The Poor and the rest of us

I just finished reading “The rich and the rest of us” by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. Not exactly my bag of shrimp, but it was recommended to me by a friend.

The book begins by tracking poverty over time, since records of such things began in the last century. It looks at the rates of poverty, particularly with regard to the political winds of the time. In the Poverty Timeline table on Page 17, it labels the 15.1% poverty rate in 2010 as “the largest percentage of ling-term poor in five decades”, while ignoring the same figure in 1993 and 15.2% in 1983.

It goes on to point out that there is more than one type of Poor. They make the valid distinction between “the homeless poor”, “the old poor”, and “the new poor”, those who have fallen out of the middle class after losing jobs, mostly in manufacturing and production. Those jobs have gone overseas, and are not coming back. So far so good.

One thread that I see interwoven throughout the book is that for most of us, our lifestyles are not “sustainable”, they are dependent on our continuing to earn a salary without interruption. And yet they never mention frugality. Most of us – myself included – have forgotten the meaning of frugality. The last generation that had to learn that the hard way is almost gone. Today’s grandparents grew up on easy credit and “live-today-pay-later”. Today’s parents are simply too busy; spending money to save time, in a desperate attempt to keep up.

It is a sad fact that most of us do not save enough; financial pundits advise a three- to six-month emergency fund to live on in the event of unemployment or illness. Yes most of us have less than one month’s savings — we are, in effect, one pink slip from poverty.

Returning to the book, the authors express their disgust at the number of poor living from hand to mouth, and they say “something must be done”. I agree. But that is where we part company.

Your Politics are Showing

Throughout the book, they make the usual liberal assumptions: Capitalism=Greed=Corporatism, Democrats Good, Republicans Bad, that sort of thing. As I have said before, there’s not much difference between the two major parties.

Where we part company, is their idea of a solution. It is clear that they place their faith in the Government – particularly the Federal Government, presumably on the grounds that they have lots of money. But I have looked through the Constitution, and I cannot find anywhere that empowers the Feds to take responsibility poverty — or drugs, or health, or food, for that matter. Helping the poor is a noble goal, but it is my contention that Governments are incapable of nobility — it is simply not their job.

So whose job is it?

  • The States? Possibly.
  • The Counties and Cities? Maybe.
  • The towns and villages? You’re getting warmer.
  • The communities and churches? Getting warmer still.
  • You and me? YES.

You will never eradicate poverty with Government money. For Government  money is other people’s money – and there is not enough of that to go round. Many European nations have tried this strategy, and some have even succeeded in reducing poverty somewhat. But the cost of doing so has been great — none of those nations have given as much to the world as the United States of  America. The vast majority of the advances in technology, medicine and science have come out of this country.

Yes, it is possible to reduce poverty — particularly with food and education — but massive government programs are not the way to do it. A wise man once said “You will always have the poor”. I believe that the cost of trying to prove him wrong is high enough to turn the greatest, most successful nation that the world has ever seen into an also-ran.

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