Bad luck?

I recently quoted a line from the documentary Fault Lines: The Top 1%, saying “the reason poor people are poor is because there’s another group of people, rich and powerful people, who generally have a lot of control over social policy.”

A wealthy individual responded, “This brings to mind my favorite quote from Robert Heinlein:”

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
This is known as “bad luck.”

Stranger in a Strange Land is one of my favorite novels. But I disagree with this particular Heinlein quote, though I admit I’m unaware of its context since I haven’t read Time Enough for Love.

The documentary I posted concerns the present economy. And at present we live in a developed nation where poverty is not the normal condition. By definition, developed nations have relatively high standards of living. So I don’t see how a historical paradigm that presumes poverty is normal applies here.

Moreover, I disagree that poverty is the default condition of humankind. Poverty exists only when the available resources are insufficient to meet the population’s basic needs, or when those resources are kept from the people. Humans flourished in their early years because they were not impoverished. Resources were abundant. Human advancement has always been a combined effort of nature and innovation.

Innovation comes from every economic class. Although it’s more likely to arise from the educated, who themselves are more likely to come from wealthy families. This inequality is being addressed in nations such as Sweden, Denmark, and Finland—who leads the world in education. Their public school systems include college, giving academic opportunities to every citizen regardless of their financial background. A more educated population has a greater potential to maximize innovation, because it’s not limited to only a few elite members of society.

History shows us that the only time the elite are despised and cast aside by citizens is when they’ve been oppressing or otherwise taking advantage of those citizens. There has indeed typically been a period of poverty and a degree of chaos afterwards. But the new model that rises up in the aftermath tends to be an improvement upon the one that fell. I call that “progress.”


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