I’ve had this idea for a TV show kicking around in my head. Kind of similar to 30 Days, but called Bootstraps.
We find a volunteer—someone who believes that hard work and perseverance will inevitably lead to personal prosperity in America. A person willing to put these values to the test.
To be on our show, this person must temporarily quit her job, empty her bank account, and give up her home, her computer, her printer, her car, her phone, her internet, and her utilities.
She can’t use her friends, family, or acquaintances for help, or even as references on her job applications.
At this point, our volunteer is almost ready to live in extreme poverty. The situation isn’t totally realistic, because we can’t take away the decades of good meals and the decent education and family life she has doubtless enjoyed. She’s already at an advantage compared to people living in extreme poverty.
In our show, for one month, or six months, however long our volunteer believes it takes, she has to live on $2 per day, as millions of Americans already do.
This means staying at the nearest hostel or homeless shelter, if they have room for her. She’ll have to sneak into the YMCA across town to take a shower, and she won’t be able to store her belongings in a safe place, since that’s unaffordable for her.
I’m not sure what she’s going to eat, or how she’s going to cook it or store it.
To apply for jobs, she’ll have to walk to the library. Most if not all employers are going to raise their eyebrows when she mentions on her job applications that they have to contact her via email because she can’t even afford a flip phone. She’s not allowed to take advantage of any personal connections she has from her previous life. All of this might be difficult, since she won’t have a permanent address. She won’t be able to get a bank account, register to vote, or access any benefits for the poor.
If she manages to get a job, however, she’ll be free to use whatever money she makes to improve her situation.
How can she win our reality TV show? Simple. Purchase a house and a car. That’s a loose definition of the American dream, isn’t it? And to make things easier, it can be any house. Any car.
At any point in the show, she’s welcome to give up and return to her normal, comfortable existence.
So. Who thinks she has a chance? Are there any volunteers?
At the same time, I’d like to find someone living in extreme poverty, and, if possible, make that person CEO of a major American company for one month or six months or so.
Let’s see if a typical person suffering from extreme poverty has what it takes to earn $20,000 every few seconds, as Jeff Besos does.
For a billionaire, purchasing a $200,000 home, for instance, is the mathematical equivalent of an ordinary person (earning $50,000 per year) buying a candy bar—meaning that it might not be too difficult to hire advisors to help with whatever is difficult about the day-to-day running of a company.
(source on that candy bar here: https://np.reddit.com/…/bill_gates_buy_hyde_park_m…/dy8u5qk/)
For me, I think wandering the streets in search of the bottom rungs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is far harder than meeting with boards of directors and choosing to lay off thousands of workers after receiving my latest slew of tax cuts, but I’m prepared to have my beliefs challenged.
If our homeless person’s actions lead to a loss of profit for our American company (even as little as a $1 loss in profit), she loses our reality TV game show, and has to return to her life on the streets.
If profits stay the same or improve, she wins, and gets to keep her job.
Interestingly, while researching this piece, I found an example of someone who had already basically lived this show. “I now work 80–90 hour weeks running a tech company,” she writes, “and in comparison to how hard I worked when I was homeless, my current situation is a vacation.”
The first source on that page did not grow up poor, however, so her situation isn’t quite the same as the majority of people living in poverty. Have a look at the second and third sources. Then imagine all the people out there who are living like this, right now, with no way out.
Are any believers in the divine power of hard work ready to take up this challenge?
If it’s possible to escape extreme poverty thanks to hard work, then there may be some merit to the idea that handouts discourage lazy people from pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.
If, on the other hand, it proves virtually impossible to escape, as I expect it will, then we should move heaven and earth to ensure that not a single person living in this country has to experience this pointless and unnecessary indignity.
Who wants to play Bootstraps?