The Poverty Mindset


If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton, 1675


As humans progress through time, we build off of the achievements of others. If not for Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos never would have been able to grow his small online bookstore into the massive Amazon we know today, and completely reconceptionalize the way commerce works in the 21st Century. Just as neither Gates nor Jobs would have been able to bring out the personal computer without the successes of Charles Babbage, the “father of computers.” This line continues through the Industrial Revolution, to the creation of machines, down to the printing press, past the various forms of written documents, to even before language. These are people who didn’t depend on someone else to do work for them because they simply didn’t have a poverty mentality. Instead they found opportunity is furthering the progress of humankind by expanding on the ideas of others.


The poverty mentality is a mindset, that for whatever reason, people make choices to not progress their own human capital.


Alan Weiss states that one reason for people having a poverty mindset is they continue to think that they’re a victim of other people’s choices and decisions. Kris Vallotton  discusses several signs of a poverty mentality. Some of these signs are assigning negative motives to people who are more prosperous than you, finding yourself jealous of what more successful people have, and feeling like you are a powerless victim. Randy Gage lays out three warning signs of a poverty mentality: Are we focusing on how much money we can manifest or how much we lack?; Are we feeding a hatred or jealousy of rich people?; And is our decision making based on fear? There is a common theme with these three gentlemen; victimhood.


How do we overcome victimhood?


Victimhood is broken by having a sense of self-worth. Self-worth is created by our successes and how we deal with our failures. The duality of success and failure can be seen in human capital. Human capital directly relates to what our economic worth is. Human capital is a measure of an individual’s skills, qualifications, education, experience, creativity, judgement, intelligence, and more. Much of these attributes change over time, and can be altered through our successes and failures. The people who spend their time improving their human capital have a much higher chance of not remaining in a poverty mindset.


Many today believe that this is not fair or equal. However, the reality is that we are not all created equal. Some people are smarter, some are better looking, some have more athletic ability, some people are naturally heavier than others, and the list continues. The truth is that we can have one of two options, either we can have equal outcomes or we can have equal opportunity. When we have equal outcomes that means that no matter how hard someone wants to work, the laziest person gets just as much as them through redistribution. However, equal opportunity means that all individuals get the same opportunity to achieve prosperity in life. Both of these are separate from being equal before god, as Milton Friedman discusses in his book Free to Choose.


I advocate for the latter.


A man must cease to attributing his problems to his environment , and learn again to exercise his will – his personal responsibility.” – Albert Einstein


Ben Carson has pushed this idea of a poverty mindset, and rightly so. Carson grew up impoverished to a single, under-educated mother. Through being driven to not accept a poverty mindset, Carson was able to graduate with honors and receive scholarships. He later graduated from prestigious universities like John Hopkins, and because a famous neurosurgeon. Carson is now the director of the Housing and Urban Development department in the Trump white house. However, Carson is not the only one to overcome a poverty mindset. Jim Carrey was homeless, Oprah Winfrey grew up impoverished, Eminem grew up poor in Detroit, and J.K. Rowling went from living on government assistance to having a best selling children’s book, Harry Potter.


Today we live in a society where so many people, young and old, believe that something is owed to them and needs to be paid for by someone else, typically the rich. The idea that Bill Gates billions of dollars are keeping everyone from achieving their economic dreams is ridiculous. The only person standing in our way is us. It’s time we work hard to improve our human capital, and be proud of our achievements. Some people are fine with punching a clock every day, and there is room for them. Nevertheless, some of us were meant to fly. Once again we are not created equally, but because some of us are not willing to put in the work does not mean that we are entitled to others’ wealth. We need a mindset of abundance, not a mindset of indigence.


The real poverty of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations.” – Adam Smith

You can read more from Rocky Ferrenberg at Think Liberty here.


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