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Natalie’s Picks of the Week: Bootstrapped and Poverty, by America

It can be argued that rugged individualism and American are synonymous. You can’t have the American dream without the idea that if you work hard and rely on your own resources, you will ultimately succeed.

Instead, as income inequality rises around us, we are left with shame and self-blame for our condition. Why is there so much poverty adjacent to so much affluence? These are the themes for my picks of this week.

In Poverty, by America, Matthew Desmond takes a close look at poverty in the United States. He systematically investigates causes of poverty and proposes changes/policies that would impact those living in poverty the most. Desmond finds that the American government gives the most help to those who need it least, which impacts our psychology and civic spirit as much as it affects our bank accounts and poverty levels.

In Bootstrapped : liberating ourselves from the American Dream, Alissa Quart, executive editor of the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project, shines a light on the myth that is the American dream, and uncovers that at the root of our suffering is the misplaced belief in our own independence and the conviction that we must rely on ourselves alone, a do-it-yourself ethos.

There is no self-made man in the entirety of the world. Self-made implies an individual independence of the past and present, which can never exist. Economist Joseph Stiglitz stated, “Biologically you can’t be self-made, as no one is: you always begin life with gifts from your parents … or liabilities.” 

If the theory of the self-made man is a fallacy, then it follows that opportunity is critical to betterment. However, as Desmond writes, the best way to ensure opportunity is unequal is to charge for it. When wealthy people don’t pay the taxes they owe, and use that money to buy their way into better schools and safer neighborhoods, they are reinforcing the “private opulence and public squalor” dynamic that is growing as the wealth gap widens.

These issues are not easy to solve and have been baked into the systems and structures created well over 200 years ago. Bootstrapped is a powerful examination of what ails us at a societal level and how we can free ourselves of these self-defeating narratives. And Desmond has identified some concrete things you can do today to commit to abolishing poverty.

Either one of these books would make great book club selections.

Categories: Books and More

Tags: Books and More

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