What The Right Gets Wrong on Poverty

The so-called War on Poverty has been going on for decades and we have more poor people than ever. So, asking what can be done about the poor is a valid question.

I have noticed that reactionaries (who call themselves conservatives these days, despite the vast differences between those two outlooks) seem to always trot out one of three “solutions” whenever the problems of the poor are mentioned.

1) They say “More or better education is needed.” For instance, the poor need better financial literacy so they don’t make bad choices on how to spend their income; or they need to get a degree so they’re qualified for a higher-paying job.
WRONG!

If financial literacy is so important, why is it not taught in the public or private schools? Poverty has been a major issue for decades, so there has been plenty of time to fix this IF it is just a matter of teaching.

Don’t even get me started on how much the financial bad decisions made by lower-income people directly benefit the top 10% through their ownership, stocks & upper management standing within banks and other financial & legal firms that market to those who make these “bad decisions.” The very rich have a vested interest in keeping a large portion
of the people stupid & making bad decisions.

As for college, the top schools produce the top earners, by and large, but they have very limited enrollments and the rest of us can not get in. Meanwhile, for-profit schools have taken a large chunk of the education funding, from charter and voucher schools at the elementary & high school levels to colleges & universities at the upper levels.

Most of these schools only exist due to government funding, either through direct subsidies or school loans & grants. Again, the bankers and other upper-rich directly benefit from the for-profit schools, so, naturally, they want everyone to attend.

Meanwhile, inflation in the cost of college is several times the general rate of inflation and almost no one outside the upper-most rich can get a degree without taking out a crippling burden of student loans.

How is getting an education going to help when you are in debt to the tune of hundreds of dollars a month and there are no entry-level jobs that pay the wages needed to pay living expenses, let alone the student loan bill?

Even if everyone gets a degree, we will still need manual labor & those who do it need a living wage.

2) They say “The poor are that way due to decisions they made & they deserve their fate.”
WRONG!

For instance, one recent article I read stated that all the poor need is to save the same way the rich do. How the frak are they supposed to save anything when they don’t make a living wage & everything goes to the struggle to try to survive?

Telling a poor person to get out of poverty by saving their money is a form of arrogance and/or willful ignorance that does not deserve a polite response. And claiming that poor people are poor because of decisions they have made is assuming facts not in evidence.

Many people never had a decent homelife, a proper education, good role models, good nutrition, adults who cared, and circumstances that turned their way. SOME poor people are that way due to their decisions; many are not. To believe that all or even most are “getting what they deserve” is ignorant and petty and mean-spirited.

If you call yourself a Christian, you should take seriously what Jesus said about the poor — and, no, it was not that they deserve their fate. He did say that how you treat them is how you treat Him. I believe you will find similar statements in all major religions. So, how anyone calls themself a conservative while not helping the poor is a mystery.

3) They say “Just ease regulation of business and the economy will grow and the rising tide will lift all boats.”
WRONG!

Productivity has been rising for decades while the after-inflation incomes for all but the upper-rich have gone down. The rising tide does NOT lift all boats when it is dammed and redirected to private lakes which is what has been going on. The increased wealth & income that resulted from the increased productivity has gone increasingly to fewer & fewer people at the top.

On the issue of regulation, it has been a talking point of those in business since at least the 80s that there is too much regulation. In fact, deregulation has been going on at least since then and industry after industry has had disasters as a result. Oil spills, pipeline leaks, chemical plant explosions, and the list goes on. If regulation is the issue, why are there still regulations at all? Where do they come from?

Regulations come from lobbyists.

There are two types of lobbyists who promote regulations — those whose clients will benefit financially from the regulation; or those whose clients see the problems of unrestrained industry and want to restrain it.

In other words, some regulations exist because business people will do short-sighted or evil things that hurt the rest of us unless they are regulated. Business people hate these regulations.

Some regulations exist to limit the market in ways that benefit specific firms or that harm those firms’ competitors. Business people pay lobbyists to get these kind on the books and they make up the majority of all regulations at the federal & state levels.

If regulations are the problem, business people could have their lobbyists pull support for self-serving regs. Don’t hold your breath for that to happen.

In fact, the single biggest hindrance to new business or expansion of small business (which is where most growth in jobs and the middle class occurs) is the stranglehold on capital of the upper-rich.

As long as almost all of the wealth & income is held by a tiny fraction of the population, the consumer-based economy can not function, as We the People can not vote by spending our dollars in the market place on new & better products & ideas. We have to devote almost all of our income to survival needs.

This limits demand for the sorts of goods & services provided by small business.

And the big box stores such as Walmart have driven a large cross-section of smaller businesses out of the market, which limits consumer choices.

Further, the lack of capital in the hands of the general population means less in community banks & credit unions, which means less available for loans to new or small businesses that tend to borrow at such firms first.

The next time you hear a reactionary spouting one of these talking points, I hope these thoughts will help you.

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About Tim Gatewood

55+, male, widowed (May 2016). Mobile notary public and signing agent, freelance writer, and ordained minister. Science fiction and fantasy fan, willing servant to cats, avid reader and collector of books and other stuff. Please see my websites (including this blog and others) for more info on me and what I think about the issues of the day.
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