Monday, July 18, 2011

Obama's Socialist View: Poverty is Relative

So who gets to decide what “poor” means? For most of us, the vague definition is hazy around the edges. Homeless or living in public shelters or substandard housing? Someone whose food supply is uncertain and of inferior quality? Families without adequate warm clothing?

Those of us who think this way have an outdated image of poverty, one that harks back to the 1930s Great Depression.

The nouveau poor (post-Lyndon Johnson’s assault on the middle class) are far removed from John-Boy Walton’s family existence in rural Virginia in 1935 or so. Trust Hollywood television to purvey yet another shibboleth that allows its audience to share a common definition of reality that is far removed from the actuality of life among the poor in modern America. We’re trained to make the jump from John-Boy to old people living on cat food and homeless folks left to shift for themselves, at the mercy of street life. Consider those images as part of our indoctrination.

If there is one way in which Americans are isolated, it is by economic demography. People tend to associate with others of more-or-less equal income. The very rich hang out in the same places; likewise, the poor have their own environment. Perhaps the only place in which they might meet up is Disney World.

The Heritage Foundation provides this summary of part of the picture: [my emphasis — D]

For decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that over 30 million Americans were living in “poverty,” but the bureau’s definition of poverty differs widely from that held by most Americans. In fact, other government surveys show that most of the persons whom the government defines as “in poverty” are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term.

The overwhelming majority of the poor have air conditioning, cable TV, and a host of other modern amenities. They are well housed, have an adequate and reasonably steady supply of food, and have met their other basic needs, including medical care. Some poor Americans do experience significant hardships, including temporary food shortages or inadequate housing, but these individuals are a minority within the overall poverty population. Poverty remains an issue of serious social concern, but accurate information about that problem is essential in crafting wise public policy. Exaggeration and misinformation about poverty obscure the nature, extent, and causes of real material deprivation, thereby hampering the development of well-targeted, effective programs to reduce the problem.

Below the fold is a chart showing the material possessions of those who are maintained on our national rolls as “at or below the poverty level”. And the Poverty Mongers will be the first to tell you these are the deprived, those who are cut off from the right to achieve, to pursue happiness.

But wait. That chart dates from 2005. Before Obama arrived with his New View of poverty measures. From 2010:

Under the new measure, a family will be judged “poor” if its income falls below a certain specified income threshold. Nothing new there, but, unlike the current poverty standards, the new income thresholds will have a built-in escalator clause: They will rise automatically in direct proportion to any rise in the living standards of the average American.

The current poverty measure counts absolute purchasing power — how much steak and potatoes you can buy. The new measure will count comparative purchasing power — how much steak and potatoes you can buy relative to other people. As the nation becomes wealthier, the poverty standards will increase in proportion. In other words, Obama will employ a statistical trick to ensure that “the poor will always be with you,” no matter how much better off they get in absolute terms.

This poverty-is-relative outlook is pernicious; at best, it promotes envy and divisiveness. As the author(Robert Rector) pointed out this kind of thinking was considered during LBJ’s rollout of the War on Poverty. Johnson “flatly rejected” the relativity standards. Most unfortunately for the health of our culture, however, LBJ’s compassionate paternalism did wreak havoc, even if it didn’t go so far as the Leftists would’ve liked. In the intervening years since the creation of those pie-in-the-sky grants for Head Start, Job Corps, etc., all of which were a dismal FAIL, we have learned the truly malignant consequences of a ‘helpful’ government.

Having been softened up over the last generation, we are easy prey for Obama’s bizarre, ugly socialism:
The weird new poverty measure will produce very odd results. For example, if the real income of every single American were to magically triple over night, the new poverty measure would show there had been no drop in “poverty,” because the poverty income threshold would also triple. Under the Obama system, poverty can be reduced only if the incomes of the “poor” are rising faster than the incomes of everyone else.

Another paradox of the new poverty measure is that countries such as Bangladesh and Albania will have lower poverty rates than the United States, even though the actual living conditions in those countries are extremely bad. Haiti would probably have a very low poverty rate when measured by the Obama system because the earthquake reduced much of the population to a uniform penniless squalor.

In other words, common sense tells you there will always be a bottom level. But in Obama-land that bottom is ipso facto, “poor”. Talk about debasement of the language…

…Since the beginning of the 20th century, the incomes of nearly all Americans have increased sevenfold, after adjusting for inflation. However, from Obama’s perspective, this increase in real incomes had no impact on poverty, because the wages of those at the bottom of the income distribution did not rise faster than the incomes of those in the middle.

What has the Obama measure to do with actual poverty? Not much.

There are currently forty million people classified as poor. Yet most of them have quite a share of material goods (see chart). Our grandfathers would’ve derided this surreal accounting and defining as the bogus operation it is. Bogus and malign.

Poverty possessions

Rector said:

In honest English, the new system will measure income inequality, not poverty. Why not just call it an “inequality” index? Answer: because the American voter is unwilling to support massive welfare increases, soaring deficits, and tax increases to equalize incomes. However, if the goal of income leveling is camouflaged as a desperate struggle against poverty, hunger, and dire deprivation, then the political prospects improve. The new measure is a public-relations Trojan horse, smuggling in a “spread the wealth” agenda under the ruse of fighting real material privation — a condition that is rare in our society.

Indeed it is rare. So rare that even those who work with the so-called poor have never encountered “real material deprivation”. For many years I worked with families, adults, and children the average person would view as part of the underclass. But they would’ve been so defined by their behaviors rather than their possessions.

  • The underclass possess many goods, but books aren’t likely to be high on the list.
  • Members of the underclass generally live in the present; they seldom plan ahead.
  • “Families” often consist of one mother with several children. Each of her kids may have been the result of short-lived unions with different men who have long since abandoned their offspring.
  • Drama and conflict pervade the household. Children fight among themselves and are poorly supervised. The adult in the home, the mother, experiences frequent discord with members of her family of origin.
  • Crises are frequent: utilities are cut off; cell phones are inactive due to lack of payment; rental furniture is repossessed; cars go missing to boyfriends or others.
  • Aside from intervention by social workers and stop-gap rescues from well-meaning charities, there is little family involvement in the community. No one joins the Scouts or sports teams, no one attends church, few have library cards. Usually, Mother doesn’t bother registering to vote or attending Parent-Teacher meetings.

The possessions of the underclass are often astonishingly pricey. Name brand shoes — Nike, Adidas, etc., — are necessities for demanding children who refuse to go to school in cheap $100.00 shoes. It’s not true they learn nothing in these government schools; these kids learn how to dress in order to stir envy in others.

The first time I observed a child’s tantrum over his shoes was in a house where the electricity had been turned off the month before and only reconnected by the helpful community church outreach. I tried to talk reason to the distraught mother but it was hard to be heard over the noise of the X-box game two other children were playing. When I did my next home visit, the boy had his Nikes and Salvation Army was signing up the family for Christmas. Call it my Poverty Epiphany.

As the economic uncertainties loom for the middle class it well may be that the government-supported poor will continue on as before. The Obama Hope ’n’ Change meme is simply a novel (and soon to be pervasive) philosophy of poverty:

True, the new Obama measure will not, at present, alter benefits or expand eligibility for welfare programs. But the new measure does establish a new philosophy of poverty. For the first time, the government is planning to define poverty as a problem that can never be solved by the American dream: a general rise of incomes of all Americans across society over time. By definition, poverty can now be solved only by the dream of the Left: massive taxes on the upper and middle classes and redistribution to the less affluent. In effect, the Obama poverty measure sets a new national goal of class warfare and income redistribution.

We’ll have to wait and see how long our President’s vision of eternal class warfare lasts as the tax revenues from the upper and middle class begins to shrink.


Zenster said...

We’ll have to wait and see how long our President’s vision of eternal class warfare lasts as the tax revenues from the upper and middle class begins to shrink.

This is redistribution of wealth, plain and simple. Nothing new there, BHO has been blatting it about ever since he hit the campaign trail.

What I can guarantee you is that ― should the middle and upper class be forced by government fiat to accelerate low income earnings beyond their own ― donations to charity will dry up, quite possibly for a very long time.

A lot of America's sympathy well dried up long ago. Much like with the "Palestinians", donor fatigue has sent in with a vengeance. Go to sites like SBPDL (Stuff Black People Don't Like) and Unamusement Park to get a sample of the hostility that is brewing against professional victims and their Poverty Mongers (e.g., Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton et al).

Politicians are rediscovering the ancient formula of fomenting horizontal class warfare in order to avoid the vertical class warfare they so dreadfully fear. In their haste to preserve whatever perks and entitlements they have, America's career politicians are setting the stage for civil war.

Mary Jackson said...

I used to complain that Americans didn't know how lucky they were not to have been ravaged by Socialism. In the UK, the "squeezed middle", that is the people who work, have long been supporting the feckless fecund and their brood of useless, but very demanding feral brats.

Under Obama, perhaps America too will fall to Socialism - for God's sake kick him out, and return to being the last defence against that evil creed.

Dymphna said...


SBPDL doesn’t seem much like the reality of black folks I know... maybe I didn't look deeply enough.

More common are black-on-black murders; they account for most of the homicides in, say, Chicago.

The underclass of my experience, in my post, was majority white, though blacks are certainly over-represented in percentages. But go to a locality that is mostly white & the white underclass is making crystal meth & living off govt handouts. They are utterly maimed...
Agreed re donor fatigue, but the causes may be more complex than you cite here. As for donations to the PoorPalis -- well, they have to depend on the Left, don't they? And the Left is famously mingy when it comes to community support.

Soros' bajillions make the Left possible. ACORN is his, & Code Pink. Also his huge funding of Dem pols & causes – e.g., the Flotilla.

What you call fatigue I see as a growing sophistication re what ppl will support. And that's how it should be.

It’s the folks who share nothing with nobody… the angry isolates who are a concern. Someone who won’t give up a daily latte once a week to support a good local project is missing an essential element in what it means to be human. We're social beings, all born hard-wired both to hoard AND to share.

The difficult, on-going character building we're all engaged in manifests here: how to develop an authentic sense of discernment. How to create enthusiasm in the face of the oh-so-cool ironic nihilistic public pose chosen as a way to avoid engagement (in the French sense of that word. There’s no equivalent in English...or I can't think of one).

Here's a worthy cause: Hillsdale College.

Absolutely NO govt money. The irony, re federal funding = no discrimination, is particularly exquisite. W/ their original charter in 1844 Hillsdale accepted women & blacks.

The Civil War is already here, Zenster. I pray it remains a war of words.

Zenster said...

Dymphna: What you call fatigue I see as a growing sophistication re what ppl will support. And that's how it should be.

Here, we are in violent agreement.

John Sobieski said...

Govt distorts reality and free markets. Without the govt's support (welfare, wic, fstamps, sec8,etc.) and actions (importing poor), the poor would naturally decrease in a free market efficient society. That is no longer possible. If there are no penalties for reckless behavior (pregancy due to no protection), laziness, etc., you get more of it.

Regarding charity, I give more now to organizations fighting for specific causes (reduced immigration, smaller govt, jihad awareness) and bloggers whose opinions I largely agree.) rather than to organizations where I am unsure what they are doing with my money (United Way, humanity charities.) But the fatigue is there for sure.

It is distressing to watch your country be steadily chipped away. Such evil elites in Washington. It's appropriate that DC is a dysfunctional city at the local level as well. It's got it all!

laine said...

There's pecuniary poverty and cultural poverty. Those with cultural poverty remain poor for generations, eschewing education,the traditional family unit and hard work, the formula that erases poverty with over a 90% success rate for any race or creed that uses it. Conversely what passes for contemporary American black culture denigrates the formula: the majority of blacks do not acquit themselves well even with free education, 70% of black children are born to single mothers and instant gratification in the drugs/gangs/crime paradigm trumps hard work. Rap glorifies this black lifestyle. Constant excuse making and entitlement talk leaning on ancient slavery sins and non-existent racism blames others for problems inherent in American black culture. Observing generally better behavior and better results from recently immigrated African blacks provides an excellent control sample. American black culture is toxic and resembles nothing so much as a drug addict dependent on his (liberal/Democrat) pusher.

Anne-Kit said...

In Hoc, above - Your reference to Maggie Thatcher reminded me of this snippet featuring the Great Lady explaining the concept of relative poverty:

Unknown said...

Poverty , to me, is to wake up in your apt on Christmas day, and christ you forgot it was Christmas but the 7-11 is open and you walk a mile or so to where it is and get a chorizo burrito.

Poverty is living in a place your friends you knew back when are even scared to drive thru much less stop. its being left out, having sore feet, and being miles from a grocery store. it means living down the street from thieves that will break in and steal your bike and your electric piano.

Unknown said...

above post does not reflect that it was in fact a very good burrito and the stores did finally open so i could get something to eat.

Dymphna said...

@ John--

Yes, that is poverty. It is also loneliness, that sad sense of having been left behind.

However, I noticed the immediate response of gratitude for what is -- i.e., the hot burrito when the store eventually opened.

That's how I survive too: small gratitudes that I write down every day. Five of them, usually in the morning.

Here's one for you: church bells. I,too, love the sound of the Angelus. I took it for granted when I heard it every day. Now here, in the country, I seldom ever hear the bells...

In Hoc Signo Vinces† said...


As you can see from the video Thatcher's relative poverty argument is a neoliberal ruse. Thatcher gauges the success of her neoliberal economic policies not by the wealth they generate but by the poverty they create. That poverty creation of her policies was the background to her early use of the cultural relativism defense.

The mind breaking political contortions of cultural relativism force Thatcher into a race to the bottom, a race from the falsehoods of the relative poverty contention to the desire for the reality of absolute poverty - the precursor to a THIRD WORLD ECONOMY.

Dymphna said...

The Baron called my attention to two comments impoverished by name-calling and questionable rhetoric. I deleted them in order to prvent a further spiral downward.

@Mary Jackson:

As I mentioned in my post, we were set on the socialist road in a BIG way by Johnson but it really started with Roosevelt's Keynesian-driven makework programs. However, his plans were interrupted by WWII and not successfully taken up again until Johnson's so-called "War on Poverty" with its ludicruous unintended consequences leading to a huge bloat in the underclass. Senator Moynihan predicted these programs would demolish black families. And so they did.

The large programmatic Socialism Johnson started was increased by every president thereafter, with govt infiltration of agriculture, education, medicine, research, academia, meat production and so on. There is nothing truly private left.


In Hoc--

I watched the video. She sounded like a conservative to me. The condition of the UK since many of her policies were rescinded has been sad to see, across the board. Why anyone would trust Labor after their deliberate assault on the culture of England by the massive influx of hostile immigrants is beyond me.

We have the same problems here in the US with the socialist left, of which Obama is a leading light.

Soros loves Obama. He loves any pol whose goal is the same as his: destruction of the social fabric of the West. At least Soros is honest enough to admit it.

It is probably too late for us, too, but ppl are too busy watching TV to care much.

A question to commenters generally: among your friends and family and co-workers do you feel safe in stating your political opinions or have you learned to be silent?

Baron Bodissey said...

Mary Jackson --

Perhaps you failed to notice that a comment by In Hoc Signo Vinces was also deleted, at the same time yours was.

Dymphna deleted your comment because it violated one or more of our four commenting rules, as mentioned in the window where you published your comment. The full details on our comment policy may be read here.

I have reproduced your words as well as I could below, redacting where necessary to help you comply with Gates of Vienna standards.

As a matter of interest, your status as a “writer for the New English Review” carries no special cachet or privilege here. The same rules are applied to all, seigneur and peasant alike.

The New English Review has its ups and downs. I generally find it worthwhile, but that does not confer upon its writers any waiver exempting them from the normal constraints all commenters here are customarily requested to observe.


Mary Jackson said...

[Redacted]. It is the squeezed middle who actually work. The [uncivilized offspring], the [overly fecund mothers] out and the [lower-class people] who [bore] them are as much use in the counter-jihad as a chocolate fireguard. They will [exert themselves] only to [take advantage of state benefits], and have no idea about Islam because they [are not fully informed about the current cultural milieu].

Bear in mind, too, that the welfare state (paid for by the squeezed middle who actually work) is supporting the reproduction line of the Muslim breeders too - and they breed faster than our home grown [persons of less fortunate backgrounds].

Take away the welfare benefits - let the real workers, namely the squeezed middle, keep more of their hard earned cash, and both the Muslims and the home grown [persons of lesser cultural status] will be forced to curtail their fertility or starve.

By the way, apologies if this is due to technical problems, but I can't see otherwise why the [comment I objected to] is allowed to stand while mine - a writer for the New English Review - is deleted.

Professor L said...

Dymphna - to my immediate family, I'm usually pretty frank, and we're all able to respect each other's opinions. I don't often talk politics with friends, but I'm usually pretty open there when the topic comes around too (whether it be my monarchist, Catholic or counter jihad sentiments). I never really had much of a social chance to talk to my coworkers, so I never talked politics there.

And if ever I am silent on something, it's generally because I'm not too sure on something myself (whether it be a lack of knowledge of an alternative, or simply a lack of confidence that it's sustainable under debate).

So, I guess you could say I'm lucky.

In Hoc Signo Vinces† said...


Why was my comment delated in full and not afforded the same courtesy as others and republished in redacted form.

Questionable rhetoric - was this politically motivated or has GoV become a politically correct site?


"Why anyone would trust Labor ..."

That is a cheap shot.

@Mary Jackson,

"a writer for the New English Review" That is a perfect example of the arrogance and sense of entitlement that destroyed the U.K.

Mary Jackson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Baron Bodissey said...

In Hoc --

I did not afford you the same treatment because by the time I got to this thread, your comment had already been deleted, as had Mary Jackson's. She, however, had later reposted her comment, so I could see what she had said, and redact the text.

Dymphna said...

Time to close the thread. Before I do so, thanks to LAW Wells for responding to my question. And yes, you are fortunate.
As for the two contenders on this thread, your lack of civility toward one another is startling.

@In Hoc Signo Vinces† --

You took my comment re the Labour Party as a "cheap shot" though that was not my intent. What I know of the Labor Party's own admissions about its programme of using mass immigration sounds very like what the Democrat party & Big Business did in this country. I don't have time to dig for the scholarly research, but this blog post from April serves to illustrate my point.

'Labour lied... there's been a masive rupture of trust'

You may feel unjustly treated in having your comment removed. I only regret I let it stand at all, given the spirit of bitterness it displayed. Your reputation for coming on the comment threads to declaim about Thatcher is now well-established. Since you choose to use a Christian symbol in your nic, may I suggest that you to speak (at least in public) in a manner which lives up to the symbol you chose? If you're going to speak in the manner you do, why use a Christian nic as your shield? Why offend other Christians that way? Maybe the Beatitudes would be a place to start? Just a suggestion.
Mary Jackson--

If your words are any indication of level of discord in England, then your poor country is surely in trouble. You say you're a writer, yet you use your words as weapons, violating repeatedly the rules of civil discourse. Your ad hominem attacks, your fallacious appeal to authority ("I'm a writer"), your bad-faith form of argument, etc., are not permitted here. I thought you knew that.

This thread is now closed. Sadly necessary given the level to which the cross talk has descended.