How to Keep The Poor Poor

by STAR PARKER May 3, 2012

Media personality Tavis Smiley and Princeton philosophy professor Cornell West have just published their latest contribution to American poverty propaganda, "The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto."

The book should have a second subtitle: "How to keep the poor poor and blacks enslaved to government." To the extent this book is taken seriously by anyone, the result can only be more, entrenched poverty.

Smiley and West's message is simple. America today consists of a few powerful, rapacious rich people and a lot of unfortunate, exploited poor people. The rich are rich because they are lucky. The poor are poor because they are unlucky. And the only way to solve the problem is activist government to manage the American economy and redistribute wealth.

It's as if the wealthy belong to a different species of life with no common thread of humanity linking who they are to those who have less. The idea that "haves" once might have been "have nots" -- or that that they did something to become "haves" that today's "have nots" might consider doing -- never enters the equation.

Even if Smiley and West conceded that there might be some element of personal responsibility in how one's life turns out, their portrait is of an America now so unfair, that personal responsibility is irrelevant. There is no hope for anyone to rise, according to this book, without government boosting them using other people's money.

A good candidate for one of the more outrageous distortions, in a book filled with them, is No. 1 on their list of "Lies about poverty that America can no longer afford."

That No. 1 lie is: "Poverty is a character flaw." No way, according to the authors, is there a chance that poverty has anything to do with one's behavior. Rather, "The 150 million Americans in or near poverty are there as result of unemployment, war, the Great Recession, corporate greed, and income inequality."

Given this insight -- that there are 150 million poor Americans whose economic condition is the result of extenuating circumstances -- it is no wonder that Smiley and West never once mention what many scholars see as the major causes of poverty -- poor education and family breakdown.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011 unemployment for those without a high school diploma was 50 percent higher than those with a high school diploma and almost three times higher than those with a college degree.

According to the Census Bureau, 17.8 percent of American families with children under 18 lived in poverty in 2010. However, in households with children that had married parents, 8.4 percent lived in poverty. In households with children headed by a single mother, 39.6 percent lived in poverty.

The evidence is powerful that getting educated and getting married dramatically reduces the prospects for living in poverty. Yet apparently not sufficiently powerful to interest Smiley and West to note these factors once in their "poverty manifesto."

Can better government policy expand opportunity for those who actually choose to get educated and live responsible lives? Certainly. But what we need is totally the opposite of what these authors advocate. Evidence abounds that countries with limited government and more economic freedom are far and away the most prosperous.

Despite this book's message of the inherent hopelessness and unfairness of today's America, the authors themselves seems to be doing quite well, selling their paperback "poverty manifesto" at $12 a pop. Apparently it's quite good business to tell Americans that America is unfair.

Perhaps this book can be used to reduce competition for jobs by immigrants.

According to the State Department, there are currently 4.6 million visa applicants wishing to enter the United States under the family and employment preferences immigration program. They apparently haven't gotten the word that America is no longer a land of opportunity.

Star Parker is a nationally syndicated columnist through the Scripps Howard News Service, author of Uncle Sam's Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America's Poor and What We Can Do About It , and president of CURE, Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education (www.urbancure.org). She can be reached at parker(at)urbancure.org.


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