Blogger Insanitybytes posted some articles lately about the American Right and its attitudes towards poverty. Since she asked for a discussion, we thought to address the subject here as well.
Both poverty and concentrations of wealth and power in the US are artificial creations. They exist because of specific policies fomented by political and economic interests who benefit from a huge economic disparity. The Left profits---quite handsomely---off the Welfare State. The Right wants poverty because lack of opportunity limits economic competition. Both sides use poverty as a political wedge against the other, when in reality both are working together for the same ends: monopolizing power and profit.
Pundits on the Right stereotype the poor as a class of lazy bums (and many actually are); while Leftist commentators portray the rich as exploitative parasites (which is also true of many of them). This is typical of political propaganda. There are deserving poor and there are deserving rich. The propagandists, who are all being paid to spread class antagonism, want us all to believe that one's economic status identifies him as friend or foe. The same way that racists identify with skin color, for example.
What formerly made America the Land of Opportunity was not tied to specific economic theories so much as it was to a cultural attitude that everyone was entitled to a fair chance. This belief is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence which lists mankind's three entitlements as Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Note that happiness itself is not an entitlement; but the pursuit of, or opportunity to attain it, is. And, as our Founders made clear, this entitlement is an inalienable right from God.
There actually is no fundamental difference between godless Capitalism and godless Communism. As Theodore Roosevelt pointed out 100 years ago, it really makes little difference whether a corporate monopoly or a state commissariat controls a given economic sector: the end result is identical. But the problem is that interested parties have framed the argument so that there is no possibility of compromise. Our last essay, which spoke of China's technological advances in transportation, is a prime example. It's not necessarily that China's plan is the best possible one. The reason that China is dominating us in rail technology is because the Chinese leadership recognized a problem, made a plan, and then did something about it. If we had any actual leadership here, we could probably have a better system than China's; but our so-called leaders are more interested in plunder than solving problems.
And the same principle applies to solving the problems of poverty. Americans need to get out of their collective state of denial and stop letting right-wing shock-jocks and left-wing agitators do their thinking for them. Do we need a social welfare system? Yes. Do we need economic deregulation to encourage job growth? Yes. To end mass-poverty we need both; but not as either are currently being practiced. Welfare needs to be made more efficient and deregulation needs to be made more fair. And both sides need to stop using their respective powers to sabotage the other. There is absolutely no logical reason why strong government and economic power are mutually exclusive; nor why economic planning is a bad thing. It only becomes a negative when both government and business are run by gangs of criminals, as ours currently are.
Both Left and Right Wing agitators radically revise US history, the latter pretending that our forefathers were rugged individualists who lifted themselves by their bootstraps, with no dependence or concern for the community whatsoever. The former tells us the same thing, only depicting earlier generations as mostly slaves of these rugged individualists. Both perspectives are political deceptions.
Some on the Right will likely sneer at this point, and say that the government poverty programs of the 20th Century failed to eliminate poverty. We can say in response that the Church has sought eliminate poverty for 2 millennia and have not succeeded. Poverty is, sadly, something that is never going away but both Church and State can do things to minimize its pervasiveness and ameliorate its effects. If any one needs proof that they cannot work together, note that the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Government combined to build one the greatest humanitarian relief efforts in history in Syria even as we speak.
So, to answer Insanitybytes' question: yes, we do need a national conversation on this problem. But what needs to be done first is a national willingness to deal with it and to hold our leadership accountable for following through.