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From Rags to Riches: A Business Plan

The spending habits of the late '90s have benefited the top 1%. If the poor spent the same way, our writer suggests, poverty would pay off.

Some of us lost money this week with the downturn in the Dow. But don't expect poor people to have much sympathy. They are already poor and, as usual, growing poorer.

The Washington, D.C.-based

Center for Budget and Policy Priorities

, which courageously undertakes the chore of processing raw data from the

Congressional Budget Office

, recently released figures showing that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the poor to afford adventure travel. Since 1977, the aftertax income of America's wealthiest 1% has rocketed 115% and the income of the richest fifth has surged 43%. The poorest fifth, on the other hand, is earning 9% less than it did in 1977. These people average an aftertax income of $8,800 a year.

These days, that barely covers a night out for two in Manhattan -- without drinks! For readers who make that much in a day, we urge you to imagine not having it. Being poor is not fun, and the food's usually not very good.

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But consider this: Take those 55 million people that make up the poorest fifth and multiply that number by $8,800 a year and, well, that's really a lot of collective buying power. In fact, if the poor would just pool their money, they would have $484 billion to spend how they wished! That's almost five times what

Bill Gates

has, and you know of his mighty power.

The poor must take over the world, or at least get a working business plan. As a group, they can take their pile of collective wealth and use modern bull-market methods to become powerful, visible and envied. And as everyone knows, branding is vital. May we suggest as a slogan: Poor, It's Everything You Want to Be.

Here, a short and useful strategy that will put the poverty-stricken on the map.

  • Purchase the National Football League.
    When people talk about NFL success stories, what's the first team that comes to mind? Right: The Green Bay Packers, a communally owned small-market franchise. Named after a noble working-man's profession, the Pack keeps an obscure Wisconsin town from going into the tank. If the masses would come out of their huddle and invest in one another, entire depressed areas of the country could see a similar economic boom. The Oakland Raiders would become the Bakersfield Assistant Resource Managers. The Atlanta Falcons, relocated to West Virginia, would be known as the Wheeling Processed Meat Inspectors. We look forward to a Super Bowl at the Hopi Reservation Dome between the Paterson Squeegee Men and the Duluth Soybean Collective. Only the Dallas Cowboys would be allowed to remain in their former configuration, but they would be forced to play without padding, and with Trent Dilfer at quarterback.
  • Get on the Web.
    Welcome to, the Internet headquarters for the lifestyles of the poor and obscure. Follow links to listings of soup kitchens and social-service agencies nationwide. Read The New York Times stories about hard-working men and women who have emerged from hardship to provide a better hope for the future. Find jobs through the comprehensive job bank. Once needy folks do that, they might even be able to afford a computer.
  • Create a Ruthless Media Empire.
    All those billions can buy a lot of movie studios, newspapers and radio outlets that will, through the magic of synergy, publicize the Web site and football league. Also, television will finally depict poor people doing what poor people do regularly: eating, sleeping, going to work, playing with their kids and, of course, watching television. The centerpiece of the media kingdom will be Poor magazine, whose opening-night party will feature many celebrities dancing with one another. Poor will distinguish itself from the cartloads of other glossies by hiring authors such as John Updike and Martin Amis and running photo spreads featuring people wearing clothes they can't afford.
  • Invest Everything in Companies Of Dubious Utility, Founded by People Who Don't Know What They're Doing.
    It worked for the rich.

Neal Pollack lives in Chicago, where he works as a staff writer for the Chicago Reader. He has also written for and The New York Times Magazine, and is a regular contributor to McSweeneys, both the online and print editions.