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Pimping poverty
Posted by: McQ on Saturday, December 30, 2006

Four paragraphs in a Christy Hardin Smith piece at Firedoglake about John Edward's presidential announcement and his poverty plank caught my attention. They are in order but I'm going to address each one separately as we go:
You think you can hide out in your happy little gated community and that the messy issues of poverty and despair won't touch your pristine lives? Think again.
This is simply emotional nonsense intended to inflame as well as shame. But it has teaching value. It is representative of many emotional arguments made by the left and how they bleed into their thinking and become the rationale for sponsoring government involvement. Where every poor person is a heartbreaking story, everyone who has spent their lives working their rear-ends off in order to live in a place and manner he or she desires is denigrated wholesale, and sans any proof, characterized as people who either don't care or are "hiding" from the “truth” of the problem. The “truth” being rationalized here is the poor aren’t poor because of themselves; they’re in that condition because of the actions of others who now just don’t care. The premise then becomes if they "cared" by giving the government more money to spend on the problem, poverty could be eradicated. The solution? Shame them and then tax them.
Poor children attend schools in your neighborhood. They clog your court system as abused and neglected children, then as juveniles, and on into adulthood, and then back again as parents who failed to learn how to adequately care for their children because they had no examples in their own lives of how things might be done in a better way. Your tax dollars pay for all of this. You think it is cheaper to keep warehousing adult criminals instead of dealing with the root problem when children are young? Nope. Do we change how we do things — make things more efficient and put the effort into the early stage of life where it would allow us to really reap a cost-effective and lifetime benefit for an at-risk child? Nope.
In essence my tax dollars have paid for a system which has enabled some parents to shirk their parental duties and, in relative terms, materially benefit from such behavior. As we've structured poverty programs in the past, there isn't any real penalty for such behavior or any incentive to change it. We've all but said "it doesn't matter how many times you fail, we'll bail you out".

Of course it is better to deal with problems when people are young. Obviously that’s when chances of preventing future problems from becoming manifest in later life are at their greatest. That's true for any child in any situation. But Smith is correlating poverty with dysfunctionalism. Certainly a good many of the poor are dysfunctional, but not because they're poor. A mere few decades ago, most of the country would have been considered poor by today's standards, but there was no epidemic of juvenile crime or parents who didn't know how to be parents. Those are cultural problems, in my estimation, which are directly attributable to a cultivated reliance on government over that time. We’re now paying that piper.

Maybe the mores of that day had a lot to do with the difference between then and now. Maybe the fact that the poor had to turn to family and church for help, instead of government, made chronic poverty less problematic. Maybe because of those and other cultural traditions - none of which included governmental involvement - children managed to live fairly normal lives even if technically poor.

The one thing Smith seems not to understand is that poverty is a condition which has as much to do with a state of mind as with a dearth of material wealth. The path out of poverty is economic incentive and opportunity. When the poor are robbed of those - when there is no reason or opportunity to attempt to change their condition - there's no reason to try. And for a certain percentage of the population - that which is satisfied with having their needs minimally met by whatever means - the ones who suffer are their children.

That isn't the fault of those in gated communities. It is, instead the fault of those like John Edwards, Smith and their ilk who are emotionally and ignorantly tied to the governmental disincentives - paid for by those in gated communities - which maintain the poverty status quo. They firmly and faithfully believe that only government can solve the poverty problem when in fact, it is government which has some responsibility for the chronic poverty they lament. It is their fundamental misunderstanding of poverty, welfare, incentive, opportunity, economics and government that perpetuates the travesty.

The lesson any reasonable person should take from the ill-begotten "War on Poverty" waged by LBJ and subsequent administrations to the tune of multi-trillions of dollars is governmental poverty programs don't work. In the end only bureaucracies benefit from them. The pictures Smith posts on her blog are of poor children in the US today. After 30+ years of taxing those in gated communities and having government address poverty, not much has changed or improved has it?
And you think that real people living in America outside the realm of gated McMansions don't have a very clear understanding of the impact of poverty and despair and racial tension and all of the other associated issues that surround poverty in this country? Think again.
If you didn't believe my description of Smith's misguided and ill-informed contempt above, this should remove all doubt. It is the primary reason I left it in the post. If you haven't yet figured out who she thinks is responsible for lingering poverty this should help you understand. And if you still haven't figured out what all this is disguised as, let me make it clear ... this is simply an emotional justification for screaming "tax the rich" based on the belief that wealth is a zero-sum game. Those living in the derisively named "McMansions" have just been unreasonably and unjustifiably lucky. People are poor because they are rich and, per her feckless assertion, the rich just don’t care.

What she doesn’t understand, however, is the "real" people who are earning their own way in the world do indeed understand and appreciate the problem. That is why most of them have no more use for governmental poverty programs than do those in the "McMansions".
The common wisdom is that poor folks and children do not vote. And that the rest of the country does not care enough about them to vote their interests. Well, I am here to tell you this morning that THEIR interests ought to be ALL of our interests. Because their costs to society fall on every single person who pays taxes — and, honestly, as much as folks on the right bitch about taxes, shouldn't they be the least bit interested in maximizing the returns on the money they do pay in — and reducing the overall needs and despair in order to reduce long term costs ought to be something everyone could get behind.
The final emotional appeal completely misses the point. The question, Ms. Smith is what has past governmental involvement done to eliminate, or even ameliorate, the problem of poverty in this country? In reality, not much, not much at all. So you might consider that most informed taxpayers might point out that given how inept government has been over the past decades in reducing poverty - even when provided enormous sums of money and plenty of time - they might conclude a radically different approach is called for in addressing the problem. Perhaps, for instance, it might be best if those tax dollars were turned back to the people who earned them through tax cuts, thereby decreasing the their tax burden and freeing up money they can use to help stimulate the economy and provide incentive and opportunity for the poor to work their way out of poverty.

Instead, Ms. Smith, using a favorite emotional rhetorical trick of the left, appeals to the continuation of the disincentive of governmental poverty and welfare programs by claiming it is "for the children". The governmental approach - which has mostly exacerbated the very problem she cites - is now, finally going to work because she and Mr. Edwards care about it. And because they care about it, McMansioners, you're going to pay for it if she can manage to help Edwards get elected.

Question: Which do you think would make a child and his or her parents more proud, Ms. Smith? The opportunity and incentive to work themselves out of poverty provided by a booming economy or the disincentive of welfare which provides just enough of a level of subsistence that a parent or parents don't have to work (and in fact if they do they may lose the benefit) but only maintain a minimal level of existence at or below the poverty level? And which is most likely to unclog the courts and provide parents with the experience and means they need to do their jobs as parents?

Just askin'?
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Having lived in poverty a portion of my life when a child and having raised myself up with the help of advanced technical training in the military and my own initiative, I get very disgusted with those that blame others for the amount of human misery we see in our country today. I am a close witness to the life of a young man who has fathered at least three children out of wedlock from three different girls of which one is a known drug addict. The young man is now in prison and has been a drug user. These young people are not from very poor families, but for too long, little of what they did had consequences; they seemed to be treated as victims of something; maybe a culture that does not require effort to survive. The young man is very bright, but I would say is just plain lazy, finds that those that love him will “cover” for him and it is too easy to steal from others and con. In our “enlightened” modern society we are supposed to be non-judgmental; not me. Now family members have to care temporarily for at least one of his children, but the court is allowing a child to be returned to the mother when she is through her tax supported rehab (the second time). What future will this child have if it is returned to either parent? This story is not unique.

There were many inequities in our country prior to the 1960’s, but I remember the respect that children showed to adults and to citizens to fellow citizens; that civility seemed to be everywhere. And there were real families who were poor but never seemed to know it. I certainly didn’t.

Alas, the liberal do-gooders have taken over our government; in particular the bureaucracy. A saying I heard many years ago sums up my feelings nicely. The difference between a Conservative and Liberal: A Liberal is walking down the beach and sees a man drowning 50 feet from the shore. He finds a 100 ft rope, throws it to the man and walks away. A Conservation is walking along a beach and sees a man drowning 50 ft from the shore. He finds a 25 ft rope, throws it to the man, holds on to it and yells for the man to swim to it. Our culture has this fixation on having a healthy dose of self-esteem, but to have earned it makes all of the difference in the world.
Written By: AMR
URL: http://
I’d say it’s pretty easy for you to write about "poverty pimp’n" McQ, living behind your walls and gates in your McMansion, having "Fancy" bring you another Bourbon n’Branch Water, but for the rest of us, impoverished by the BushCo Regime it’s another story....Sure you and the other "Top 1%" got YOUR tax cuts but all the rest of us got was an ice cold iron boot to the stomach leaving us gasping for breath in the cold clinging mud on Christmas Morning! Pushed into the Turkish Prison of a Hellish Soup-line Economy, made to appear in a real life Gladiator movie...(Hint: we’re NOT the Lions, but I am on screen for 2-3 seconds). Forced into choosing between dog food or medical insurance, forced to "pimp" our less bright offspring to the hungry maw of the US Armed Forces where then they are STUCK in Irak, until Haliburton has made off with the oil! Oh YEAH, it’s easy for YOU to talk....
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
What is with all the emphasis on "gates" and "gated communities"? Does this Smith pereson actually think that all us non-liberals live in isolated and fortified "McMansions"? I admit I wouldn’t mind living in a place that kept the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other proselytizers away from my door, but I have seen these so-called "McMansions", and I would rather live in my trashy old single family house if I cannot get the real thing.

Joe, I am seriously starting to think you are suffering from multiple personality disorder, or are you channeling?
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Tim I’m channeling...Peter Graves, watch Airplane, again...
But let’s just say I WAS suffering MPD would there be something WRONG with that? Are you trying to STIGMATIZE me simply because I fall more than one standard deviation away from the norm, of your white bread hetero-normal Universe? Are my points any LESS valid, simply because I may have 2-3 or more personalities in here, to include a Womyn of Colour? I think not! In fact, that shows I am practicing DIVERSITY, and you what of you? And do you hate your Father, just thought I’d ask for Rick Day.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Poor people usually are poor for a reason of their own fault.....drugs/alcohol, blowing off their education, pumping out babies are the most common reasons.

I have limited sympathy for those who ruin their own lives. Sorry if that makes me a bad person.
Written By: shark
URL: http://
James Q Wilson used to talk about some statistic that I could not find — if you graduate high school, stay off drugs, and wait until you are married to have your first child, your odds of living in poverty are some ridiculously small amount.
Written By: Sean
Sean the number is a 99% chance of NOT BEING POOR. Not that you’ll be rich, but that you won’t be poor...and one of the factors was keeping your first job for a year, no matter how menial it is.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
James Q Wilson used to talk about some statistic that I could not find — if you graduate high school, stay off drugs, and wait until you are married to have your first child, your odds of living in poverty are some ridiculously small amount.
Walter Williams makes the point constantly. In reality it’s just not as hard as some would like us to believe to keep above the poverty level.
Written By: McQ
I’m in the camp that poverty is a choice and not something that can be fixed by throwing money at it. It’s like that old saying give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll never go hungry again. What we are actually doing is telling him to come back tomorrow because there will be more fish. Everytime you give a person a handout you are teaching them they don’t have to be responsible for their choices and actions.
Written By: Mac
URL: http://
The one thing Smith seems not to understand is that poverty is a condition which has as much to do with a state of mind as with a dearth of material wealth.
That is the actual truth of the whole thing. We have all heard of minor celebrities or lottery winners who run through all their money and are broke in no time. On the other hand those who lost their homes in Katrina who were the hard working lower middle class are all back to work somewhere else and generally have a higher quality of life than before.

Poverty is a state of mind.
Written By: kyle N
What you are all saying has been said before: "Let them eat cake!"

That kind of arrogance helps only the arrogant, absolving them from the need to be concerned.
It’s the ’blame the victim’ approach to problem solving.

What you fail to consider is how persistent poverty can itself destroy the indidual’s faith in his capabilities, particularly when it becomes a persistent norm in some families and groups. One can try and fail and try and fail only so many times before losing hope.The person begins to identify with a ’culture’ of poverty, and that identity can ooze from generation to generation.

Equally destructive is over reliance on outside help, particularly when it morphs into a sense of entitlement, with no consequences for negaive behavior.

There are so many forces at work interacting, that it makes me furious to read smug oversimplifications prewented as if they were a solution. What we should be looking for is the right mix of assistance and requirements, of carrots an sticks, to lead to something that can break the endless cycle. I believe in trial programs for smaller communities, so that they can be evaluated before committing outright, for example.

Here is a primary dilemma: Outrageously irresponsible adults have children without considering how the care of their children will be financed. Generous aid programs encourage them to have more children. But cutting off assistance punishes the children as much, if not more, than the parents. Are you ready to say that the newly born are to blame for their poverty and/or the bad parenting of thei parents?

This sounds a great deal like the initial reaction to AIDS: it was ’their’ fault, so we ignored it.
We stopped talking about blame and started talking about treatment when people understood how the disease of some was affecting us all.
The same is true about poverty. Assigning blame is a useless game; we have to talk about treatment.

Written By: Laime
URL: http://
And if we keep throwing money out because ’the children aren’t to blame’ it just keeps cycling on and on.

I’ve known several teachers who were in despair because of the attitudes they dealt with. Black kids giving other black kids hell because getting good grades meant you were ’acting white’, it wasn’t worth trying because ’the Man won’t let me up’, latino kids who didn’t bother to speak English becuase some idiot tells them they have a ’right’ to be accomodated. Parents who think it’s discrimination if their kid flunks or gets sent to the office for disturbing the class. And on and on. And it all gives someone an excuse for not succeeding, and for not even trying.

Assigning blame is not a ’useless game’, it’s flat necessary to fix a problem. And avoiding doing so because it’ll hurt feelings or whatever means the mess just keeps going on.
Written By: Firehand
"... would there be something WRONG with that?........................"

Jeez Louise, sorry I asked. By the way, your next effort, "What you are all saying has been said before: "Let them eat cake!"...", is not quite as good; it seems a litle contrived and is not as believable.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
What you are all saying has been said before: "Let them eat cake!"
I challenge you to make this argument stick. Nowhere, not even metaphorically, was there a hint of "let them eat cake" in the post.

And speaking of something having "been said before", what would you say of Smith’s piece?
Written By: McQ
What you are all saying has been said before: "Let them eat cake!"
My, isnt it so much easier to construct caricatures that deal with issues. Using your Marie analogy, I say that to a person, everyone here is saying ’here is the flour, here are the eggs, here is the milk, now make your own cake!’ ...or bread.
Written By: bains
URL: http://
"Assigning blame is not a ’useless game’, it’s flat necessary to fix a problem. "

Yes, it is useless, because it doesn’t change anything. The question should be: how do we change those negative behaviors and attitudes?

Besides, if you start tracking the blame, it goes to previous conditions, and could lead to an endless road with no real ’beginning’.

For instance, there was, for decades, a very definite prejudicial treatment of minorities and the poor in schools. I saw it with my own eyes, but I was too young and ignorant to recognize what I was seeing. In a school with seasonal arrivals of the children of migrant fruit orchard workers, I saw how these poorly dressed children were ignored, at best, and stigmatized. The teachers were obviously just waiting for each batch to leave at the end of the season. Whether they learned anything or not during their stay did not matter. This had nothing to do with teachrs’ unions or welfare (they had none) it was due to the natural tendency to look with disdain on those that are different. Few of these children spoke of college or a career. They were trained to think of themselves as inferior and incapable of surpassing their parents’ lot. There were, I believe, a few exceptions, but these were exceptions to the rule.
Start looking for blame, and it just goes on and on.

So, where does the blame begin and end?
Written By: Laime
URL: http://
"Yes, it is useless, because it doesn’t change anything." Fixing the responsibility for a problem- the blame- doesn’t itself change a damn thing; it’s not supposed to. It’s very often the first, or a early step. to fixing it.

"They were trained to think of themselves as inferior and incapable of surpassing their parents’ lot." So let’s not deal with the actual problems, because that will involve taking note of who’s to blame.

If you’d said "Dwelling on who’s to blame" was pretty much useless, I’d agree. But ignoring it is not a good thing.
Written By: Firehand
My ’let them eat cake’ comment was more in reaction to previous comments than to your original post. Nevertheless, the post also espuses the notion that your ever haunting tax dollars should not be involved in any rpoposed solution.
As for Smith, I think the article is correct. We all do pay for the effects of poverty, in one way or another. I hope for preventative solutions, just like in medicine. And just like you have to pay for a yearly physical exam as a preventative measure, it’s reasonable that the efforts to prevent bad outcomes due to poverty will also cost.
I also think that we have to be extremely careful about what these preventive measures should be, Try and analyze, try and analyze.

Unlike you, I’m not so comfortable with turning to faith-base groups with our ills, in the same way that I am as suspicious of state/local governance as I am of a Federal approach.
Written By: Laime
URL: http://
Unlike you, I’m not so comfortable with turning to faith-base groups with our ills, in the same way that I am as suspicious of state/local governance as I am of a Federal approach.

Well Laime you don’t HAVE to turn to "faith-based approahces"-"Aaaaargh the RELIGIOUS They got Cooties"-you can turn to SECULAR agencies for help, too. Try the United Way and a host of others, for a start. The alternatives AREN’T the Guv’mint OR those Crazeeee Holy-Rollers, but the Guv’mint AND the Holy-Rollers, or other charity groups. You make a false dichotomy.

And no one is asking or saying, Let them eat Brioche." What IS being suggested that sooner or later poverty is going to get "fixed", to the extent it DOES get fixed, not by giving away my money to Bubba or Lemonghello, but via Bubba and Lemonghello’s parents having the ability to get a decent education for their little tikes, via a voucher, and that Bubba and Lemghello realize that "Da Man" doesn’t have his bottheel on their necks, but rather their crew and posse are LOSERS and that if they’re going to prosper they need to "dump the chumps."
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Could you please give me a specific proposal Edwards is making to reduce poverty that has been tried and failed? Or if it hasn’t been tried, show me evidence as to why it will fail?

And don’t say "government programs to reduce poverty have failed". That only works if the proposals Edwards is making is one of those previous government programs or ideas.

Written By: Jeff
URL: http://
Could you please give me a specific proposal Edwards is making to reduce poverty that has been tried and failed? Or if it hasn’t been tried, show me evidence as to why it will fail?
Read the post for heaven sake ... that’s its point.
Written By: McQ
All those anti-poverty programs are really quite useless since, in the words of a rather famous Dead White Male, "The poor you shall always have with you". Callous, cruel, and indifferent to the suffering of the masses, I know, but what do you expect from an icon of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
But cutting off assistance punishes the children as much, if not more, than the parents. Are you ready to say that the newly born are to blame for their poverty and/or the bad parenting of thei parents?
Any why should I care more about someone’s kids than they do themselves? Hmm?

You expect me to care about them enough to support them but you do not expect their parents to do the same.
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
McQ’s post is cant of the Right.

Government programs to fight poverty can work. For example, Social Security has enabled the vast majority of the elderly to live with some comfort, rather than in poverty, depending upon handouts from charity and one’s children.

Because Social Security has been successful, the Right attacks it. W’s program to focus on investment performance, while ignoring the purpose and intent of Social Security — insurance against the elderly becoming destitute — is just one such attack.

Since the Right believes government is unable to benefit the Common Man, when the Right manages programs, they go out of their way to hire incompetents to be assured that their opinions become fact. That’s why FEMA was so drastically mismanaged.
Written By: Boleslaw
URL: http://
Boleslaw, where you see cynical political conspiracies I see structural problems. Where is the disconnect? Why do you persist on emoting in the midst of a perfectly good argument that could use some hard facts?

You’ll have to show me some more to accept your casual arguments, such that FEMA was so drastically mismanaged- I seem to have reached a different conclusion somehow. Maybe my facts are amiss; please enlighten me to the successful poverty-fighting programs. Show me a government program that solved one problem without creating 3 more. Social Security would be a great place to start- I’m a young(ish) man who is seriously contemplating what good my contribution to SS is based on what I perceive as my likely payout many years from now. Will the taxed wages equal that I might reasonably expect to receive (even factoring reasonable rates of inflation)? What about simple economic concepts like opportunity cost- the investments I could leverage with the freed money that would otherwise be taxed? Is the perceived utility of present-day coverage worth the mathematical problems of increased funding for the future (ie: what is this so often-discussed Ponzi scheme? Why might that be meaningful to discussions of SS?).

Without meaningfully adressing these questions, you are basically ignoring the validity of the argument. And it’s not because you’ve resoundedly proved that your point of view is more factually supported; instead it appears your confident assumptions seem to be in complete ignorance of the differing argument. This might be an interesting time to digress on the current political polarization and tolerance of intellectual diversity of our country, but we can talk about that another day. Anyhow, the point of the post stands- emoting is the substitute argument of the weaker argument. Class hatred, shame and guilt don’t stand up too well to the reality that sciences like economics cover.

If you want to meaningfully address any of these points, please do so. Take a second and realize that a respectful and logical argument will be respectfully received and answered. If you just want to come and say ’the right this...’ etc., without backing it up with more than some punchline, don’t expect more than you give. My $.02.
Written By: Sunguh
I bought my daughter the maximum amount of savings bond (the variable interest kind which no longer exist.)

Seems to me we should allow children to have their parents open such accounts for them privately. Yes, there would be some tax avoidance, but for the middle class, they might set up their kids for an excellent retirement plan before they even graduate college.
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
"You think you can hide out in your happy little gated community and that the messy issues of poverty and despair won’t touch your pristine lives? "

The above sentence is evidence of a mind that thinks the world’s wealth is static - that if somebody is making money it’s because somebody else is losing it.
Written By: Doug Purdie

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