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BILL MOYERS: During those hearings before the House and Senate, I kept my ears open, hoping someone might ask Jamie Dimon how he feels about his bank riding out the deep recession with $25 billion worth of taxpayer money while at the same time reaping profits from the poor and hungry.

That’s right: JPMorgan Chase processes food stamp benefits for the government in 24 states and makes a neat bundle doing so. As the number of people using food stamps goes up, so do the bank’s profits. Furthermore, to make even more money off the poor, JPMorgan Chase has been known to outsource food stamp debit card calls to India, whose workers can make three and a half bucks an hour answering questions from poor people in this country.

It’s all legal, it's how the system works. But it says something, don’t you think, about the contradictions of modern state capitalism?

ERIC HOVDE: Hi, I’m Eric Hovde…

BILL MOYERS: And so does a comment made the other day by the Republican candidate for the Senate in Wisconsin, Eric Hovde.

After calling for a cut in the corporate tax rate even as he advocated austerity measures to reduce the deficit, he instructed the press to stop covering stories about low-income people who can’t get benefits and start writing instead about that deficit.

ERIC HOVDE: I see a reporter here. I just pray that you start writing about these issues. I just pray. You know, stop always writing about, oh, the person could get, you know, their food stamps or this or that. You know, I saw something the other day – it’s just like, another sob story, and I’m like, but what about what’s happening to the country and the country as a whole? That’s going to devastate everybody.

BILL MOYERS: A good thing Sister Simone Campbell wasn’t passing through town at that very minute, or Eric Hovde might have really had to pray – for his own soul. Sister Simone is leading a group of Roman Catholic nuns on a bus trip across nine states, trying to call attention to the poor and hungry. They’re challenging not only the Vatican, which has been critical of American nuns for their spirit of independence, but also Congressman Paul Ryan, another Wisconsin Republican. He's invoked his own Catholic faith to justify his proposed federal budget that cuts help for working families and the poor.

PAUL RYAN: Our budget offers a better path, consistent with the timeless principles of our nation’s founding and, frankly, consistent with how I understand my Catholic faith.

BILL MOYERS: The nuns paid a call earlier this week on Ryan’s district office in Janesville, Wisconsin.

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: We just had a very lovely conversation with Congressman Ryan’s staff. We gave her the faithful budget and we mentioned our concerns about the budget that Congressman Ryan proposed.

BILL MOYERS: Producer Andy Fredericks is traveling with the nuns on the bus and filing reports on our website, BillMoyers.com.

Meanwhile, for anyone who wants to understand why, in one of the richest nations in the world, millions of people, even those with jobs, are teetering just a medical bill or missed paycheck from disaster – here’s a book that’s must reading: So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America, by Peter Edelman.

For more than forty years, no one has fought harder or longer to keep poor people on the political agenda. Except, possibly, Peter’s wife, Marian Wright Edelman, head of the Children’s Defense Fund. They met when he worked for Senator Robert F. Kennedy and she guided them through the Mississippi Delta as they investigated first-hand the devastating conditions under which impoverished children and their families lived. Peter Edelman helped shape legislation to ease poverty around the country, and was a top official in President Bill Clinton’s Department of Health and Human Services. He famously resigned when Clinton signed the 1996 welfare reform legislation.

Peter Edelman teaches at Georgetown University and is faculty director there of the Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy.

Peter, welcome.

PETER EDELMAN: Thank you. I'm so glad to be here.

BILL MOYERS: Let's indulge in a little bit of nostalgia.

PETER EDELMAN: Sure.

BILL MOYERS: Because 50 years ago, you and I were part of the same era. I was a young White House assistant for Lyndon Johnson working on some poverty issues. And you were a young assistant to Senator Robert F. Kennedy when you made that celebrated tour through Mississippi.

You seemed absolutely shocked, you and Robert Kennedy, and the party that went with you, seemed absolutely shocked at what you found. What did you see?

PETER EDELMAN: We saw children with in the United States of America, with swollen bellies, with running sores that wouldn't heal…

ROBERT F. KENNEDY: Have they had any lunch?

PETER EDELMAN: Who had something meager for breakfast if that, were not going to have any lunch, whose refrigerators were empty in their houses. They had been forced off the plantations as a political matter because of the fear of increasing black political power.

BILL MOYERS The governor of Mississippi then was pressuring the White House to cut off assistance to the children's program that was going, because he feared the people working in it, the poverty, anti-poverty workers would encourage the civil rights movement. Do you remember that?

PETER EDELMAN: Absolutely. That's why we went down there. This was in the spring of 1967. And the Mississippi political hierarchy saw the Head Start Program as a political threat. A group of doctors went down there a month or two later and examined hundreds of children. And found, not just pernicious anemia but rickets, and kwashiorkor and marasmus. Diseases that you only find in the most underdeveloped of countries were there in the United States.

BILL MOYERS: I remember so well when CBS sent cameras following you. Subsequently one of the CBS News reports showed a child dying from malnutrition on camera. And the racist chairman of a very powerful committee from--

PETER EDELMAN: Yeah. Jamie Whitten.

BILL MOYERS: Jamie Whitten from Mississippi was outraged about that. And he launched an investigation to see if he could find out if that scene had been staged.

PETER EDELMAN: Absolutely. Sent the F.B.I. to find out. It's hard to know what was obviously in the head of Jamie Whitten and others. Because these things do have a serious political aspect to them but.

BILL MOYERS: Were we naïve to think that we could make a lot of progress given the political opposition?

PETER EDELMAN: I don't think we were naïve. I do think that the '60s in retrospect were a very unusual decade in American history. We still had the optimism of having freed the world from fascism. And so there was a sense that America could accomplish anything. And then the civil rights movement came along particularly the men who had served in the war and came home to find the same segregated conditions.

And the young people who had the sense of that maybe from their parents who went out and were active. So I think that the combination of the civil rights movement pushing on President Kennedy and then on President Johnson, and the leadership that came particularly from President Johnson was a tremendous and unusual combination.

BILL MOYERS: You could not have imagined then, I suppose, that half a century later, you'd be writing a book with the title, “So Rich, So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America.”

PETER EDELMAN: I could not have imagined it. I thought onward and upward and now there's so many things that happened that we didn't foresee. And it's not just that there was the political change of Richard Nixon. The fact is that Richard Nixon was the first president who ever sent a message about hunger to Congress.

And many things that we had wanted actually happened under President Nixon. So we still looked like we were doing pretty well about these issues, housing vouchers, and the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid. Long list of things on into the '70s. But the economy caught up with us.

BILL MOYERS: How so?

PETER EDELMAN: So the manufacturing jobs went away, the good paying jobs that had created much of the black and other middle class in this country, and started to be replaced, at least they were replaced, by this wave, this ocean of low-wage jobs that we have. So that's really at the heart of the change.

And then of course the country went in a very different direction politically. The disillusionment of Vietnam, the disillusionment of Watergate, the loss of trust in government, all those things. And part of that was a kind of maybe unconscious or subconscious sense that people were in tougher, tougher economic straits. And I'm not just talking at the very bottom. I'm really talking about the whole lower middle. And they weren't getting any help to see themselves moving forward.

BILL MOYERS: Well what about today? You've got Barack Obama and Mitt Romney who are going to, are facing off each other this election, and both of them seem to not know that the word "poor" is in their political vocabulary.

PETER EDELMAN: Well, we have to say about Barack Obama. He gets elected. And when they go for having health insurance for our whole country, they added 16 million people to Medicaid. That's phenomenal.

BILL MOYERS: Under the Affordable--

PETER EDELMAN: Under the Affordable Care Act--

BILL MOYERS: Sixteen million--

PETER EDELMAN: Sixteen million people, 18 to 64 year olds who had been completely left out of Medicaid from the time it was enacted in 1965. And that had never been fixed. So if you look at the 45 to 50 million people who didn't have healthcare, a big chunk of them were lower income adults. We added children up to the age of 18.

And then in the stimulus legislation, in the Recovery Act, the president put in there, probably 30 percent of the money was about low-income people, was helping low-income people. So, his record is good.

BILL MOYERS: So it's not as if nothing has been done since you and I were in our early 30s, right?

PETER EDELMAN: That is absolutely correct--

BILL MOYERS: I mean, Medicaid, earned income tax credit, children's tax--

PETER EDELMAN: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: --credit. A lot of programs have been inaugurated and funded.

PETER EDELMAN: And food stamps.

BILL MOYERS: Food stamps, right.

PETER EDELMAN: And so those programs added together are keeping 40 million people out of poverty. So somebody says, "Nothing works," give me a break. These are successful policies. Now the next question then is okay, well 40 million people who would be in poverty, but why is the level of poverty prior to the recession about the same as it was during it’s the most success, 11.1 percent poverty in 1973, 11.3 percent when Bill Clinton leaves office.

We're now up to 15.2 percent. So just take those two, 1973 and 2000 about the same, and there are all these programs that works. What's with that? It's about these changes that we've already talked about a little bit in the economy. Where there are all these low-wage jobs, and people can't make it. And then the other things that changes in the composition of the family. And we have to put that on the table. There are so many more women who are raising children on their own. And lots to debate about, about why that is. It's a worldwide phenomenon.

BILL MOYERS: Yes, you list country after country where whose rate of single motherhood or children born out of wedlock higher than here.

PETER EDELMAN: Yes. Yeah, I certainly want people to understand that. I certainly want people to understand that the rate in the United States in the white community, in the Hispanic community, it went up everywhere. It went up most in the African American community. Although it actually steadied off about the end of the 1970s and kept going up in the white and Hispanic communities.

But the economic point is all of those women trying to raise kids on their own, when the jobs that they can get are not enough for a single wage earner to feed a family fully. And so that's what started to happen in the '70s, and is essentially been happening ever since. The 40 million people who are being kept out of poverty, that's great. But that just kept us even. And now we've been losing ground heavily, horribly over the last 11, 12 years.

BILL MOYERS: And then came of course the great crash in the fall of 2008, the recession that followed it. Is that why you conclude in the book that we're actually heading in the wrong direction and you're not optimistic at the moment?

PETER EDELMAN: It's not just the recession, because the, presumably we come out of recessions. The central tenet of any anti-poverty strategy is work. Is having the job. You need to arrange the incentives and arrange the policies so that you clearly are favoring work. But everything that goes with it, having the child care making it possible to succeed. But what I'm worried about is the longer term continuance of this plethora of low-wage jobs. Of the inability of people at the bottom, and not just the poor, I'm talking about the whole lower half. The way the median wage absolutely stagnated beginning 1973. The economy grew over the last 40 years basically doubled in size. And the entire lower half got none of that. The median wage- went up 7 percent in 40 years. A fifth of a percent a year.

BILL MOYERS: And right now it's what in this country?

PETER EDELMAN: $34,000 a year or less.

BILL MOYERS: And how many people are making $34,000 or less?

PETER EDELMAN: You'd be talking about 75 million, something like that.

BILL MOYERS: And a quarter of all jobs, I read in your book, pay less than the poverty line, which is what?

PETER EDELMAN: $22,000 for a family of four.

BILL MOYERS: So 25 percent of this country is living on that little money?

PETER EDELMAN: If they have only one wage-earner in the household.

BILL MOYERS: What does that say to you?

PETER EDELMAN: It says that there's something wrong. It says that where there's a really wealthy country, and we had growth from 1973 to now, and it all went to the people at the top. That's why this book is “So Rich, So Poor.” Because you can't look at the poor in isolation. You got to look at the inequality as well.

BILL MOYERS: I when I finished reading it, Peter, I had to ask myself if the word "democracy" still describes America, given what you underscore as the huge chasm between rich and poor. Do you think democracy still describes our political system?

PETER EDELMAN: I think we're really at great risk particularly with Citizens United--

BILL MOYERS: The Supreme Court decision--

PETER EDELMAN: The Supreme Court decision that lets the corporate money flow in like water. But there's increasing power of the wealthy and of special interests that particularly begins in 1973. That’s a real turning point year. And they figured out during Nixon that they needed to have much more of a play, much more sway in politics.

And they organized themselves to do that in a way that they hadn't between World War II and then. And so they start winning politically and reinforcing themselves. And I think we're been in a kind of vicious circle where they reinforce themselves, they're in a stronger position, et cetera. And that's the fundamental worry, is that our democracy is really at stake.

BILL MOYERS: So what's your, what do you explain to yourself as you're sitting there thinking about this, is the motive for continuing to accumulate such great wealth even though all around them, the society, the infrastructure, the school system, public parks, and the plight of the poor?

PETER EDELMAN: I think it's the short-sidedness of the balance sheet. Now, that can't be all of it. It's, there's also some kind of ideological thing, or attitudinal thing that goes with it. But everything in the corporate world is short term. How did you do in the last quarter? And if you thought about it in the longer term and said, "Over the longer period of time, we really will make more money if we have more people who are included in the economy," they just don't think that way.

BILL MOYERS: You say the challenge is to get people in the middle to understand which side of the line they are on.

PETER EDELMAN: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean which side--

PETER EDELMAN: I mean that they are in the position of really holding the short end of the stick. And they don't have any purchase, they don't have any hand-hold to get onto the longer end of the stick. They're stuck where they are. And I just don't really foresee a major change. Well if that's true, beyond raising the minimum wage, which we need to do, although that'll only take us so far.

Because after a while, it does have a negative effect on jobs. Really investing in the kind of work supports that a socially responsible country does, the healthcare, the childcare, the help with housing, the help with the secondary education. Those things are all income equivalents. Those all effectively add to income.

And then we have the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income families that have children. It's that area where we need a public discussion. We have to be talking, I think, as these years unfold here about wage supplements. If we're going to have a fairness in this country that doesn't just leave half the country to sit in a stagnated place, we're going to have to talk about how do we raise their income so they can make ends meet? It's not just poverty. It's all the way up to the middle.

BILL MOYERS When you talk about a wage supplement, income supplement for people who are making so little money even though they're working that they can't live a decent life, you're running right into that buzz-saw of a word "redistribution." And you know, you hear Mitt Romney and others saying today.

MITT ROMNEY: In a merit-based society, people achieve their dreams through hard work and education, risk-taking, and even a little luck […] In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others. And the only people who truly enjoy real rewards are those who get to do the redistributing, government. The truth is that everyone may get the same rewards under that kind of system, but virtually everyone will be worse off.

BILL MOYERS: And that's a real force in the minds of many ordinary people around this country. They just don't believe in "my working hard to make money and paying taxes to provide somebody else with money who isn't working hard."

PETER EDELMAN: Uh-huh.

BILL MOYERS: That's a reality. You understand that--

PETER EDELMAN: Oh, I certainly do.

BILL MOYERS: How do you overcome these built-in deep concerns about people that "Others are getting away with something I'm not?

PETER EDELMAN: We need more people who will stand up in one way or another. We, I don't mean to say that I have a formula for a public education curriculum a massive expression by public intellectuals, a clear mobilization of individual people being organized at the local level.

I just know that what we need to do is to have other people who stand up and say, "You want to call this redistribution? That's what you call it. I call it economic justice. I call it fairness. I call it being fair to the people in this country who are being absolutely screwed by the way things are set up. And you ought to think about the fact of why it is that we have half the people who have jobs where their wages have barely moved the needle over a 40 year period." We need people to talk back to that.

BILL MOYERS: You resigned, as famously known, from the government, in protest over President Clinton signing the new welfare law, Welfare Reform, ending welfare as we know it, as he said, in his political speech in New Hampshire--

PETER EDELMAN: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: --in the year he was running. And you say there was something wrong with welfare when Bill Clinton became president.

PETER EDELMAN: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: What was wrong with it?

PETER EDELMAN: What was wrong with it is that it did not, it had not ever said to people "We really need for you to get out and get a job and earn money. And we will do that in have a policy in a way that we will help you do that. But we're not going to just let you sit there and stay for your whole life on welfare." If you look at the some of the families, particularly at that period of time, they had essentially gotten too used to having that check.

And 14 million people, which is the number that were on welfare when Bill Clinton took office, that was too many. We didn't have sufficient economic crisis on our hands that there were people lined up because it was a recession, it was just because we had gotten soft about it.

BILL MOYERS: Culture of dependency?

PETER EDELMAN: Well, I don't like the terminology, but I'm afraid that's, find the right words, and that's what we're talking about, yes.

BILL MOYERS: Why did you write that article in Atlantic saying the worse thing Bill Clinton has done because--

PETER EDELMAN: Because they--

BILL MOYERS: --it had its problems.

PETER EDELMAN: They did exactly the wrong thing. I said in that article that welfare needed to be fixed. But what they did is they said one size fits all. Everybody just go look for a job. They said it's a block grant to the state. What that means is the state can, doesn't have to help anybody. Which proved itself in the recession, you know, food stamps up to 46 million, welfare 3.9 million to 4.4 million.

Why? Because you go to a welfare office and they say, "You look healthy, go look for a job." "What job?" "Oh, we're not interested in hearing about that." So they took away the legal right to help, they said the states could, with that block grant, do what they want. And they put in a time limit. Didn't matter what these circumstances of the family were. It was all a basically punitive approach. And it did not more in the direction of really helping people to get the skills and the supports that they needed to succeed in the workplace.

BILL MOYERS: So the conservative who fought for ending welfare as we know it would say of Bill Clinton signing that legislation, "It worked." We went from 14 million to four million. And when the recession came, people got food stamp help.

PETER EDELMAN: And six million of them got only food stamp help and that income is one-third of the poverty line. That's a pretty blindfolded, myopic way of looking at it, to say that that means that it worked. What that means is that it did not work. And that in the time when you really, really you know, incontrovertibly ought to help people, because you have 9 percent, 10 percent unemployment in the country, there's no such thing as welfare.

BILL MOYERS: And what's the consequence of that? What's the practical therefore?

PETER EDELMAN: The practical therefore is that we have 20 million people who are in deep poverty who have incomes below half the poverty line, below $9,000 for a family of three, and we have ripped the safety net down to having only the food stamp to it, at the very bottom. And that it means that you, in all of these states that for so many of them where it basically doesn't exist anymore it leaves people in this incredibly destitute position. That's what it means.

BILL MOYERS: The book is "So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America" and I think it’s must reading. Peter Edelman, thank you for being with me.

PETER EDELMAN: Thank you, Bill

Peter Edelman on Fighting Poverty

June 22, 2012

Why, in one of the richest nations in the world, are so many poor people are teetering on the edge? Bill talks with author and advocate Peter Edelman about continuing efforts to fight poverty, and what it will take to keep the needs of poor people on the American political agenda. A former aide to Robert F. Kennedy and faculty director of Georgetown University’s Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy, Edelman’s new book is So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America.

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  • J A Harrison

    We used to think US plutocrats didn’t care about low income people because they believe poverty is voluntary and self-inflicted by inferior human beings. Now we understand that our US plutocrats would have us accept the notion that they honestly believe poor people are mythic – a sensationalist, liberal, fabrication. 

    Further, US plutocrats insist that no connection exists between their determination to appropriate our national wealth to themselves, their refusal to accept that they are indeed beholden to our nation’s general population, and thirty years of constantly increasing poverty in America.

  • davidp

    America can accomplishmost everything, but it seems it is leaving alot of people in the dust.

  • Dominick Durso

    Bill,  I’m very moved when I see things like this type of reporting.  Fear and poverty go hand in hand. fear is a psychological condition.  Which can be treated, in many cases without medication.  I would like to see treatments go out (Government sponsored) to deal with these personal fear conditions.  Please contact me for additional info.  

  • Dominick Durso

    PS the problem is not political in nature.  Unless your addiction is politics.

  • susan

    If we are not going to do anything about increasing wages for
    a large part of workers in this country (& it doesn’t look like we are),
    then we need to do something about lowering the cost of living here, b/c if at
    least half the workers in this country are making below $35,000 – some of them way
    below it – then they can’t afford to live in this society.  Period.  And there is something deeply, deeply wrong
    about that.  

    America
    as we knew it, even just last century, is gone. 
    I don’t live in a super expensive city (Tulsa)
    or a fancy rent apartment.  Until I lost
    my job 3 weeks ago, I made $26,000 (still more than a lot of people) & I
    just barely covered what I needed to keep a roof over my head, food on the
    table, and pay my utilities & my insurance (not health insurance btw; there was
    none of that).  I have been able to put only a
    little aside for savings & putting aside retirement savings has been out of
    the question for several years.  Heaven
    forbid I have a real emergency; the often recommended emergency fund is not very
    big.  So I can’t imagine how people support
    families on that – or less.

     

    Bill :  NO!  “Democracy” does NOT describe America
    anymore!

     

    “If we’re going to have a fairness in this country…”  The people running this country aren’t
    interested in fairness.  Give me a break.

  • JonThomas

     Keep your umbrella handy, it’s all gonna “trickle down” any time now. ;)

  • Papaskeet

    The Left leaning has the rich the problem, the right leaning the over taxing, wasting government with “unfair” handouts the problem. 

    At 70years old I see a tough problem to solve,”fairly’; since every form of business, including government; Federal, State and Local are adapting to the same real world change; rapid technology growth, automation, computers, internet, etc. that has eliminated a need for employees at all levels, and when needed, they being replaced by “contract services”, no benefits and lower costs.

    I really can not fault the business owners, those rich share holders, CEO’s, Congress and Senate members, etc. wanting their “fair” share of the American dream by controlling costs.

    I’m admittedly short on a solution, but the problem remains how do we create high paying jobs that produce a service or product which supports the wages paid?  and Then at the same time satisfy all the environmentalist. 

    Doing all this with other peoples money, like any really great investor.

    Look around, the high paying manufacturing jobs are gone [steel and other metal plants], local city and utility employee are gone or reduced in numbers.  I see so many older workers now at McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr, PopEyes, etc.

    Perhaps our tax structure should be:

    Those who make income prior to any adjustment, deduction, etc. over 10million are taxed at 50%,

    Everyone making less is taxed at 20%

    Taxes paid directly to the Federal government for distribution to States, who the distribute to cities.

    No other taxes are collected or allowed, more money in peoples pockets to spend and business’s not to worry about collecting.

    Let the States work with the Feds and the Cities with the State

    My 49 year old son asked the other day; Pop, did you ever consider that
    the ” ice age” talked about when I growing up was  slowed or
    stopped by “global warming”.

  • JonThomas

    I’m not quite 70. Only mid 40′s, so I haven’t seen or experienced as much as you have.

    But, it seems to me, from my perspective, that years ago people, in general, had a higher ethical code of conduct.

    It’s true that the industries which traditionally paid a higher wage are not around as they once were, but regardless, I think people used to have more respect for their workers.

    I will show deference to your experience, but in stark contrast to your view, I can easily fault business owners, those rich share holders, CEO’s, Congress and Senate members, etc…, which you mention in your comment.

    If you cannot, or refuse to pay your employees a living wage, treat your customers with respect, while you are simultaneously paying out huge bonuses to management, and high percentage profits to investors, than there is plenty of “blame” and fault to go around.

    For example…

    In the less than glamorous side of banking, the banks contract out the “dirty work” of the actual repossessing, cleaning, and maintenance of houses  to contractors which are told to “bid” the work needed to bring a house into compliance and up to maintenance standards.

    But “bid” is not an honest word. The prices for this work is preset by the banks themselves and HUD(who is lobbied heavily by the banks.)

    There is no real “bidding” and the job is usually handed out to the only contractor sent to the job.

    Then, 5 out of 10 times the banks wait until after the job is completed then cut the bid. The contractor is forced to either, accept the pay cut, or never work for that company again.

    The prices set for the work is barely subsistence level and the high costs of tools, maintenance, gas, insurance, etc… makes it a zero sum gain.

    The same for long haul truck drivers. It used to be that a driver worked by the hour for a large company and made fairly good pay with good benefits.

    Now most of the runs have to be bid on, and after overhead is said and done, are also subsistence wages.

    These are just 2 examples of how large corporations “save costs” while bringing in huge bonuses and fairly high returns on investment(not to mention the bail-outs.)

    There is plenty of “fault” to be found with those groups you delineated.

    This is why the right is doing all it can to crush organized labor, and the “so-called” left isn’t lifting a real finger to help better the situation in which unions now find themselves.

  • Anonymous

    I was watching the interview with Peter and I agree that the standard of living is going down – and middle class is declining.   However,  I see the problem and solution much differently.  Peter seems to feel that the ‘Rich’ have too much and redistibution of wealth is the answer.

    The problem really is with this thing called ‘free trade’,  supported by both parties.  It used to be possible for a high school graduate to get a good middle class job,  basically because the manufacturing jobs had been unionized. Now those jobs have been moved offshore with no compensating tariffs,  and we are supposed to be able to compete with low wage jobs – ie Iphones in China.

    Now it is true that top executives of public companies are vastly overpaid, in my opinion,  but that is a separate issue.  Somehow the Boards have used consultants to justify high salaries to CEOs,  who are really just paid help like everyone else.  The shareholders have no say in compensation. 

    Both democrats and republicans support free trade,  so the standard of living will continue to decline. 

  • Karl Hoff

    Peter Eldelman comes across as a man with great compassion for the poor. At times he expresses that we need to do more for them, while contradicting his answers with the understanding that nothing has worked very well, being things are not improving for so many. As a kid, I did not see any hungry, homeless people like today. Most families lived off of only one parent’s income and were married. There is no question that they did better when there were fewer people working. It just may be that the key is not to produce more jobs, but instead to eliminate some of those jobs that we don’t need, and whether we realize it or not we are paying for them such as: Robo calls, infomercials and the countless adds that do nothing more then to keep stating the same line over and over or cutting down their competition. Do we need 1 in every 60 people being  lawyers as I heard was the case in one city.  All one has to do is think of anything that aggravates them without any real need, even CEOs, lobbyist and so many politician that do nothing more than give the rich what they want…. etc and I don’t think they will be missed. Pretty simple, the more salaries paid out, the more it cost us, just like the more middlemen there are adds to the cost. 

  • Anonymous

    I take exception to the misuse of the word “democracy.” Our founding fathers stated unequivocally that democracy was a less appealing form of government than to be ruled by a monarch.  America is a federal republic.  Every year since Woodrow Wilson began emphasizing the “D” word, our politicians (and journalists) have become more and more enamored of its use.
     
    Ben Franklin said that democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding what to have for lunch.  Thomas Jefferson felt that democracy was 51 % of the people trampling the rights of the other 49%.  Karl Marx (okay, I will allow that he was not a founding father) said that democracy is the surest road to socialism…
     
    A democracy would have each adult citizen voting yes or no on every issue – national, state or local.  With a country of 311 million people, that would be almost impossible.  When Mr. Moyers asked, after finishing reading Mr. Edelman’s book, “whether the word ‘democracy’ still describes America,” I want to ask, “when did it ever describe America?!”  Sure, we espouse the rights of all citizens, but we are not and never have been a democracy.

  • Anonymous

    We have Plutocracy: we now have a government for the wealthy, by the wealthy and controlled by the wealthy. 

  • JonThomas

     While I agree with some of your points, it should be pointed out that the form of government which this country was originally founded upon cna indeed be termed “Democracy.”

    It just happens to not be a “Direct Democracy.”
    Rather, this country has “Representative democracy.”

    But, as you pointed out, there are flaws to each type of human Governments.

    The biggest question facing the citizens of the U.S. is not that we should be battling over which type of democracy we have, or would direct democracy serve people’s interests better, but who is being served by the type of democracy that elects the leaders and representatives.

    The Constitution opens with “We the people…”

    Is the system in place, and it’s rules that have been adjusted over time(ie: Citizens United ruling,) still serving the “PEOPLE.”

    There is no doubt that in a representative democracy there will always be those whose interests are more aptly served. But should that difference be based on majority rule(as is the case with our electoral process,) or should it be so heavily favored to those who are wealthy and are able to financially influence outcomes.

    Public opinion, and information necessary to make educated decisions is influenced by the same sources who are funding candidates.

    The current rules are no longer working for The People. They are working for SOME people, but again,the representation is no longer based on majority rule, rather it is based on majority of wealth.

    On the basis in which I have just described, the Constitution has been subverted and the Supreme Court has codified the insurrection.

  • Ebodine

    Demand for products and services is what creates jobs.  Who are the real job creators in this country?  We, the people, are; not the top 1%, as most people in the 1% want us to believe.  Which will create more jobs – 1 person who can afford 10 televisions, or 99 people who can buy 1 or possibly 2 televisions; 1 person who can buy 10 cars or 99 people that can buy 1 or possibly 2 cars?  I believe the answer in both cases is the later and not the former will create the demand necessary to create jobs.  The real job creators cannot bring back demand for jobs as long as personal wage and salary income as a percentage of GDP continues to fall as it has since 1960.   Please reference New York Times graphs dated November 25th, 2011:
     
    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/11/25/business/profits-are-high-wages-are-low-taxes-are-below-average.html?ref=business
     
    The question is how do we get the purchasing power of most people up to a point that would allow them to spend their money not just on their needs, but also their wants. Corporations in this country are presently sitting on $1.5-2 Trillion in their bank accounts.  Spending this corporate money in the right ways would stimulate our economy and put people back to work hopefully reducing unemployment and underemployment.  We need Corporate America to help revive the middle class in this country, not expand the middle class in foreign countries.  The companies doing well in this country need to reinvest in it’s people and facilities.  Put that money to work in this country by expanding and building new facilities and giving the people that helped earn these profits either a permanent raise or one time bonus.  Government money is not needed to do this; only the will of the people sitting on this cash to do the right thing for our economy is needed.
     
    Do we want to live in a country where corporations control the people or where the people control corporations?   I prefer the latter.   Therefore government should give the corporations based in this country a choice of what to do with their profits; either send a large portion of their profits to the government based on a progressive tax rate (with possibly a 70% top tax bracket), or reinvest profits in the business by expanding, upgrading or maintaining operations, building new facilities, and/or passing along bonuses and raises to the employees here in the United States.  Reward corporations that share the wealth in this way with a bottom tax bracket of possibly10-15%.  Share the wealth in this country, I say, and make it so corporations will want to do so.  This will put pressure on corporations to pay people a reasonable living wage and also create new jobs.
     

  • Keithschulz

    I never heard any solution to inequality, except for govt. workers to take from the successful and sprinkle to the underclass.  There are other ways to add competition to the ranks of management, eg shareholder rights to nominate candidates for Directors.  Edelman just wants people of his ilk to give away others’ money.
     
    I estimate Edelman’s take from Georgetown at $350k+.  I don’t think he ‘earns’ that much, even tho Georgetown pays him so handsomely.  As a 1st step toward equality, let’s work to bring his compensation down to the TA level.  If it works, let’s do this across the country.
     
    The savings?  Give it back to those paying the exhorbitant tuition.

  • Hwalterh

    Edelman is much to kind.  Rove/Norquist/Ryan/Boehner/Romney/Cheney/McConnell/Krock Bros et al…are looking to return to the Feudal system.  Tell it like it is…Shortsightedness is crap….They want Lords and slaves, and taxation by might to support themselves.  If those of us at the lower end have no medical care, or sustinance, well, that’s a so what…As long as the fat cats rule…we are screwed…

  • lgfromillinois

    William Sloan Coffin in his book, “Credo’, quotes Justice Louis Brandeis, “We can have a democracy or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few.  We cannot have both.”  Are we to test Justice Brandeis thesis?  

  • http://dustbowlpoetry.wordpress.com/ Shelley

    Looking at Peter Edelman, too, we see the face of someone who has spent a lifetime in slow, patient work for social justice, doing the best he can.

    So may we all.

  • Lynne Gray

    We need to empower the poor by helping them to understand the power of good nutrition–5 lb of rice and beans is more nutritious than anything they can buy at fast food places and much cheaper.  We also need to empower them by teaching them to dig in the dirt and plant food crops–teaching the way Harold Buffett does in impoverished countries.  Often times hopelessness is  contagious.  Thank you  Peter for all your hard work over the years.

  • mbrecker

    One reason we still have the “war on poverty” is that the Powers that Be (who control 99% of Stateside media) won’t allow it. To his credit, Moyers tries his best to have actual factual discussions. Despite that, we all know that public broadcasting increasingly has corporate “support” (sponsors). If it was proven that one of Moyer’s sponsors was a corporation that was paying no taxes and a minimum wage, would you continue to take their money? Or, would you cancel that contract and go elsewhere?

  • mbrecker

    Tavis Smiley and Cornel West do their best to keep poverty as a key issue in this campaign. Yet when you hear Smiley’s name, what comes to mind first? Poverty? Or, celeb hype?Obama hates Smiley. Al Sharpton hates Cornel West, and other silly stuff.

  • Anonymous

    We will always have poverty.  Every nation on the earth has that portion of the population who earn the bottom 10-20%.  No country on earth has spent more public dollars on “poverty-eradication” than the USA with so little to show for it.  Mr. Edelman advocates for the use of government’s power of coercion to attach a percentage of higher earners’ income and give that (i.e., redistribute their wealth) to the lower earners.  OK, say we do that.  The economy adjusts, and we still have low income-earners who will be right back to where they were.  (I sense that the Obama Administration fully embraces this idea but lacks the political will/capital/Congressional support needed to impose it (but, if recent executive actions are any indications, maybe President Obama will do it anyway).

    While I applaud Mr Edelman’s idealism and passion for helping the poor, his vision is patronizing, condescending, ideological, and (worst) doomed to failure.  He would better serve the poor by working to create (privately-funded) programs that encourage the creation of wealth by low-income households.  It happens every day in America.  Maybe even better would be to completely eliminate the Depts of HHS and Education and redistribute the savings between low-income households (just write them a check) and federal govt debt reduction. 

  • JonThomas

     Mike, there is much to show for the efforts of poverty eradication.

    Look at how well  Social Security has lifted the lives of the older ones in our country.

    It’s easy to look at something with tired eyes and say…’this is doomed to failure…,’ but there were  many people saying that about Social Security back when it was instituted.

    Very few, if any of us can say…”we were there,” and therefore can say how things were for the elderly.

    History (not re-written history,) is clear that the living conditions of the very poor and elderly were shamefully bad, especially when compared to the wealthy.

    Before unions workers in this country were little more than slaves(we’re headed back to those conditions now.) Even children were treated as such “tools” for people who saw such disgraceful accepted practices as “normal.”

    To say that “we will always have poverty,” is short sighted and shows a myopic world view. It takes thinking that is outside current paradigms to make cultural evolutions as grand as that which lifted the use of children as practical slaves by those who were the supposed “job creators” of that time period.

    Even the use of humans as actual slaves was fought against by the inhumane “job creators” of early America(and much of the world.)

    The statement that “we will always have poverty” is only true if you classify your thinking into the same mindset as the “industrial” bullies of yesteryear.

    Now is a time for thinking out of the box. It is a time that is ripe for cultural evolution. It is a time to lift all of humanity. The window of opportunity is close at hand.

    Will we open that window? Will we breath the air of tomorrow?

    What there “probably” will always be, are those who  are without vision. Those who, out of selfish self-centered, self-interest(not all self-interest is bad) will fight against change for the better. Those who will want to keep oppressing those in whom they find little value. “Them.”

    So, you have a choice…continue to align yourself with those whom show themselves to be oppressors claiming legitimacy, or reach for something more, something greater, something which lifts, not just yourself, but all of humanity, present and future!

  • Anonymous

    My point is just simple statistics.  If there are three people in the world and one person has 5 cocoanuts, another 3, and the third 2, then by definition, the one with 2 is “poor”.  Even Scandinavian countries who are lifted up as exemplars of the best social programs have poverty:  Denmark is 12% (same as US in ’11, according to one measure).  Sweden, Norway, and Finland estimates range from 6% and 14%.  While most agree that these rates are lower than the US poverty rate, they do put to rest the false notion that there is no poverty in these countries.  There is, despite enormous outlays of government expenditures and high taxes to support these programs.

    Also Scandinavians countries, who everyone concedes have a stronger safety net, are successful because they are hard workers.  They have to be, in order to overcome the burden of government taxation to provide the safety net.  To the extent that they are successful — and many think they are not — this mixed achievement is mitigated by the fact that on a whole, household incomes are lower than other countries per capita.  There is a price, after all, for government largesse.  Even so, Scandinavian countries are still essentially capitalistic (more so in some ways that the USA).  They provide a privatized social security system, a private school voucher program, strong property rights, business-friendly government policy (quick approval of new companies, and little regulation of financial and manufacturing sectors).  Now, can you imagine trying to do that in the USA?
    I don’t criticize SS, Medicare and Medicaid.  We should be doing these programs.  But Prof Edelman is talking about something else, ideas that are very different, even radical.  They are to say the least wholly misguided as they would not, if implemented, do one thing to help the poor.  It stems from a poor understsanding of the nature of the problem to begin with. 

    A fact is a fact: there is a bell curve to incomes, even in the most totalitarian/socialist regimes.  Some people have less and that means that others have more.  No amount of idealism will change that hard, irreducible reality.

    I supposed we could destroy the fabric of our nation, toss the Constitution, and embark on something excitingly new.  Maybe we could look at such utopian ideals as Robespierre and the French Reign of Terror, Pol Pot and Year Zero, Lenin and Soviet Collectivism, Mao’s Cultural Revolution.  Now we’re talking economic justice and fairness!  This is the certain endpoint of utopianism. 

    This is why Americans are so different from Europeans.  Our Revolution was based on the ideas of John Locke (religious tolerance, private property, individual liberty).  while European revolutions were based upon the ideas of Rousseau (atheism, State predominance, and community over the individual).

    There are only four certain outcomes of his proposal:  there will still be poor people in America, there will be more poorer people in American, there will be a larger State claiming authority over the personal wealth of Americans, and there will be more people resenting the role/scope/scale/reach of government.  Just imagine Nixon on steroids.  In short, the only winner in this Prof Edelman’s adventure is government (and those who would profit from it).

  • Anonymous

    The USA is not a democracy.  We are a republic.

  • Anonymous

    If you will check my comment, you will find that I said the , ” America is a federal republic.” My post was specifically addressing Mr. Moyers’ misuse of the word “democracy” during the interview!

  • JonThomas

     Mike, you say your point is simple statistics…that is just the beginning of the problem.

    I know very little about Denmark and the Scandinavian countries, so out of respect, I did a quick search in order to give you and your statistics a benefit of the doubt.

    What I quickly, and repeatedly, found was that countries like Denmark do not count or quantify poverty in the same way as the U.S.

    In this example your mindset is causing you to compare apples and oranges.

    Sorry, but I do not care to fall into that trap.

    From what I discovered in my short search is that the income gap between the richest and poorest citizens in Denmark is one of the smallest gaps on the planet.

    I also found that the there is such a small number of working poor that it’s not even looked at as a problem.

    The short of the story is the obvious incomparably between countries using nation-centered standards.

    As this recent M & C program with Mr. Edelman pointed out, the U.S. not only has a huge problem with the working poor, but we look at poverty and count percentages in totally different ways from other countries.

    Because of such differences your statistics are meaningless. Since you admit that your point is based on those simple statistics, you unfortunately disqualify your entire argument.

    I sense from your writing style that you are an intelligent man. I don’t know from where you have gained your information, perhaps you are a professional accountant, perhaps something else. But, you are still defending the “box.”

    Another example is where you compare coconuts. You and I can reason together and quickly realize that Inuits, more than likely, rarely have coconuts.

    They may not even use money in the same way as other groups.

    I small example of thinking outside the box…

    In the Bible(from what many people like to think much of our law and property rights originate,) there was indeed property rights written into the law passed down from Moses.

    But, what many people do not know about, or don’t like to talk about is the concept of “Jubilee.”

    Every 50 years( I think it was) all property which may have been sold during the last 50 years, reverted back to the family of original ownership

    Land was a form of wealth, and since the nation was agrarian, such property rights ensured a relatively secure wealth structure.

    Looking at this example one could easily say, that this is impossible in the U.S. today…or one could say,…”interesting, perhaps such ‘out-of-the-box thinking may become a solution.”

    Now such a solution may or may not work, but as long as people continue to assert that what we have today is working, and we need more of it, we will not move forward.

    Again, people who didn’t want change, and wanted to protect their oppressive way of life, fought a civil war to, among other things, keep slavery in place.

    I understand that many people are just trying to find their way in spite of their indoctrination into their current world view, but that does not mean that they won’t ever awaken.

    Another quick example is where you compare leaders of change to people like Mao.

    Now, just like the apples and oranges above, comparing dissimilar cultures causes inconsistent and foolish results.

    Why foolish? Because, while I cannot support Mao’s methods, I look at China today and see a nation, while still in capitalistic(if we can call it that for discussion’s sake) infancy, which by your own standards of measure, is kicking the pants off you and the other defenders of the U.S. way of doing things.

    Mao’s methods, however oppressive and distasteful(actually to me, not worth the result,) worked for China.

    I can’t even go into my own beliefs because there is little standard of reference in common that makes it easy to compare.

    Like Jesus tried to explain…(paraphrased) ‘There is a huge rift, where you are I cannot cross, and where I am you cannot enter.”

    I think in Zen the concept has to do with emptying the cup before the new knowledge can be obtained. I know that to many it sounds silly, even stupid or insane, but such is the way of things.

     

  • JonThomas

     The U.S. is a Democracy. You, and others can keep fighting over how much you think it is not, but…

    The U.S. is a Constitutional Republic using elements of Representative DEMOCRACY.

    In some defensible ways it can also be termed a “Liberal Democracy.”

    So, to just dismiss someone’s ideas, arguments, or words by trying to assert that the “the USA is not a democracracy” is not even close to sincere, let alone accurate.

    Sorry, but all of these labels are simplistic assertions that only serve to distract from otherwise peaceful, meaningful, up-building discussions.

    Unless, of course, the actual discussion was to be about what type of Government is found in the U.S.

  • julie5068

    Talk about apples and oranges, my stats were taken from a report that figured in the items that you assumed were figured out to arrive at a fair comparison.  The facts are that the programs that have been implemented were originally those “out of the box” solutions you think we need.  They were and are modest wealth redistribution methods.  And they by and large work.  But only up to a point. 

    Having worked with low-income individuals in my field of work, there is a characteristic trait that burdens such families.  Sociologists termed it “learned helplessness”.  An organization I am associated with is today having a conference on the “entitlement mentality” of our clients and how to break the cycle.  This organization is coming to grips with the fact that it has been an enabler in this process, reinforcing an entitlement attitude among those we serve.  It is moving toward programs that promote personal and financial self-sufficiency and independence.

    Poverty in America today is caused by a variety of things.  Mr Edelman’s solution doesn’t address these, and he more or less says that he doesn’t have the answers.  He’s just exasperated (and maybe exacerbated).  So the whole point of the interview is….nothing.  No realistic solution, no realistic understanding of the problem, nothing.  Just a litany of traditional liberal complaints about America’s current economic woes and a fairly honest admission that liberal programs in the past (the “War on Poverty”) have utterly (underscored) failed.  So, again we resort to the usual liberal answer.  If megatons of throw-weight of govt largesse didn’t solve the problem, therefore we must utilize gigatons of throw-weight of govt funds, and since the last round of megatons of throw-weight are forcing the country into debt that our great-great-great grandchildren will not retire, then we must look for other sources for those funds, like “the rich” (who I’m not, by the way).  Let’s take their money.   Why not?  If a “thinking person” can envision it, then it must be possible, and damn the wheelbarrow full of moral ethics and individual freedoms we cast off along the way to do it. 

    Just a point of history, Mao (one of modern civilization’s greatest mass murderers) is not responsible for China’s new-found embrace of capitalism.  That distinction goes to Deng Xiaoping.  His goal was not the liberty of the Chinese people, just the perpetuation of Communist Party control (first) and an improvement in the living standards of the Chinese (second).  And they’ve done well, one may say.  And they’re not really capitalist, they’re more fascist (capital markets + authoritarian political control).  Modern China resembles more pre-WW2 Germany, albeit with different politics.  Also, the Chinese people have no (that is to say none at all) political rights.  And they pay their workers subsistence wages.  Try to form a union in the “workers’ utopia” and see what happens (NPR covered that a few years ago).  But, yes, they are kicking our pants off because they have a command economy utilizing market systems, cheap (and I mean cheap and almost endless) labor, no labor laws, no environmental standards, no regulations, etc., etc.  And, not having that annoying electorate to deal with, they can go about their business any way that please.  But the left seems unconcerned about political freedom in the world and advocates more about economic security.  (Now that is definitely out of the box, if you ask me.)

    I don’t defend the box as you describe it as much as I understand the how and why the box came to be.  Economics is a social science.  It’s is human behavior.  Corporations, stock markets, international trade, the corner gas station, etc., are all the result of the financial behavior of people at various levels.  As a Christian, I follow the Lord’s prescripts, but the Bible does not offer much in the way of economics or financial policy.  Matt 14:7 and Mark 12:17 give us some perspective.  I base my views on the fact that there will always be some group that is “poor” (i.e., monetarily, marginalized, mentally ill, physically/development disabled, etc.) who need assistance (from some source, presumably both govt and private), and traditional American values of individual liberty and modest government (based on an application of the law of diminishing returns as applied to govt-sponsored social programs).  I do not support the elimination of govt activity in these programs, just a realignment and reduction, based upon their failure to achieve their statesd aims.

    Americans, not Europeans, are incredibly generous.  85% of all philanthropy comes from individuals (5% from foundations, 5% from corporations and 5% from deferred gifts[which are also from people]).  So I have no lack of confidence in the ability of America to sort out its problems and get on with things, without the gov’ment “helping”.

  • julie5068

    You are right.  I wasn’t arguing with you on the point. 

  • julie5068

    I agree with your points.  Free trade has hurt us, but what’s the alternative?  Our society can’t manufacture the things Americans want.  No one would work for those wages, hence we get them from people who will.  Thanks to technology (not just the Internet), the cost of goods and services is being pushed down, and that cost includes labor.  My mom’s Chevy was made in Mexico.  We have a Subaru plant in Indiana.  Americans who want to buy a Chevy get them from plants that have lower costs, in this case labor.  People who want to buy a Subaru get them from plants that have lower costs, in this case, lower transportation costs.  There is no alternative to free trade.

  • JonThomas

    Mike, or Julie, or whomever you are…

    We could probably go on like this for quite a while so…

    Instead of continuing to force you into the corner from which you are trying to defend the same old oppressive understandings of the way in which many assume  it has always been, and has to be, I will just say that…

    In the case of China both Mao and Deng Xiaoping contributed to where China is today. I used that as an example to show you how you can’t compare leaders who come from different cultures and judge their results.

    Mao, for example took a feudal country and made it possible for his successors to make China the fastest growing economy on the planet.

    Mao, through methods that are difficult, and impossible to defend in the west, accomplished this feat in only 50 years.

    Without Mao and his  direction, Deng Xiaoping would never have been able to make his accomplishments and China would probably still be an argrarian feudal state…unless of course, the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. took them as a strategic pawn in their war over imperialistic, ‘our way is better than your way.’

    In another 50 years who knows how China or the world will be changed by China’s ascendency.

    You do defend the box because you think that every person has to live by your standards or be run down by those who want to use the earth in the way you think it should be used.

    If a person is born on a piece of land that isn’t his, or his parents, you want to kick him off. He can’t work that land to feed himself and live in peace. You want to fence in your piece and tell them to either work in your mills or die from starvation.

    Your ilk stole this country from it’s inhabitants and threw the Native Americans into barren wastelands. Then you form and “work with’ social services to try to figure out what is “wrong” with them.

     You have no idea that you are defending the box because you don’t seem to understand there is a box.

    You want to tax people who may not even want to use your services. The ones who use and damage the services the most, the corporations and the 1%, you allow the most loopholes to not pay for those services.

     I hate to use the “you” word so much and seem like I’m attacking, but sometimes it is necessary to say it as such.

    Practicality of the forum makes it impossible to continue so I will end my comments here. :)

  • ron palmer

    I can’t believe that Mr. Edelman pinpointed 1973 as a turning point for the way things have evolved, and he never mentioned that that was the year of the Arab Oil Boycott.  I believe that this country has never fully recovered from those years, and it seems as though economists and other talking heads have forgotten all about it.

  • Anonymous

    I am retired so I can remember the ‘before and after’  of the Free trade economy.  In the 50s/60s/70s we had a large middle class from both the blue and white collar community.  Our standard of living back then was just as good as it is now,  even though free trade was supposed to help us.  The Industrial Revolution gave us a model for an accross the board high standard of living,  in Europe and USA.  We should have locked down US and European economies and then slowly worked to raise the rest of the world up. 

  • Mona

     sociopaths do not exhibit christian behavior, do not follow the 10 commandments.  my grandmother said that god would save America because we are a charitable nation.  we may be doomed if we do not have better leaders and oversight.  i am concerned about our food supply and toxins in the environment.  toxins inhibit wellness and can lead to an early death.  do these leaders realize that all individuals can and do contribute to society.  by marginalizing people we are stunting our nations growth.  thank for your insight. 
    show more

  • Sandrathaxter

     Sorry Mike,   We have not ever really addressed poverty, because we have signed on to the myth that the poor  just don’t try hard enough to make a life, or that they are bad, or screwed up, don’t want to change their lives.  This simply isn’t true.  Our nation’s mixed feelings about poverty have created social programs that punish, that blame the poor,  and don’t work because they were not meant to solve address the problem.  

  • Shepherd2121

    I wonder about the size of the food stamp program  vs the size of Bush Tax cuts.  What percentage of the federal budget?

  • Rhonda

    When will someone propose that ALL American citizens just simply refuse to fund this nation anymore. US gov’t tells their citizens that they have no choice but to supply their slave wages to the government and then their money to handed over to Big Wigs, Fat Cats and High Pockets on Capitol Hill and Wall Street and we call them “businessmen” and “job creators”. They have to access and free will to enter the offices of OUR representatives; they choose to NOT PAY a living or reasonable wage and then take what they have chosen to NOT pay for the LABOR provided for that WAGE, redirect it back to their own personal accounts. Then they take what the poor, and ‘to be’ poor have worked hard NOT to earn (that we are FORCED TO PAY–TAXES) and hand it over to people like MITT ROMNEY, JAMIE DIMOND, SHELDON ADELSON, who take the working wages (they call subsidies, I call TAXES AND EXTORTION) and strangely, those FAT CATS AND BIG PIGS don’t label their FEDERAL AID as WELFARE. They didn’t work for it; they didn’t earn it; and interestingly YOU NEVER HEAR THEM SAY THEY RECEIVED FEDERAL AID OR SPECIAL PRIVILEGES FROM YOUR CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVE!! WHY DO WE PAY TAXES??? WHY DO WE PUT UP WITH THE THREAT OF INCARCERATION FOR NOT DOING SO, IF OUR LEGISLATORS CAN BE BRIBED AND EXTORT AND LAUNDER OUR TAXES INTO THE HANDS OF PRIVATE CITIZENS WHO DON’T “CREATE” JOBS HERE–RATHER SOMEWHERE ELSE? THEY AREN’T BEING PROSECUTED OR BROUGHT UP ON CHARGES. WHY? Because they schemed against YOU (their own constituents) and created & passed a bill to support their crime, so that THE LAW WOULD JUSTIFY THEIR EVIL AND FRAUD. Is a crime NOT a Crime if a Law supports it? Mitt Romney says, we have an “entitlement” society. I wonder how much “entitlement” he and his father received from “the not so entitled” (The taxpayer)? If this “entitlement” society (the Taxpayer), those who fund and support HIS PROSPERITY, were paid a respectable and appropriate wage, THEY WOULDN’T NEED ANY “ENTITLEMENT”. It’s so interesting to me how a millionaire can SEE the needy as a drain on the social economy, but CAN’T SEE THE MILLIONS OR BILLIONS HE HAS DRAINED (“FREE STUFF”) RIGHT OUT OF YOUR POCKETS!!! Mind you, this is the money he took BEFORE you got that check that DID NOT COVER YOUR RENT, OR BUY FOOD FOR YOUR CHILDREN, OR COVER YOUR UTILITIES. We have only ONE ECONOMY and as CURRENCY RUNS ITS CYCLE WITHIN THAT ECONOMY, IT HAS TO SERVE ITS PURPOSE FOR ALL OF US. IF THAT CYCLE IS INTERRUPTED FOR ANYONE OF US, AND ANY AMOUNT IS REMOVED FROM THE FLOW OF CURRENCY, SOMEONE HAS BEEN RIPPED OFF. If this flow is channeled in any one direction disproportionately, at any time, it may never return. If this is the case, someone has been permanently affected on a very real and possibly lasting basis.

  • Anonymous

    I am not sure we are at our best when we compare our poverty rates to other nations. Why? Because we are, quite simply, the wealthiest country the world has ever seen. So, to assert ‘well all countries have poverty’ is a canard to assist in justification of poverty.

    Additionally, perhaps you were/are not aware that 40-50% of the country sits on the brink or in ‘poverty’. The majority of those living in poverty, by the way, are white.

    It seems entirely unwarranted to discuss ways to ‘fix’ or ‘address’ poverty (as you see it) without a discussion at the other end of the spectrum in this country. It is disingenious to NOT include the vast inequality in this country when talking about poverty. Just one relevant point 5 members of the Walton family are worth more than the poorest (roughly) 110,000,000 (million) Americans. Now, i’m not opposed to making money in business – not at all – but, when one can accumulate that kind of wealth without paying a living wage to the majority of their employees is morally wrong (I might add it is also fiscally unsustainable) it is absurd to argue the system is fair or the playing field level. It is not.

  • Anonymous

    Well said.

  • Anonymous

    Many of your views are expressed with a partial understanding. For example ‘income is on a bell curve’ said as if societal factors do not impact income is completely absurd. Yet, you later go on to suggest the interplay between society and the economy.

    Also, the notion of China as some form of ‘capitalism’ is ridiculous recently Charlie Rose and Thomas Friedman had this discussion…Friedman laughed at the thought someone might make that suggestion-as you have done.
    Still further, your quoting of scripture, while conveniently used to defend your position, can really be dispensed with quite easily by asking, in all sincerity, what was Jesus’ #1 teaching and tenant? I’ll give you a hint, it was not Matthew 14:7 nor Mark 12:17.
    You also said sociologist coined the term “learned helplessness” – They were actually Psychologists (chiefly Seligman). While conveniently applied – i suggest you reread Seligman (and others) writing on the subject. If anything, the argument of Learned Helplessness is much more easily ascribed to those who have given up because the playing field is not level, working hard and unable to see any way out of poverty…”victimizationand the loss of control associated with chronic poverty may breed dysfunctional psychological coping mechanism..” (1987). Characterized by “motivational deficits, apathy, resignation, and an inability to recognize and respond to new opportunity (Seligman, 1975). In short, the condition of being poor absent ‘welfare’ creates conditions of learned helplessness. To be fair there are those studying the impact of ‘welfare’ on LH but, that is different than what you infer. Do you see the distinction?
    Hmm, what else..oh yeah, the “law of diminishing returns” is not often applied to social programs. Why? because of the variability imposed by technology, society, the environment etc. It has been but those arguments are incompletely modeled – at best.

    You assert Edelman wishes to ‘address poverty’ via a “…litany of liberal complaints..” My question to you would be, as succinctly as possible, how would YOU propose we address poverty in this country?
    My main desire in writing to you, at this point, is my hope that the next time you make your argument(s) you stop to think about the biases and errors you assert.

  • Anonymous

    Completely, as the name suggest, agree. I’d like to think otherwise but I’d be lying.

  • Anonymous

    I think you are not making a distinction between the ‘ideal’ of what we’d like vs. what we now have in this country. We live in a plutocracy and if you have any doubt regarding that I’d like for you to demonstrate what policy has been enacted that is not beneficial to the wealthiest or the corporations at an essential level.

  • Anonymous

    …and to point that out, as Romney recently said, is ‘class envy’ or as others have said (Sean Hannity etc.) “class warfare”. It is astounding what is occuring in this country.

  • Anonymous

    The notion, I kindly suggest, that ‘govt. is the problem’ is really a canard and the wrong path to go down. If we have ANY hope of restoring equality in this country, in lifting many out of poverty, we’ll need the vehicle of OUR government to effect that change. Why do the Koch Brothers so fervently support the tea party? because they realize the only power that could ever push back against them is the government.

    Lastly, we either live in a society or we do not. Government is broken, on all sides right/left/center it functions on behalf of the wealthiest and of the corporations. But, the task is to take our government back and not to fall into the trap set for us of ‘less govt.’ ‘govt. is all bad’ nonsense. Like it or not our chance to repair our govt. is the only vehicle we have to restore our Democracy.

    Government functions at the whim of the plutocrats and of corporations. I take no pride in saying that but it is true. So, why not go after the plutocrats and the corporations? The Tea party (legitimately angry) are completely focused on the wrong things (at this stage). Reigning in govt. is important, reducing waste, etc. But direct the anger and frustration at those who hold us by the neck w/ a noose…

  • Anonymous

    or the cost of unnecessary war. Additionally, there is a moral element to taking care of our neighbor – we are our brothers keeper…or we should be.

  • JonThomas

    I agree that in practice this country is run by a plutocracy, but that does not take away from the fact of this discussion’s mistake…that this country is built upon the principles of a DEMOCRATIC Republic.

    It’s the democratic process, along with legislative and policy enacting processes, which have been corrupted.

  • http://www.facebook.com/texsbill Texsbill Gran

    1 of most important & best books i read in 2012. rok on peter edelman – rok on :)

  • Terri EC Mom5

    Lynne–I hate to burst your bubble but poor people do not own any land to “dig” into. Where would you suggest they plant crops? In your yard?

  • Terri EC Mom5

    Keith–If you can afford to attend Georgetown, you really don’t NEED the rebate.

  • Terri EC Mom5

    Amen.

  • Terri EC Mom5

    Yes. Now how do we change that? We do have power in numbers. Corporate interests have made unionization a shameful four-letter word, so other than unions, how do we get 250+ million Americans to come together to demand and force a societal change? Every issue is so polarized. The media (who is owned by corporations) tries to distract, divide and conquer its opponents (us) with just about any stupid thing and IT WORKS. I bet more people know what star wore what designer at the Oscars than they know what is going on in their own government. When we do know what is going on, we are too dumbfounded to know what to do to change it, as if this is something out of our hands. The media and government still call this country a “democracy”. I’m not convinced, but if we are, just remember people control the government, people control corporations. We just need to scrape away the mindless BS that the media feeds us, roll up our sleeves and get to work to make changes that serve the majority, not the minority. The status quo isn’t working for us anymore and its time “we the people” make the necessary changes that we need to thrive.

  • Terri EC Mom5

    That is precisely why “we the people” need to change the system.

  • Terri EC Mom5

    Also companies are finding new and interesting ways to not pay their workers any benefits by hiring them as part-time or temporary workers. This group of workers is growing by nearly 40%. And let’s not forget about “corporate welfare” which is the largest welfare recipient in the country which is paid for by both the poor and middle-class. Do you really believe the Walton family needs a government handout on top of their billions? Walmart already gets government subsidies by paying their workers poverty wages forcing the workers to sign up up for food-stamps and medicare paid for by taxpayers. Then people blame the workers for doing what is necessary for them and their families to survive. What would you expect the workers to do?