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Amid news that the economy is booming yet many Americans can’t make ends meet, the idea that people are to blame for their own financial shortcomings continues to find footing in American minds and conversation. Yet it couldn’t be further from the truth. Here are three reasons why the woes of the poor and middle-class have nothing to do with bad financial planning.
Reason 1: Spending is actually down for most Americans across the board.
“If people would simply stop spending money on frivolous things, their financial situation would improve measurably.” While there is certainly wisdom in spending frugally, statistics show that most Americans already abide by this logic. Not only is luxury spending down, but so is spending on necessities like food. Younger people are also forgoing home ownership because of the price tag as well. All of this is to say that advice telling people to spend less is preaching to the choir – everyone is already sacrificing to make ends meet.
Reason 2: Cost-of-living is rising faster than wages are keeping up.
While frugality can certainly help one’s financial outlook – it only goes so far when costs for everyday Americans are rising faster than their paychecks can keep up. U.S. house prices alone are rising at twice the speed of inflation and pay. Meanwhile, food prices have been rising at a steady rate of 2.6% a year for the last two decades. Health care costs also continue to climb – led by higher costs for drugs and services. And across the United States, the general cost-of-living is surging. Unfortunately, these risings costs are only exacerbated by stagnant or even declining wages.
Reason 3: Worker wages are stagnant despite record productivity and company profits.
The productivity-pay gap really cuts to the core of what is really driving the woes of the poor and middle-class. Not only are most Americans working harder, longer hours than ever, but it’s showing in the record profits of corporations. Unfortunately, workers don’t seem to be reaping the rewards of their labors like their employers are. Worker wages have stayed largely stagnant for decades (and by some metrics are actually declining). Compounded with the rising cost of living, it’s no wonder more Americans than ever are having trouble making ends meet – and it has nothing to do with poor financial planning on their part.
So what can we do?
There are a lot of ideas floating around about the source of and solutions to these pressing problems. There are those who see the decline of unions as a source of some of these woes – and who believe revitalizing unions could undo some of the damage. Some see minimum wage increases as the answer. Others believe that minimum wage increases would only exacerbate inflation and that executive pay should be capped instead. There are also arguments that companies have focused too much on maximizing shareholder value and need to return to a philosophy of balancing the needs of all stakeholders – meaning customers, employees, shareholders, and the community.
The answer likely lies in a mix of these and other ideas that may not have even been thought of yet. But one thing is for certain: Until we can all acknowledge that these problems are real and that the poor and middle-class are not to blame for them, there is little we can discuss together that will lead to a workable solution.
It’s no surprise to see outrage and condemnation from the Left whenever Trump does something egregious. So in the aftermath of Trump’s Helsinki Summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, there’s not much news there. What is newsworthy though is the fact that conservatives – including supporters of Trump – have been increasingly critical of the President in the wake of the summit. Collected here are quotes exclusively from Republicans / Conservatives.
“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate.”
– John McCain, Republican Senator
“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia.”
– Paul Ryan, Republican Speaker of the House
“No negotiation is worth throwing your own people and country under the bus.”
– Abby Huntsman, Fox News Channel Anchor
“It’s disgusting. It’s just wrong. A U.S. president talking to our biggest enemy and not even offering mild criticism. That sets us back a lot.”
– Neil Cavuto, Fox Business Anchor
“It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected immediately.”
– Newt Gingrich, Former Republican Speaker of the House
“[Trump] made us look as a nation more like a push over. I did not think this was a good moment for our country.”
– Bob Corker, Republican Senator
“This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness.”
– Lindsey Graham, Republican Senator
“This was atrocious and no American president should ever behave this way.”
– Karol Markowicz, Conservative Columnist for NY Post
“I’ve said a number of times and I say it again, the Russians are not our friends.”
– Mitch McConnell, Republican Senate Majority Leader
For those who are worried about the President’s coziness to Putin and wondering what they can do: Contact your legislators and ask them to hold Trump accountable for his actions and to our country – and hold Russia accountable where needed as well.
CBS News recently released a report on how the Tax Cut & Jobs Act is working out six months after its implementation. The basic gist of it is: The rich are continuing to get richer on the backs of their (often overworked) employees.
Six months after the Tax Cut and Jobs Act became law, there’s still little evidence that the average job holder is feeling the benefit. Businesses are spending nearly $700 billion on repurchasing their own stock so far this year. Because many senior executives are paid in company shares, buybacks temporarily boost their pay, sometimes at the expense of investments in infrastructure or workers.
This should come as no surprise to anyone who has done a little research. Studies show that the rich are less likely than the poor to be giving with their money. The reason for this is because of understanding. It’s easy to give a lot when you know the plight of those in need. Privilege breeds all sorts of unconscious assumptions about those lacking it. Studies show that this also holds true for those who gain privilege. People who come from poor beginnings but gain wealth tend to lose sight of their roots – impacting their ability to understand the world of those who have less than they do.
Additionally, the more well-off someone is, the more likely they are to see themselves as “self-made”. When people don’t understand the ways public services, interactions with others, and luck have impacted their success, they’re less likely to be giving or acknowledge the important role social programs, public services, multiple chances, and caring individuals provide in giving people the opportunities they need to succeed.
CASE IN POINT
In my home state of Utah there is an interesting case study in this via Senator Orrin Hatch. He comes from humble beginnings and continues to insist that he is working for the poor and disenfranchised even as he votes YES on bills that have the potential to further burden the middle-class and poor. He can no longer relate to or understand the world he came from because his wealth, stature, and experiences have impacted his ability to see that world properly.
The facts behind how the rich act vs. the poor have clear implications for the viability of things like “trickle-down economics” and tax cuts for the rich: Since the rich tend to keep more of what they get, it’s unlikely these methods of wealth redistribution will work. This is clearly evidenced in the recent report on how the Tax Cut & Jobs Act is faring in action. Since the rich are essentially the wealth redistributors in the United States, their obscene accumulation of wealth will have ultimately disastrous consequences for our economy and country.
REMEMBER HOW LUCKY YOU ARE
It’s important that we do not lose sight of these facts as we manage to climb the economic ladder ourselves – lest we become like Senator Hatch, President Trump, and others who see being poor as a self-made condition. I hope that those of us who have found success in life will listen more to those who are struggling rather than falsely believing that we have the answers they need to find success – if only they would follow the path we did.
Easter is a time when most Christians tend to focus on Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. However, I feel spurred to briefly discuss Christ’s life due to an incident that happened Saturday at the LDS Church’s General Conference meeting in Salt Lake City. During the conference’s afternoon session, Crystal Legionaires shouted from the audience “Stop protecting sexual predators!” – a reference to the ongoing scandal of abuse and cover-up currently rankling the mainstream Mormon religion.
Reaction to the outburst has been mixed. There are those who believe it was needed and those who believe it was disrespectful. I find it to be a great opportunity to talk a bit more about Christ – maybe even a fateful one considering it happened on Easter weekend. The incident exemplifies one of Christ’s personality traits: unabashed activism. Below are three ways Christ was an outspoken critic of the status quo and a harbinger of change.
Jesus called out leaders for hypocrisy
Jesus was not a fan of the Pharisees – the religious and political leaders during His time. On several occasions Jesus publicly rebuked them for their hypocrisy and immorality. He lists eight woes of the Pharisees in Matthew 23 – among them:
- They made a show of praying and worshiping instead of carrying out these tasks quietly and humbly. (Matthew 23:13-14)
- They taught that temple oaths weren’t binding unless sworn by gold – essentially placing gold higher than God. (Matthew 23:16-22)
- They adhered to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. (Matthew 23:23-24)
- They were critical of others’ misdeeds but didn’t keep their own house in order. (Matthew 23:25-26)
- They portrayed themselves as righteous but inside harbored wicked thoughts. (Matthew 23:27-28)
- They spoke of dead persecuted prophets in high regard, but were persecutors of the righteous themselves. (Matthew 23:29)
Jesus got angry and even violent
One of the more interesting stories in Jesus’ life tells of a time He traveled to Jerusalem for Passover. When He arrived at the temple He found people selling animals and exchanging money on the temple grounds. In a fit of rage, Jesus overturns tables and whips the money-changers and animals, driving them both from the temple like a shepherd herding livestock, yelling at them not to turn His Father’s holy house into a place of business.
Jesus dirtied his own hands to help those in need
Jesus was a very strong advocate for the poor and disenfranchised. Throughout the New Testament, He is constantly calling on those with more to give to those with less. He regularly mingled with lepers, prostitutes, and all manner of disenfranchised people. His form of ministering meant interacting regularly with those who needed Him most – not giving lectures from behind a pulpit.
The radical Savior
On Easter, a day set aside for us to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made, I hope we can think more on how to exemplify the radical kindness He embodied. I believe, whether by merely following Christ’s example or by being pushed by the Holy Spirit, Crystal was doing just that. She was giving a voice to the voiceless and calling out our religious leaders for their tone-deaf response in the face of an unfolding crisis.
Victims of sexual abuse by church leaders have been trying for years through traditional means to have their voices heard and changes made. But so far, LDS prophets and apostles have been uninterested in coming down from the pulpit and mingling with the disenfranchised.
In the face of this silence, with traditional avenues exhausted, increasingly radical steps become necessary. Protests and civil disobedience have long been the drivers of change throughout history. As more drastic actions like Crystal’s are taken, I hope those watching will remember that whipping people and overturning tables is not out of the realm of possibility when answering the question “What would Jesus do?”. Instead of offering condemnation, perhaps it’s time to start listening.
There is a saying you hear often among certain segments of gun owners: The Second Amendment is in place to protect us from a tyrannical government.
But if the Second Amendment is really about individual defense against the government, then isn’t it time to start treating citizens like soldiers when it comes to armament? Not just anyone can join the military and handle a gun. Similarly, if We The People want to mount a proper defense against a tyrannical government, we need citizens who are properly trained, responsible, and mentally prepared to handle firearms – otherwise said citizens will prove to be liabilities instead of assets.
Freedoms have always come with responsibilities and qualifications (as they say, “freedom isn’t free”). First Amendment protections end with lying – thus why slander and libel are not protected forms of speech. The Second Amendment is the same: Protections end where the inability to demonstrate responsible and clear-headed ownership of firepower begins. The Second Amendment itself states that armament be “well-regulated” – the Right To Bear Arms is not an unqualified free-for-all.
Well-Regulated Armed Citizenry
But what does a well-regulated armed citizenry look like? I propose five core regulations:
- Passing a comprehensive health/psych exam
- Addresses physical and mental ability to manage a weapon (averts gun deaths – especially those from suicide)
- Receiving 30 hours of gun safety and human ethics training
- Weeds out those who are not willing to put in the time to be properly trained with a gun (averts gun accidents)
- Encourages responsible gun ownership and can instill a sense of civic duty – giving renewed purpose to those considering crimes or suicide
- Passing a background check
- Helps keep guns out of the hands of criminals (averts gun crimes)
- Restricting manufacture and selling of large magazines and gun modifications
- Limits the ability of people to kill on a large scale (averts mass shootings)
- Re-evaluation every x-amount of years through a written test, background check, and health/psych exam
- Makes sure 1-4 are kept in check long-term
These regulations are easy enough that any responsible citizen will be able to properly arm themselves, while also providing actionable ways to reduce gun deaths across the board. Implementing these for all new weapon purchases, trades, and manufacturing immediately would make an impact – though it may take time to see considering the amount of unlicensed weapons already circulating in our country.
What About Weapons Already in Circulation?
Admittedly, trying to get tabs on all the weapons already out there in our country would be difficult if not impossible. That’s why I believe in a grandfathering clause for weapons already in the hands of gun owners. People would only need to get licensed if they purchase new weapons.
However, it would be good to try and get as many gun owners to turn over unlicensed weapons as possible. To that end, I believe we should provide trade-in incentives for those willing to exchange their older unlicensed weapons with newer licensed ones. We could also create penalties for the owners of unlicensed guns that are used in crimes (regardless of if the gun owner participated in or knew about the crime themselves) to further encourage people to voluntarily opt-in older weapons.
Ultimately however, we need to work on moving forward – even if the state of gun circulation we’re building out from is messy and imperfect. We need to understand though that because of the grandfathering clause it will take longer to see results. We may have to wait decades in order to see the fruits of our labors clearly (though I still believe there would be an immediate and observable change as well).
The final piece of this regulatory framework that I believe is really required to get backing from both ardent gun owners and the general populace is assuaging fears about the government regulating guns and stripping away rights. To that end, I believe an independent organization should be created to oversee gun licensing in the United States – one that is not tied to either the federal government or the gun industry. I would expect such an organization to be made up of Constitutional scholars, state governors, retired law enforcement officials, and former military leaders.
It is understandable for people to be fearful of something that could impact what they cherish – gun owners are no exception. But the evidence is strong that gun accidents and deaths are highly correlated with gun availability. I believe the framework above can bring gun owners and those worried about gun deaths together to a place where both are getting what they need.
I was recently in a discussion that invoked the “X is dangerous for you because it’s only one atom/molecule away from Y” argument. In this specific case, the argument being made by Person A was that Drug X was dangerous because it was chemically similar to Drug Y. While the conclusion was accurate, the methods used to reach this conclusion were wrong. Yet, even though the conclusion was correct (in this case), I believe that pointing out why the methodology used is wrong is an important discussion to have.
BUT WHAT WAS WRONG ABOUT IT?
The idea that, simply because an item is chemically similar to something dangerous, it too is dangerous, is an argument built on a fallacy. There are plenty of harmless things (e.g. water) that are chemically similar to something dangerous (e.g. water and hydrogen peroxide) but are not harmful to us. In fact, similar pseudoscience methodologies have been used to prop up arguments of anti-vaxxers and other alt-right and alt-left beliefs.
BUT SCIENTISTS MAKE COMPARISONS ALL THE TIME!
In the case of this particular example, it is true that scientists will sometimes compare drugs to one another. However, drug studies tend to focus on how drugs interact with the body. Any associations between drugs are based on that. Generally, the only time studies on one drug will reference another is to say something like “potential for addiction is similar to Drug Y”. Scientists generally avoid statements like “Drug X is chemically similar to Drug Y and should therefore be avoided” because they know these types of statements are misleading and don’t inherently mean anything.
As stated earlier, Person A isn’t wrong when they say Drug X and Drug Y are chemically similar. They certainly are, but it’s besides the point. The point is: It is poor methodology to use chemical composition comparisons between two different substances to call one dangerous simply because the other is. The comparison is inherently meaningless in itself – lots of harmless things are one atom away from something dangerous. It’s only how the body interacts with each individual substance that provides actual merit to the idea that something is dangerous.
ARE YOU CALLING ME DUMB?
There is no malice or insult in having someone say “your methods for this are wrong and here is why.” There is not even malice or insult in saying “you’re using the same methodology as the alt-right and alt-left”. These are perfectly neutral factual statements and should be taken as such. It’s important to point out these logical fallacies, however, so that people can be educated on the issue and stop perpetuating bad science. Being (told you’re) wrong is the first step to being right – and there’s no shame in that.
SO WHAT SHOULD I HAVE DONE?
If we are trying to make the case, for instance, that Drug X is as bad for people as Drug Y, we should base our argument around the way Drug X affects the body. Because, while this person was 100% right that Drug X can be dangerous, it’s not necessarily because its chemical structure is similar to Drug Y’s (which, as previously stated doesn’t necessarily mean anything by itself). By drawing chemical composition comparisons (that are inherently meaningless) we are propping up pseudoscience methodology.
WHY IS THIS A BIG DEAL ANYWAY?
This is something we should all be passionate about because these are the types of arguments the alt-right and alt-left use to bolster their anti-science claims. More and more, people on both the left and right are starting to fall prey to pseudoscience – so it’s more important than ever to have these conversations in public so people can get educated. We need to put an end to these methodologies so people don’t ultimately buy into misunderstood pseudoscience and so that those who do buy into this pseudoscience can’t point at us and say, “look they’re doing it too so it must be right!”
Because these conversations are so important, we need to do away with the idea that if someone tells us we are wrong or are using poor methods of gaining information employed by pseudoscience advocates, that it is a personal attack against us. It is not and we can’t take these things personally. These are merely factual statements to help someone better understand where they went wrong and how to do better in the future. Like I said: Being wrong is the first step to being right – and there’s no shame in that.