Saturday, December 17, 2011

Some Things, You Shouldn't Have to Explain

Following up on the much-maligned essay by Gene Marks, Megan McArdle offers what I think is a reasonable interpretation of Marks' thesis: it's much harder than most people think to transition from being poor to being middle class. McArdle tends to oversimplify, but at the same time she acknowledges the general reality of the situation:
[Poor people] could be middle class if they made a series of hard choices. But those choices are really hard - much harder than they are for the people who are already there. Chances are, you would also have a hard time making those choices.
Some people find it very easy to point to a child in poverty and say, "If you acted like a middle class kid you would escape poverty," never mind your parents, peers, schools, support system.... Marks simply reveals that when those who have enjoyed lives of comparable privilege speak of "acting middle class" they are describing taking a level of action and initiative at least an order of magnitude greater than what a typical middle class child must do to stay in the middle class - in simple terms, struggling against the odds vs. coasting.

I had a client many years ago, abandoned to his elderly grandmother's care by his drug addict parents, caught at the age of seventeen selling crack, and in court as an adult (at 17 you're an adult in Michigan for criminal prosecution). The image that sticks with me is when, at his sentencing, I described to the court why I believed probation was appropriate and referred to him as intelligent. His reaction telegraphed that nobody had ever used that word to describe him. Out of control, troublemaker, and the like, sure. But intelligent? Nobody noticed. Nobody was looking.


  1. Did he get probation?


  2. He got boot camp. The rest is a long story and not one with a happy ending.


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