'The Poverty of Experience'

Responding to the University of Chicago law professor-initiated discussion about who feels "rich" and "poor," and why, a reader in the US writes:

I had a remarkable conversation with a very savvy woman who lives very close to the poverty line. The fear and loathing about world travel was appalling from my perspective as a global traveler. I studied first from travel books and then on the internet most of my destinations before I arrived and was constantly astounded by the rich experience of taking myself to a foreign place. Upon returning this place was forever in my memory and I always read any mention of any country, region, city, neighborhood I visited. I learned that a short stop to change trains was better than reading about it; a half day was always a pleasure; overnight stays meant a foreign breakfast; a week meant site seeing and a month meant getting to know what time the water cart woke you up in the morning and where the best bakery was if you could find it.

The person I talked to will never experience the places I have been except when a bomb goes off in London/England/NotUSA or an earth-quake strikes Tokyo/Japan/NotUSA. The poverty of experience is the worst poverty. Lack of experience of the world NotUSA is poverty on stilts.

For another time: why almost all of my "how to fix America" plans include getting large numbers of young people outside the country for a period of months or years, so that early in life they can have experiences like those the reader describes.

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

From This Author

Just In