Dave Ramsey recently reposted a list on his website from another blog http://www.richhabitsinstitute.com/ which seems more like a website selling books than an “institute” of higher learning or thinking. This list includes 20 habits rich people do that poor people do not. This list includes statistics, but offers no citations on the origins of these stats. The list states that wealthy people eat less junk food, exercise more, read more, watch TV less, and on and on. The assumption is that these habits will lead you out of poverty and into wealth, although this is not explicitly stated. It is not a step by step method for creating wealth, but one can assume that Mr. Ramsey posted this list in order as an encouragement for those in his Financial Peace program.
Anyone familiar with science, sociology, psychology, etc understands the difference between causation and correlation when dealing with statistics. There are some serious questions that this list leaves unanswered. For example, do these habits cause people to become wealthy or are wealthy people more able do perform the habits on this list? In many cases, poorer people simply cannot engage in many of these tasks. Poor people eat more junk food because healthy foods are not readily available in poor, urban settings. These food deserts make it more difficult for poor people to eat as healthy as their rich counterparts. Many poor people do not have automobiles and cannot drive to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to buy healthy foods and healthier foods are more expensive than junk food. Many poor people cannot afford gym memberships and do not live in areas where they can safely walk or run. Certainly, being wealthy offers up more free time to engage in exercise and listening to audio books.
One interesting thing that is not on Mr. Ramsey’s list is giving. A recent study showed that the poor actually give more to charity as a percentage of income 3.2% than rich people 1.3% and when the rich do give they tend to give to groups and institutions that benefit them like universities, symphonies, and museums. It seems that homeless people cannot throw a black tie banquet for their benefactors like Harvard University. One of the most generous states, Mississippi, is also one of the poorest. I guess that is something that Mr. Ramsey didn’t take into consideration as a good habit.
A couple of other things from this list also struck me as interesting. All of the habits on the list are inwardly focused on either one’s self or one’s immediate family. There is nothing on this list that benefits the larger community, the exception may be #7 that rich people make their children volunteer more than poor people, but that is the rich person’s child and not them. Another aspect of this list that really crawls under my skin is the underlining assumptions that poor people are lazy, they don’t exercise, read, or volunteer and poor people are stupid, they don’t listen to audio books and they watch reality TV. These assumptions are prevalent among a certain demographic, interestingly enough it is the same demographic that listens to Dave Ramsey and buy his books.
Look, I am not naive. We are a product, in part, of the individual choices we make and this list offers some good habits that all of us should work toward. However, we cannot discount the social, cultural, and yes, even racial roadblocks that prevent the poor from breaking out of poverty. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” Of course, there are lazy poor people, but their laziness is not necessarily a causation of their poverty. There are also some lazy rich people who offer nothing to society. The majority of poor people in this country struggle to make ends meet. They cannot exercise because they work two or three jobs and still can’t get ahead. They don’t have safe parks or sidewalks to run or jog. They don’t have health food stores in their neighborhoods or the extra money to pay for organic lettuce and carrots.
I just wish Mr. Ramsey would consider these things before posting such a list.
*Quick addendum* I know that some of the people criticizing Dave Ramsey for his post make the claim that he hates the poor. That is not and never has been my position. I do think that Dave doesn’t really understand poverty from a theological and sociological point of view.