I was listening to the opening segment of Dave Ramsey’s radio program this morning when I heard him describe some criticism he has been receiving. These critics claim Ramsey is a fraud, hates poor people and is a tool of the “moneyed” people, whatever that is.
Their position is that capitalism is the root of the country’s ills, that capitalism purposely keeps people in poverty so that “moneyed” people can control everything. It was reminiscent of the union and socialist talking points that I’ve seen over the years.
My observations over the last forty plus years as an adult is contrary to those talking points. The Poverty Line didn’t exist when I was growing up. That was a creation of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Since that time, the government has spent trillions, yes that’s right, trillions with a T, on poverty and it still exists in higher levels than before.
Why is this so?
To a very large extent, in my opinion, it is cultural. The history of this country, until the middle of the 20th Century, was based on entrepreneurship. People worked to acquire assets and capital that was, in turn, used to bootstrap a business, an enterprise, a homestead, a dream that lead to prosperity and increased wealth. Many, many were successful. Just look at the winners of the 19th and 20th centuries. They were, are numerous.
Many also failed.
Some, who chose to be homesteader, failed due to disease and weather. The drought and subsequent dust storms of the 1930s is one example. The blizzards covering the northern prairie states in the late 19th century ruined ranches large and small.
Some of those who failed, tried again and succeeded. The farmers who lost their farms in the Dust Bowl, migrated to California and other states and were known as “Okies,” migrant workers moving from one agricultural job to another.
Others, quit. With FDR’s New Deal, some realized they didn’t have to support themselves, others, the government, would do that and that realization was the beginning of America’s welfare state, a shift in American Culture which fed today’s welfare state.
But, even today, those in poverty need not remain there. The tools exist to allow anyone, with sufficient motivation, to rise out of poverty and to succeed. The obvious tool is education. When I was young and in school, we were taught basics: reading and comprehension, writing and grammar including composition—writing clearly, arithmetic and math, history, geography and natural sciences. But most of all, we were taught how to teach ourselves.
As bad as our current education policies are, it is still possible for an individual to rise above their economic level and succeed—but now without work and personal investment. That is where our dependency culture is failing us.
When I was in school, we had a number of students whose parents were on “relief.” I personally knew some of them. I played with their children, visited them at their home, rode the same bus to school, I knew them and their entire family intimately. The differences between their families and mine were unbelievable to one who had not known both of us.
My family was average for that time and place. My father worked as a coal miner and part-time farmer (I did more farm work when in school than did he), my mother was an elementary school teach as was my older married sister. We also owned a small farm and raised most of our food. We weren’t rich, nor had a lot of money, but we did have something else—a desire to succeed. I was raised in that culture.
The other family was raised in a different culture. My school friends never took school work home. Their parents, outside of a small garden, had no income other than relief payments from the government. When their allotment of relief ended, they would find some job and keep it long enough to qualify for relief once again. It was a cyclic existence. If their children brought school work home, it was destroyed or if the parent found any school textbooks, those text books were sold for whatever value could be received. Their culture determined that education was a hindrance to life—on relief…welfare as we call it now.
That dependency culture has grown over the decades. It need not continue. The tools to fight it still exists—education, learning how to learn, teaching oneself new skills, skills that can lead to a job, the basis of economic freedom. The path is there.
How does this work? Basically, get a job. Acquire, through education, self-education, work, skills that youj will be paid a wage or salary for exercising those skills. Learn more skills, gain expertise, and find a better paying job, or create a new business with those skills. Then, as your business grows, with your hard work and enterprise, you hire employees who have skills you need. The cycle continues.
The critics scoff at this idea. “All the wealth is controlled by a few! No one new can join them.” That is the basis of Keynesian Economics: wealth cannot be created nor destroyed.” Wealth must be controlled for the betterment of all. Wealth must be taken from those who have it, and given to those who do not.
Later versions of Keynesian Theory were based on the Zero-sum game theory. Nothing, wealth, can be added nor removed from a system, just manipulated internally. Poverty is created because the wealthy have acquired all the wealth—a view of economics is easily refuted.
In the 19th and early 20th Century, our currency was based on gold and silver standards. Gold backed the currency. On the face of each bill was the statement, “Redeemable in gold/silver.” Our currency was not Federal Reserve notes, backed by the federal government, but Silver and Gold Certificates redeemable by the appropriate metal. If you didn’t have sufficient gold, or silver, you mined more. Wealth, actual wealth in silver and gold in this case, grew. The economy grew, people gained jobs, saved, and created new jobs. Poverty was diminished.
We no longer have a currency based on gold or silver. Our economy has outgrown the available quantities of gold and silver. We do have a currency based on work. We have the tools available to anyone with the will to use them. Poverty will not cease in America due to the dependency culture. But, we need not feed that culture. Poverty is not a lack of money, wealth, it is a cultural affliction.
Those who are mired in it, can escape. All it takes is the will to do so, and by doing so, escape the trap of dependency created by progressive, socialistic economic thought and policies.