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Editorial Reflections

Focus on ills of those in poverty a way to avoid creating a fair society

A book by a medical historian asks the question, “What’s wrong with the poor?” I have not read it, but the title started me thinking about how we frame our thinking, and how that affects what we do.  

Perhaps that question can help us realize we spend too much time and effort diagnosing the supposed ills of those in poverty instead of finding out what is really needed, like a just, fair society.

We have a moralistic attitude about the poor.  Someone coined the phrase, “the deserving poor,” which implies that “undeserving” poor people do not deserve tax-funded services.

When we realize we create programs based on how we think things should be, such a question discredits the poor.  Why say anything is “wrong” with poor people, other than that they have little money and scant access to support systems money can supply.

Diagnosing the poor is not the problem.  The challenge is finding out what poor people need for them to succeed.

The growing income gap in our country and the world has been receiving much attention lately.  Income inequality doesn’t travel alone. There is inequality in access to education, medical and mental health care, employment opportunities, reliable information and social support services.  Plus, they are inter-related.

When those of us who have access to health care face a medical challenge in our family, we learn there are people in the system who can guide us through decisions, appointments, transportation and complications.  The process may be time-consuming, but the support is there.  Those without it have had to rely on overstressed emergency rooms until now.

A widely held belief that our schools generally are failing and need radical reform is being pushed by foundations and “think tanks” financed by billionaires pushing pet ideas or ideology rather than education. 

One is interested in school vouchers supposedly to “allow” school choice.   It may sound good on first hearing, but what good is a voucher for part or all of private school tuition for a family in poverty if it doesn’t also include school fees, books and supplies, transportation and school uniforms where required?

Generally, where educators, parents and community groups work together in the real interests of education, schools are performing well.  Where the idea prevails that unions are to blame for problems in our schools or where candidates for the school board consider that role a springboard to higher political office or to serve an ideological program, schools have a much rockier path.

Throughout our history, we have had a myth about “rugged individualism.” 

This has been true particularly in the western U.S., whether the West was then in Ohio or in the Oregon Territory.  The “self-made man” is a modification of the myth.  Some aspects of libertarianism follow the pattern today.

These myths may be part of what brings on a question such as, “What’s wrong with the poor?” 

It may be easier to blame others for their plight, than to explore opportunities to collaborate with them to include them in making decisions that will bring meaningful changes to their lives.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr. offers a comment that runs counter to 30 years of anti-tax propaganda that relate to this question. 

He says:  “I like to pay taxes.  With them I buy civilization.”

Nancy Minard - Contributing Editor

Copyright © January 2014 - The Fig Tree