Rachel Held Evans has a Dysfunctional Relationship with The Poor

Dave Ramsey, as Dave Ramsey does, recently published on his website a post that calls attention to the fact that people who are rich tend to share similar behavior patterns, and people who are poor tend to share similar behavior patterns. For instance:

70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day.

76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.

81% of wealthy maintain a to-do list vs. 19% of poor.

63% of wealthy parents make their children read two or more non-fiction books a month vs. 3% of poor.

67% of wealthy write down their goals vs. 17% of poor.

88% of wealthy read 30 minutes or more each day for education or career reasons vs. 2% of poor.

67% of wealthy watch one hour or less of TV every day vs. 23% of poor.

Rachel Held Evans, as Rachel Held Evans does, responded to this post by assuming the moral high ground — saying that Ramsey doesn’t know anything about poor people, and that behavior has nothing to do with poverty:

One need not be a student of logic to observe that [original author] Corley and Ramsey have confused correlation with causation here by suggesting that these habits make people rich or poor.

For example, a poor person might not exercise four days a week because, unlike a rich person, she cannot afford a gym membership. Or perhaps she has to work two jobs to earn a living wage, which leaves her little time and energy for jogging around the park.

A poor family may eat more junk food, not because they are lazy and undisciplined, but because they live in an economically disadvantaged, urban setting where health food stores are not as available: a so-called “food desert.”

(Let’s take a moment to marvel at the phrase “food desert” being used for a neighborhood just because it’s not within walking distance of a Whole Foods. Because regular grocery stores don’t sell fruits or vegetables, only jars of Twinkie filling and cans of beer with cigarette butts already floating in them. Now back to Rachel.)

Ramsey’s particular brand of prosperity gospel elevates the American dream as God’s reward for America’s faithfulness, the spoils of which are readily available to anyone who works hard enough to receive them.

But such a view glosses over the reality that America was not, in fact, founded upon purely Christian principles (unless one counts slavery, ethnic cleansing, gender inequity, and Jim Crow as Christian principles)…

[Insert enormous eye-roll here. Is she pulling her talking points straight from the editorial board meeting minutes of a high school newspaper? – j]

…, so we should be careful of assuming our relative wealth reflects God’s favor. (The Roman Empire was wealthy, too, after all.)

It also glosses over the reality that economic injustice is not, in fact, limited to the developing world but plagues our own country as well.

When medical bills are the biggest cause of bankruptcy in the United States, there are systemic injustices at work.

When people working 40-hour weeks at minimum wage jobs still can’t earn enough to support their families, there are systemic injustices at work.

When approximately 1% of Americans hold 40% of the nation’s wealth, there are systemic injustices at work.

When the black unemployment rate has consistently been twice as high as the white unemployment rate for the past 50 years, there are systemic injustices at work.

If Ramsey’s advice to work hard, spend less, and save money counts as a “brand of prosperity gospel,” then parents have been preaching the prosperity gospel to their children since time began. Funny, though, that all this time we’ve just been calling it “good parenting.”

But never mind that. Let’s stipulate that the statistics she sites are correct and that there are extenuating circumstances that make it harder for the poor to make certain lifestyle choices. My question is, what does Evans hope to accomplish by saying that Ramsey’s advice is somehow unacceptable?

Just as a thought experiment, let’s say that Rachel had a boyfriend, and his name was The Poor. (Maybe he’s a rapper, because that would be an excellent name for a rapper. “The Poor keepin’ it real on that new track!” “The Poor’s new album set to drop this Thursday!” Anyways…)

Let’s further say that The Poor had all kinds of problems: he couldn’t hold a job, was fat and out of shape, and what little money he had he blew on lottery tickets and fortified wine.

People who loved The Poor might encourage him to try to do better by educating himself, getting a job, and making better financial decisions.

But girlfriend Rachel would shout those people down and chastise them for their insensitivity. She would say things like, “How can you expect The Poor to make smart financial decisions in a country where the stench from Jim Crow is still in our nostrils!”

If that were the case, impartial observers might say that, supportive of her boyfriend though she may be, Rachel’s brand of support may not be the best thing for The Poor. They might even say that she was only enabling his bad choices. If they were cynical like me (check the Twitter handle!), they might even say that she had some subconscious need to keep him from succeeding so she could feel like a spiritual hero for loving him.

As it is with The Poor, so it is with the poor. I’ve never heard Dave Ramsey claim that certain behaviors were guarantees of prosperity, but if we can’t agree that some habits are more beneficial than others, then we are suffering from some serious dysfunction.

For the life of me, I can’t see how it benefits anybody to hear the advice, “Hey, maybe read a book or something,” and respond to it by saying, “Gender inequity!” Unfortunately, to a lot of people like Rachel Held Evans, the response makes more sense than the advice.

3 thoughts on “Rachel Held Evans has a Dysfunctional Relationship with The Poor

  1. I get tired of the meme that medical bills cause bankruptcy; they don’t. Getting so sick you’re unable to work and pay your mortgage, and other bill does. The same thing happens in Canada. The rest of it falls into the correlation not equaling causation fallacy (for Dave too). Yes successful people tend to exercise more and eat healthier, but exercise and healthy eating aren’t going to make you successful. It’s more likely that the things that make you more likely to be successful (motivation, discipline, etc) also make you more likely to want to take care of yourself.

    1. Yep, I’m also pretty tired of all the dubious statistics used to argue that your life has nothing to do with your own actions. It’s just a random act of fate that the guy who took no vacation and no salary for 5 years to build his business can now go to Paris for vacation, and the guy who sleeps in til noon before calling in sick to his part-timer at the car wash can only go to Dollywood.

      But I don’t think Dave is guilty of any fallacy because I don’t think he’s proposing that any of his listed equal success; he’s only showing how successful people have different priorities. When he’s saying rich people watch less TV, he’s not saying, “Turn off the TV and suddenly you’re a millionaire!” He’s saying, “Stop doing things that don’t matter, and start doing things that do matter.”

      1. If Dave is trying to say successful people have different priorities than unsuccessful ones, I would agree. It’s when he starts calling out specific things that I think he risks running into the fallacy.

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