Gary Cottle, a prolific, insightful writer I have met via Facebook, is allowing me to share this exceptional posting regarding money and the societal impact of poverty.
Please read it and help us start the conversation via telephone conference call. Click here.
They say money can’t buy happiness, and that’s true. There are plenty of people with money who are miserable. But those who dismiss the importance of money tend to be the ones who have plenty of it. Let’s not forget the really important things money can buy aside from luxury goodies like sports cars. Money buys education. Money buys health care. Having enough money means you can buy good, healthy food and pass on the processed stuff and the cheap high fructose corn syrup. Money means you can afford the transportation cost to and from the places that sell the good food. Money means you can afford to get out in the world and dress nice which greatly increases your odds of finding friends and romantic partners. Money means you can live in a place that feels like home.
I’ve been, more or less, stuck in the desert town of Merced for eight years. I have never liked it. It has never felt like home to me. My little rent subsidized apartment is far from luxurious, but if it were someplace else, I’d be much happier. It is not simply a matter of me cultivating “inner peace.” Thankfully, Yosemite is near, and I have the good fortune of spending a few days there every year. I know how I feel in Yosemite as opposed to how I feel here in Merced. The difference is vast and profound. Living in Yosemite, of course, is out of the question even if I could afford it. It’s a special place, and a lot of people want to visit, so the park can be overcrowded, especially in the summer months. I’d settle for someplace less special but more to my liking. I’m going to work on it, but given my finances and my limitations—I don’t drive, and I have extreme social phobia—it’s going to take some effort.
The Tiny House Movement has really caught on in recent years. Living simply and within your means is at the core of the philosophy. But I would like to point out that those who are attracted to this idea tend to be well educated, and even though those tiny houses cost far less than conventional houses, they aren’t exactly cheap. They are well built, and they are custom made to match the aesthetic sensibilities of their owners. If it were just a matter of living in a cheap house, people would buy a tiny house trailer or camper with pressed wood paneling and cabinets made from particle board. Another aspect of the Tiny House Movement is mobility, the freedom to live where you want to live. You need at least some amount of affluence for that to be a reality.
My mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, so she was disabled and unable to earn a living. But because she was married to my father, she was ineligible for regular and consistent government assistance. When my father had to retire due to his own health problems in the early ’90s, she lost her medical insurance. Thankfully, her psychiatrist went on treating her schizophrenia without billing her and providing her with free samples of the antipsychotic medication she needed. But she went without regular checkups, blood tests and mammograms. In December of 2003, she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She died in February of 2004. She was 63. Even after she went to the doctor for a backache in September (we would later learn the cancer had already metastasized at that point, and a tumor had attached itself to her spine) her diagnosis was delayed because her doctor knew she didn’t have any money, and he didn’t want my parents getting hit with the bills for expensive scans if it turned out all my mother had was a backache that would resolve itself in time. Would regular checkups and mammograms have caught the cancer in an earlier stage and saved my mother’s life? Who knows? But those with money at least have the option of having regular checkups and mammograms.
My mother comes from what is sometimes referred to as the underclass. That simply means her family has been poor for generations. Being around my mother’s sisters and brothers and their kids while growing up in West Virginia gave me an up close and personal view of what that kind of long-term deprivation can do to a family and how it becomes self-perpetuating. Being poor is one thing, but growing up in a family that hasn’t had a break in over a hundred years means no one in your family has gone to college. No one. Not a single individual knows much about science or history or literature. So no one in the family knows first hand the true value of education. No one in the family knows anything about other cultures, unless they were sent to another country to fight in a war. You’ve watched relatives die early deaths from preventable and treatable disease. The community knows your family has been poor forever, and many look down on you. You’re treated differently. No one expects much from you. Teachers don’t encourage you. You grow up knowing you’re less valued. A sense of fatalism and defeat creeps in and settles deep in your bones. You develop unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking too much, taking drugs or overeating. You do it because it provides temporary relief. You start early, and it becomes second nature. You might get in trouble because the rules and customs of society don’t benefit you, so you’re less inclined to respect the law. You start having babies before you even have a chance to figure out how you can break the cycle and escape.
Money will not assure a happy life, but it does provide fertile soil.
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