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Are the Poor Closer to Heaven than the Rich?

[If you don’t believe in heaven, then paraphrase the question to read, ‘Are the poor more deserving of heaven than the rich?’ where heaven stands for a place of love, peace and justice.]

Among us English-speaking peoples especially do the praises of poverty need once more to be boldly sung. We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise anyone who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient idealization of poverty could have meant: the liberation from material attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the paying our way by what we are or do and not by what we have, the right to fling away our life at any moment irresponsibly—the more athletic trim, in short, the moral fighting shape. When we of the so-called better classes are scared as men were never scared in history at material ugliness and hardship; when we put off marriage until our house can be artistic, and quake at the thought of having a child without a bank-account and doomed to manual labour, it is time for thinking men to protest against so unmanly and irreligious a state of opinion.

William James

[While on a pilgrimage to Rome the writer, dirty and ill-kempt, enters a restaurant (circa 1900) and defends the negative reaction of the other patrons to his presence.]

So much for views. I clambered down the hill to Archettes and saw, almost the first house, a swinging board ‘At the sign of the Trout of the Vosges’, and as it was now evening I turned in there to dine.

Two things I noticed at once when I sat down to meat. First, that the people seated at that inn table were of the middle-class of society, and secondly, that I, though of their rank, was an impediment to their enjoyment. For to sleep in woods, to march some seventy miles, the latter part in a dazzling sun, and to end by sliding down an earthy steep into the road, stamps a man with all that this kind of people least desire to have thrust upon them. And those who blame the middle-class for their conventions in such matters, and who profess to be above the care for cleanliness and clothes and social ritual which marks the middle-class, are either anarchists by nature, or fools who take what is but an effect of their wealth for a natural virtue.

I say it roundly; if it were not for the punctiliousness of the middle-class in these matters all our civilization would go to pieces. They are the conservators and the maintainers of the standard, the moderators of Europe, the salt of society. For the kind of man who boasts that he does not mind dirty clothes or roughing it, is either a man who cares nothing for all that civilization has built up and who rather hates it, or else (and this is much more common) he is a rich man, or accustomed to live among the rich, and can afford to waste energy and stuff because he feels in a vague way that more clothes can always be bought, that at the end of his vagabondism he can get excellent dinners, and that London and Paris are full of luxurious baths and barber shops. Of all the corrupting effects of wealth there is none worse than this, that it makes the wealthy (and their parasites) think in some way divine, or at least a lovely character of the mind, what is in truth nothing but their power of luxurious living. Heaven keep us all from great riches—I mean from very great riches.

Hilaire Belloc




Thoughts about Wealth and Poverty

A poor person who is unhappy is in a better position than a rich person who is unhappy. Because the poor person has hope. He thinks money would help.

All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.

Spike Milligan

Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.

James Baldwin

Few, save the poor, feel for the poor.

Great wealth has a peculiar quality. It makes people more greedy.

I never felt poverty because I’d never known anything else.

Irving Berlin

If you want poor people to work you restore their incentive by giving them less, such as by cutting social services. If you want rich people to work you restore their incentive by giving them more, such as by cutting taxes.

If you’ve ever really been poor, you remain poor at heart all your life.

Arnold Bennett

Make money and the whole world will conspire to call you a gentleman.

Mark Twain

Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.

Napoleon

People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Philanthropist: a rich (and usually bald) old gentleman who has trained himself to grin while his conscience is picking his pocket.

Ambrose Bierce

Poverty is more than an economic state, it’s also a state of mind.

Poverty is not a moral disorder of the individual. It is not a sign of moral failure.

Bob Rae

Racism is the snobbery of the poor.

Raymond Aron

The poor on the borderline of starvation live purposeful lives. To be engaged in a desperate struggle for food and shelter is to be wholly free from a sense of futility.

Eric Hoffer

The rich are the scum of the earth in every country.

G. K. Chesterton

The sense of responsibility in the financial community for the community as a whole is not small. It is nearly nil. Perhaps this is inherent. In a community where the primary concern is making money, one of the necessary rules is to live and let live.

John Kenneth Galbraith

The well-to-do do not want the poor to suffer. They wish them to be as happy as is consistent with the continued prosperity of the well-to-do.

Hugh Kingsmill

There is no scandal like rags, nor any crime so shameful as poverty.

George Farquhar

There is nothing so habit-forming as money.

To be poor and independent is very nearly an impossibility.

William Cobbett

To suppose, as we all suppose, that we could be rich and not behave as the rich behave, is like supposing that we could drink all day and keep absolutely sober.

Logan Pearsall Smith

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.

Helder Camara

Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. The affluence of the rich supposes the indigence of the many.

Adam Smith

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