When Poverty Becomes Comfortable


Is Selma, California our future? Thanks to progressive policies of excessive government regulation, high taxes, lax immigration laws and wealth redistribution schemes, Selma’s official unemployment rate hovers near twenty percent. Victor Davis Hanson described his Fresno County home town, nestled in the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley, as a place rich in natural resources and blessed with a temperate climate. Yet businesses aren’t flocking there. Why would they when they can set up shop somewhere else and be more profitable with less hassles?

Hanson looked back on his family history, and noted how despite the hardships of the Great Depression, they were genuinely happy. Today most of us can’t even imagine what life was like back in the 1930’s, yet somehow people managed to get by. My how different things are today.

I often think about how lucky we are to be Americans. Even poor people in the US live in relative comfort, especially when you compare our way of life to those in other parts of the world. A few years ago an acquaintance of mine who’s a single mother of two was relocating to this area. I went apartment hunting with her and put her in touch with people that helped her find a job. On her very modest income she was able to afford a three bedroom apartment. They have cable TV, air conditioning, a phone and a computer with an internet connection. Their apartment complex even has a built in swimming pool. Not bad for a family living on poverty level wages. I haven’t seen her income tax returns, but I’m sure she gets all of the tax credits available and receives a return that’s more than she pays in taxes every year. But at least she’s working and reporting income. As far as I know, she’s not a recipient of food stamps or other assistance.

What a far cry my acquaintance is from the immigrants and other working poor described by Hanson.

There is a vast and completely unreported cash economy in Central California. Tile-setters, carpenters, landscapers, tree-cutters, general handymen, cooks, housekeepers, and personal attendants are all both finding work and being paid in cash. Peddlers (no income or sales taxes) are on nearly every major rural intersection. You can buy everything from a new pressure washer to tropical fruit drinks. For this essay, I stopped at one last week and surveyed their roto-tillers, lawn mowers, and chain saws, new and good brands.

New “restaurants” are sprouting all over the highways — mobile stainless-steel encased canteens with awnings and chairs set up along the road. And yet for all the cash economy, it seems almost everyone in the food stores and doctors’ offices are on food stamps, Medi-Cal, and rent subsidies. A carload of people drove in last week, inquiring about a house nearby; the occupants assured me that they had county housing vouchers.

Cash wages have meant augmented entitlement money and are competitive with those who are formally employed and who pay 30% of their money in payroll, health care, and federal, state, and local income tax deductions. The result is an odd sort of poverty, in which superficially the unemployed and poor to the naked eyed are almost identical to the upper middle classes.

How long can we continue having so many people taking from the system, while giving nothing back? It’s simply unsustainable, yet the progressive politicians want even more people on the government dole. Which is why they’ll never stop railing about economic inequality and fanning the flames of class warfare, as Hanson also pointed out.

Some final tesserae in this confusing mosaic: The rhetoric of poverty and oppression is far more strident than the Depression-era, spread the wealth, Huey Long sort. The sense of injustice voiced by the SEIU or public employee unions suggests wide scale Dickensian malnutrition, not an epidemic of obesity so amply chronicled by the first lady.

History’s revolutions and upheavals — whether the Nika rioting in Constantinople, the periodic uprising of the turba in Rome, the French upheavals, or the Bolshevik Revolution — are rarely fueled by the starving and despised, but by the subsidized and frustrated, who either see their umbilical cord threatened, or their comfort and subsidies static rather than expansive — or their own condition surpassed by that of an envied kulak class. Perceived relative inequality rather than absolute poverty is the engine of revolution.

Be sure to read the whole thing. Hanson really put into perspective what we’re up against, because what’s happening in Selma is spreading across the US. We see the videos of the progressive rallies, we hear the politicians blather about giving money to the rich and talk of spreading the wealth around. This is what they’re after. This is by design. They want a large group of people dependent on the government and feeling entitled. The big question is, is it too late to turn things around?  We all know what needs to be done, but is it politically possible? If not, we’re doomed.

They’ve made people comfortable in poverty, while removing incentives to work harder and get ahead. The illegals who flood across the border know this, and the Democrats want them to vote. Do you think the rate of food stamp usage isn’t by design? All of this may be good progressive political policy, but it’s a prescription for disaster.

Via memeorandum

Update: I forgot to add how the Democrats are always talking about fairness. It’s not fair to let high earners keep more of their money, yet somehow it’s fair that those of us who work hard, pay taxes and do things right get to pay for those who make a life out of living off the system. Disgusting.

Update 2: Another thought – if the cost of food and energy doesn’t come under control, poverty will no longer be comfortable. How will that play out? Will people get out and vote for real change, or will they do what the progressives want them to do and rise up and revolt? I certainly hope it’s the former.

Update 3: The Other McCain linked – thanks!