What Causes Poverty?

I asked a convenience store clerk this question.
She said, “What’s your answer?”
I said I was looking for answers from others and not giving answers.
She said forcefully, “Lack of ambition.”

I asked a grocery clerk.
She was heavily tattooed. Some piercing holes remained above her eyebrows.
She said, “People who are idiots.”
She said she was pretty much in poverty.
“You can do all you should and if the others don’t do…(I can’t remember her words well enough to reconstruct them), you’ll be in poverty.

I asked a retail store stocker .
He said, “I know in Illinois, where I’m from, the big problem is that if you’re under the poverty line and you work too much, they takes away all your benefits. I think that’s a big problem. I don’t know how it works in Montana.”


Trek-onomics: Awash in Beads


Some LDS youth trekked over the course of several days near the border of Oregon and Idaho, reminiscent of early Mormon pioneers. They were organized into mock family structures, with an adult male and an adult female as “parents.”


Camp directors brought beads to use as a form of money. Young people could earn a bead for good behavior, for helpfulness, etc. Every night the trading post would open and kids could buy Gatorade, ice-cold water, small chocolate bars or bracelets with their beads. At first the price of Gatorade was two beads and ice-cold water was one bead.


Directors gave parents quantities of beads. Parents freely dispensed beads. Soon the money supply outbalanced the goods available. The price for an ice-cold water on the secondary market went to ten beads. People pilfered ice from the coolers, just because the prohibitions on doing so were not clear or because it was easy and desirable. A lukewarm water that wiser heads had stockpiled, predicting inflation, sold for 4 beads.


Eventually people did not want beads because no matter how many you accumulated, you couldn’t buy anything with them. They were worthless, like German million mark notes.


One of the older girls asked the directors if they had planned this exercise to teach a lesson. No, they hadn’t predicted the consequences, though the girl could see from the first moment that, with them giving out bags of beads free, a monetary debacle would ensue.


Towards the end of the trek, youth were using “real” money that they had brought from home to procure the things they wanted from each other.


Unearned income, inflation, supply and demand, baseless currency, acquisitiveness, human nature, self-interest, the function of prices: these concepts the adults should have known.


Rulers continue to debase currencies for their own ends. It’s a story as old as that told in Goethe’s Faust and as new as Kirchner’s Argentina today.


Bags of beads, limited water bottles.