How the State Cracks Down on Self-Sufficiency and Calls It Theft

I wrote about relative paucity and poverty in this country, describing how the Census data does not take into account the generous welfare system in their poverty formulation, but strictly considers the annual income ceiling of a family of four. 

Yet many “poor” in this country know how to milk the system, own a home, TVs, cell phones, cars, electronics, air conditioning, have cable, refrigerators, microwaves, food, and other amenities that make life comfortable and worth living.

Most importantly, quite a few of the “poor,” are members of the generational welfare class. When compared to most countries, they are well off, do not work by choice, are not ashamed that they are kept by taxes from those who do work, and seldom assume personal responsibility for their poor choices in life.

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The following story is a poignant case of real poverty. A sad video crossed my desk recently from the old country.  Two Romanian local policemen were accusing a tiny 84-year old lady of fiscal evasion because she was selling herbs and vegetables from her own garden to survive while corrupt politicians steal millions of other people’s money, with scant consequences.

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Mamaia Niculina touched my heart and the heart of an entire nation with her humble resilience.  She survives proudly from day to day on a small pension and from the toil of her own hands. Gardening is back-breaking hard work for anybody but especially for an octogenarian. She travels 30 km twice a week to the capital Bucharest with two large bags, to sell parsley, squash, peppers, garlic, and other vegetables for one leu per bunch of parsley or one squash, about 25 cents.

Sitting on the sidewalk in a shabby chair, hunched over her precious bundles of parsley, a few peppers, garlic, and squash she grew herself, she smiles with pride when a buyer comes by and admires her harvest, crumpling one banknote in her wrinkled hands with fingernails caked with dirt. Every little bundle she sells buys her a loaf of bread, helping her survive from day to day, literally her daily bread. “You are just eating plain bread? Yes, plain bread. What can I do,” she answers with a clear voice.

The reporter shows Mamaia Niculina’s dilapidated home. She does not own much, her possessions and wealth can fit into a large shopping bag.  But she is proud that she can support herself through her hard work. She refuses handouts or anything she has not earned. Her home has seen better days; a few windows are broken and the roof leaks so much, it actually rains inside.

If she eats one serving of meat per week, she considers herself lucky, a real holiday in her modest house. She proudly shows the reporter her garden, a little plot of land with greens, beans, peppers, and squash.

By any standards, she is impoverished, like most elderly who have no family to help them or a social safety net to fall back on. She is truly a poor person who has fallen through the cracks of society. And she is not alone. Many older Romanians are forced to survive on very small pensions from the communist era, pensions that have not kept up with inflation.

Reforms are badly needed but, when corrupt politicians steal or misappropriate the allocated money for economic development and social programs, the elderly suffer the most.

She told the reporter from Antena1 that she prays that she’ll never be a burden on society and just drop dead when her time comes. The law, through the local policemen, is punishing her for trying to sell the fruit of her hard labor which helps her survive. She is considered a thief.

Criminalizing Mamaia Niculina’s survival is a stark reminder that the mighty State will come after people like her because she did not register with them, she was not regulated by them,  was not licensed by them, and she did not pay the agricultural lobbyists, the pipers of State.

Trying to survive, poor Mamaia Niculina became a “thief” of poverty on the radar of the local fiscal police who chased her away. She now spends most of her pension defending herself in court and fighting a land dispute – and the wheels of justice turn very slowly. Since her well ran out of water, Mamaia Niculina will no longer be able to plant a garden near her home. Physically and emotionally, she is an amazing octogenarian.

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