Writing about ideas is cathartic for me. I spend a lot of time writing about financial products, telling financial stories, or explaining financial concepts. Writing within that structure makes me a sharper thinker and a better writer. But it's not an outlet for my ideas.
This post is an outlet for an idea that's been germinating for so long that it's become alcohol in my brain. I have to get it out, or I'll never be able to function again.
You don't have to read it. The post is for me. In it, I'll try to explain why I don't think you have to be a big lefty to care about poor people and their finances.
Seeing and Defining Problems
I'm a Christian. I believe that Christians have a strange mandate in the world. We always have one eye on eternity. We're constantly reminding ourselves that resurrection Jesus from the dead means that we have access to the greatest treasure completely without merit.
We're also specifically called to the here and now. Jesus specifically reminded us to care for those who are marginalized. He set an example of loving social outcasts, healing, and "remembering" the poor. Jesus called us to do likewise.
Because of that, when I as a Christian see a problem in the world, I may be called to be a specific part of the solution.
In a hyper-politicized world, I've seen a lot of public discourse that demonstrates that many people are intentionally turning a blind eye to a hurting world because they disagree with the approaches to solving the problems. That's not okay.
From my perspective, in recent years, the left has done a somewhat better job of saying that people's problems matter... especially poor people's problems.
That's not to say us wingnuts don't care. I have many compassionate conservative friends. In fact, I like to think of myself as a compassionate rightie (though you can judge that for yourself). I'm talking about the broader social discourse.
What I'm trying to say is this: When it comes to saying that poor people have legitimate, not self-inflicted, problems, the left does a better job highlighting the problems.
Differing on solutions
That's not to say I agree with "the left" when it comes to policy prescriptions. While major pundits on the right tend to blame or turn a blind eye to poor people's problems, those on the left tend to recommend public policy (government) solutions.
Max Weber once called government "human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory."
Honestly, I'm very sympathetic to Weber's definition. Government's core competency is force. Well that and collecting and cutting checks (by means of force).
In literally all circumstances, I think voluntary cooperation is better than force. That's not to say force is illegitimate. We need force to stop the murders, rapists, thieves, and invading armies who would seek to undermine our liberty. But force should be the last resort.
Unfortunately, I also think that in large societies (say groups greater than about 200 people) we tend to underallocate resources to general social flourishing. As such, creating a socially optimal "safety net" for the entire human community probably involves some level of force.
Even providing for some "optimal level of force", I'm still wont to recommend public policy as a "solution" for personal poverty. To the extent possible, I want voluntary interactions and emergent solutions to rule the day.
But honestly, my political opinions don't matter. I'm not politically involved, and I don't intend to advise political candidates on public policy matters.
Thus, the thing that matters is trying my best to help the people I know who are struggling with money. Sometimes this looks like hiring someone when I'm perfectly happy to do the work myself. Sometimes it looks like bringing a meal or lending tools to someone who is in financial straits.
Sometimes it means helping someone pull a credit report for the first time. It means giving resume advice to someone who never got that kind of training. It means inspiring kids to open a Roth IRA as teenagers. It means convincing kids from tough backgrounds that they are smart enough to pursue good careers and not just jobs.
It's about planning, and talking, and listening, and inspiring, and giving, and caring. When you talk to real people in person (not on twitter), you'll find that people on both sides of the aisle believe those values matter.
Obviously, I don't know the single best method for escaping poverty, but I know that voluntary relationships have to be a part of the answer.
I've finally figured out what I'm trying to say. Caring about poor people and their finances is a good thing- it doesn't turn you into some crazy SJW.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.