Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Excusing Yourself from Rational Thinking

Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has recently been subjected to a great deal of public criticism for comments he made concerning the root cause of persistent conditions of poverty in some neighborhoods in America.  As quoted in various sources available on the web:

“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

One of the commentaries that came to my attention is by Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post.  Mr. Robinson criticizes Ryan:

My problem is that when you identify something so amorphous as culture as the fundamental issue, you excuse yourself for not proposing concrete solutions.

Ok... so if Eugene's criticism related to a lack of concrete solutions, it seems reasonable to take a look at what solutions the writer himself suggests:

Alleviating stubborn poverty is difficult and expensive. Direct government aid — money, food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance and the like — is not enough. Poor people need employment that offers a brighter future for themselves and their children. Which means they need job skills. Which means they need education. Which means they need good schools and safe streets.

So... basically the solution is that these afflicted poor require just about everything that mankind has required from the start of time... food, medicine, a roof over their head, a job that can provide them with funds, an education... If we went roaming through history would we not find these are the basics of life throughout time?

Somehow... enough people in history managed to overcome these challenges such that all of us are here today to contemplate Mr. Robinson's meanderings.  So what then is different today than in the past?

I'll take a stab at an answer: Culture.

The best and most effective solution for anyone living in poverty to rise out of that condition will come from the fruits of their own labors... their own efforts to learn to read, learn to write, learn to work, find work, etc. The desire to succeed and provide for themselves and their family... is most certainly a culture issue.

So maybe Paul Ryan is on to something... although I would guess his solutions to the culture problem would somehow source from well-implemented government programs.  In my mind, the current culture problems that our impoverished fellow citizens suffer from are the result of government programs.

For clarity: I don't presume to say here that striving as necessary to rise out of poverty is easy work, or that all of the impoverished will wake up tomorrow and start and succeed... nor that many are not already trying.  I'm not proposing a utopian resolution to the world's troubles.

I'm just pointing out that Eugene has not offered any better solution... which he notes himself in his next paragraph, as his suggestion can't actually be accomplished:

The list of needs is dauntingly long, and it’s hard to know where to start — or where the money for all the needed interventions will come from.

Just for fun... I'll point out that near the top of his piece Eugene suggested that money was indeed the problem:

The fundamental problem that poor people have, whether they live in decaying urban neighborhoods or depressed Appalachian valleys or small towns of the Deep South, is not enough money.
In summary:   Culture is a cheap way to escape from solving the persistent problem of poverty.  A much better way is to agree that the solution is more money distributed through more government programs that will all occur without any idea as to the source of the money in the first place.

I prefer Ryan's approach.  At least he's starting from a reasonable position.

1 comment:

Andrew Ferguson said...

What about a similar amount of money (in total) distributed through fewer government programs?