Addressing Poverty

March 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Poverty may be defined as the inability to cover one’s (or one’s family’s) basic needs (i.e housing, food, health care). While poverty has an obvious monetary focus it encompasses a wide range of social issues such as the failings of our educational and health care systems and a variety of personal failings (i.e. pyschological and/or anti-social behavior).

According to the United Nations’ Development Programme’s annual Human Development Index (HDI) for 2011, the U.S only scores 23rd in the world when factoring the inequality present in society. This lamentable finish places our nation towards the bottom of the heap amongst all industrialized countries.

Although we often hear voices on the Right of the political spectrum warning against any drift to the “socialism” of our European neighbors, the evidence appears to suggest that- with roughly 12% of the American population living in poverty and less inequality in other rich countries- all levels of American government aren’t spending enough on programs to fully or adequately address the needs of the poor and help them rise out of their plight.

The celebrated Welfare-to-Work legislation of the 1990s (The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act) certainly had the result of reducing caseloads by instituting work requirements and aid deadlines. Those outcomes appear to be a success. However it is hard to tell how many of the poor were truly raised out of poverty through this initiative as opposed to the fact that general economic conditions of the time raised all boats. The economy may always fluctuate but at low tide the most vulnerable members of society need a job market that offers lower-skilled job options, and preferably universal halth-care and child-care assistance even more than their more comfortable fellow citizens. There is no evidence to suggest that Welfare-to-Work programs offer this type of safety net. Put more cynically, the caseloads might look lower but are we do anything meaningful to address inequality and the vicious cycle of poverty?

Substituting a Living Wage as opposed to the Minimum Wage has promise to better address the modicum of income necessary to provide a worker (and his/her family) with basic needs in areas such as these: housing, food, utilities, transportation, health care, and recreation. Rates can be tied to whatever specified level or reasonable quality of life that can be agreed upon.

In addition to advancing towards a living wage for a more equitable society, we must increase the social compact in our country. Let’s fund better quality occupational and social training programs at all levels of government. Real assistance can be the necessary step in putting the poor on a path for meaningful participation in society and self-sufficiency. As the old saying goes “You can pay me now, or pay me later.” Allocating more, not less, capital (social and monetary) can and does eliminate problems before they become larger, intractable, and costly.

Government projects- such as improvements to our crumbling infrastructure- are undoubtedly expensive. However, they achieve an objective social goal (i.e. better roads, ports, parks, etc.) while also providing immediate and long term benefits. In the short-run they provide jobs. Those workers turnaround and buy goods and services. The future holds that better infrastructure encourages additional economic incentive.

Let’s work toward real and lasting efforts to reduce poverty in America!


February 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

The modern environmental movement is grasping for a compatible economic system. That system is Distributism, but environmentalists and New Urbanists will never hear of it while it remains confined within the intellectual framework of Roman Catholicism. The Vatican provided its inspiration, but Distributism is for everyone. If our rhetoric does not reflect this openness, we deprive many of finding in Distributism its relevance to resiliency and sustainability.

Caelum Et Terra

When I first started reading Wendell Berry thirty odd years ago I had just returned to the Catholic faith. I was struck by how easily his ideas harmonized with the Catholic social teaching and distributist thought  I was discovering. In the early 90s I finally wrote Mr Berry and asked him about this; had he ever read the papal encyclicals? Or Chesterton and Belloc? He replied somewhat testily that no, he was not familiar with any of that. I sensed, as one might expect from someone raised as a Baptist in Kentucky, that he was somewhat suspicious of Catholicism and not quite comfortable being told that his ideas resonated with Catholics. (He has since gotten over that and has addressed Catholic conferences).

I relate that story because distributists need to be reminded that distributism is not “Catholic Economics”; it is not revealed truth, and it is not just for Catholics…

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Welfare and the Poverty Trap

February 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney recently came under heavy fire when in an interview he let slip, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” Although he clarified his position, saying that the poor have a “safety net,” the remark still drew criticism. Many critics were quick to point out that the comment revealed his ignorance of the challenges that low-income Americans face, such as a tight job market, limited educational opportunity, declining social cohesion, and international competition.  Not all of Romney’s critics, however, were motivated by an acknowledgement of the depths of American poverty.

In fact, Romney’s presidential rival Newt Gingrich criticized the former Massachusetts governor’s belief in any social safety net at all, attacking it instead as a “spider web.” Former Speaker Gingrich, along with many conservatives in the United States, argued that the social welfare system encourages laziness and dependence. They say that it discourages job-creation and thus perpetuates a cycle of poverty, unemployment, and social exclusion.

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January 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Conservative, in the sense of being pre-Enlightenment.

Vox Nova

It is commonly thought that criticism of capitalism has its exclusive provenance on the Left, but in fact there is a long tradition of conservative unease with capitalism. Now, by “conservative,” I obviously do not mean that weird and contradictory stew comprised of obscure Austrian economic theories, the “objectivist” ethics of Ayn Rand, Wilsonian idealism, American messianism, and Dominionist/Dispensationalist theology. That’s the “conservatism” of radio disk jockeys like Rush and Glenn, of the Tea Party, and The Sage of Austin, Rick Perry. By “conservative,” I mean what Russell Kirk meant when he wrote that “a conservative is a person who endeavors to conserve the best in our traditions and our institutions, reconciling that best with necessary reform from time to time.”

Contrast Kirk’s definition of “conservative” with the claim of contemporary “conservative” Michael Ledeen, who trumpets the revolutionary “menace” of democratic capitalism, American-style: “Creative destruction is our middle name, both…

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The Spirit of Distributism: What Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party Have in Common

October 22, 2011 § 2 Comments

The recent events in Manhattan and in cities around the world are just the latest episode in a long succession of popular expressions of disenchantment with the global economic system. Earlier this year — in Wisconsin, London and Greece — it came in the form of opposition to government austerity. Last year the Tea Party exploded onto the scene. Critics of the status quo have variously levied justified attacks against the Federal Reserve, big banks, the nationwide welfare state, the two-party system and corporate lobbying, which has casted serious doubts on the sustainability of any of these institutions. Since the onset of the global economic crisis, there has been a growing sense from both the right and the left that the distribution of wealth is not just, that people are not free to chart their financial futures, and that economic misfortune is often the result of decisions made beyond one’s own control.

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