I used to be a crook. I was an honest crook, at least, but I preyed on the weak and profited from the powerless.
I am thankful that I left that world.
I’m no liberal, but I have found that in most societies, it’s more difficult for the not-rich to live than it is for the rich. By that I don’t mean that the poor go without things that the rich have—that’s been true forever. I mean that the not-rich are set up by a system designed to take from the powerless what they lack the power to retain for themselves.
But first, let’s define “poor.” I read a piece recently that chastised most Westerners for labeling sub-Saharan Africans as “poor.” The writer said they’re not poor, they’re simply living in subsistence. They farm the land, grow what they need, eat what they grow, buy a few goats, and sell a few goats, and provide for large families. These people don’t have money because they don’t need money.
Of course, these people are powerless when those with guns show up and take their land in the name of whatever tin-hat dictator is ruling that day and force them to labor in blood diamond mines or sweat shops where their labor is no longer in service to their own survival. All communism/socialism is, is one big robber baron running a national sweatshop.
In America, it’s better to be poor, with nothing, than to be not-rich, with things you have to pay for.
In America, the not-rich are the people who live paycheck to paycheck, with below average credit ratings, maxed-out credit cards, big mortgages, new cars, and no options. They aren’t necessarily poor, but their net worths are typically negative.
I used to take advantage of those people by charging them extra to pay for their (required) insurance policies. These services are all over. If you want to register your car and use a credit card, you pay a “convenience fee.” If you want an insurance policy (required) and have a low FICO score, you will pay more. Everything you buy, when you have credit card balances and less-than-excellent credit, costs more.
There are people who make good salaries—they are in the 1% of the world, above average and above poverty level—who regularly pay 20 percent a month on high balances, struggle to make the minimum payments, and run out of paycheck before they run out of month.
Banks, mortgage companies, and little companies like I used to run prey on these people, and each takes their few drops of blood. Being truly rich doesn’t mean owning anything you want, it means living cheaply because you can afford what you have.
I have learned this lesson rather the hard way. When I had a corporate job, my sensible wife kept me grounded and encouraged us to live completely within our means. We didn’t go for the big house and Benzes or Lexuses. We drive Subarus and live in a modest single-story home built in the late 1970s.
Now for the last 2 years, I’ve lived on a third of what I used to live on (or less), and we’ve not had to pay 20 percent interest or get bled out by every company that preys on the poor.
This Thanksgiving, we don’t have a lot, but I am thankful for what we have.
Those who prey on the poor aren’t bad people. I was not a bad person. But in everything from health care to groceries, it’s cheaper to live on cash. Companies will even pay you to use their credit cards if you pay the balance every month. And when you get those benefits, who is paying for it? The people paying 20 percent are.
I am thankful we live in a free, capitalist society in America.
If I were king, I’d declare every 7 years a debt-forgiveness year like the Bible commanded Israel to do. I’d declare every 50th year a Jubilee where all debts, mortgages, and back taxes are forgiven. I wouldn’t necessarily forgive the principal balances of every loan…but I’d forgive all the interest.
I think America could benefit from a little less complexity, a little less interest, a little less convenience fees. I think Americans should be able to go a year without the bloodletting. But then some of the crooks like I used to be wouldn’t be able to make a living.
I am thankful that in America, most people still believe that charity does not mean the government taking tax money and giving it to people poorer than yourself. I am thankful that Americans are the most generous individuals in the world.
I am thankful that while government (at all levels) is the number one employer in the country, that we are not socialist.
I am thankful that, through God’s mercy, we still have hope.
Happy Thanksgiving. May your card balances remain low, your credit scores stay high, and may you avoid the crooks (except the toy companies) like I used to be.