Helping the poor would be a good thing if we could do it right. Demands to do it wrong makes helping the poor the most dangerous political issue of this election year. It will hurt us not because we are afraid to take a stand against throwing money at poverty, but because we won’t voice outrage at an agenda determined to use the bottom to control the top. Pandering to poverty keeps public officials in power and for some that makes it a good thing.
What does helping the poor really mean?
There are few better appeals for overspending than helping the poor. That’s why income inequality is a political issue that serves the party’s interests best when it is debated but never solved.
Does helping the poor mean empowering those who contribute the least to decide where our money is spent? Is it political correctness or misplaced decency that prevents us from admitting that those who contribute the most should be the ones making the decisions? Liberal Democrats will protest, but without the struggle over tax dollars they would have no platform and no party.
The chair of the Congressional Black Caucus recently threw down the gauntlet, insinuating that Democrats and the disadvantaged should be in the driver’s seat:
This is simply egregious.
We cannot continue to believe that a growing economy guarantees higher wages and income for all. Because it does not.1
A growing economy guarantees nothing, but it expands opportunity and gives everyone a better chance. A stumbling economy hits the bottom hardest. Even Democrats and their president figured that one out, though they come up short on accepting responsibility. That’s where taxpayers’ wallets come in.
Does helping the poor mean government sets the standard of living?
Do minimum wage workers want the government to determine what their standard of living should be? $10.10 an hour is not going to put anyone at the gate to Middle America, but that’s not what Democrats are preaching:
In order to help the working poor and middle class, we must raise the minimum wage; invest in education; improve our infrastructure; reign in Wall Street and return our focus to Main Street.2
The right and left both had a field day with the CBO’s take on the effects of a higher guaranteed income. Neither side took offense at the government mandating the standard of living that constitutes helping the poor.
The private sector has a pretty good track record for rewarding talent and striking back when big government interferes with free enterprise. This is the time to strike back. In lieu of more tax increases for social spending, Democrats have turned compensation into a contentious political issue by trying to force businesses to pay workers without marketable skills more than what the market deems they are worth.
Is it the duty of employers to top off paychecks with a welfare payment? That is a political issue we will beat to death well before midterms arrive. What we know for a fact is that $10.10 an hour will only whet the Democratic Party’s appetite for extorting more money from the middle and the top to fund the same old spending vehicles that didn’t work before and won’t work now.
The real political issue is who pays for Democrats.
Citizens United is still a thorn in the paw of politicians worried that they can’t spend more than corporations. Their solution is to try to extract campaign contributions from constituents who don’t have a lot of money and should be spending what they have on other things. H.R. 20, the Government by the People Act, offers a tax credit for small political contributions. The bill also establishes a Freedom from Influence Fund to match these small dollar donations. Since money, where it goes, and who begs loud enough for a cut are the political issues that matter most to politicians, the trick is to dupe naïve voters into donating by waving the flag:
“Whether it’s jobs, education, health care or the environment, big money politics warps Congress’s priorities and erodes the public’s trust in government,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “We need a government of, by and for the people – not bought and paid for by big money donors and special interests.”3
Perhaps we should add political contributions to the list of items you can buy with food stamps. Would that help politicians eradicate hunger in America?
Alas, there is no Mother Theresa in Washington. Helping the poor is only a noble pursuit in the absence of ulterior motives. The question for Americans is how badly do we want to get hurt? How much debt should we run up for failed endeavors that help politicians more than their poverty-stricken poster children?
H.R. 2182, the Half in Ten Act of 2013, argued that one of the benefits of helping the poor and reducing poverty is to bring in more tax revenue. That’s the kind of honesty we need from Washington. The real political issue isn’t helping Americans out of poverty. It is helping Democrats help themselves.
Updated June 11, 2016: links revised.