No.  This is not a sports post.  Walter Williams, noted libertarian Economist has written a piece for the Jewish World Review that was passed on to me by a good friend.  It follows below (bold emphasis is mine) and then I relate a similar story and refer you to yet another recent article on the subject..

“Imagine you are an unborn spirit whom God has condemned to a life of poverty but has permitted to choose the nation in which to live. I’m betting that most any such condemned unborn spirit would choose the United States. Why? What has historically been defined as poverty, nationally or internationally,  no longer exists in the U.S.

Let’s look at it. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 2009 poverty guideline was $22,000 for an urban four-person family. In  2009, having income less than that, 15 percent or 40 million Americans were classified as poor, but there’s something unique about those “poor” people not seen anywhere else in the world.

Robert Rector, researcher at the Heritage Foundation, presents data collected from  several government sources in a report titled “How Poor Are America’s  Poor? Examining the ‘Plague’ of Poverty in America” (8/27/2007):


Forty-three percent of all poor households actually own their own homes.

The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, porch or patio.

Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded; two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

The typical poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens and other cities throughout Europe. (compared to the average citizens there, not to those classified as poor.)

Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.

Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

Eighty-nine percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.

What’s defined as poverty is misleading in another way. Official poverty measures count just family’s cash income. It ignores additional sources of support such as the earned-income tax credit, which is a cash rebate to low-income workers; it ignores Medicaid, housing allowances, food stamps and other federal and local government subsidies to the poor.

According to a report by American Enterprise Institute scholar Nicholas Eberstadt, titled “Poor Statistics,” “In 2006, according to the annual Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, reported purchases by the poorest fifth of American households were more than twice as high as reported incomes.” That additional money might represent earnings from unreported

employment, illegal activities and unreported financial assistance. A proper measure of well-being is what a person consumes rather than his income. A huge gap has emerged between income and consumption at lower income levels.

Material poverty can be measured relatively or absolutely.  An absolute measure would consist of some minimum quantity of goods and services deemed adequate for a baseline level of survival. Achieving that level means that poverty has been eliminated. However, if poverty is defined as, say, the lowest one-fifth of the income distribution, it is impossible to eliminate poverty. Everyone’s income could double, triple and quadruple, but there will always be the lowest one-fifth.

Yesterday’s material poverty is all but gone. In all too many cases, it has been replaced by a more debilitating kind of poverty –  behavioral poverty or poverty of the spirit. This kind of poverty  refers to conduct and values that prevent the development of healthy  families, work ethic and self-sufficiency. The absence of these values guarantees pathological lifestyles that include drug and  alcohol addiction, crime, violence, incarceration, illegitimacy,  single-parent households, dependency and erosion of work ethic.  Poverty of the spirit is a direct result of perverse incentives created by certain efforts to alleviate material poverty.

I once heard a program given by a Pastor at a Youth Ministry on the Island of Kauai, Hawaii.  He talked about his vocation and why he did what he did.  One of the programs he ran was an annual trip to some of the poorest areas in Mexico, a place where few people had jobs and most did not have enough to eat.  He took with him a couple dozen youth from Hawaii and they repaired water systems, schools, hospitals and built shelters and generally did work to make the lives of these rural poor a bit better.  He said that he was often criticized because there were plenty of poor in Hawaii who needed help.  Why, critics asked,  did he not do his good work in Hawaii?  He said that his response to that was always, “I want our youth to see what real poverty is.  I do not want them to indulge in the belief that people with only one car and one TV were poor and needy.”

Are many, if not most, of our programs in the ‘war on poverty’ really nothing more than transfer payments from those who have enough or too much to those who want more than they have?  Are these programs really doing anything to eliminate ‘poverty’ or are they just programs that make politicians feel good by spending other people’s money?  Or, more cynical still, are they just programs to build the power and reach of government?  Robert Weissberg thinks this is the case.  See his article, “Dependency, the Liberal’s Natural Resource” here.

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