In an American Spectator column last week, conservative pundit Ben Stein argued that Americans living in poverty aren’t really poor because “they almost always have indoor plumbing,” and in any case they just “envy” the wealthy and are victims of their own “self-sabotage.”
He adds that federal policies can’t address poverty, and that instead what’s needed is an end to the separation of church and state: “What will make the genuinely poor stop sabotaging themselves? Maybe, just maybe, if we let God back into the public forum it would help. I have seen spiritual solutions work miracles.”
So, I just don’t see the problem in there being so many billionaires except for bare envy — an extremely basic emotion. It is an emotion that the politicians and academics and race haters have been able to stir up for a long, long time. It leads to jobs for Democrats but not much else.
In olden times, poverty was the common human condition. In the USA, as recently as the Great Depression, poverty was commonplace. FDR might have exaggerated when he described one-third of the nation as “ill housed, ill fed and ill clad...” But surely he was not far off.
Now, real poverty, where Americans lack cars or air conditioning (imagine that we now consider it poverty to lack something that was the ne plus ultra of luxury in my youth!) or solid food is extremely rare. Yes, the government designates many tens of millions as poor, but they almost always have indoor plumbing (which my mother did not have in her small town in the Catskills) and they are super nourished as opposed to mal-nourished. They get food stamps. They get free medical care. They get vouchers for many of the needs of life.
This is not to deny their sorrow and I am sad for them. But why are they poor? Senator Elizabeth Warren, a genuine moron, not a fake one, says it’s because of “corporations.”
No, federal policy does not generally cause long-term unemployment and poverty. In general. Obviously, there are exceptions.
My humble observation is that most long-term poverty is caused by self-sabotage by individuals. Drug use. Drunkenness. Having children without a family structure. Gambling. Poor work habits. Disastrously unfortunate appearance. Above all, and counted in the preceding list, psychological problems (very much including basic laziness) cause people to be unemployed, have poor or no work habits, and enter and stay in poverty.
Impoverished people have personal problems. They may have had terrible childhoods. They may have been the victims of abuse. They are often the victims of their own abuse of drugs and alcohol. But they are not the victims of corporations or of the Federal Reserve. Their sad backgrounds lead them into self-destruction.
Is there any public policy that can help them? We just don’t know so far. But whipping up hate against the successful simply cannot do it. There is no connecting mechanism between envy and greater productivity. Quite the opposite. Envy legitimizes class hatred and idleness (see “higher education — 2014”) and produces nothing.
What will make the genuinely poor stop sabotaging themselves? Maybe, just maybe, if we let God back into the public forum it would help. I have seen spiritual solutions work miracles.