The last 90 years of American politics and economic philosophy has been a conflict between two philosophies. The philosophy that made America, that of rugged individualism, equality of opportunity and free markets. The other is the philosophy of Franklin Roosevelt, that policy needs to focus first on the forgotten man. An interesting question is there room for both at the policy table?
The left would tell us that income inequality is the issue of our time. Income inequality is a not a problem, any more than inequality of talents, ambition, goals, or activities is a problem. Not everyone should earn the same because not everyone wants to earn the same, not everyone does the same thing, not everyone wants to live in the same type house or drive the same car. If we do different things, want different things, and contribute different things then why would we want to earn the same thing?
America was based upon rugged individualism, family and community cooperation and equality of opportunity not socialism, communalism, and equality of outcomes. It is this philosophy that enabled us to become the global engine of innovation and wealth which has transformed humanity.
If the problem is not income inequality, as I declare, what is the problem with a society that has hundreds of thousands homeless, at least a million children wondering if they will have meals over long holidays, especially at the end of a month, and millions of people in fear of not having quality healthcare when they need it? Obviously, there is a problem. Getting the problem right is essential to finding solutions.
There are three major problem areas. First is the way we leave out the disabled from our economic engine. We keep too many in poverty, punishing savings and earning. We don’t give enough opportunity or help to those in most need of it.
Second, we still have subtle ways of setting people up for failure. For instance, if a young person is going to college full time and working part time less than 20 hours a week, that family is penalized with SNAP and other benefits because they are not meeting the work requirement. If she becomes pregnant and drops out of school, she would get loads of benefits. What are we encouraging and what are we discouraging? I am fine with helping pregnant women, but I believe that we should help people on their way to being highly paid, productive taxpayers and not penalize their efforts. We know that focusing on good grades, taking advantage of internships and other activities is part of the tool box to success. Our programs need to reflect that not perpetuate short-term thinking unless the real objective is to keep people on benefits generation after generation. We deny school choice so that caring parents are stuck with failing schools where in the worst cases, they are trying to survive instead of learning. It is a subtle bigotry of pushing people into situations that those same people would never tolerate for themselves.
We penalize savings of people on benefits but are fine with borrowing. We don’t have a graduated system when you reach the cut off level for Medicaid of allowing people to pay some premiums. It is either off or on. If you go over to Obamacare, the deductibles and copays are so high, that you almost are better off not having insurance, which is not an option if you or a family member is undertreatment. Wages have not kept pace with rent. Jobs for the working class are disappearing and we are not educating people for the almost million trade jobs that go unfilled. Common Core exacerbates the problem by a one size fits all education system that stifles the vocational track and the genius track.
The biggest poverty problem in America is a poverty mentality. It is a mentality that says take drugs, sell some of your kids SNAP benefits for half price to get drugs or alcohol, or refuse to go to a shelter because they have the temerity to say we want you, not your drugs. It is a mentality that allows neighborhoods to become war zones because you think some rapper knows better than your grandmother when he says the Police are bad and she says to call them. You go around wearing no snitching T-Shirts then get mad when you are robbed and wonder if you should join a gang for protection. It is a mentality that says nerds get an education, instead of seeking education and training to better one’s life.
It is not showing up to work close to on time, missing days then wondering why you are the first cut when business slows. It is paying $300 a month to Rent-a-Center for a large screen TV and being upset that you can’t afford a car or even sillier trying to get your Landlord to wait for $200 of rent. You can give that person 50,000 dollars a year and they would get worse not better. You have to help them change their mindset. Dr. Carson is correct.
The point is that you can’t solve these problems with simple-minded redistribution solutions. People like easy answers like blaming the 1%. Sure, it is insane when we take tens of billions from working people to bail out bad business decisions instead of pushing structured bankruptcy or we don’t allow student loans to be refinanced at today’s lower interest rates if you want the safety net of forbearance if you get sick or unemployed. People who have no issue with tax breaks to ship jobs overseas have a problem with an earned income tax credit to allow a working family a decent if minimal lifestyle even if the are earning lower wages. I find that mentality objectionable as well.
Americans are just going to have to admit that the dogma of sects from both political extremes are lacking. The left will have to admit that it is not merely economics keeping many people poor, it is a poverty culture that must be changed. That takes strong families, faith, a variety of education and training and a vibrant free market providing opportunity. Some on the right may have to admit that the system really is rigged. We need to bring people into the market with tax credits, education, and you either subsidize hard working people with SNAP, EITC, and Medical care or you will face demands for a living wage, mandated health benefits and European style socialism. This country is bubbling beneath the surface. Americans can ignore our problems and it will explode or we can work on fixing them and use the energy to soar. It is our choice.