Let’s say Jeff Bezos came face to face with the No. 1 guy on the Poorest Americans list. Let’s call him Bob. Bob used to be a pretty mean carpenter until an accident severed his hand from the rest of his body, and, having no insurance and no union, he currently sits on a milk crate at the corner of Market and Broad asking passersby for coffee money. Oh by the way: Bob was a pilot in the Air Force many moons ago.
Now Bezos doesn’t owe Bob, a complete stranger, anything. But I’d be curious what that encounter would be like. Who would be more uncomfortable? What would they talk about? Space flight? Well-made bookshelves?
“A lot of people hate me,” Bezos might say. “A lot of people hate me too,” Bob might reply.
What if Bezos and Bob hit it off, and the former took the latter under his wing. And what if it turned out that Bob had a thing or two to teach Bezos. The interesting question is, who would be the protégé of whom? Maybe each would see a little of the other in himself.
So what if the 400 richest “encountered” the 400 poorest? What ideas could be sparked or conversations started? What would it take to make the poorest less poor? Not rich. Just stable. Coping. Un-desperate.
We’re living in a really remarkable economic time. There appear to be more jobs than workers. Yet the number of homeless-populated tent cities seem to be increasing. Despite the rise in the minimum wage, about 37 million people still exist below the poverty line. What’s really going on? Surely, as Joseph Sunde has written, these strange incongruities predate COVID. Is there a more, I don’t know, human element at play that macroeconomics can’t detect, but a little empathy and less blame-gaming could?
What if my Encounter Project became so successful, each one-on-one connection bearing fruit over time, that different 400 Poorest names popped up the next year because each listee from the previous year had done too well, thus falling off the list? And what if that kept happening year after year? The 400 Richest would probably stay more or less the same, with the occasional Social Media Influencer making a debut. But the 400 Poorest were all vanishing like Baptists in a Left Behind novel or waiters at my local diner.
Yes, the poor we will always have with us. But the poorest?
I know, I know. That stuff only happens in the movies.