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Talk About Poverty - Taking the Long View

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Message Larry Butler

The very personal face of poverty
The very personal face of poverty
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n="center">"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." - Louis D. Brandeis

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela

"Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth... these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women's empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all." - Ban Ki-moon

Economic inequality - along with poverty - has been a feature of western economic systems since the invention of wealth. And it's been present for more than five hundred years on the North American Continent - we Europeans brought it with us. It's a long-term problem that can only be resolved with a bloody revolution - or long-term solutions and lots of patience.

Western democracies continue to harbor economic inequality. And that most principal of democracies - The United States of America - harbors the most extreme inequality of all. As a representative form of government, it's clearly still a work in progress. If government is really supposed to act in the interests of the people, how can such inequality persist? The answer lies, of course, in the power of big-money interests over our economic policies. Political power reinforces economic power, and economic power reinforces political power. The great American democratic experiment has been hijacked by this vicious cycle. America is now an oligarchy - with a political system effectively ruled by a few economic elites.

That doesn't mean that we should accept inequality as inevitable. But first we'll need to take back our system of government from the oligarchs - the big-money interests. This will require the involvement of every citizen, and every citizen will need to become aware of the key public policies that perpetuate inequality. Through the ballot box, it's still possible - in theory, at least - to elevate equality from an ill-defined ideal to the standard by which citizens are treated and by which laws are enforced. When we've achieved this, we'll see economic inequality decline to much more acceptable levels.

We must decisively reject inequality of all kinds. Oh, sure - individuals differ in their capacity to generate wealth, but that doesn't mean that it should favor the next fifteen generations of offspring. A perfect meritocracy would reward the achievement of every person who can excel at generating wealth without conferring favors to a subsequent generational aristocracy. Generational inequality is a consequence of public policy - a public policy created centuries ago by those who owned and controlled the wealth in the economy.

But turning an oligarchy into a meritocracy will either take a bloody revolution, or it will take time. Long-term solutions - like putting an end to the subsides for capital and the taxes on the employment of labor - may not yield results overnight. But we've tried short-sighted solutions continuously for hundreds of years, and we've proven over and over that they don't work. Giving money to the poor doesn't work. Welfare programs designed to alleviate hunger or to provide shelter keep poor people alive, and that's a good thing - but they do little to address the fundamental causes of inequality and poverty.

So let's take the long view. Let's learn awareness of those cues of inequality we're acting out in front of our own kids, and then adjust our own attitudes. Let's learn to recognize those musty statutes of public policy that promote and perpetuate generational inequality by design, and then demand that they be changed. And finally, let's offer the hand of affirmative action to elevate those communities and individuals victimized by centuries of repression. Our country depends on it.


Our glorious Land to-day,
'Neath Education's sway
Soars upward still.
Its hills of learning fair
Whose bounties all may share,
behold them everywher
On vale and hill!

- Samuel F. Smith

Excerpted from Talk About Poverty - A Meal for Your Story by Larry Judson Butler
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Thirty five years as a small business consultant, CFO, and university educator specializing in quantitative business and economic modeling - a suite of experience now focused on economic inequality. Carefully attributed data, thoughtful (more...)

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