Chronic poverty is caused by a series of factors that cannot be solved by welfare or public housing. These include:


Welfare is the leading cause of poverty. It operates by trapping people in a life of dependency from which they cannot spur themselves to struggle free. It eats away at self-confidence and erodes the ability to learn or obtain foresight.

Bad government

Were we righteously governed, we should hear no cry for employment. Every man would find something for his hand to do, and the promised sustenance would flow abundantly from his labor.

—Herbert Spencer. On The Proper Sphere of Government, 1842-1843.

The failure to adhere to the principles of good government creates unemployment, undermines property rights, and so brings about poverty. This is seen most strikingly in Africa and was seen, before its free-market revolution, in China. To a lesser extent it is seen in Europe and the United States. Handing out welfare checks is to treat the symptom, which is unemployment. The solution is to implement sound money, uphold the rule of law, wind back over-government, reduce taxes, and respect property rights.


A man is not poor because he has nothing, but because he does not work.

—Montesquieu. The Spirit of the Laws, 1748.

Many excuses are made for those wallowing in chronic poverty. These include poor education, racism, low intellect, sexism, class, and many more. However, all these disabilities can be overcome through hard work­—so long as there is good government. Anyone with access to the Internet can educate himself for free, and employers will gladly train any diligent employee on the job. Those who claim minimum wage jobs are dead ends should remember that Charlie Bell, former CEO of McDonalds, began at the company clearing tables. Minimum wage jobs are stepping stones for those who show initiative. As for racism, it is irrelevant in the world of business. Anyone who cites widespread racism in the workplace has never run a business. If an employer is lucky enough to find an employee who performs diligently, then that fact is prioritized over everything else. Hard-working, honest employees will be promoted and retained regardless of prejudice.

Financial indiscipline

Many chronically poor people lack financial discipline. This manifests itself through:

  • Failure to budget;
  • Failure to save;
  • Propensity to purchase superfluous items instead of durable necessities;
  • Propensity to borrow money to fund pleasurable activities;
  • Propensity to gamble;
  • Failure to invest their surplus money either in themselves, their children, or investments;
  • Failure to shop around for the best price.

Those in the middle class often have the same income as the chronically poor but avoid having to pay interest on personal loans and credit cards, fines, and indulging in superfluities such as gambling, cigarettes, beer, fast food, and the like. The net result is that they are able to save enough to make small capital purchases which inch them ahead in life. This includes the houses they live in, shares, cars, paint, carpet, computers, education, etc.

Budgeting is one of the most difficult disciplines to learn. Even for intelligent people, the urge to overspend when there is so much to buy is a constant and powerful impulse. Nonetheless, most people learn to be responsible, because spending on superfluities is quickly punished by an inability to pay for necessities. The only obstacle to this learning process is government policies that insulate people from the consequences of their own folly. Thus, we see public housing provided to people who frequent bars, smoke and gamble. Think about it: a person who cannot afford to keep a roof over his head, but can still afford to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and feed money into slot machines! By removing the requirement for people to house themselves, the government encourages people to spend money on superfluities, distorting their priorities. When the government removes the invisible rod provided by reality, it encourages idleness, lack of foresight and failure to budget—the very things that cause poverty.

Low intelligence

Benjamin Franklin realized that by hammering home a few fundamental truisms, he could make many of his countrymen—who otherwise would have lived in poverty and misery—healthy, wealthy and wise. It was to that end that he included in his famous Poor Richard’s Almanac proverbs and maxims that showed the way to contentment and prosperity. His advice is as sound today as it was back then, and of more value to a poor person than a million dollars of welfare:

It would be thought a hard government, that should tax its people one-tenth part of their time, to be employed in its service; but idleness taxes many of us much more; sloth, by bringing on diseases, absolutely shortens life. Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears; while the used key is always bright, as Poor Richard says. But dost thou love life, then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of, as Poor Richard says. How much more than is necessary do we spend in sleep, forgetting, that the sleeping fox catches no poultry, and that there will be sleeping enough in the grave, as Poor Richard says.

If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be, as Poor Richard says, the greatest prodigality; since, as he elsewhere tells us, lost time is never found again; and what we call time enough, always proves little enough. Let us then up and be doing, and doing to the purpose; so by diligence shall we do more with less perplexity. Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy; and he that riseth late must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night; while laziness travels so slowly, that poverty soon overtakes him. Drive thy business, let not that drive thee; and early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise, as Poor Richard says.

So what signifies wishing and hoping for better times? We may make these times better, if we bestir ourselves. Industry need not wish, and he that lives upon hopes will die fasting. There are no gains without pains; then help, hands, for I have no lands; or, if I have, they are smartly taxed. He that hath a trade hath an estate; and he that hath a calling, hath an office of profit and honor, as Poor Richard says; but then the trade must be worked at, and the calling followed, or neither the estate nor the office will enable us to pay our taxes. If we are industrious, we shall never starve; for, at the working man’s house hunger looks in, but dares not enter. Nor will the bailiff or the constable enter, for industry pays debts, while despair increaseth them. What though you have found no treasure, nor has any rich relation left you a legacy, diligence is the mother of good luck, and God gives all things to industry.

Then plough deep while sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and to keep. Work while it is called to-day, for you know not how much you may be hindered to-morrow. One to-day is worth two to-morrows, as Poor Richard says; and further, never leave that till to-morrow, which you can do to-day. If you were a servant, would you not be ashamed that a good master should catch you idle? Are you then your own master? Be ashamed to catch yourself idle, when there is so much to be done for yourself, your family, your country, and your king. Handle your tools without mittens; remember, that the cat in gloves catches no mice, as Poor Richard says. It is true there is much to be done, and perhaps you are weak-handed; but stick to it steadily, and you will see great effects; for constant dropping wears away stones; and by diligence and patience the mouse ate in two the cable; and little strokes fell great oaks.

Methinks I hear some of you say, “Must a man afford himself no leisure?” I will tell thee, my friend, what Poor Richard says, employ thy time well, if thou meanest to gain leisure; and, since thou art not sure of a minute, throw not away an hour. Leisure is time for doing something useful; this leisure the diligent man will obtain, but the lazy man never; for a life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things. Many, without labor, would live by their wits only, but they break for want of stock; whereas industry gives comfort, and plenty, and respect. Fly pleasures, and they will follow you. The diligent spinner has a large shift; and now I have a sheep and a cow, everybody bids me good morrow.

But with our industry we must likewise be steady, settled, and careful, and oversee our own affairs with our own eyes, and not trust too much to others … . Trusting too much to others’ care is the ruin of many; for in the affairs of this world men are saved, not by faith, but by the want of it … . So much for industry, my friends, and attention to one’s own business; but to these we must add frugality if we would make our industry more certainly successful. A man may, if he knows not how to save as he gets, keep his nose all his life to the grindstone, and die not worth a groat at last. A fat kitchen makes a lean will; and many estates are spent in the getting, since women for tea forsook spinning and knitting, and men for punch forsook hewing and splitting. If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as of getting. The Indies have not made Spain rich, because her outgoes are greater than her incomes. Away then with your expensive follies, and you will not then have so much cause to complain of hard times, heavy taxes, and chargeable families; for women and wine, game and deceit, make the wealth small and the want great.

And further, what maintains one vice would bring up two children. You may think, perhaps, that a little tea, or a little punch now and then—diet a little more costly, clothes a little finer, and a little entertainment now and then, can be no great matter; but remember, many a little makes a mickle. Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship, as Poor Richard says and again … . Here you are all got together at this sale of fineries and knick-knacks. You call them goods; but, if you do not take care, they will prove evils to some of you. You expect they will be sold cheap, and perhaps they may for less than they cost; but, if you have no occasion for them, they must be dear to you. Remember what Poor Richard says; Buy what thou hast no need of, and ere long thou shalt sell thy necessaries … . Many a one, for the sake of finery on the back, have gone with a hungry belly and half-starved their families. Silks and satins, scarlet and velvets, put out the kitchen fire, as Poor Richard says.

These are not the necessaries of life; they can scarcely be called the conveniences; and yet, only because they look pretty, how many want to have them! By these, and other extravagances, the genteel are reduced to poverty, and forced to borrow of those whom they formerly despised, but who, through industry and frugality, have maintained their standing; in which case it appears plainly, that a ploughman on his legs is higher than a gentleman on his knees, as Poor Richard says … . But this they might have known before, if they had taken his advice.

… But what madness must it be to run in debt for these superfluities? We are offered by the terms of this sale, six months’ credit; and that, perhaps, has induced some of us to attend it, because we cannot spare the ready money, and hope now to be fine without it. But, ah! think what you do when you run in debt, you give to another power over your liberty. If you cannot pay at the time, you will be ashamed to see your creditor; you will be in fear when you speak to him; you will make poor, pitiful, sneaking excuses, and, by degrees, come to lose your veracity, and sink into base, downright lying; for the second vice is lying, the first is running in debt, as Poor Richard says … . When you have got your bargain, you may, perhaps, think little of payment; but, as Poor Richard says, Creditors have better memories than debtors; creditors are a superstitious sect, great observers of set days and times. (The Way to Wealth, 1758.)

It follows that the best way for the government to help the intellectually challenged who run into trouble is to teach them, ad nauseam, these useful precepts. This should be done at employment hostels, halfway houses, prisons and reform schools.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove