The authenticity of poverty
Jon Gabriel at Ricochet writes a sad ballad of frustrated entrepreneurship and victorious “community organizing” in Portland, Oregon, where grocery chain Trader Joe’s wanted to open a store in a struggling area, but the local shakedown artists and power brokers had other ideas:
The company selected two acres along Martin Luther King Blvd. that had been vacant for decades. It seemed like the perfect place to create jobs, improve customer options and beautify the neighborhood. City officials, the business community, and residents all seemed thrilled with the plan. Then some community organizers caught wind of it.
The fact that most members of the Portland African-American Leadership Forum didn’t live in the neighborhood was beside the point. “This is a people’s movement for African-Americans and other communities, for self-determination,” member Avel Gordly said in a press conference. Even the NAACP piled on, railing against the project as a “case study in gentrification.” (The area is about 25 percent African-American.)
After a few months of racially tinged accusations and angry demands, Trader Joe’s decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. “We run neighborhood stores and our approach is simple,” a corporate statement said. “If a neighborhood does not want a Trader Joe’s, we understand, and we won’t open the store in question.”
This was followed by a darkly comical last-ditch attempt by confused “community organizers” to shout a few more shakedown demands – “affordable housing, mandated jobs based on race, and a small business slush fund” – at the departing backs of the Trader Joe’s team. Now there will be zero jobs, mandated by race or otherwise, but at least the “integrity” of the neighborhood will be saved from “gentrification.”
Much of this is eerily similar to the reasons given by international activists to thwart job creation in the Palestinian territories by the Israeli company that manufactures SodaStream kits. In that case, there were concerns that the “national aspirations” of the Palestinians would be compromised by accepting good jobs from the sinister “occupiers.” That story also featured local members of the affected community who wanted those jobs and spoke highly of the company that offered them, but were ignored by their kleptocrat leaders and self-appointed international caretakers.
And we hear echoes of the Portland community organizers in the Left’s torrid, probably brief public romance with the glories of ObamaCare-inspired unemployment. It’ll be a brief public romance because Obama apologists are probably only a matter of hours from realizing how absolutely insane they sound, when insisting that 2.5 million people enjoying taxpayer benefits that give them a reason not to work is a brilliant social-policy achievement, no matter what President Obama previously said about his alleged enthusiasm for economic growth and job creation. Team Obama will be back to its ludicrous pretensions of technocracy in no time.
But in private, the authenticity of poverty has always been a driving force with the Left. This is a philosophy that gets very nervous when a growing middle class asserts its independence, tires of paying steep tax bills to fund bloated and inefficient welfare states, and begins making serious investments. There was talk in the late Nineties and early Two Thousands about a growing investor class, which would display increasing political sympathy for pro-growth policies that made their stock portfolios blossom and provided them with opportunities for professional growth. Those were tense days for the Big Government crowd. Luckily, the 2008 financial crisis – largely engineered by the policies liberals not only supported, but lied furiously to protect whenever concerns were raised about them during the Bush years – scared the middle class away from all that “investment society” stuff, and now we’ve got the kind of high-unemployment stagnation that socialists feel more comfortable with.
Where government grows, the private sector contracts. That principle works at the municipal level, as well as on a national scale. Power attracts people who profit from its exercise – say, by using the media-government complex to squeeze job-creating industry until it either bleeds or flees. The growth of such power relationships also infuses a community with ideology, which blinds them to simple realities about investment and job creation – such as the absolute necessity of the former to produce the latter.
The Left teaches people to think of jobs as an entitlement, more akin to a social program than a capitalist transaction. They’ve spent the last two days telling people that unemployment is a form of liberation, while work is inherently oppressive. The people who least need to hear a message like that are most likely to internalize it.
The authenticity of poverty is also a big part of the Left’s phony “income inequality” crusade, which you’ll notice has nothing to do with increasing employment – quite the contrary, to listen to their desperate efforts to defend ObamaCare as a merry circus of funemployment. The income inequality crusade is about making the middle class poor, not raising poor people into the middle class through the promise, and challenge, of work. And ObamaCare will go a long way toward realizing those goals. Here’s a fun little chart to consider:
In other words, the bottom two groups, illustrated in green, will see increased “income” – largely as a result of subsidies, i.e. taxpayer loot. That’s the same group of people that will be working less, thanks to ObamaCare. Everybody else loses income, an effect whose scale is not entirely conveyed by charting percentages, since 0.3 percent of the top 10th income translates to a lot of dough, from a relatively small group of individuals.
Oh, and the people in the two groups that will see an income gain make less than $21,000 per year. Everybody else loses. Everybody else gets poorer. The people hit hardest, in the third group, make between $21k and $40k per year.
Which right-wing think tank produced this devastating chart? The liberal Brookings Institution. They concluded ObamaCare “may do more to change the income distribution than any other recently enacted law.” Yippee. Does anyone remember Barack Obama promising his health-care boondoggle would make just about everyone with a job poorer?
Meanwhile, working-age Americans now comprise the majority of recipients in the $80 billion food stamp program. It’s another triumph for Obamanomics, as the Associated Press reports that “some of the change is due to demographics, such as the trend toward having fewer children. But a slow economic recovery with high unemployment, stagnant wages and an increasing gulf between low-wage and high-skill jobs also plays a big role.”
A growing number of able-bodied people in the prime of their lives who need the government to feed them? That’s what I call “transformation,” just like Obama promised, before he started getting nervous about saying such things in public. Work is increasingly presented as either oppression, or a luxury reserved for a dwindling class of employables. Poverty is treated as the authentic and inescapable state of affairs for a growing number of people, whose only hope is to vote for politicians who will spend other peoples’ money to make their lives more tolerable… after skimming off the customary 90 cents on the dollar for Big Government overhead, of course.
Those on the lowest rungs of the income ladder will be taught to feel mounting hatred and envy for the people they don’t want to work for. The reasons why certain areas are mired in decay and despair for generations will be treated as inscrutable mysteries, when its really as simple as the tale of Trader Joe’s in Portland. We’ll be told we don’t dare criticize the supply side of unemployment – the rational decision of marginal employees to choose dependency over work – or discuss the role of politicians and their courtiers in making investment unappealing. Politicians on the make will tell their captive electorates to hate corporations for their profits, because that spares them the indignity of attracting commerce, including the purchase of labor.
I’ll give it you straight: Poverty stinks. Employment is the one and only way to escape it. Employment is a voluntary transaction, which means you need to find someone who can hire you, and persuade them to give you a chance. Such chances are hard to come by when the government consumes private-sector resources and increases the cost of labor. There’s nothing false, inauthentic, or humiliating about doing everything in your power to persuade people who have money that your labor is worth more than the cash in their bank accounts. Forcing them to hire you at gunpoint never works, especially since it always leads to someone forcing you to work at gunpoint.
It’s unwise to automatically trust everyone who would profit from your labor. But it most certainly is wise to automatically distrust everyone who profits from your unemployment.