Poverty and Reality

File:US poverty rate timeline.gif

Let’s make a few general statements first:

Jesus was not the government. Jesus was not a republican (nor a democrat). He did not live at a time when general wealth was as great, nor did government have nearly the capacity it does now. However, anyone who thinks Jesus did not advocate for the poor is simply wrong. To imagine some system in which Jesus wanted less government, and expected charity to take care of the poor is equally misguided. To give to Caesar what is Caesar’s is to have some faith that the government can do its job. Did Jesus expect people to work? Sure. So did Paul. They both also knew that not everyone can find work. Did Jesus think there would be a welfare state? Yes; he said “there will be poor always.” I am guessing that Jesus, were he alive today would advocate for a mix of government and private charity to help the poor, like we do have. And he would appreciate programs that give more than handouts, those that encourage people to invest themselves.

SO:

Under Eisenhower: High

Kennedy: headed down

Johnson: headed way down

Nixon: wavering

Ford: wavering, headed down

Carter: wavering

Reagan: Went way up, then headed down

Bush: Headed up

Clinton: Way down

W Bush: Headed way up

Obama: still headed up

Now, let’s see the history. Do Republican presidents help reduce poverty? The evidence shows, generally, no. And do Democrats reduce poverty? More often, yes, but not necessarily. Does government welfare always work? Not necessarily. Is charity enough? History says, clearly not. But there is more to it. A rational assessment is that poverty goes down under two conditions: a healthy, innovative economy, and fair taxes. A healthy economy does not come about simply by leaving the rich to increase their lot. We cannot escape the role of government in affecting the economy (sometimes this is by war accompanied by innovations, sometimes by government investing in research and development, and sometimes by other global factors, but pure laissez faire is not associated with anything besides wealthy protecting their loot; not low poverty, not high employment). Neither an innovative economy nor fair taxes is going on right now, and poverty is way too high. Unemployment improves with the exact same conditions. Government can help with fair taxes and with assisting innovation.

I think all the other shouting matches are a waste of time.

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About Jim

I've been leading outdoor environmental education in the YMCA since the 1970s. I love teaching nature, history, current events, being a dad, fixing stuff, groups, and general thinking.
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2 Responses to Poverty and Reality

  1. JP says:

    Amen.
    Government isn’t the whole answer or always the answer. And if we’re to have civilization at all, we will have government, so we need to work to make it as good and effective a government as we can. Demonizing government (or demonizing those who demonize government, as I’ve been guilty of) doesn’t accomplish anything. A close look at the facts, an acknowledgment that we all have personal responsibility AND are all in this together, is the only way we can effectively work to improve things. Making the government effective and working for the people is and always has been (though now more than ever thanks to Citizens United and the money being pumped into our politics) a very tough challenge, requiring eternal vigilance. The only alternative is to let our country devolve into a complete plutocratic/fascist state. (A complete communist state would be equally as bad, and objective reality shows we are very far from that now, and that is not our current problem. By any objective matter we have moved far more towards plutocracy than towards communism, the rhetoric of some notwithstanding.)
    Thanks for the graph and data. We do have to remember that part of the reason poverty went way down under Clinton is that they changed the definition to include fewer people. But only part of the reason.

  2. Jim says:

    2 Thess. 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” It is important to note that the verse states “If any one would not work” and not “If any one does not work.” Stott (1990, p. 178) noted that “it was addressed to the voluntary, not involuntary, employed.” Similarly, Whitely (1969, p. 109) stated, “The passage deals with refusal to work, not with inability to do so.”

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