One of the arguments conservatives have is that "Poverty is a choice." I'll tackle that in a minute, but first I'll preface My side of this by pointing out that conservatives often think race and sexual orientation are also choices, thus leading to their frequent expressions of racism and sexism. So yes, I'm letting you know I think they're wrong, even though there is an element of choice to poverty that isn't present in skin color or sexual orientation.
Let Me use a simple question first: Would you rather be rich or poor? Too easy, right? Strike one against conservatives.
Now let Me up the ante. Which is easier to achieve: poverty or riches? Again, obvious, right? Not really. Is it easy for the average person to be rich (in money and assets, which is what We are discussing here)? Not really. But is it easy for someone who has an abundance of wealth to be poor? Not really. I know you're going to say that people aren't likely to throw away riches and opt to be poor, but some have done it; that is true. But think about this: if you are born into wealth, did you choose it? No. If you achieved wealth through efforts, is it easier for you to be poor than for someone who has always been poor? Most likely not. So again, poverty may be a choice, but it isn't the obvious choice, i.e., it falls short of being a tool of blame.
Because that's what We're talking about: blame. Conservatives lay blame on the individual, citing "opportunity" and "education" and "perseverance" and "hard work" as available to everyone. They may be, but "opportunity" comes within the context of a situation: your talent for finding water is the same, but the results are different when you go from a forest to a desert.
Conservatives only see "forests." They think the world they live in is (a) the only one worth living in and thus (b) the only one that really matters. Can anyone get a decent education in this modern, fascist-leaning U.S. of part of A.? Yes...but with support. The statistics make this abundantly clear, as single- or no-parent homes harbor the highest percentage of dropouts. Should We blame them--the failing students--for their inability or choice to not finish? Maybe so, but shouldn't the blame lay with their parents, who are often the products of the same broken home system?
Conservatives deem arguments of this kind as "finding excuses," pointing squarely to willpower as the dominant trait to success: if you want it hard enough, you will get it. But they fail to grasp that their arguments are monotonous "finding blame" finger-pointing, based on simply trying to assign guilt rather than analysis. Their take is "Something is wrong (with you), and here's where the blame lies (with you)."
Opportunities, like talent and abilities, are not present in equal terms in all situations. The opportunity basket in My life is undoubtedly larger than that of a person living in a war-torn country or a failing state...maybe. According to conservatives, accumulating wealth is a sign of success, so what do they make of the fact that over the past 15 years, the greatest number of new millionaires arose in the former Soviet Republics, most likely the product of organized crime? Is this their best example of their "willpower for riches" argument? And if it is, why should We listen to it?
Like most lies, there is a grain of truth in the "poverty is a choice" mantra. You can choose to become wealthy, or prosperous, or comfortable, provided you have the choice in the first place. And the choice, for it to be real, has to be attainable: saying I can launch a high-tech start-up that goes to an IPO for $5 billion in 2 years is a big stretch, but achievable if I live in an industrialized economy; it's a foolish waste of time if I live in an agricultural or war-torn economy. With fewer economic growth choices--or none that you can readily grasp--poverty isn't a choice: it's a given.
It isn't a case of "Willpower for poverty," as conservatives love to blame; it's a case of "Willpower against poverty" that needs to be applied for all, not just "the marginalized." So the essence of economic growth, at the personal, community, state or national level, consists of increasing the potential choices...and making those choices visible. (To be blunt: the corruption We see around Us is not economic growth.) At the personal level, it means you learn everything you can and keep your eyes and mind open for new connections. Beyond that, it takes leaders who see that more choices for more people is an exponential growth curve, not arithmetic, and that losing control of that process is exactly what economic growth needs: "planned growth economies" end up being none of those things and leaves you at the mercy of the rapacious. Ask the people of the former Soviet Republics, the ones who chose values over opportunism and thus "chose" poverty over riches.
Hell, if it were up to conservatives, We'd still be in caves, eating raw meat because, you know, "Fire is dangerous and I didn't have it back when I was a tiny Neanderthal..."
The Jenius Has Spoken.