Monday, 3 December 2007

Poverty and useless bastards

Who are the poor?

I ask that question because I have been poor. I am no longer poor. I am not wealthy, but I am not 4 pay packets away from disaster. We are doing pretty well, thanks very much.

Poverty for me was an ephemeral phase between leaving home and getting my first real job. That is, I was a student, and I was dead broke for the better part of 5 years. Not that it stopped me from travelling to Europe at the end of my studies and spending a year arsing around over there.

By most definitions of poverty, I was poor. My cash income was two thirds of stuff all. According to these turkeys, the poverty line is 50% of median income. That's $281 per week for a single adult with no children. ACOSS reckons that 1 in 10 Australians are now living in poverty.

So what?

Most of us have been broke at one point or another in our lives. It happens. We over extend or don't save or decide to have leisure time rather than work or shit happens and we're broke.

The key question is how long that lasts. My poverty lasted five years, but I could have cut that down to three if I had bothered working hard and graduating in three years rather than five. The extra two years of living on the breadline was all my own fault.

I had the classic part time jobs. Stacked shelves in Coles from 10pm to 2am in the morning a few nights a week. Worked night shift in a video shop. Worked on a wheat bin during the Christmas break. Spent some time on farms digging ditches and chasing sheep and building rickety fences and all that. Joined the Army Reserve and spent at least a month a year in green earning some tax free readies. I always had a job, even if it only brought in $100 a week.

Then I graduated, worked through a series of jobs, improved my skills and experience, and now I'm pulling in a comfy income. I put a lot of my success down not to being smart, but by working fucking ridiculous hours and becoming the "go to" guy in every place I ever worked. "Want something done? Go to that guy. He'll get it sorted".

J was also technically poor when we hooked up, but you wouldn't have known it. She worked from home, and worked hard, and made enough to keep the family fed and shod. Not comfortable, but getting by without handouts.

I've concluded that we can screen people based on a simple four quadrant matrix like the old Boston Consulting Group thing that I studied at uni.

Let me start with stupid/active people. Most of the real estate agents, stockbrokers, car salesman - in fact salesmen of any type - generally fall into this quadrant. They are not too bright. Some are thick as custard, but they know how to present well, they absorb information like a sponge and can parrot lines like.... a well trained parrot. Those that work hard can become very rich. Brains is no indicator of success. They can be intensely dangerous though if they think they are smart, and then actively try and do something very dumb.

Then there are smart/lazy people. I know a few of them. They tend to be succesful because they are smart enough to know how to get other people to do all the work. They can be amazing managers. Some become complete cone heads, whiling away their days with their face in a bong, but they have the potential to do great things.

Then there are smart/active people. Pain in the arse for the most part if you ask me. Management consultants are the most obnoxious manifestation of this type. They can do well.

Then you have stupid/lazy people. Too thick to do anything useful, too bone idle to raise a sweat. Face it - these people will always be poor. Active people, no matter their IQ, will always manage to work their way out of poverty via the application of buckets of perspiration. Smart people will think their way out (ie, use their brains to extract wealth from the market). But stupid/lazy people are just a waste of space.

I don't understand how ACOSS plans to deal with the stupid/lazy types. For them, poverty can be endemic. They can win Lotto, and still manage to be back in a trailer home six months later. Their stupidity can know no bounds.

I suspect that most of the "1 in 10" that are supposedly poor are just going through a phase, like I did, as they move on to better things. I'd be happier if ACOSS determined just how many are long term poor (ie, more than 5 years) and also why they are poor. Blaming the government and asking for more welfare handouts is not an answer.

I suspect that of the 1 in 10 that are poor today, most will no longer be poor in 10 years time, and that will have nothing to do with the welfare system. Single mothers that are poor because they are trying to work part time and support kids will have met a new partner and their household income will be much higher. The toddlers will have grown up enough for Mum to work full time. Students will have graduated from working at McDonalds at weekends to being an accountant. Apprentices will be pulling in $100,000 as a plumber on a mine site.

Don't bother complaining to me that anyone under the age of say 23 is poor. Everyone should be poor at that age - you know nothing, have picked up few work skills and are not worth much to an employer. Of course you will be poor.

But give it a few years, and suddenly your income can take off as you become a more useful and thus more valuable employee. I only worry about people who are single, 30 and still poor. Something has gone wrong there.

Anyway, I wouldn't wipe my arse with an ACOSS report. Money grubbing, vested interest welfare ratbags.

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