurr at 12:06 PM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


modernnomad: Agreed.. tempest in a teacup more than a firestorm
I See What You Did There.

Seriously. We should start using this for anything Tea-Party-related.
posted by joshwa at 1:00 PM on December 15, 2010


Ehrenreich didn't help them to read the book any other way.

Unfortunately, the book wasn't aimed at those people as an audience. That's because it wouldn't surprise them - it wouldn't be an 'expose' ', it would be a straightforward narrative of something they already know, and know too well. It would have no new information to share. The book could only come from a tourist, because it had to be written by someone who was truly 'native' to the affluent world, one of their own -- otherwise, the narrative would be easy to challenge and disbelieve. The book addresses itself to people with assumptions, and the poor don't have those assumptions.

If I had to teach it to students coming from that specific background, I think I'd work that angle the most. Who is this written for? Is it news to you? Why not? What message would you send in reply? Why might you not be heard if you wrote a similar book about your life experience?

I think a lot of people with experience living in poverty and/or low-wage work environments felt the way those students did on reading it. I did; I had mixed feelings about it. At the same time as I resented her lack of serious committment to experience this way of life (two months is nothing, just a hint, and ultimately avoids the most crushing aspect of poverty, which is resignation and fear and the likelihood that it will never ever get better), and (I agree) her sloppy approach, I could see that she was delivering an important message to an affluent audience and was getting through.

The one passage that still sticks with me in the book - still rankles, really - is when she relates an exchange she has with another affluent friend. She's describing some of her experiences - while working at the Wal-Mart, I think - and the friend says "But...couldn't they tell? Couldn't people tell you didn't really belong?" The friend meant that, somehow, the innate cultured and educated qualities of Barbara Ehrenreich should shine through - it should be obvious that a person like that just doesn't belong in the working class. I know that attitude is out there, and it still makes me want to puke. But the friend is expressing something quite common - that people think that poverty is somehow an emergent property of an individual person's intellect and abilities rather than a systemic requirement of the structure of our economy, and that poor people are, you know, poor because they are a certain way and that kind of person can't make it in the world. It takes someone like Barbara Ehrenreich to say 'no, no matter where I went, I encountered people as intelligent, funny, hardworking, and skilled as I am, who dressed as nicely and smelled as good and had just as much gumption, and they could not break through the barriers. They are not different from you or me except in luck and in what they had to start with or help them along the way.'
posted by Miko at 1:07 PM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Who is this written for? Is it news to you? Why not? What message would you send in reply? Why might you not be heard if you wrote a similar book about your life experience?

This is what she was trying to get them to ask, yes. It wasn't easy, in large part because they mostly bought into exactly the attitudes you describe in your next paragraph.

With regard to the effectiveness of N&D (or any book like it) in getting people to be aware of that attitude: I'm skeptical that people who need to be reminded would read it, or get it if they did.

I don't have a better solution right now (other than compulsory non-local no-exemption integrated random-assignment post-High School national service).
posted by lodurr at 1:24 PM on December 15, 2010


I'm skeptical that people who need to be reminded would read it, or get it if they did.

I actually think a lot of them did. Because a lot of people consider themselves generally nice, generally aware people, but their life experience has simply not provided them with an intimate understanding of living hand to mouth. In other words, there are a lot of people who are well off, yet who consider themselves generally supportive of the working class and their needs in the abstract, yet have no idea that they themselves harbor a lot of unquestioned assumptions about them. The book was read in a lot of suburban book groups by a lot of ladies who lunch, and I know it opened at least a few eyes. I think, perfect or not, it was worth doing; and I'm glad at least someone did, because no one else has really stepped up to do it better.
posted by Miko at 1:32 PM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


We have this myth that you can endure and triumph over poverty if you just do it right. It makes us feel better about poverty, this belief that if someone wanted to, they could just get out of it, by working hard and always making the wise choice.

When the poor, being actual fallible human beings, fail to comport themselves exactly as we, the more-privileged, can see from our comfy hindsight that they should, well then fuck 'em. They don't deserve help. Look at what a stupid decision they made!


I have not looked at the life of those who live on low incomes in the western world, but it seems much much harder to do so there than in the 'developing world' - where I have done extensive fieldwork in townships and villages and slums, with a particular interest in how people manage on irregular income streams.

Poverty is a relative term, and its contextual. If you were to ask someone, whom you percieved as 'poor African' or 'poor Indian', there is a good chance that they themselves do not percieve of themselves as poor. They live with their neighbours and that is their frame of judgement, their daily lives and social circle, not someone's external judgement from on high. There is a reference for this aspect of what is called "relative poverty" or some such. Where it starts to get interesting however is when you move away from absolute income (which is meaningless to someone earning from a variety of sources on an irregular basis (shoe shines and selling soda pop on a street corner for eg)) and stop converting to a hard currency and look at purchasing power parity in the contextual environment of that demographic's residential area.

What do I mean by that? For example, the price of an orange in a slum in India will be very different from that price in an airconditioned supermarket. And, once converted to a hard currency like USD, almost close enough to zero to be meaningless. You can live in a slum and its far more affordable a lifestyle leaving reasonable disposable income because you are able to purchase single cigarettes or half a loaf of bread (even in South African townships, you can buy two slices of bread adn one egg) - this is not possible in fancy shops adn supermarkets in the Western world, thus it is harder to live on less than it is in the poor world.

The "poor" are not an undifferentiated mass of seething humanity to be pitied or uplifted or denigrated or whatever it is that I'm picking up from the lines I've italicized (the original author's perhaps and not the commenters). There is more ambition and ability and talent and aspiration in most youth in low income parts of Nairobi or Mumbai than anywhere else. For the only way to go is up, for them. On the other hand, in the so called rich world, teh barriers to moving on up short of a lottery or something are harder and higher and far more difficult - partially due to all the systems being designed for a regular income stream.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 1:41 PM on December 15, 2010


They're not even designed for a "regular" income stream - as you can see from these tables pertaining to the US, no matter how you slice it, the middle, lower middle, and working classes make up a plurality of the population, yet our policy system is not designed for them.
posted by Miko at 1:49 PM on December 15, 2010


Oh wait, stupid mistake by me. You meant "regular" in the sense of "predictable, steady." Sorry.
posted by Miko at 1:49 PM on December 15, 2010


Also of note is the fact that "poor" especially once you step outside the Western world (or OECD world) starts getting interesting once you compare the metrics by which their so called poverty is evaluated. I don't mean the masses on Calcutta's pavements though you'd be surprised. I mean stuff like a recent restructuring of Povery by an Oxford Uni group whose metrics included school admission and regular electricity and so they said actually 50% of India was poor not the lower number that the government gave out. Okay but here's a different take on this, by those two metrics, to be honest, every single Indian, all one bilion or more of them is poor. Whee, who built that house in Mumbai? (With a private silent generator in the backyard and the social capital to ensure admission into the better schools because its sheer population density versus services and systems availability that's a challenge so nobody gets into school easily. Not even a Gandhi. )

This makes me wonder why we need poverty?
posted by The Lady is a designer at 1:50 PM on December 15, 2010


You meant "regular" in the sense of "predictable, steady.

make up a plurality of the population,

yes, and once you step back to look at it from the global scale, the plurality is reversed and the majority live on irregular income streams that is not a salary, and mostly rural.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 1:53 PM on December 15, 2010


But within the American plurality are plenty of working people whose income is not regular.

In addition, I'm not sure that regular income means you can't be poor within your context. One of the stressors of regular income that is hand-to-mouth-level is that there is never a windfall, never a moment when you have a fair sum of money and can make choices about it, such as buying products in bulk, prepaying for something, or buying health insurance. So you end up paying as you go and in the end you often pay more for less, continuing the cycle.

I see what you are saying about global definitions of poverty, and it is interesting. Context is important. I used to think I grew up poor because we sometimes used food stamps and had the least stuff and money of anyone I knew. Now that I'm an adult living on my own, I realized I felt poor because I was living in a context where there were a lot of middle- and upper-class people. We weren't really poor - we had what we needed, we were working class. We couldn't make a class leap during my childhood because we could never amass a large enough family income, but we weren't poor. However, I felt poor, and other people in that context probably considered me poor. Context does matter.
posted by Miko at 2:15 PM on December 15, 2010


One of the stressors of regular income that is hand-to-mouth-level is that there is never a windfall, never a moment when you have a fair sum of money and can make choices about it, such as buying products in bulk, prepaying for something, or buying health insurance. So you end up paying as you go and in the end you often pay more for less, continuing the cycle.

As you said in the paragraph following this one, context matters. So lets put this paragraph in context, which would be what is commonly referred to as the Western World because I'm guessing that korea,japan, singapore (oecd nations for eg) may have such schemes but australia may not (resident Australians, please advise)

Here are some snippets to start with:

In Ghana, it's popularly known as susu. In Cameroon, tontines or chilembe. And in South Africa, stokfel. [...] Age-old indigenous credit schemes have run perfectly well without much outside intervention for generations. Although, in our excitement to implement new technologies and solutions, we sometimes fail to recognize them. Innovations such as mobile banking -- great as they may be -- are hailed as revolutionary without much consideration for what may have come before or who the original innovators may have been.
Via

Everywhere there is no formal structures for financial instruments or affordable banking services for those whose savings maybe less than the monthly fees, there have always been age old systems of communal economic behaviour. Whether its a monthly potluck or an annual draw around the relevant big festival season, its the windfall that is planned for, even if, the actual month in which your wind will fall is not known. Those we've spoken to in the field have planned and planned and dreamed and discussed and selected their purchases or investments (even if its a piglet) that by the time the money comes, they know to a penny exactly what they are going to do with it.

Sure, you'll get the drunkards adn the ne'erdo wells but they are what end up being characterized as the brutish lumpen masses of the downtrodden, it is not so once you get outside teh formal structured systems and institutions and out into the farms and fields and ironically, the lax chaos and uncertainty in the adverse conditions ofthe erstwhile third world.

I'm not glamourizing poverty in the third world nor am I minimizing it. But if you take 4 to 5 billion and lump them together as the "bottom of the pyramid" or the "poor" you stand the chance of misrepresenting or misunderstanding the reality on the ground. The poverty we "see", the destitute or the bottom billion as referred to by Collier, are, if any guide to estimation is accurate still only 20% of the whole, more or less.

What about the other 80%, I ask Pareto? ;p

Still I've digressed and what i'd originally meant to say when I began this comment was that short of payday loans and such like there aren't many schemes unless they're informally brought over by the immigrants among themselves.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 3:23 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


My point isn't whether they're poor or not in this regard, so much as pointing out that there are far more local and indigenous, often age old traditional ways and means that the problems you highlight are being addressed. As the PCWorld article says, if it isn't shiny tech we often don't see it.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 3:25 PM on December 15, 2010


age old traditional ways and means that the problems you highlight are being addressed.

I'm really not sure I get your drift, but I'd still say the ways and means are inadequate, and that in the context of a Western democracy that builds its systems on a meritocratic ideal, they're definitely not enough to argue that each individual has the ability to reach the nation's middle-class standard of living, which involves access to education, a wide range of career choices, health services, and the like. It's not the world context we need to be comparing to, but our own stated ideals, and even that within the context of being one of the world's very wealthiest countries with one of the lowest standards of living among that group.
posted by Miko at 8:01 PM on December 15, 2010


Miko, I hear what you are saying here but your very description carries within it the seeds of the explanation. Yes, the ideal is a meritocratic democratic aspirational standard, but is the path upwards flexible adn adaptable enough for the wide variety of challenges, reasons and situations that the poor face and deal with on their way?

That is the essential difference that I was attempting to describe with my examples adn anecdotes, that the slum dweller has access to flexibility (pay as much and how you can for example with prepaid plans) - the flexiblity to buy two slices of bread and an egg if that is all he/she has got in pocket or to splurge on the whole loaf. The supermarket and no other option system set up in your country is designed only to sell that whole loaf or egg carton. Do you then go hungry if you all you have is enough for a couple of slices?
posted by The Lady is a designer at 3:01 AM on December 17, 2010


I would love to be a fly on the wall for an evening in the Taylor home...

Me too. Just so I could drop dead in that fucking idiot's soup.
posted by Amanojaku at 6:09 PM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


The book shouldn't be on anyone's reading list simply because it's terrible.

Any readers -- Catholic or otherwise -- that "think "Nickled and Dimed" is one of the most important pieces of investigative journalism of the last 20 years" have simply not read any actual investigative journalism.

I didn't particularly care for the "message" of the book, which was -- if I remember correctly -- that it's really hard to get a great job if you have only a middling education and don't really want to work very hard. But that didn't bother me as much as the fact that it was simply very poorly written.
posted by GatorDavid at 10:16 PM on December 24, 2010


You clearly do not recall correctly. The message is very different from your statement of it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:23 AM on December 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


As I've said above, I'm not so sure it's a great book, myself, but I'm with Kirth: It's absolutely not about 'how hard it is to get a job with only middling education and especially if you don't want to work very hard.'

And even if I were to decide it wasn't a great book, I'd almost certainly still think it was an important book, and that it's better it was written than if it hadn't been.
posted by lodurr at 2:38 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well said, lodurr. I agree in all respects.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:34 AM on December 30, 2010


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