Sunday, February 23, 2014

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Being Poor Makes You Stupid

By Manifesto Joe

One hears much talk on the political right about the self-inflicted wounds of the poor, and that economic outcomes are closely tied to one's intelligence. It's a convenient way to justify highly unequal outcomes, and can be made to sound very "noble" with the emphasis on individual responsibility.

But science is finding that it's quite often the other way around. Being stupid may make you poor, yes -- but being poor also makes you stupid.

In a recent study of Indian sugar cane farmers, it was found through cognitive testing that before harvest, when the farmers are poor and struggling as their crops ripen, IQs were about 13 points lower than when the very same farmers were tested after the harvest, when money was ample. Being poor, it appeared, has a significant effect on the intelligence of the very same test subjects.

Here's a link to an article on the overall subject, and this study is referenced.

There are also studies linking mental health issues with poverty. Perhaps self-defeating behavior does create poverty -- but poverty, in turn, appears to create self-defeating behavior. Thus a vicious cycle is born.

I was born into a Southern working-class family that frequently struggled to make ends meet. My father left a promising military career to become a farmer just as the infamous Texas drought of the 1950s dried up the countryside, and then he became terminally ill in the 1960s. His financial fortunes were thoroughly destroyed by chance and/or fate. My mother struggled with mental health problems her entire life, and she was always plagued by her chronically bad financial decisions. Now I suspect that poverty was largely the cause of her problems, not the result of them.

Despite my background, I scored high enough on IQ tests to qualify for membership in the Mensa Society at the age of 26. In view of those recent studies, does this mean that my test scores might have been 13 points higher if I'd been something other than a struggling small-time newspaper reporter?

And would my IQ be higher now if I hadn't been laid off from a metro daily days before turning 56? The effect of the layoff, and its timing, on my finances has been nothing short of devastating. I'll never be able to really retire.

All personal experience aside, the effect that this has is the creation of a permanent underclass -- not only a socioeconomic one, but an intellectual one as well. As it turns out, it appears very much in the interest of the "1 percent" to keep a large bloc of people poor, in any society, for the rich to preserve the privileges they enjoy. Thus we see powerful opposition to increasing the minimum wage.

I've heard the arguments about increases in the minimum wage supposedly being inflationary, and being a job killer. But no empirical evidence supports that. Analyze the wage increases of the past, and one finds no such things. Any such ill effects are more than negated by the boost that poor people get in purchasing power. I've also heard it argued that people who earn the minimum wage are mostly teenagers. Studies have shown that the average minimum wage earner may be as old as 29. Also, try telling that to the typical Walmart "associate," as soon as his or her business with the food stamp office is concluded.

The bottom line is, when there are millions of working poor, those people are busy being absorbed by how to pay rent and bills, and their IQs suffer as a result. Keeps them in their place.

And then, the relatively wealthy can easily blame the victims for their own plight. They are there because they deserve to be there, it's been said. They should show the initiative and shrewdness to improve their individual positions in life.

But science is revealing that this isn't the entire story. And in general, what's strongly implied by these studies is that if people were broadly paid more for their labor, their IQs might increase commensurately.

But you see, we mustn't have the great unwashed rabble getting fancy, unrealistic ideas about themselves. That just won't do.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Anonymous said...

The Rich & Powerful in this country love the fact that the masses are depressed and demoralized. Such a class of people are easy to manipulate and control.
People like that rarely even bother to go out and protest on the street. Most of the time, they're just too beaten down to bother to pick up a sign and march in the street.
Right-wing media often shows scenes of people protesting in Europe, claiming that Americans should be grateful that things are supposedly not as bad as over there. And their "Exhibit A" for this argument is: "After all, in Europe, people are marching in the street."
But to me, this is backwards thinking. If you are protesting in the streets, you still have a glimmer of hope. What's more, you still believe that the government will take heed of the protest and be prompted to change its ways.
Many people in the U.S. have lost all hope. People like that don't bother to protest. And what's more, many people don't understand what the point of a protest would be in the first place. The U.S. government doesn't give a shit about ordinary working people and it doesn't give a shit if some of those people march in the streets. Sure, we could protest in the streets---but what's the point?
People who protest still have some hope. People who don't protest have lost all hope.
You will notice that, when people protest in places like Europe, the government will address the protesters' demands. Maybe the protesters won't get everything they want. But they'll at least get some government action.
By contrast, here in today's U.S., you can have a rare mass protest involving many thousands of people (like Occupy) and amazingly, "our" government takes ZERO action in response. I find it astonishing that the government never even made a tiny token effort to address the demands of the massive Occupy protests. That's quite scary.

Old Scout said...

Anon is correct ... as far as it goes. The one element of our culture that isn't in his social formula is the will of the people in our culture. We aren't quitters. The purpose of the attacks of the koch bros, the tea-pottiers, the funda-gelicals is to make structural poverty and a social under-class a religious sacrament. They are worshiping god by being poor --- after all it's god's will.

We had a travesty beyond humane proportions here in Western Kentucky a short time ago. A mother and 8 children died in a house fire. The father and one child escaped. From the pulpit the minister of his religious congregation preached that this was god's will. He was the minister.

This is why the 1% will ultimately fail in their financial conquest of our culture.

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