The Edmond Sun

Opinion

March 21, 2014

RedBlue America: Can Americans just ‘stop being poor’?

(Continued)

EDMOND — JOEL MATHIS

Conservatives are so thoroughly terrified that government might do something, anything, that they rarely consider the problems on their own merits. Take my friend Ben: Ask him if it’s possible to “stop being poor” and he delivers ... a tirade against food stamps.

Which is too bad, because there might be conservative, market-driven solutions to the growing — unavoidable — problem of inequality in this country. But conservatives would have to acknowledge the problem, and that might open the possibility of some bureaucrat or congressman or president somewhere doing something to fix it. Can’t have that.

One does not simply “stop being poor,” and to suggest otherwise is facile — a slogan for those born on third base thinking they hit a triple. It takes a combination of hard work, resources and opportunity. We’ve got plenty of the first in this country, but the latter two elements are in diminishing supply.

The Associated Press reported recently that middle-class occupations in this country have slowly been disappearing since the recession of 1991, leaving more people to stuck in and scrapping for bottom-tier jobs at Walmart and McDonald’s. Many would like to “stop being poor” and climb that ladder, but the rungs have gone missing.

Instead, AP reports, “inflation-adjusted income has declined 9 percent for the bottom 40 percent of households since 2007, even as incomes for the top 5 percent now slightly exceed where they were when the recession began late that year, according to the Census Bureau.”

That’s a long-term, systemic problem that won’t be solved with slogans or sermons. Unless we want to settle into a new Gilded Age economy, something needs to be done.

Food stamps didn’t make food cheap, Ben notes. But government did. Public universities created much of the research Monsanto uses to help crops proliferate; farm subsidies made meat and milk cheaper than they ever were for previous generations. Government might or might not be the solution in this present crisis. The command to “stop being poor” surely isn’t.

BEN BOYCHUK (bboychuk@city-journal.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis (joelmmathis@gmail.com) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Website: www.facebook.com/benandjoel. They wrote this for McClatchy-Tribune.

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