Sunday, December 22, 2013
Fareed Zakaria says that the needs of the poor is a more pressing problem than middle class stagnation in the US
Fareed Zakaria today, on his CNN Global Public Square program, encouraged viewers to visit his Washington Post perspective, “The ‘defining challenge’ of helping the poor”, link here. Zarkaria argues that the problem if the poor is somewhat separate from middle class income stagnation, chronic unemployment in much of the middle class, and the growing aloofness and wealth share of the super rich. In some ways, he argues, the United States is actually closer to egalitarianism than much of “quasi-socialist” Europe.
Indeed the Bible, including the New Testament, the Torah and the Koran all accept the idea that the poor will always be around and that inequality in any dynamic society is unavoidable. And it seems to be constantly encroaching. Yet, as far back as 1974, after the oil shocks, I recall the appearance of a book by Paul and Anne Ehrlich from Ballantine, “The End of Affluence” with a chapter called “The New Poor”.
So while it seems that poverty at first begs for public policy solutions, ultimately it has a personal aspect that is unavoidable. I can recall a local teenager preaching about this at a testimonial in 2012 (Drama blog, Feb. 26, 2012). When confronted by someone asking for a handout or a hand up directly, it is hard to respond. There are indeed some “professional pandhandlers”, and sometimes stopping to assist involves some real risk. (That can cut both ways. I have a posting on this on the “Bill Boushka” blog Feb. 25, 2009. Once, I got a lift from two strangers, on Md. US 301, in September 1992, when I got separated from my group while on a bike hike, after a storm in Delaware.)
The hardest thing in the “personal involvement” issue is communication with the person who needs help. I often find that a “poor” person doesn’t see or experience the world cognitively the way I (or my contemporaries in modern culture) would, and doesn’t understand “personal responsibility” the way one has to in an individualistic society. And a lot of the reason the person doesn’t is luck and circumstance. There could be genetics involved, or simply a background where the person did not learn from parents or schools how to function in our world. So the person has fallen into a cycle of poverty, and meets indifference from others.