A bright young man noticed my Libertarian Party lapel pin and posed this gotcha question to impress his friends: "so what is your answer to current suffering?" My response: "quit suffering". His friend’s analysis of the exchange: "schooled".
"Schooled" may be a bit harsh, but "quit suffering" was certainly not the answer that the first fellow expected. The modern-day debate about poverty has always revolved around what the government should do about it. Government spending on poverty programs is the liberal’s unit of measure for public morality. But the truth of the matter is that there is very little the government can do about poverty, except create more of the stuff with bone-headed monetary and fiscal policies.
Fortunately we live in America, where most poverty is avoidable. If we graduate from high school, don’t do drugs, don’t do crime, get married and stay married, have children (after we are married), and get a job, 99.4% of us will avoid chronic poverty on our own, without any government assistance. That is what the Census Bureau’s poverty statistics tell us.
However, if we drop out of high school, we are 3 times as likely to be poor than if we graduate. If we are unmarried with kids, we are 4 times as likely to be poor than if we are married with kids. If we are unemployed, we are 10 times as likely to be poor than if we work. The unemployment rate for felons is over 70%, and it is 100% for burned-out drug zombies.
Which is not to say that you don’t have an absolute right to quit school, have kids out of wedlock, get divorced, quit your job, blow your mind, or commit a victimless "crime". You do, you do, you most certainly do. You just have no right to pass the consequences of your own actions off to your neighbors. And we are not obligated to pick up your tab. Freedom is a Dutch Treat lifestyle.
People don’t do all those things because they are poor; people are poor because they do all those things. In the main, poverty is a choice. Ok, rich liberals, feel free to go berserk now if it will make you feel better about yourselves. But this isn’t about you; it is about helping people actually get out of poverty. There is no reason for able people to be "trapped" in perpetual poverty, as some basic math will illustrate:
According to the Labor Department, the poverty threshold for a family of four (two adults, two children) is $21,756. If mom and dad work even minimum wage jobs, household income will be $30,160 or 138% of the poverty threshold. And dad can work another part time job (I’m old fashioned that way), raising the family income to $37,700 at minimum wage. Get OJT, take continuing education courses, get promoted, and wages will increase in proportion to the value added - at just $10/hr family income is $52,000 when both parents work a combined 2.5 jobs.
Don’t tell me it can’t be done. I did it. And I did it because it sucked to be poor, not because a liberal cared about me. Millions of Americans fall down and get back up again each year without waiting for the government to fix our problems at someone else’s expense. Poverty statistics show that up until 2008, most poverty was episodic – i.e. lasting a couple months – typically caused by a job loss, domestic breakup, catastrophic medical event, or similar visitation of bad times.
Yes, it is hard work to quit suffering; and so what - life is hard for everybody. Two income families are the norm nowadays. Millions of small business owners would love to only work 60 hours. Most people have worked two or three jobs when we had to, and went back to school so we would not have to do that forever. Many of us work at jobs we don’t like. Staying married is hard work, too, and so is taking a pass on the bong so we can pass our drug tests. Intemperance is a lot easier and a whole lot more fun than restraint, but restraint is what keeps us out of jail, on the job, and out of poverty.
The young man should have asked himself: what is the government’s answer to current suffering? Answer: more suffering. Five decades and a few trillion dollars into the war on poverty, poverty is winning; the current poverty rate is higher than when we gave the socialists their head in 1965. As long as there are government poverty programs, there will be sufficient numbers of poor people to justify them; recipients are a necessary ingredient of the welfare state.
This week’s tax compromise extends "temporary" unemployment insurance benefits out to three years. Three years! In any of the five previous recessions going back to 1970, the median length of unemployment did not reach three months. When State unemployment insurance premiums go through the roof next year, it will be fun to watch the President try to figure out whose butt to kick.
Government does not own the franchise on morality. Politicians do not help poor people when they blame their plight on others. Government schools create poverty by leaving students unprepared for the world of work and unacquainted with free markets. Welfare encourages chronic poverty, except for the government workers it overpays to fill out useless forms for each other to file. Our drug laws create legions of felons unnecessarily. A century of collectivist social engineering has decimated the nuclear family and desecrated the ideal of self-reliance. The government’s track record is deplorable - the more it spends, the more it harms.
It doesn’t take a village to raise a child; it takes a mom and a dad and a church of your choice. The anecdote for poverty is liberty, not government; liberty is the absence of government in choice. Poverty is not overcome by social consciousness; it is only defeated by individual responsibility. Our young people need to learn that poverty is avoidable and need to be taught how to avoid it: graduate, get a job, get married and stay married, have kids, don’t do drugs, don’t do crimes, and don’t look to government to solve your problems.
Quit suffering. It is a choice, not a life sentence.
"Moment Of Clarity" is a weekly commentary by Libertarian writer and speaker Tim Nerenz, Ph.D. Visit Tim’s website www.timnerenz.com to find your moment and order his new book, "Tooth Fairy Government."