I love it when Eve Tushnet gets on her soapbox about poverty and virtue, and this great piece about the much-touted “success sequence” is no exception:

The people I speak with believe they have a responsibility—there’s that word again—to achieve economic stability. There are two conflicting impulses, to maximize your economic chances or to welcome babies as a blessing, and both of those impulses are grounded in moral beliefs

All bloodless moralisms conflate material success and virtue, presenting present successful people as moral exemplars. And this, like “it’s better to have a diploma than a GED,” is something virtually every poor American already believes: that escaping poverty proves your virtue and remaining poor is shameful.

I could talk a lot about what Eve says here, but I want to highlight that it’s very, very hard to get what Eve’s talking about unless you spend time with poor people. Reading stuff on the internet just won’t do it; it’s incredibly difficult to appreciate the complexities of the decisions that people make about relationships and school and work unless you are friends with them and know people who can teach you things about faith and love but would be categorized by demographers as falling short of the “success sequence” or castigated by pundits as “irresponsible”. And those encounters, when paired with a good solid history education, will help you break out of many of the shallow caricatures of poverty one encounters in political and social discourse.

Posted by Matthew Loftus

Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org

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