Friday, June 10, 2005

The Rich ar Getting Richer. The Poor are Getting Poorer. Now What?

The rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer. This, unfortunately, is a fact. But many conservatives seem unwilling to address it. In his LA Times column today, Jonathan Chait takes conservatives to task for crying “class warfare!” every time someone brings up our nation’s growing economic inequalities.

Chait witheringly criticizes supply-siders, pointing out that caring about inequality doesn’t make you anti-wealth and ends with a recommendation that we should raise taxes on the rich to Clinton-era levels. Read the whole piece, it’s great.

Now, I have no problem with the ultra-rich. Like most Americans, I fully intend to be ultra-rich myself. I have no problems with low taxes, although we need a balanced budget. I don’t even have a problem that there are poor in this country. What I do have a problem with is that the poor are getting poorer and that certain conservatives couldn’t care less and certain liberals have no solutions outside of raising taxes and expanding welfare.

Forget class warfare, this isn’t about that. This isn’t even about the rich. This is simply a question of why. Why are the poor now poorer? Are they lazier than ever before? That seems unlikely. Are government entitlements too low? No, increased entitlements have proven ineffective in combating poverty. Are there just fewer opportunities? Now, that seems likely.

Poor schools in poor neighborhoods, an entrenched culture of poverty and the replacement of middle-class manufacturing jobs with lower-paying service jobs all make it harder than before for someone to rise out of poverty. Pointing this out and saying something can probably be done to help doesn’t make you a proponent of class warfare.

Look, some people are born on top of the mountain. Some people are born part-way up with all the climbing equipment they need. Then there’s those born at the bottom with no equipment at all. It’s reprehensible for a person born on top to look down at those below and say “well, I’m up here, they could be too if they just worked harder.”

Yes, hard work is the most essential requirement to success. But what’s wrong with giving people at the bottom a rope and pick? The point is, we’ve tried entitlements and that didn’t work—in fact things are getting worse. Doing nothing at all is a bad idea. So what do we do? Find ways to create opportunity. We need to get out of the welfare state or nothing strategies of the far left and right and embrace new ideas focused on opportunity. Maybe these could be government programs or maybe they could be private initiatives--most likely they will be some of each.

I wish I had all the answers. I don’t. But I’m thinking and I hope a lot of other people are too.


At 9:28 AM, Blogger Maggie said...

You should check out the restaurant training program established in Savanah, Ga. They found that the city's homelessness problem was detracting from their tourism revenue and instead of making homelessness illegal, city political and business leaders devised a solution. Give people the skills needed to work steadily in the restaurant industry (an industry sorely needed in a tourist town). The training program was a year long and addressed everything from how to dress, how to show up to work on time, to how to cook, clean, and serve. It was a smashing success -- 90% of graduates got and retained jobs and there was a 50% drop in homelessness over a 5 year period.

My church has taken a similar stance with providing life skills lessons, opportunities to work and AA meetings (along with food, medical, dental and vision services). We are looking at replicating the work done in Savanah.

There are compassionate and responsible solutions, but efforts like those I just mentioned will do little unless educational and health care inequities are addressed wholesale.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

That's a great program as proven by its success. And you are absolutely right. Healthcare and education must be addressed. Joe has been posting ideas on education and I'll be posting ideas on healthcare soon.

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Heiuan said...

Maggie, what a fantastic program. Here in South Florida we have a large homeless population as well, I wonder if it would have the same success.

Of course, a lot of homeless down here aren't uneducated or untrained, they simply can't afford rent. But, that's another conundrum entirely.

Alan, did you happen to see the interview with Warren Buffet on CNN? THAT was a masterful piece.

Basically, Buffet said that, "yes, there is a class war being waged, and yes, the rich are winning it."

At 11:37 AM, Blogger AubreyJ said...

A Ownership Society is what we need and shall become overtime. That doesn't mean we shouldn't take care of our old, the sick and the needy... We should always help the ones that can no longer take care of themselves. It’s taking care of the ones who will not take care of themselves-- That’s what I have a major problem with!!!

At 11:50 AM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Aubrey, that's why I like to talk about opportunity. Most people want to provide for themselves, all some need is a hand to help them stand. Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. An overused phrase, I know, but I think it's the way to go.

As for class warfare, the reason I hate that phrase is it implies wealthy people are actively beating down the poor. That, in fact, there is something intrinsicly wrong with wealth. Which is why it's almost funny to hear Buffet make that comment.

This is where Marxist theory still twists a lot of people's thinking, IMO. Wealth is not immoral. Being rich is not immoral. We don't gain equality by tearing one person down to lift another up.

We do need to help the needy through our communities and, when the program is designed to make someone self-sufficient, through our government. But talk of class warfare is just so 1917.

At 12:09 PM, Blogger AubreyJ said...

Amen Brother
I agree 110%......
Opportunity – Ownership Society... One and the same I would think. What say you?

At 12:20 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...


Yep, I think they go together. I usually use Opportunity Society because 1) I think some people need opportunity before they can own anything; and 2) I'm trying to be cool and coin a phrase!

At 12:48 PM, Blogger AubreyJ said...

I Bow to your words of wisdom...
Yet I will say that when debated on the national level, the phrase “Ownership Society” is most often the phrase of choice, more likely than not simply because of the power the phrase brings to bear. But what tha heck do I know...

At 4:18 PM, Blogger Maggie said...

Heuian -- I know that our church would be glad to work with anyone who geniunely wants to make institutional change and create opportunities for the homeless and poor. If you have a group that wants to know more, send Alan an email, he knows how to get in touch with me.

At 9:12 PM, Anonymous Torque said...

We need poor people to fight our wars. Is that a problem?


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