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Poverty isn’t a lack of character; it’s a lack of cash | Rutger Bregman

Poverty isn’t a lack of character; it’s a lack of cash | Rutger Bregman


I’d like to start with a simple question: Why do the poor make
so many poor decisions? I know it’s a harsh question, but take a look at the data. The poor borrow more, save less, smoke more, exercise less, drink more and eat less healthfully. Why? Well, the standard explanation was once summed up by the British
Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. And she called poverty
“a personality defect.” (Laughter) A lack of character, basically. Now, I’m sure not many of you
would be so blunt. But the idea that there’s something
wrong with the poor themselves is not restricted to Mrs. Thatcher. Some of you may believe that the poor
should be held responsible for their own mistakes. And others may argue that we should
help them to make better decisions. But the underlying assumption is the same: there’s something wrong with them. If we could just change them, if we could just teach them
how to live their lives, if they would only listen. And to be honest, this was what I thought for a long time. It was only a few years ago
that I discovered that everything I thought I knew
about poverty was wrong. It all started when I accidentally
stumbled upon a paper by a few American psychologists. They had traveled 8,000 miles,
all the way to India, for a fascinating study. And it was an experiment
with sugarcane farmers. You should know that these farmers
collect about 60 percent of their annual income all at once, right after the harvest. This means that they’re relatively
poor one part of the year and rich the other. The researchers asked them to do
an IQ test before and after the harvest. What they subsequently discovered
completely blew my mind. The farmers scored much worse
on the test before the harvest. The effects of living
in poverty, it turns out, correspond to losing 14 points of IQ. Now, to give you an idea, that’s comparable
to losing a night’s sleep or the effects of alcoholism. A few months later,
I heard that Eldar Shafir, a professor at Princeton University
and one of the authors of this study, was coming over to Holland, where I live. So we met up in Amsterdam to talk about his revolutionary
new theory of poverty. And I can sum it up in just two words: scarcity mentality. It turns out that people
behave differently when they perceive a thing to be scarce. And what that thing is
doesn’t much matter — whether it’s not enough time,
money or food. You all know this feeling, when you’ve got too much to do, or when you’ve put off breaking for lunch and your blood sugar takes a dive. This narrows your focus
to your immediate lack — to the sandwich you’ve got to have now, the meeting that’s starting
in five minutes or the bills that have
to be paid tomorrow. So the long-term perspective
goes out the window. You could compare it to a new computer that’s running 10 heavy programs at once. It gets slower and slower, making errors. Eventually, it freezes — not because it’s a bad computer, but because it has too much to do at once. The poor have the same problem. They’re not making dumb decisions
because they are dumb, but because they’re living in a context in which anyone would make dumb decisions. So suddenly I understood why so many of our anti-poverty
programs don’t work. Investments in education, for example,
are often completely ineffective. Poverty is not a lack of knowledge. A recent analysis of 201 studies on the effectiveness
of money-management training came to the conclusion
that it has almost no effect at all. Now, don’t get me wrong — this is not to say the poor
don’t learn anything — they can come out wiser for sure. But it’s not enough. Or as Professor Shafir told me, “It’s like teaching someone to swim and then throwing them in a stormy sea.” I still remember sitting there, perplexed. And it struck me that we could have figured
this all out decades ago. I mean, these psychologists didn’t need
any complicated brain scans; they only had to measure the farmer’s IQ, and IQ tests were invented
more than 100 years ago. Actually, I realized I had read about
the psychology of poverty before. George Orwell, one of the greatest
writers who ever lived, experienced poverty
firsthand in the 1920s. “The essence of poverty,”
he wrote back then, is that it “annihilates the future.” And he marveled at, quote, “How people take it for granted
they have the right to preach at you and pray over you as soon as your income falls
below a certain level.” Now, those words are every bit
as resonant today. The big question is, of course: What can be done? Modern economists have
a few solutions up their sleeves. We could help the poor
with their paperwork or send them a text message
to remind them to pay their bills. This type of solution is hugely popular
with modern politicians, mostly because, well, they cost next to nothing. These solutions are, I think,
a symbol of this era in which we so often treat the symptoms, but ignore the underlying cause. So I wonder: Why don’t we just change the context
in which the poor live? Or, going back to our computer analogy: Why keep tinkering around
with the software when we can easily solve the problem
by installing some extra memory instead? At that point, Professor Shafir
responded with a blank look. And after a few seconds, he said, “Oh, I get it. You mean you want to just hand out
more money to the poor to eradicate poverty. Uh, sure, that’d be great. But I’m afraid that brand
of left-wing politics you’ve got in Amsterdam — it doesn’t exist in the States.” But is this really
an old-fashioned, leftist idea? I remembered reading about an old plan — something that has been proposed
by some of history’s leading thinkers. The philosopher Thomas More
first hinted at it in his book, “Utopia,” more than 500 years ago. And its proponents have spanned
the spectrum from the left to the right, from the civil rights campaigner,
Martin Luther King, to the economist Milton Friedman. And it’s an incredibly simple idea: basic income guarantee. What it is? Well, that’s easy. It’s a monthly grant, enough to pay
for your basic needs: food, shelter, education. It’s completely unconditional, so no one’s going to tell you
what you have to do for it, and no one’s going to tell you
what you have to do with it. The basic income
is not a favor, but a right. There’s absolutely no stigma attached. So as I learned about the true
nature of poverty, I couldn’t stop wondering: Is this the idea
we’ve all been waiting for? Could it really be that simple? And in the three years that followed, I read everything I could find
about basic income. I researched the dozens of experiments that have been conducted
all over the globe, and it didn’t take long before I stumbled
upon a story of a town that had done it —
had actually eradicated poverty. But then … nearly everyone forgot about it. This story starts in Dauphin, Canada. In 1974, everybody in this small town
was guaranteed a basic income, ensuring that no one fell
below the poverty line. At the start of the experiment, an army of researchers
descended on the town. For four years, all went well. But then a new government
was voted into power, and the new Canadian cabinet saw
little point to the expensive experiment. So when it became clear there was
no money left to analyze the results, the researchers decided to pack
their files away in some 2,000 boxes. Twenty-five years went by, and then Evelyn Forget,
a Canadian professor, found the records. For three years, she subjected the data
to all manner of statistical analysis, and no matter what she tried, the results were the same every time: the experiment had been
a resounding success. Evelyn Forget discovered that the people in Dauphin
had not only become richer but also smarter and healthier. The school performance of kids
improved substantially. The hospitalization rate decreased
by as much as 8.5 percent. Domestic violence incidents were down, as were mental health complaints. And people didn’t quit their jobs. The only ones who worked a little less
were new mothers and students — who stayed in school longer. Similar results have since been found in countless other experiments
around the globe, from the US to India. So … here’s what I’ve learned. When it comes to poverty, we, the rich, should stop
pretending we know best. We should stop sending shoes
and teddy bears to the poor, to people we have never met. And we should get rid of the vast
industry of paternalistic bureaucrats when we could simply
hand over their salaries to the poor they’re supposed to help. (Applause) Because, I mean, the great
thing about money is that people can use it
to buy things they need instead of things that self-appointed
experts think they need. Just imagine how many brilliant scientists
and entrepreneurs and writers, like George Orwell, are now withering away in scarcity. Imagine how much energy
and talent we would unleash if we got rid of poverty once and for all. I believe that a basic income would work
like venture capital for the people. And we can’t afford not to do it, because poverty is hugely expensive. Just look at the cost of child poverty
in the US, for example. It’s estimated at 500 billion
dollars each year, in terms of higher health care
spending, higher dropout rates, and more crime. Now, this is an incredible waste
of human potential. But let’s talk about
the elephant in the room. How could we ever afford
a basic income guarantee? Well, it’s actually a lot cheaper
than you may think. What they did in Dauphin is finance it
with a negative income tax. This means that your income is topped up as soon as you fall
below the poverty line. And in that scenario, according to our economists’
best estimates, for a net cost of 175 billion — a quarter of US military spending,
one percent of GDP — you could lift all impoverished Americans
above the poverty line. You could actually eradicate poverty. Now, that should be our goal. (Applause) The time for small thoughts
and little nudges is past. I really believe that the time has come
for radical new ideas, and basic income is so much more
than just another policy. It is also a complete rethink
of what work actually is. And in that sense, it will not only free the poor, but also the rest of us. Nowadays, millions of people feel that their jobs have little
meaning or significance. A recent poll among 230,000 employees in 142 countries found that only 13 percent of workers
actually like their job. And another poll found that as much
as 37 percent of British workers have a job that they think
doesn’t even need to exist. It’s like Brad Pitt says in “Fight Club,” “Too often we’re working jobs we hate
so we can buy shit we don’t need.” (Laughter) Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m not talking about the teachers
and the garbagemen and the care workers here. If they stopped working, we’d be in trouble. I’m talking about all those well-paid
professionals with excellent résumés who earn their money doing … strategic transactor peer-to-peer meetings while brainstorming the value
add-on of disruptive co-creation in the network society. (Laughter) (Applause) Or something like that. Just imagine again how much
talent we’re wasting, simply because we tell our kids
they’ll have to “earn a living.” Or think of what a math whiz working
at Facebook lamented a few years ago: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how
to make people click ads.” I’m a historian. And if history teaches us anything, it is that things could be different. There is nothing inevitable about the way we structured our society
and economy right now. Ideas can and do change the world. And I think that especially
in the past few years, it has become abundantly clear that we cannot stick to the status quo — that we need new ideas. I know that many of you
may feel pessimistic about a future of rising inequality, xenophobia and climate change. But it’s not enough
to know what we’re against. We also need to be for something. Martin Luther King didn’t say,
“I have a nightmare.” (Laughter) He had a dream. (Applause) So … here’s my dream: I believe in a future where the value of your work
is not determined by the size of your paycheck, but by the amount of happiness you spread and the amount of meaning you give. I believe in a future where the point of education is not
to prepare you for another useless job but for a life well-lived. I believe in a future where an existence
without poverty is not a privilege but a right we all deserve. So here we are. Here we are. We’ve got the research,
we’ve got the evidence and we’ve got the means. Now, more than 500 years after Thomas More
first wrote about a basic income, and 100 years after George Orwell
discovered the true nature of poverty, we all need to change our worldview, because poverty
is not a lack of character. Poverty is a lack of cash. Thank you. (Applause)

Comments (42)

  1. the answer is simple .. if your abilities are rare or in demand then you will make more money .. if you abilities are not in demand then you most likely will be poor .. The IQ test measure certain types of intelligience and I have found that Maslows Hiearchy of Needs to be useful .
    If you place someone in that lower rung .. where getting the basic needs become tooo difficult .. it will take up much of their energy and thought processes .

    I have lived at several different income levels and can say that problems get solved differently at each rung of the latter .. someone who is wealthy might not understand … like for example .. if working with a low budget .. might make my own sauces or dressings and do more by hand .. when your abilities are not in demand you have more time .. when you become in demand you have less time and therefore will use that extra money for convenience and time savers ..
    also if you go for a long period with no money it is the same as being in a desert for a long time and finding and oasis .. when money does come .. they usually have a list of needs that have not been fullfilled due to lack of funds prior to getting that money .

  2. What you don't know about poverty is ,it doesn't give you time to think or plan. You are constantly living in a race for survival.
    # Rich people help only the rich.

  3. The sad thing is that most of us has known this for years. We keep sharing the message but nothing seems to change.

  4. Many of the decisions of the poor may appear stupid from the perspective of a rich man .. he like most human beings is seeing life from his own front window with a narrow scope of view

  5. poverty is a state of mind abundances are not always necessarily in the form of fiat money ..there are some financially wealthy people that are otherwise in moral and mental poverty .

  6. I see some eerie similarities to Jesse Eisenberg..

  7. I live in Africa(kenya), i have walked with poor the middle class & the wealthy.The problem with poverty is not education but lack of direction & right information.It takes some few courages men to make a lot of mistakes in business/careers before they realize there dreams.Finally delivered after reading the bible & praying every day for insight from God,i have a rich father & His name is Jesus Christ.. i will never be lack again.After all Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall see God.When you are in God's side your are on the winning team.

  8. "No one should be given money just for being alive."

    "OK, how does someone with nearly no money and family support get the money they need to have all the essentials needed for getting work that will make them more than just being alive?"

    "…"

  9. Thatcher was on the right tract, here's why. I spent years as an inner city cop. It was an eye opening experience for me, because I have never seen such oppression in America.

    Inner city people are forced into failed government schools, forced upon them by Democrat policies. They oppose breaking the chains of poverty, by opposing school choice or vouchers, to allow impoverished people the opportunity to an education that helps build character. I strongly believe Democrats do this to keep blacks out of their neighborhoods and keep and control their "victim" status after all I've seen in the inner city.

    With socialist pushing $15 min wage, how is anyone uneducated or unskilled enough to produce $15 per hour of service or production, ever going to be employable? Economist already understand this problem. There is no min wage in Scandinavia because they are allowed on-the-job training for unskilled they hire.

    Basic Universal unearned Income is another issue non economist get wrong. Who pays for this $1000 of free income every month? The government? With what money? They are already in debt by $22T. Why, because government is responsible for failed government school, that taxpayers are forced to fund? Now you want taxpayers to fund free income every month. This makes no economic sense. It was a failure in Europe when they tried it. Why promote more failure? How does this help uneducated or unskilled people become better educated and skilled?

    You completely miss the bigger problem and that's allowing government to even have failed schools. Why not promote better education standards in gov schools? Allow school choice for those who are forced into failed gov schools. That would resolve this issue. So why not advocate this instead of more government and economic failures?

  10. Poverty also results from character issues!

  11. Sterilizations from birth.

  12. Soooo why has this not been implemented yet??
    (And it is 2019) someone please do tell…

  13. Basic Idea people might find to be a more Fair approach, because there are no cost associated with it, that's the only thing that will be allowed in America !!!!

  14. Truth?. The rich have a great investment in keeping people poor.
    It's profitable, it's big business. It's called Market Demographics.

  15. Excellent…!!! ThIs is the TRUTH…!!!

  16. So you're telling me that just because you pay someone's rent, to an apartment he doesn't have, that he's gonna stop shooting heroin? you don't think she'll use that money to get meth instead? will they stop stealing? will the little teens in the ghetto stop gang violence? hardly. will the cost of everything else go up? you bet… especially in America.. where the bottom line is king, and businesses won't hesitate to grab their portion of everyone's newfound basic income.

  17. The poor should be educated to have self respect for themselves. That humans are not categorised into, wealthy, middle class or working class poor. Human beings have many talents, different personalities, different strengths. Modern education teaches, career, money, peer group competition. Humans incarnated not to be a work horse, for other people to get rich quick, while laws are passed, to only pay basic wages, live in compact houses, buy consumer goods, a never ending list. All of these themes, lose their appeal, as one ages. Self improvement, in the art of being a honest, loving, sharing, caring being, for themselves and everyone else. With positive, self respect, life will unfold naturally. ….. With a little help from environment, fresh air, healthy lifestyle, regular sleep patterns, with loving kindness. ….instead of greed, me, mine, my ideas are best…..at the expense of others. Ego disguise in material….and higher mental levels…which can be sheer anhilation to great number of people. See a future of a positive, loving, caring society.

  18. Feeding the poor (while important to those who need) will not solve the underlying problem. At the end of the day, they are still poor. It is like being cast adrift, thirsty and hungry. Waiting for help you finally see a helicopter, but instead of removing from your predicament; the helicopter just drops off food, water and leaves you behind.

  19. Vote Andrew yang that 1000 dollars a month might help you guys

  20. The problem of this topic is. "where the money come from?"

  21. disgusting margaret

  22. "Well… we all have to make sacrifices" The mentality that the globalist pigs have used to justify taking working Americans down to the level working slaves all over the world. It's where the globalists are getting the money to throw at red china to ensure that working folks pay the price to drag the red chinese slaves up and out of poverty without taking from the wealthy. Screw globalism. It sucks.

  23. Growing sugar is not the best example since consuming sugar is addictive, make everyone sick and diseased and crashes the brains of those who consume it Rich or Poor). IQ is not a measure of intelligence. Intelligence is measured by a person able to understand what is needed to ensure their genes and those of their community survive indefinitely. Intelligent people don't do drugs and especially sugar and other things called foods that are junk and damaging to their body. The poor need education but come to think of it the rich need education. 80% of the whole planets arable land has had most of the trees cut down and is used for farming animals. Huge numbers of herbivores are destroying the ecology of the planet. 3 trillion trees have been cut down in the past 10,000 years and there is a serious deficit of oxygen. A marker for this deficit is frogs which are dying all over the planet. We have all of our oxygen locked up in CO2 just waiting to be released by trees. If there were enough intelligent people they would be protesting on the streets but where are they?

  24. I share debunk his first questions . Heavy set people tend to me more successful than their counter parts.

  25. 'Simbol of this era: treat the symptoms but ignore the underlying cause' SO WELL SAID and so unfortunatelly it is an aspect of every part of our society especially the western society.

  26. This idea of just giving money to the poor has been around for many decades now. It is called the dole. Some families have subsisted on it for generations. I do take his point in one sense. Telling the poor to buck up, start working, quit smoking/drinking/gambling etc is all well and good but they do those things because of habits formed since childhood. It is like a motivated super rich type telling an ordinary person to become a go-getter type. It`s not easy to change life long habits.

  27. Basic income is not a favour is a right 👍🌹✌️🇨🇦

  28. 7:09 *Andrew Yang likes the video

  29. reminds of the early Christian church, who formed a no class system.

  30. The Freedom Dividend is a type of basic income guarantee. I wonder if Yang was inspired by this video.

  31. #Yang2020 Freedom Dividend ! !

  32. Most people are stuck in a job because they have to pay the bills, make a living to put food on the table for their family, and themselves.
    It's not easy to escape poverty when you have responsibilities to fulfill. You can't just ditch on your family who depends on your paycheck. Plus, the wage has not increased with the same proportion as inflation. Everything is getting expensive, but wages are mostly stagnant.
    If you are young, have no debt, and can move around the country for any opportunity, then you are a lucky person, because most people don't have that type of opportunity.
    If we have a universal basic income that keeps people out of poverty, and allows people in poverty more free time to pursue other career options so they can find one that they like and has a great return on income, then most of the poverty would vanish.
    But of course, that's never going to happen because the entire system is corrupt, and everyone only cares about him or herself.

  33. Making the government the source is the first problem with this view.

    It is better to be able to build your life without the oversight of the government, which earns the right to invade every aspect of living when they provide tax dollars to anyone.

    Income is related to a lot of different areas of life…we see the battles for helping people to help themselves in our daily politics… education, wages, housing, jobs, training, addiction, etc…
    — Businesses could pay fair wages to those at the bottom of a company's workforce… without being forced by the government to do minimum wage, minimum benefits, etc.
    — Decent affordable housing is another poverty issue… what about ownership for the poor… stabilitythat will allow families to improve their lives, friendships, find mentors, grow, and discover a long-term environment… most poverty leads to transience.
    — GOALS (and the lack of them), believing you can do something, supportive people around you… these things matter, too.

    I have been attached to the government longer than I wanted to be… it is NOT the way to go for any improvement.

  34. Love this. Thank you!

  35. In lieu of Margaret Thatcher: "Poverty is caused by lousy politicians not wanting to be responsible."

  36. Ok, high taxes , lazy citizens , commune houses it is. Rah rah rah. Omg.

  37. As soon as A.I. takes 90% of all the jobs over then humans will require the basic income that “they” supply us. (They being artificial intelligent life), I give it about 30 years sometime after WWIII ends!

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