Facing Reality on RI Poverty
The point’s a little bit of a tangent from poverty advocates’ request for more workers to make food stamps easier to claim and disperse (which always raises questions about the responsibility of the government to promote its handouts), but this closing quotation illuminates one of the indistinct areas in which liberals and conservatives move toward different solutions:
“The governor is not facing reality. We have a major hunger problem in Rhode Island” and the state is not serving enough people, [Henry Shelton, director of the George A. Wiley Center,] said.
Liberals look at increasing numbers of “hungry” Rhode Islanders and say “make it not so,” meaning “give them food.” This being an endemic problem, not a temporary crisis in food production, one must also offer suggestions for solving the underlying issue of poverty, and the liberal solution is, again, “make it not so,” meaning “give them money,” whether that directive takes the form of direct welfare payments, supplemental resources to increase the ease of working or the earnings that may be treated as discretionary income, government jobs, union organization to muscle for jobs, or legislated minimum wages and benefits.
The problem is that, eventually, the society finds itself saying “make it not so” to an avalanche in progress. Dependency becomes a habit, rather than an uncomfortable temporary necessity. Those inclined toward it will migrate in search of it. Those overburdened in its provision will migrate away. Meanwhile, the system’s demands drive away businesses and generally drag the society down. The question avoided via imperative at the beginning was “what’s the best way to make it not so given our circumstances,” and that question quickly transforms into “how can we continue to afford this?”
Rhode Island no longer has the resources to deal with the increasing demand. That is the reality that we must face, and denying it will only increase the amount of need. Those who do the work of angels for the poor certainly have admirable priorities, but at least in degree, those priorities are shared by too few of their fellow citizens. Keep requiring, by government fiat, that average citizens contribute more than they believe reasonable, and they’ll continue to leave, even as those whom the policies benefit continue to arrive.
The conservative would suggest that Rhode Island should fortify itself first. As aesthetically unpleasing and morally uncomfortable as it may be, we must get our house in order before we invite others in. That will mean giving the needy incentive to seek out states with the resources to address their needs. It will mean making the state an attractive place to live and do business for those who already have some advantages and wish to build more. Then let those in need return for the opportunity to climb, not to tread water.
I do not believe, as I may be accused of believing, that success proves value. Rather, I believe that people, as a matter of human nature, will work much more assiduously toward their own success than toward the subsidization of others’ subsistence, and that they are therefore more advisably treated as an engine than a pool.
Thus, presented the prison of poverty and disadvantage, the liberal seeks to adorn the cell with such things as will make it more tolerable until freedom arrives, while the conservative wishes merely to open the door and make the society outside more apparently worth joining.