Posts Tagged ‘ poverty ’

Paul Ryan Saves the Day

This, everybody, is what an a-hole looks like.

This, everybody, is what an a-hole looks like.

Paul Ryan is Fighting Poverty!

Pardon me while I suppress a chuckle. To many of us, this is something akin to Lance Armstrong conducting an ethics in sports workshop.

But let’s hear him out.

We do, after all, want all stakeholders to be part of the national conversation on poverty and inequality—a conversation that is getting louder and louder and is, at long last, garnering more and more of the public’s attention.

At CPAC, Paul Ryan used his laser-fine, Any Randian intellect to root out what is holding back the poor in this country. In this analysis, poverty is perpetuated by, “[a] 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 how did this happen? Why? Because we let people survive on welfare and food stamps, of course.

Never mind the racial overtones of this argument, it still appears I was right to be snarkily dismissive of Mr. Ryan’s new crusade.

Poverty, Mr. Ryan, is not a problem created by the welfare state. You know how we know?

It predates the welfare state, numbnutz.

It has been a constant blight on human civilization since the first cities, since we stopped all being subsistence hunter gatherers and some of us started doing quite well—quite well through an economic model that requires the labor of others, of course.

Remember medieval Europe, Paul? Guess what: there were poor people there and what didn’t they have? No food stamps.

In Ryan’s theory of economics and history, those medieval serfs just didn’t have that “up by the bootstraps” work ethic that he, son of a lawyer, was fortunate enough to be raised with.

What further makes this model of Ryan’s so problematic is the fact that those social safety nets he decries as the root problem—along with education funding and other investments in opportunities for the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder—have been stripped away, largely dismantled by proponents of supply-side capitalism like his personal heroes: Friedman, Reagan and Rand. How can they be the problem, Paul, if you and your cronies have already destroyed them? In fact, might destroying them be part of the reason that social mobility has dropped in this country and suddenly everyone is lamenting a future America where it’s harder to do better than your parents than ever before?

Ryan has found exactly the problem he wanted to find, not because it’s there, but because he wanted to find it. (Could we have an intelligent discussion about the self-perpetuating culture of poverty and the inner city? Perhaps, but Paul Ryan is never going to be the man to lead it.) At least Paul has been life-long adherent to these ideologies, unlike so many of his Republican peers who have taken sharp turns to the right, following the lure of Koch brothers’ dollars. What he proposes from these morally bankrupt ideologies is, though, no more useful than the Tea Party sugar daddies’ preferred policies. What he offers is, quite succinctly is nothing.

Literally: Nothing.

CNN’s write up on the whole schlemiel says, “Ryan’s recent interest in poverty is likely to culminate in policy proposals that are, based on his recent speeches, going to advocate fewer government-centered poverty programs.”

He’s saying that we should give them nothing. Do nothing for them. Anything we do will just create that dreaded “culture of dependency” that he miraculously avoided while living on the Social Security benefits for his ill grandmother after his father’s death. Also, one wonders why the Republicans don’t worry about their pitiable corporate benefactors. Won’t they become “dependent” on all those tax breaks and favorable government policies? I guess not, because, after all, they don’t get those for free. They buy them with bribes, er, I mean “campaign contributions.”

This is Ryan’s worldview. Government and its machinations should serve me and mine, but not anyone less fortunate. It’s a callous, hypocritical, and self-serving ideology that’s, well, practically medieval.





Julie Turkewitz recently wrote an article for The Atlantic on Chris Arnade’s photographic career documenting the downtrodden addicts of New York’s red-light district.

The glimpse Arnade offers into this world is disturbing, and many have questioned his motives and methods.  He is, after all, affluent–photography is a side-gig; high finance pays the bills–and some allege that he is both exploiting his subjects’ situations while also perpetuating them by paying paltry sums for them to allow him to photograph them.

As I examine these images, though, it’s not Chris Arnade who I think should be ashamed.

At least, not him alone.

Arnade’s subjects live at the margins of our society.  They are trapped in a cycle of addiction.  Some live fix to fix.  Many turn tricks to afford drugs.  In a nation of promise, they have none.  Many of them were born into this world without hope.  Some have brought other children into it.  Right beneath the lights of our greatest city, these poor human souls are caught in a vicious cycle of debasement and despair.

It would be easy to comfort ourselves:  I am not a drug addict.  I have my life in order.  Yet our choices and the choices of our elected officials have bearing on these people’s lives.  What have we, as a society, invested in?  How might their lives have been different with greater educational opportunities?  With a well-funded system of interventions, perhaps these people could escape the grip of these drugs.  Instead we send them through the rotating doors of the prison system.  The greatest nation on Earth has allowed these people to languish, and that fact calls into question the whole notion of our greatness.

If you look at the photos–and you should; you really should–you will see ordinary faces, staring out from a wasteland.

It is more than a physical poverty that these images speak to.  It’s a poverty of mind, of opportunity, of vision.  These people cannot see themselves as anything other than raw nerves, seeking out a salve.  And as a society, we have not found a way to see them as anything other than anathema, other than a blight.  We should have been striving together all along to find a route back to dignity, to a wisdom befitting citizens in the wealthiest and most powerful nation in human history.  That we have not is a ringing condemnation of our culture and its priorities, and it casts a pall on everything that is America.