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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On poverty, both material and intellectual

If the photo on the left offends you more than the one on the
right, you need to revise your ideas about immorality.
Responding to comments on "Too Many American Children Live in Poverty"

By Linda Felaco

A commenter has asked why, if I'm so concerned about poverty, I'm not traveling to the Third World to fight it. Leo Tolstoy also asked "What then must we do?" about poverty in Russia. One solution I don't espouse is that of Newt Gingrich, one of the current frontrunners for the GOP presidential nomination. Gingrich has suggested that rather than educate poor children, we should fire all the school janitors and give the poor children mops. Even if it were true, as Gingrich has stated, that "children born into poverty aren't accustomed to working unless it involves crime"—which it most emphatically is not—it takes a real sick and twisted mind to conclude that the solution is to put poor children to work in the schools rather than allowing them to study in them, thereby dooming them to a life of poverty.

Of course, blaming the poor for their poverty is hardly a new phenomenon. 

As John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun writes:
"Jonathan Swift, David Nokes’s excellent biography points out, held what has long been the established view of the comfortably off about the poor: 'He is determined to identify financial distress with moral culpability and to see poverty as the out ward and visible sign of sinfulness.'
"In a sermon on poverty, he preached: 'Among the number of those who beg in our streets, or are half starved at home, or languish in prison for debt, there is hardly one in a hundred who doth not owe his misfortunes to his own laziness or drunkenness or worse vices.'

"Mind you, he gave to charities, but the attitude lives on, finding an echo vulgarly expressed in Herman Cain’s recent pronouncement, “If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”
As McIntyre writes of his own recent yearlong bout of unemployment, he did indeed blame himself:
"Unemployment demoralizes: the anxiety about money, the urgency of finding another position before all resources are exhausted, the dread of illness or some other reversal that will mean utter collapse, the contempt directed your way by public figures like Herman Cain. Add to that the strain of making a good face of it for your acquaintances, your family, yourself. Underlying it all a rueful acceptance of how much you have contributed to your plight by not being more frugal, more provident, more cautious. 
"And when something Micawber-wise does turn up, and is accepted, it bears with it the realization that what has happened once can happen again. At any time."

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI has said that a more just and peaceful world requires "adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth." If you're not sure of the definition of "hypocrisy," take a look at the photo that illustrates the story. If the pope wants to do something about redistributing wealth, he could start by reversing the flow of wealth that the Catholic Church directs toward him and the Vatican.

Apparently, redistributing wealth is only "socialist" when the redistribution goes from rich to poor. From poor to rich, it's capitalism at its best, as witnessed in the chart above. It's simply not true that the richest 1% worked 99 times harder than the rest of us and somehow "earned" their wealth. As Paul Buchheit writes, "According to a study by the University of California, in 2008 only 19% of the income reported by the 13,480 individuals or families making over $10 million came from wages and salaries."

According to Buchheit, "The richest 1% … benefited from the social and capitalist structures to which they often object to paying taxes. The very rich have made their fortunes in good part because of taxpayer-funded research at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (the Internet), the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation. They benefit disproportionately from national security and a business-enhancing infrastructure. They have taken advantage of tax cuts, de-regulation, and a financial system fine-tuned for the making of money at diminishing risk. The richest 10%, with 80% of the stock market and a 15% capital gains tax, have settled back to watch their assets grow."

And then, of course, there's the war machine, and the fact that poverty and war zones go hand in hand. Just think how many starving children could have been fed with that $1.8 billion we just spent on that nuclear sub that was just launched in Groton. Nah, we don't need to change the system. I'll just hop on a plane to Africa, I'll have that poverty problem licked in no time.