General Question

wundayatta's avatar

When do wealthier people get to say what poorer people can or can not do?

Asked by wundayatta (58714points) June 2nd, 2009

Wealthy people tend to make all kinds of value judgments about what kinds of behaviors are acceptable. Maybe it’s more than wealthy people. In some cultures, there are “untouchables” who are only allowed to handle dead bodies, or human waste, or do the slaughtering and butchering. No one wants to be near them or associate with them in any way, if they are not of that caste.

In many cultures, prostitution is illegal. I think that to some degree, this is a patronizing thing. Women shouldn’t have to sell their bodies to make a living, so we make it illegal for them to do so. Organ donation is similar. The idea of selling organs makes us squeamish, but isn’t it patronizing, too? You shouldn’t make money by selling organs, so we make it illegal? Aren’t we saying the people who want to sell organs can’t make good decisions?

It seems to me that we are saying that people should not be allowed to hurt themselves in order to make a buck. At least, in some areas. Sure, you can go to work in a mine or a metal stamping factory, or in a recyling factory that exposes you to hazardous chemicals, and this is ok, even though these jobs have a good chance of killing you, either quickly, or slowly.

Is there some principle here that allows us to distinguish between these choices? Or is it purely the prejudice of wealthy people who can’t imagine themselves lowering themselves to that level in order to make a living?

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35 Answers

MrGV's avatar

What do those things even do with wealthy people? Being rich doesn’t mean that you can tell what people can and cannot do. You’re making it seem like wealthy people have no morals whatsoever a lot of them worked from rags in order to achieve what they have now so they probably know what it’s like to be poor.

dynamicduo's avatar

I can’t really see how this has to do with wealthy people, daloon.

Nor do I agree that the illegalness of prostitution or organ donation have anything to do with society saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to hurt themselves to make a buck, I think it has to do more with the fact that people can be very easily exploited with both of these jobs and there is no accountability for either of them.

Amazingly enough, when prostitution is legalized and legislated just like any other trade, it becomes clean pretty much – no pimps, more choices for customers, less diseases for customers.

Organ selling is an entirely different matter. One does not die when they perform prostitution, but one would die if they sold their own heart. Or if you needed a heart, how would you know that the one you are being offered wasn’t forcefully ripped out of a person’s chest? I have a suspicion that legislation would allow a legit organ trade to exist for at least simple double organs, but it gets trickier with others not only due to time (an out of body heart only lasts for X hours) but due to circumstances of obtaining the merchandise.

Blondesjon's avatar

Did somebody with a Mercedes cut you off in traffic today?

was your credit card declined at the bunny ranch?

MrGV's avatar

@blondespin good answer

anyways I completely agree with dynamicduo.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Aren’t we saying the people who want to sell organs can’t make good decisions?

I think what we are saying is that people who want to sell their organs do not have equal access to support systems and educational opportunities. (both of which are needed when donating an organ). Those are the problems we should begin fixing.

The main issue here is that we need to fix the system causing the inequality instead of making more “opportunities” for un-wealthy people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The system should inherently support equality and as it stands now it does not. That is the problem with organ donation for example. The poor are exploited. They are expected to pull themselves up by any means necessary. And so they sell their organs. While the rest of society sits by and watches? Instead of fixing the broken system we are telling people they can sell their organs? If we tell the wealthy people that, they say “why would we want to do that?”. If we tell the “poor” people that they can sell their organs, they say “it’s good to know in case I really need the money”. You are just introducing more inequality instead of fixing the problem at the base of the pyramid.

cwilbur's avatar

I don’t think it has much to do with wealthy people dictating what poorer people can do. I think a lot of it has to do with preventing coercion.

One of the reasons that prostitution is illegal, for instance, is because (practically speaking) it’s not often the woman’s free choice to do it—she has a boyfriend or pimp who’s demanding money. It’s a lot easier to outlaw prostitution outright than it is to inspect each individual case to determine whether there’s coercion or not, and if you allow that judgment call, you run the risk of a lot of false negatives.

Blondesjon's avatar

@cwilbur . . .Isn’t that a bit naive?

cyn's avatar

well they have money so…..

bythebay's avatar


I’m guessing you don’t consider yourself wealthy, although there are people all over the world who would consider you just that. So when you speak about making judgments, surely you speak of yourself as well, right? Nothing that you said has any pertinence or relevance to income or even to social standing. Often when laws are passed, they are intended to protect a certain segment of persons that could be exploited or preyed upon. While flawed, it was with good intentions.

As far as undesirable jobs, I have no desire to handle dead bodies or human waste, but if I needed to in order to survive, I would. One of the wealthiest families in my town growing up owned the mortuary. I hardly think they felt maligned or marginalized. The man down the street owns a trash business and he spends his winters in St. Barts. He hangs off the back of his trucks with a smile on his face.

I’m not sure what your issue is with people who are “wealthy”, or even how you are classifying/quantifying “wealthy”. Compared to many people in your own back yard, I’m sure you seem very comfortable. This is what I know though, when you toss out stereotypes you only serve to exacerbate the very issues you are concerned about. Selling organs, prostitution, working in a factory…all choices. It’s all about perspective. If someone works hard and makes a good living doing so, why should they be criticized for being successful? Once they are successful, are they automatically judgmental and a moral failure?

It’s all about perspective, and not generalizing.

galileogirl's avatar

@daloon Apples and oranges, Bud. The organ selling thing is about not letting rich people control who lives and who dies-the ultimate in telling poor people what they can or can’t do. In the US organs go to those who meet the medical criteria not just the highest bidder. In a few places, like India, it is illegal but rich people still pay off poor people for that extra kidney.

whatthefluther's avatar

People get to “make the rules” when visitors, richer or poorer, are on their private property, within the confines of applicable law, of course.

jdean65's avatar

Agree with whatthefluther. Private property rights are, IMO, key here, although I would suggest this is much broader than “on their private property”. Rich people tend to own more private property, so they have rights over more “things”, but they shouldn’t have more rights in general.

wundayatta's avatar

Ok, I guess the “wealthy” metaphor didn’t go over well. Let’s try it this way.

The issue, it seems to me, is choices. Can we agree that the wealthier you are, the more choices you have? Let’s, for the moment, assume this is true.

Then the least wealthy have the least choices. I’m asking whether we think it is ok for the more wealthy to further constrain the choices of the least wealthy, by saying “it’s in their own best interests” when, by doing so, they make it even harder for the least wealthy to lift themselves out of poverty.

@MrGeneVan asserts that “a lot” of wealthy people lifted themselves out of poverty. This idea is not supported by the data. Right now, class mobility in the United States is at the lowest level, perhaps since the birth of the nation. The class you are born into, for the vast majority of Americans, is the class you will die in.

I believe the wealthy in this country are constraining the choices of others. Perhaps not deliberately, but in doing so, they benefit. They keep more of the wealth for themselves. George Bush, of course, has been the main benefactor of the rich.

DynamicDuo and RedPowerLady both mentioned issues with respect to exploitation of people who have fewer choices. DynamicDuo points out that when we do not outlaw prostitution, but instead protect it, theindustry cleans up. RedPowerLady says that our society (she calls it the system) should “inherently” support equality.

I agree with both ideas. What I’m arguing is that by constraining choices, we are constraining people’s efforts to do whatever they can to achieve economic equality. DynamicDuo’s comment is a good idea, though. It suggests that organ donation and organ selling can be regulated so that it does not occur in back rooms in unsanitary conditions and on the black market.

There is economic inequality in the world. No one is going to change that through legislation. We might change that through tax policy, and I’m all in favor of that. However, given the absence of an appetite in the US for raising taxes, I don’t think we should constrain the choices of those who are at the bottom of the economic ladder.

For @bythebay My references to people who handle offal refers mostly to other nations, in particular, India, where they have a caste system, and those who handle offal are the untouchables. In the past, they have not been allowed to do any other jobs. So they can do that job, or starve. I am arguing that we are doing the same thing for the poorest in the US, when we say you can do some socially acceptable jobs that will keep you in poverty, but you can’t do things like prostitution, which have the potential for a larger income than you might otherwise get.

@cwilbur thinks this has to do with preventing coercion. What I’m trying to point out is that coercion is everywhere, and it is all the more so for the least well educated, and those with the least resources. They have very limited options due to economic coercion, and by limiting their options even further, we are increasing the coercive pressures.

The IMF runs around telling nations they need unemployment, because an large international businesses can’t make a lot of money without really poor people willing to do anything. So, the condition of the loans, sometimes, is to raise unemployment.

Constraining choices for the poorest in the US is doing exactly the same thing. It creates unemployment, which puts downward pressure on wages, and allows corporations to keep more profits, and this benefits the wealthiest.

That’s why I phrase the question in alarmist tones. It may not be a conspiracy, but, in effect, the wealthiest benefit from constraints on the choices of the poorest.

It sounds to me like everyone, except maybe RedPowerLady, is cool with this. This could be because most people don’t see the problem, or don’t agree it exists, or they think I’m off my rocker (which, of course, I readily admit to).

I’m not in favor of people selling organs to make money. Neither am I in favor of people engaging in prostitution. Yet, most of us prostitute ourselves in one way or another. Why should we make some forms of prostitution illegal, when people are not harming others, even if they are harming themselves? We get to harm ourselves through workaholism or by working in situations that are depressing and soul killing. What’s the difference? Really?

RedPowerLady's avatar

I don’t think we should constrain choices rather I think we should provide equal access to resources so that the poor do not need to resort to selling their organs.

But in the meantime we are left considering such constraints so that exploitation does not occur. Because while the wealthy may benefit from such constraints. They would also benefit from the selling of organs because they are the only ones who could afford to by them. And then we have two classes of people: The poor who sell their organs and the rich who buy them. At some point the price for the organs would level out so that it doesn’t even help those who have no money. But maybe at first it would help a few people out.

I suppose I also fail to see how selling ones organs or prostituting oneself would bring anyone out of poverty (except of course for the few exceptions). But I do see how freedom of self-determination is beneficial. And I suppose if it came down to it I would support self-determination (allowing the people to choose for themself vs. laws regulating) as long as their were resources available as well.

And you know what. The more I think about it the more I realize that the wealthy absolutely do benefit from constraining choices.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@daloon I think you make the mistake of assuming that all people are well informed and intelligent. Sure there are some laws made by the wealthy for the wealthy (particularly in the US where you cannot become a Senator or President without already being a millionaire), but I think you have chosen the wrong examples.

Laws about prostitution and live organ donations are to protect the vulnerable. Monty Python’s Meaning of Life has a great example of live organ donation – and I don’t think it is as far fetched as it seems. If these laws didn’t exist, don’t you think it would be the wealthy exploiting people in prostitution, and selling people’s organs at a meaty profit? Excuse the pun, couldn’t help myself. If anything, I think laws such as those that you have mentioned are the result of society’s moral conscience, and are designed to protect people from the wealthy, who would otherwise exploit them for their own ends.

YARNLADY's avatar

In some parts of the world people are much freer to sell their property as they see fit. Many poor parents sell their children into slavery and no one even considers it a bad thing.

bythebay's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh: What exactly have you read that states ”(particularly in the US where you cannot become a Senator or President without already being a millionaire)”?

In referencing the Constitution, which is the guiding document for our government, it specifically spells out the requirements to be a senator.

“Individuals must be:

at least 30 years old.

a U.S. citizen for at least nine years at the time of election to the Senate.

a resident of the state one is elected to represent in the Senate.” These are the only requirements for the office that are specified in Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution.


“Only native-born U.S. citizens (or those born abroad, but only to parents who were both citizens of the U.S.) may be president of the United States.

One must also be at least 35 years of age to be president.

Finally, one must live in the United States for at least 14 years to be president, in addition to being a natural-born citizen.” *Info taken from USGOVINFO.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@bythebay My information is based on the most recent election over there, and the two prior to it. Here in Australia, each party has a certain equal campaign budget set out by parliament, and do not accept support from companies or organisations. At one stage, I read that Mrs. Clinton was $92m in debt solely on campaign costs, and Mr. Obama spent even more. He spent $5m on his 1/2hr TV slot alone. Sure, there is no rules stipulating a certain wealth to become a politician, but the wealthier candidates can put a lot more into their campaigns. The lack of compulsory voting accentuates the effect of this inequity too, as people who otherwise would not vote are incensed by political propaganda, and so decide to vote. Their vote is not balanced by people who think the other way but don’t bother voting.

bythebay's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh: You’ve convoluted many separate issues. Simply put though, no personal fortune is required.

kenmc's avatar

I don’t know how on topic this is, but I’m being forced to get rid of my beard (which is tidy and clean) because my employers changed the ‘dress code’.

That is a perfect example of wealthy people getting a say in what I (a poorer person) can do.

galileogirl's avatar

@boots Actually that is an example of the Golden Rule-“He who has the gold, rules”

cwilbur's avatar

@daloon: is there ever a situation in which prostitution or selling an organ is the right choice?

I am deeply suspicious of any situation that argues in favor of strict measurable equality. Suppose we took all the wealth in the United States right now, pooled it, and divided it equally among all American citizens. Within a generation we’d be back to income disparities at least as large as we have now, because some people would invest wisely and use their wealth well, while other people would spray it around like a firehose. Some people would make good (or lucky) choices, while other people would make bad (or unlucky) choices.

So I am in favor of making sure that all people have some good choices available to them, but beyond a certain point I think you also get as much freedom as you can afford. For a while we had some people on here complaining that they had to have jobs in order to live—except that they called it “slavery.”

@boots: The ideal is that, being a smart person with marketable skills, if your employers change the dress code, you can give notice and find another place to work. The practicality is that that may not be the easiest option, and you get to make a hard choice.

wundayatta's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh “Laws about prostitution and live organ donations are to protect the vulnerable.”

Do they protect them? Or do they keep them mired in poverty, because they have few other realistic choices in order to get out of poverty?

We do a similar thing with child labor laws. We have decreed that it is wrong, in this society, to put children to work, except under certain conditions. We think we are protecting children. I’m sure we are all in favor of protecting children, but do these laws work? Perhaps children go into black market jobs, the same way immigrants do. Perhaps they make even less than they would if their work was legitimate.

It seems to me that people in power get to restrict the options of people without power when they claim to be doing it for the good of those who are disadvantaged. This seems to me to be a condescending attitude. The powerful know best.

I wonder what choices people would make if they had a free range of choices? Obviously, in the case of children, there is coercion by parents, so they don’t have free choice. It seems to me that in the case of organ donation, people do have freer choice. All choice is constrained by environment and economic conditions. Still, I wonder if it’s better to allow people as free a choice as possible, so long as their choices don’t hurt others.

One argument you could make is that if people sell an organ, and they get sick, and need the organ back, society will pay for their care. Therefore they can hurt us by selling their organs.

I think we would do better to invest more in education and training, and creating opportunities for the disadvantaged. Then they, hopefully, wouldn’t even have to consider organ selling or prostitution. But I am leery of society making decisions for the less powerful, believing we know what’s best for them.

CMaz's avatar

Wealth is power, power controls. As the saying goes,” the wealthy get rich on the backs of the poor.” I totally see the connection. The bottom line is, what we as people can and can not do or choose to do. Comes down to how the controlling authority sees it. You can see it as you like, but express your opinion and it will be to the bread line for you. The bottom line IS the bottom line. That equates to wealth and that is power.

galileogirl's avatar

@bythebay @FireMadeFlesh Several recent American presidential candidates did not come from wealth. Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were born into working class families headed by women. John McCain was in a middle class military family. None of their families would have had the funds to give them college educations without merit based scholarships and government grants. In America, people who are well educated, bright, ambitious and in a lucrative profession can become millionaires. It is not unusual for these same people to go into politics. Also when one becomes a celebrity the opportunities to earn millions arise. You mentioned Senator Clinton’s $20+million campaign debt. Under our law a candidate has a limit on what they can contribute to their own campaign. When her campaign needed money she borrowed against book earnings but that money had to be paid back. The Democratic Party raised that money. Even though I didn’t support her during the primaries, as a Democrat I made a donation.

Earned money is not the same as generational money and there is usually a difference in the point of views of the earner and the heir.

bythebay's avatar

@galileogirl: Excellent clarification.

@ChazMaz: Wealth does not equal power. What wealth can bring is some freedom to make choices. There are powerful wealthy people, but the two do not go hand in hand.

YARNLADY's avatar

To answer your question, When the poor give up their right to vote and their right to work and sit back and let other people have control over their lives, those who have worked hard to become “wealthy” get to tell them what to do and what not to do.

CMaz's avatar

Sorry, I have spent too much time around some of the wealthiest people in the world.
Wealth does equate to power. It just depends on how aggressive they wish to use it and they always use it. Nature of the beast. The more money you have the more people want a piece of it. Which always puts you in the drivers seat.
That “freedom to make choices” Is an act of Empowerment.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@galileogirl Fair enough, I don’t know a whole lot about American politics. It doesn’t seem right that businesses directly support them financially though, politicians should never make policies on financial obligation, but on their true opinion.

galileogirl's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Well there is right and then there is reality lol. We have tried our best to limit the power of money in campaigning. There is a very low limit of $1000 that may be donated by an individual to a campaign.

However organizations can spend almost unlimited funds on issue related campaigns. Individuals donations are not limited to those organizations. Sometimes they are legitimate. I belong to the teachers union and we support the candidates we feel are more favorable to education in $100’S of thousands. Business organizations do the same thing. On the other hand there have been organizations like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth which was formed to fund a smear campaign against John Kerry. Their “issue” was to question his military record through lies and innuendo but since they never said not to vote for him, it was perfectly legal to donate unlimited amounts to them.

Also we can donate directly to the political party and they distribute the funds to the candidates. So you see we don’t allow anybody to sit down and write a check for $100,000 to a candidate, but there are a lot of ways to make money count

mattbrowne's avatar

Wealthy people should tell parents who are poor about the number 1 priority when they raise kids:

Good education!

CMaz's avatar

Yikes, did you really say that? :-)
The wealthy usually provide good education (sometimes the best money can buy) for their children, because they can afford it. Also, with that financial resource, their children do not have to get a job while going to school. They only have to focus on their education. The clothing, the car, the books, the dorm, the expense account, piano lessons, are all taken care of.
Sweet!! :-)
So really the number 1 priority for raising kids is making sure you can afford them before ya get some. And, if you dont have the money you better at least have the time.

wundayatta's avatar

@ChazMaz The wealthier people are, the more they can take into account the idea of “affording children.” The poorer you are, the more children become a source of wealth rather than a drain on it.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ChazMaz – The question was about ‘telling’. Of course there’s a whole range of problems that need to be addresses as well like getting access to good schools in the first place. Plus how a society implements solidarity. I’m a moderate liberal and you can believe me that I’m outraged about the widening gap between rich and poor.

mattbrowne's avatar

One more thing to give you an example:

My mother was a teacher for 45 years. Of course there are not really poor people where she lives in Germany but there are low income, medium income and high income families. There have been cases where low income parents obstructed higher education for talented students, like ‘oh, you see for our daughter is good enough to do this or that’ and my mother would point out the talent and all the opportunities and challenge the decision. Sometimes she visited parents at home. Wealthy people have a responsibility to provide equal opportunity. And there have to get into the discussion with low income (poor) people who don’t get it how crucial good education is.

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