Thursday, March 17, 2005
Beyond Liberal and Conservative Excuses for Poverty
I wanted to share another excerpt from God's Politics about the need for the Left and Right to stop fighting and come together to put an end to poverty, since both sides have important things to say about the causes of and solutions for poverty. Jim Wallis writes:

It will take the best values and efforts from both conservatives and liberals if we are going to really make a difference in people's lives. Liberals must no longer be content to just "service poverty" instead of overcoming it, and conservatives must stop merely blaming poor people for their poverty instead of taking some responsibility themselves.

Conservatives have been right in saying that the hold over people's lives will not be broken until we confront the problem of broken families. Family breakdown is a cause of poverty, and it futher traps single parents and their kids in a continuing cycle of impoverishment, even when other social and economic factors are involved... no merely economic initiatives to overcome poverty can possibly succeed unless we are simultaneously reweaving the web of family and community. To promote and support marriage and stable two-parent families is an anti-poverty measure.

Bad personal and moral choices do land people in poverty or keep them there. Out in the suburbs, affluence buffers the many bad choices kids make, giving them second, third, and many more chances. But to an inner-city kid, living in a poor and violent neighborhood, a bad choice could cost you your life.

Similarly, sexual promiscuity is often covered over by money and lots of abortions in wealthy communities. But in poor neighborhoods, kids having kids is killing people's chances of ever escaping poverty. One can be committed to the conservative bedrock values of personal and moral responsibility, marriage, and family values without resorting to the kind of mean-spirited scapegoating of women, single mothers, and gays and lesbians that some on the religious Right have engaged in. To blame all of them for the breakdown of the family is not only mean, but also, frankly, stupid. Sound conservative personal and family values should not be simply conceded to the political right wing.

But liberals are right in saying that personal behavior is not the only issue in poverty - not by a long shot. Structural issues are also involved... Good family values don't assure you of a job that pays a living family wage, and the stagnating wages that American workers now experience are a major cause of family instability. Some companies used to talk about treating their workers as "family" in important ways, but that concept seems utterly outmoded in a cutthroat global economy that makes profit maximization the only bottom line. Today it is large corporations that push down wages, cut health benefits, lay off workers, and export good jobs overseas; they are the biggest violators of "family values" and the principal force destabilizing family life in America.

There's just so much good stuff in these few paragraphs. I'm so glad that he pointed out that the moral issues that contribute to poverty are no less prevalent in affluent middle-America than they are in impoverished communities. We make just as many bad choices as they do, we just have a safety net to catch us when we screw up - a safety the poor don't have. (And reflecting on my experiences with the friends I grew up with and with the affluent teens in my own youth group, I can say that this is definitely true. Consider... when the kids in my group get involved with drugs or rebel against their parents they're sent to expensive rehab clinics. When inner-city kids get involved with drugs or rebel against their parents, they end up on the streets.)

I also appreciate that he pointed the finger at our big corporations as a chief contributor to the decline of family values in America today. I get so frustrated by conservative Christians who are so locked into their political alliegiance to the Right and its unquestioned devotion to the principles of unrestricted free-market capitalism that they can't see how much damage our current system is doing to the values of family and community. Instead they can only think to blame the gays or the single moms. But of course, the true causes (as always) are much more complex and multifaceted than that.
posted by Mike Clawson at 6:15 PM | Permalink |


At 3/31/2005 02:39:00 PM, Blogger AutobodyCAD

okay, but what is the proposed fix? how do you stem the growing global free market? America is no longer the lion devouring everything. China and India are growing by leaps and bounds, consuming, building, exporting AND importing. Indians are coming into the US at an amazing pace (I work with several). Do you put tariffs on imports, in order to drive US prices and wages up? Do you cut off immigration to supposedly make it easier for people to get jobs here? Everyone sees the problems, but what can be changed?

Greg W.


At 4/01/2005 01:47:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Good questions Greg... I don't have the answers - not because they don't exist, but because I am not an expert on economics. But there are people with answers. For example, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community by Wendell Berry.

But I wasn't talking mainly about issues of globalization. I was complaining about our culture that values profit and success over family and community. In my mind, part of the solution is to start making mandatory some of the standards that European countries (for example) have in regards to minimum vacation time (nearly everyone in Europe gets at least 4 weeks of vacation per year!), childcare and healthcare provisions, livable minimum wages, etc. All of these things would free up people to spend more time with their families, churches, communities, etc., and contribute in tangible ways to the bolstering of those "family values" that Christian conservatives are always talking about.


At 4/06/2005 02:04:00 PM, Blogger AutobodyCAD

But that won't work, at least not for very long. Everyone knows the cliche "no such thing as a free lunch." If the government makes something mandatory (i.e. vacations or min wage) prices WILL go up. A company, whether a small business or large corporation, has to pay more money for equal or less work. Thus, to maintain appropriate profit levels, costs go up.

Believe me, I know what it's about -- I asked for a raise 2 weeks ago and haven't heard boo. And I'm getting sick of having no time at home to accomplish the projects I REALLY care about.

The main solution: be satisfied with less material stuff. And that's the absolute hardest thing to do in such a culture as ours.

Greg W.