Thoughts on Poverty

Our society has a lot of good qualities, sadly, it also has some flaws. None of our flaws can compare to the inhumanity of social indifference towards the less fortunate members of our community: the poor. Poverty is one of the greatest social injustices that have plagued our system. Many of the current problems that we face as a society have their roots in poverty, things like selling and consumption of drugs, theft, violence, and assaults. All of these problems could be improved if we would only realize that we have a duty to give back to our society just as much as our society has given us, when we realize that giving tax breaks to the top 5% of our economic strata is not going to end poverty, that wealth is not going to trickle down to the most deprived members of our economic system. However, something that is even more terrifying is the fact that we have been desensitized to the horrors that poor people have to endure, we see them everyday wandering around in campus asking for spare change as we go on with our lives as if they didn’t exist. Our reaction to them is often one of distrust, as if poverty was a contagious disease, many times we go out of our way to avoid Mr. or Mrs. Homeless’ request for spare change. We seem to forget that they are humans just like us that they feel and breathe just like we do; on top of that we look at them and deem them dangerous while we are listening to our $300 IPod.

One of the things that have always amazed me about our country is its ability to produce massive amounts of wealth. However, one of the things that shock me about our dear county is our indifference to those who are unable to enjoy part of that wealth. Our arrogance has come to the point that we categorize those who are poor as “welfare bums” as Ronald Reagan so kindly put it. I understand the unwillingness of people to help homeless given that we think that opportunity is equal for everyone in America, I also understand the outrage that it causes people when those who are perfectly able to work or sustain themselves decide to live off food stamps and social security benefits, however, as much as I agree with the people in the anti-tax rally that was held last Saturday in front of the court in downtown , I also understand that there are those who have not had the opportunity to take home some of the wealth that our country produces.

We all hold up the Constitution as a sacred document, which if followed literally will ensure that our vision of justice and liberty will prevail. Our Constitution places ownership of private property at the very heart of our system of liberty. We value our libertarian approach to life, and we hold the belief that if one works hard, material rewards will naturally follow. Rather than vilify the rich, we hold them up as role models. This philosophy goes back to John Locke’s ideas of natural rights, which are life, liberty, and property, and our Calvinistic ideals of predestination which states that those who have been chosen by god will be “smiled upon” by god, and he will provide them with material wealth. When Jefferson was drafting the declaration of independence he changed that last part of the natural rights to “pursuit of happiness” so that we wouldn’t sound too materialistic. But what is happiness for us Americans? What is the American dream? This dream may have different meanings for a lot of people, but it usually means financial stability, your own house, a well-paying job, and making sure that your children will do better in life than you ever did, as Ted Turner once said, in America money is how we keep score.

Indeed, money is how we keep score in America, those of us who came to this country with nothing at all, with no knowledge of the language and who are able to pull themselves up from the bottom to a more stable financial situation are the examples that we use as evidence of how great America is. It does not surprise me then that we take our free market system as a given, that it flows naturally from the laws of supply and demand and Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Therefore, it is natural to me that we are wary of our government, that we distrust any kind of government intervention, whether it shows itself as a regulator of the market, or a force for social equality makes no difference to us. We believe that we are the ones who should decide what to do with our money not government. Last Saturday at the anti-tax rally held here in downtown in front of the court I witnessed many of these beliefs there were picket signs that read “Capitalism works if you are willing to work” or “I believe in God, not in Congress”. I can pride myself in this: my family and I have never asked anything from the government other than financial aid for my brother’s and my college education, other than that we have worked hard to get to where we are right now. We came to America with nothing; we’ve only had the desire to do better than before and the idea that no job was a bad job. My mother and my dad are college educated people, my mother is a lawyer back in the country that we came from and my dad is a business administrator, they have always placed the value of education above anything else, and for these reasons they have struggled to provide us with the opportunity to get a good education so that later on in live we can do better than them. So, the argument is this: if my family like hundreds of others have been able to pull themselves from their bootstraps so can the homeless who “bums” around in McDonald’s, right?

What is the difference between the homeless and me? Well, none, at least none that is evident in the surface, but we forget that those who are poor most of the times are born in poverty. Even though our free market system has helped people like my family, and many others pull themselves out of utter poverty into productive members of society, our society continues to be marred by poverty and homelessness. A child born to a working class family, let alone to and unwed teenager in an inner city ghetto, has life prospects and possibilities that pale besides those of children born to wealthy, stock-owning parents. This raises the question whether the teenager in the inner city ghetto is responsible for being born into poverty or not. Definitely we cannot blame the girl for being poor, after all it was not her decision to be born in the first place, but, what do we do for her? Should we help her and risk the possibility that she might become another “welfare bum” who will live off our tax money? Or do we do nothing and risk the possibility that she might end up selling drugs and being a danger to society in general? Perhaps the free market will provide her with what she needs to pull herself out of poverty, or perhaps not. I doubt that a person who is only able to get a job as a janitor because he didn’t have the chance to study when he was young because his family was so poor that he or she had to drop out of school to help his or her parents put food on the table is completely responsible for being poor. This kind of thinking will get a lot of people, especially here in Florida, to call you socialist, or communist many times ignoring the differences between the two; add to that a disbelief in god and you have the perfect anti-American, but I digress, the point is that as a community we have been brought up to believe that poor people brought poverty upon themselves, that it is their fault that they are poor, not ours, and definitely not the free market’s fault. This is true to a certain extent, we are not responsible for the financial situation of someone we have no idea exist, but we do have the social responsibility to help those who are having a hard time in their lives, take for instance all the social programs that FDR put in place in the 1930’s , a safety net that lifted almost half of all senior citizens out of poverty, provide unemployment insurance for those who had lost their jobs, and provided modest welfare payments to the disabled and the elderly poor. Many fail to see that what FDR did actually helped capitalism survive, he understood that capitalism in a democracy needs the consent of the people, who would otherwise choose some sort of government managed economy if the dire conditions of the Great Depression had prevailed, as he would explain later in the 1940’s “People who are hungry, people who are out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made out of.”

We need to realize that by helping the poor we are helping ourselves. My position can be mistaken very easily for a communistic idea of what society should be like. However it is not, I don’t think that everyone should have an equal amount of wealth, I understand that a doctor will make more money than a janitor, and I agree that those who have worked hard for what they have should be rewarded accordingly to their service to society, a doctor is more valuable than a janitor and that is an axiomatic truth. However, I think that the janitor’s son should have the same opportunity that the doctor’s daughter would have of getting into Law school or Medical School, so that the cycle of poverty will be broken. I understand that poverty will never be completely erased from the face of this earth that would be a utopia; obviously when you look at human nature you realize that bringing about any sort of utopia is nothing but a dream. However, a society without poverty would only point to its greatness, it would show how prosperous the community is and how humane its inhabitants are. This society would be one in which economic disparity would be minimal, there will obviously be rich people and not so rich people, but at least everyone would have better living conditions which will allow the child born in a ghetto to rise up to become a productive member of society.

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