Our Lord said that we would always have the poor with us. We never imagined how those words would be twisted and perverted by modern Unbelief. The prevailing narrative of state exacted redistribution of property to achieve equality (or as near to it as possible) requires that the poor be always with us--for propaganda purposes. We repeat, the seize-and-redistribute property brigade requires a narrative where the poor perpetually exist. How else could you justify perpetually increasing exactions of other people's property and assets? How else could you maintain the politics of guilt and pity?
One of our favorites in New Zealand is the inequality approach.
Consider a world in which there were only two people. One had a net worth of ten million dollars. The other, a mere two million dollars. Instantly, the inequality approach identifies the second person as an unfortunate, disadvantaged, oppressed poor miscreant who deserves state-enforced exactions from the other chap, and redistribution in his favour to reduce his poverty. This is why the poor are perpetually amongst us--in the modern world. We have defined poverty in such a way that the poor will always exist to justify a perpetual demand for state-enforced redistribution.
Christians are suckers for this kind of specious propaganda. They also perpetuate it. The Heritage Foundation in the United States has just published a study exposing the fraud. It notes the role of Christians in its perpetuation. First example: Catholic Charities:
In a campaign to promote higher welfare spending, Catholic Charities USA tells the public that the government-defined poor lack the basic material necessities of life.Second example, protestant Ronald Sider:
For example, confusion of this sort can be found in Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America by evangelical Ronald J. Sider. Sider begins his book with a chapter entitled “What Does Poverty Look Like?” in which he informs his readers, “In 2005, in the United States, 37 million people lived in poverty in the richest society in human history.” He asks, “Who are the poor? Where do they live?” and proceeds to answer these questions with a lengthy description of the home of Mrs. Onita Skyles, a 68-year-old widow:The Heritage Foundation study makes clear that when you get below the crude relative income level measures and actually look at household amenities, it turns out that the vast majority of those officially identified as "poor" are remarkably well off, when considered historically. Here are some of the data:
The foundation was collapsing. Sections of the floor had rotted. The walls and ceiling were cracked. The tub and toilet had sunk below the floor level and were unusable, and there was no running water. Mrs. Styles cooked with a hot plate and carried water in gallon jugs from a neighbor’s house.He then describes the shack where the Perez family lives: “The walls are old doors, tar paper, chicken wire, and rotting boards. The ground provides a dirt floor. There is no bathroom, no running water, no electricity, no heat. Their toilet is a reeking outhouse across the street.”
The descriptions of these two individual households are indeed appalling, but Sider is seriously misleading when he implies that such living conditions are representative of 37 million poor people. In fact, the situations he presents are not at all representative of the poor in America. The described conditions are very unusual and probably found in no more than one in 500 households.
This is not to say there are not folk in the United States who are genuinely poor. But what this table makes clear is that the majority of those identified as being poor are anything but on any common-sense measure. There are, after all, lies, damned lies, and statistics. And the statistical measures are set up to make poverty perpetual to justify an ever expanding governmental despotism.
On another measure, take the matter of food.
Once again, "poor" households are remarkably well fed. The number of genuinely malnourished exist, but hardly register statistically.
The authors conclude as follows:
In 2005, the typical household defined as poor by the government had a car and air conditioning. For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR. If there were children, especially boys, in the home, the family had a game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation. In the kitchen, the household had a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave. Other household conveniences included a clothes washer, a clothes dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone, and a coffee maker.
The home of the typical poor family was not overcrowded and was in good repair. The family was able to obtain medical care when needed. By its own report, the family was not hungry and had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs.
Poor families clearly struggle to make ends meet, but in most cases, they are struggling to pay for air conditioning and cable TV while putting food on the table. The current recession has increased the number of Americans who are poor, but it does not appear to have greatly reduced the living standards of the average poor family.
True, the average poor family does not represent every poor family. There is a range of living conditions among the poor. Some poor households fare better than the average household described above. Others are worse off. Although the overwhelming majority of the poor are well housed, at any single point in time during the recession in 2009, around one in 70 poor persons was homeless. Although the majority of poor families have an adequate and reasonably steady supply of food, many worry about keeping food on the table, and one in five experienced temporary food shortages at various times in 2009.
Those who are without food or homeless will find no comfort in the fact that their condition is relatively infrequent. Their distress is real and a serious concern.
Nonetheless, wise public policy cannot be based on misinformation or misunderstanding. Anti-poverty policy must be based on an accurate assessment of actual living conditions and the causes of deprivation. In the long term, grossly exaggerating the extent and severity of material deprivation in the U.S. will benefit neither the poor, the economy, nor society as a whole.
If a drill-down analysis were to be done in New Zealand, a similar picture would emerge. Whilst there will be genuine cases of severe hardship, those statistically identified as "poor" in this country are remarkably well off by any historical measure.