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What is poverty? September 30, 2011

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, Dallas Diocese, episcopate, foolishness, General Catholic, North Deanery, scandals, Society, Virtue.

We often hear many, both in the Church and without, assailing those who adhere to a more conservative or libertarian philosophy, with the notion that Christianity demands that we support endless wealth transfers through the government from certain ‘wealthy’ groups to other ‘poor’ groups.  While I have argued many times that this view is wrong, that the Gospels are far more concerned with our personal acts of charity made voluntarily, and less concerned about economic systems or forced charity under government fiat, it is helpful, perhaps, to have a view of what constitutes ‘poverty’ in this country, in this year of our Lord 2011.  Catholic Vote links to a report I actually saw a week or two ago, but was too busy to post on, done by the Heritage Foundation that looks at the living standard of those who the federal government rates as being in a state of poverty:

Examining the actual living conditions of the poor, authors Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield reached two major conclusions. The poor enjoy amenities that the middle class did generations ago:

• 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. In 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
• 92 percent of poor households have a microwave.
• Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.
Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
• Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and 70 percent have a VCR.
• Half have a personal computer, and one in seven have two or more computers.

Also, few poor people suffer from true material hardship:

• Over the course of a year, 4 percent of poor persons become temporarily homeless.
96 percent of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry at any time during the year because they could not afford food. [contrast this with numerous news reports that blare out misleading or outright false headlines that “40% of Texas children hungry!”]
• 83 percent of poor families reported having enough food to eat.
• 82 percent of poor adults reported never being hungry at any time in the prior year due to lack of money for food.

Some additional data from the Heritage Foundation (which is, of course, a conservative think tank):

I have no doubt that there are very poor people in this country, people that really and truly need help. I have no problem with that.  I highly encourage everyone to give to the extent they discern they can to charitable organizations of their choosing.  I have done several posts listing good charities in the past.  But we must be aware that, already in this country, a massive amount of assistance is provided to those whose monetary income falls below a certain level.  We also face an unprecendented problem of government debt that threatens to destroy or permanently damage the economy of this country.  So, given the material and other comforts those listed as being in poverty presently enjoy, it seems we might be able to cut back in some of these assistance programs without leaving millions of Americans to die on the streets of cold and starvation.  We have a fair amount of flexibility, it would seem.  It would seem some folks could probably get by if government assistance, which is money either taken from other citizens or, increasingly, borrowed, were cut to some degree.  But to hear many in the Church, especially those who work for various organs of the USCCB or certain dioceses, any even marginal cut to these wealth transfers is not only going to lead to complete devastation, but is also contrary to mind of the Church, perhaps even sinful. 

I would remind these folks that we get no individual graces from confiscatory wealth transfers.  Money taken by the government is money some or many of us cannot then use to support individuals in need more directly.  America is the most charitable country on the planet.  Government wealth transfers are horribly inefficient means of  providing assistance to the poor, with as much as half of the monies taken being consumed by administration, waste, lobbying efforts, and just plain squandered.  There is much merit in encouraging all Catholics to be more generous in aiding those in poverty through direct giving.  But I tire of this reflexive rhetoric from the USCCB and certain individual bishops, that even relatively small cuts to their favored programs (which, incidentally, make up a huge percentage of the budgets of USCCB organs like Catholic Charities) equate to a gross violation of  moral virtue. 

I am most tired of socialism, or at least big BIG government liberalism, being the default position of the USCCB.   As Austin Ruse says on the same topic “As Catholics we have an obligation to help the poor, but we are not obliged to indulge in liberal fantasies or to get pushed around by poverty activists – even Catholic ones.”


1. Tancred - September 30, 2011

I remember when it was a considerable luxury to walk into an air conditioned home or business from the summer’s heat.

It was almost like walking into a palace, or Shgri-la.

Now, the absence of air condition seems like an inconvenience.

tantamergo - October 3, 2011

You’re older than me, Tancred! At least in Texas, AC has been widespread since I was a kid.

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