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I read the Freakonomics blog quite regularly, but I almost never bother to read the comments. Mainly that's because my reader has so many feeds on it that I'd never get through anything if I were to read comments in addition to the skimming of a couple dozen blogs every day.

But yesterday, I came across a Freakonomics post that solicited reader comment, and I scanned the comments. The post referred to a Washington Post article from Monday about a family struggling with the trials of double unemployment in a town that has been ravaged by the economy. Wife and husband have been out of work for over a year now, and they have a two year old, plus a teenager in the house, that they need to support. They both receive unemployment checks, but those can only stretch so far. Even in flush times, the family has lived pretty much paycheck to paycheck, and now, it looks like they'll have to move to another state to stay in the wife's mother's basement until they can get back on their feet.

The story, and the accompanying slide show is pretty illustrative of how bad things have gotten for a lot of people in this country. What struck me, though, were the comments in the Freakonomics blog. More commentors than not were relatively unsympathetic to this family. They'd point to the husband's spending some of the family unemployment money on beer at a local bar, or lottery tickets, or cigarettes and loftily proclaim that those sorts of expenditures were highly irresponsible and illustrative of bad fiscal and moral character. They totally ignored the part of the article that said that the husband could no longer afford his antidepressants and that maybe going to a bar for a few drinks helped with a) depression and b) was a possible venue for networking. They ignored the stress the husband might be under, which makes smoking cessation nearly impossible. They pointed to a section of the article where the wife is offered a 28 hour a week job without benefits at $8 an hour, which ultimately turns out to be less than her weekly unemployment check, so she turns it down. They loftily suggest that "welfare" (which unemployment is not) encourages people not to work. They made snide comments about the husband's 40 pound weight gain since unemployment, suggesting that he could have saved money by not eating as much, completely ignoring the fact that high calorie junk food is much cheaper than fruits and vegetables.

Of course, not all commenters were so critical of this family whose luck was already running out. But it seemed an overwhelming majority of them were. And I thought it was illustrative of how much people want to find fault in the misfortunte of others. I think it's a defense mechanism: I wouldn't be so stupid as to spend $20 on lottery tickets when I was down on my luck, so I'll never be in the position that this poor sap is in, when $20 isn't going to make much of a difference either way after a year of unemployment.



( 3 comments — Say something )
Aug. 6th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
That's what I find a LARGE part of public discourse in online comments to articles to be -- moralizing and judgments that, you know, if *they* were more like *me* the country/world wouldn't be going to hell in a handbasket, plus, you know, people *like that* shouldn't really even be *allowed* to have children in the first place... If it doesn't devolve into a total flame war, it devolves into an echo chamber of thinly veiled bullshit like this...

I've had to stop reading comments from the NYTimes, Yahoo News, MSN News, from hard news to entertainment stories. I hate people, and they make me cry.
Aug. 6th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
It is sad things are as bad as they are, and getting worse. Even we're about one check from that and we make good money. Why? Are we irresponsible with our money or doing lavish things?

No, I have health problems that, even with insurance, cost money and we're assistance supporting. two of our 4 kids and one of those kids children. Without our help, that one family wouldn't have a house or maybe a car. They are working but under-employed, with no health insurance (we pay for his meds) and always some bill or food or something goes unpaid.

I just keep thinking, if they want to raise taxes on those with more money (which we aren't "rich" by any stretch), do they ever take into account those of us who are, like the mother in the story or us, who are taking care of our out of work or under-employed kids? Or our kids who are taking care of elderly parents without homes?
Aug. 6th, 2009 09:49 pm (UTC)
*nod* There is an undercurrent of nasty as of late. Guys walking into churches and shooting abortion providers, "tea party" nastiness, and the incredible level of snarkiness on the Net in general.

I think people are just engaging their fingers before their minds. Or maybe they believe by stoning the village witch they can gain special powers...

( 3 comments — Say something )