Media personality Tavis Smiley and Princeton philosophy professor Cornel West have just published their latest contribution to American poverty propaganda, “The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto.”
The book should have a second subtitle: “How to Keep the Poor Poor and Blacks Enslaved to Government.” To the extent this book is taken seriously by anyone, the result will only be more entrenched poverty.
Smiley and West’s message is simple. America today consists of a few powerful, rapacious rich people and a lot of unfortunate, exploited poor people. The rich are rich because they are lucky. The poor are poor because they are unlucky. And the only way to solve the problem is for an activist government to manage the economy and redistribute wealth.
It’s as if the wealthy belong to a different species. The idea that “haves” might have been once “have-nots,” or that they did something to become “haves” that today’s “have-nots” might consider doing, never enters the equation.
Even if Smiley and West conceded that there might be some element of personal responsibility in how one’s life turns out, their portrait is of an America now so unfair that personal responsibility is irrelevant. There is no hope for anyone to rise, according to this book, without government boosting them using other people’s money.
A good candidate for one of the more outrageous distortions, in a book filled with them, is the first entry on their list of “Lies about poverty that America can no longer afford.” The No. 1 lie is: “Poverty is a character flaw.” No way, according to the authors, is there a chance that poverty has anything to do with one’s behavior. Rather, “The 150 million Americans in or near poverty are there as result of unemployment, war, the Great Recession, corporate greed, and income inequality.”
Given this insight — that there are 150 million poor Americans whose economic condition is the result of extenuating circumstances — it is no wonder Smiley and West never once mention what many scholars see as the major causes of poverty: poor education and family breakdown.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, unemployment for those without a high school diploma was 50 percent higher than it was for those with a high school diploma. It was almost three times higher than it was for those with a college degree.
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