Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Poverty produces poverty for the simple reason that it doesn't know how not to. If you give every family in poverty $1000 today you'd end up with a bunch of poor folks watching some really nice LCD HDTV sets but very little actual improvement in their general standard of living. Likewise, extending shaky credit to unsteady borrowers at the government's bequest was, from any objective position, a bad idea. Yet there was the perpetual idea that putting someone in a nicer house with a little money in their pockets would result in a mystical metamorphosis that would alter their entire lives and that of their children without having to do the heavy lifting of changing their economic patterns. It was nice to give big, three bedroom fish to all those hungry folks, but what are they eating today?
I said before the I say this without prejudice, and by that I mean that there is nothing intrinsic in the poor that requires they stay poor or that being poor reduces their worth as people. But being poor is not a phenomenon, but often rather the logical result of a pattern of behavior. Ask any entry-level employer and they'll tell you one of their biggest problems is just getting people to show up for work and doing it on time. I see it at my daughters' school, where I volunteer to help with morning traffic. The tardy bell rings and still the parents are pulling in or walking up with their kids, usually with no sense of urgency at all. And this is at a good school in a middle-class neighborhood. It pains me no end to see the bad lesson these parents are demonstrating daily to their children. (I am sure others have looked on me with the same complaint, but as this essay is addressing poverty and contributing factors I'll give myself a pass at this time)
If you really want to reduce poverty, then help develop a good work ethic to allow a person to get, keep and excel in a job. After that, teach budgeting skills and the idea of delayed gratification in order to encourage savings. Use that savings and economic sense to secure a conventional mortgage and you've taught that fellow how to fish and not just given him a meal. You've provided him with tools that allow him to make a secure economic base for himself and his family.
This, then, is what I see as the heart of the anti-redistribution sentiment felt by many Americans. Help out your neighbor, educate the poor, but handout after handout just prompts the response of, to quote one of my least favorite songs ever, "what have you done for me lately?" Unless a person changes their patterns of behavior it is folly to believe that the results of giving them $1,000 or $10,000 would be too different from giving them $20.