Monday, February 18, 2008

Picking Apart Paul

Life can be such fun!! I love the fact that the New York Times is delivered to my email inbox with no charge whatsoever... where else can you get entertainment for free?

Of course, this is only a valid thought if you're as twisted as I am, and most people aren't. I truly love reading the insanity that is routinely spouted by the likes of Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd (although lately I find myself agreeing with many of her articles), and Bob Herbert. Most often I pick apart their articles, throw my hands up in the air, and get generally quite worked up. Some days it's the best exercise I get. 

Today there was a real doozy. Paul Krugman has declared poverty to be "poison." Because in Saturday's Financial Times, an article started out by saying, "Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain." Apparently, children growing up in poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones which impair their neural development. So, supposedly because they lack funds and are exposed to stress, their language development and memory is impaired which leads to an inability to escape poverty for the rest of their lives. Uh huh. 

First of all, I have to say that I think this science (like the science of global warming) sounds a bit fishy. Who is to say that the lack of development seen in these children is a direct result of a lack of cash? Why are these families poor? Is somebody holding them down with their thumb? Why do they have low social status? Simply because of their lack of funds - or partly because of their chosen lifestyle? Does this study offer a valid explanation for ebonics? I mean, make up your minds, people -- is ebonics a culture to be treasured? Sanctified? Taught in schools? Or is "impaired language development" a negative that will keep folks in the poorhouse?

But back to Paul... He says that L.B.J. declared his "War on Poverty" 44 years ago - and as a result there was a large reduction in poverty over the next few years... and then he says "especially among children, who saw their poverty rate fall from 23 percent in 1963 to 14 percent in 1969." Really, this can only mean one thing... if the poverty rate is falling especially among children, the poor are having fewer children. It doesn't mean that people are being pulled out of poverty by the social programs available to them. Children don't have their own family classification available for research and discovery.

But alas, Paul says, progress stalled thereafter because politics shifted to the right - and attention shifted from the suffering of the poor to the alleged abuses of welfare queens driving Cadillacs. And then the fight against poverty was abandoned. Well... tell it to me straight, Paul. Were there welfare queens driving in Cadillacs or weren't there? If there were, don't you think they should be the object of a bit of focus? Shouldn't a program designed to bring attention to the "suffering of the poor" be designed to weed out queens in Caddies? Just a thought. 

I think the focus of the debate shouldn't be whether or not we've abandoned the poor, but rather how best to help them. Handing somebody a bit of cash might get them out of their doldrums for the moment, but what happens when that money is gone? They come right back and look for more where they last found it. Shouldn't they learn to find that money through hard work, not handouts? Are there perhaps just a few people on the dole who shouldn't be?

Paul says, "America's failure to make progress in reducing poverty, especially among children, should provoke a lot of soul searching." Wow. Especially among children again, huh? You can reduce poverty especially among children only one way. By making sure that poor people have fewer of them. How many of us would look at a financially disadvantaged child and say, "Oh, how sad that they were born. They'd certainly be better off if they weren't here." That's a judgment I'm certainly not willing to make. I'd be willing to bet some of the success stories out there of rising from poverty to middle class are glad they had the opportunity to do so. 

He also says that the people who say America is a land of the free where a poor man can work hard and make himself rich is just an excuse for poverty. Well, it might be a reason to leave some people in the poverty they created for themselves, but it's certainly not an excuse!! 

He winds up his article by comparing the United States to European countries in saying, "Poverty rates are much lower in most European countries than in the United States, mainly because of government programs that help the poor and unlucky." Wow. Well, I don't know about you, but I don't want a government program which is designed to "help the unlucky." That's the funniest statement I've heard in a while. Can you imagine? Some dufus goes and gambles all his money away and establishes himself to be the unluckiest dog in the universe - thus the government owes him a check. I don't think so!! It seems to me that the United States needs more policies that will reward perseverance, endurance, and hard work. Leave luck out of it. 

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