Category: Poverty

The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it. — P.J. O’Rourke

Sometimes, a ray of light breaks through the dense gloom overhanging our political culture.

Gov. Rick Snyder

Gov. Rick Snyder

Michigan voters, in a mass outbreak of common sense, on Tuesday resoundingly rejected a $2 billion tax increase proposal pitched as a fix for the state’s roads and, among many other things, a help for the working poor. That was one of the more outrageous claims, but the topper was Gov. Rick Snyder’s gun-to-the-head threat in March that if voters did not approve the tax increase, “there is no Plan B for the roads.” Insulting voters with such tactics undoubtedly played a role in the thrashing that Snyder and the Lansing political establishment received at the polls. As the Detroit News put it:

Proposal 1 suffered the worst defeat Tuesday of any Michigan constitutional amendment ballot measure since the current constitution was adopted more than a half-century ago, as 80.1 percent of voters rejected the sales tax increase and road funding plan. (more…)

fireOf all the disheartening scenes of unrest coming out of Baltimore this week, few have been as dispiriting as the image of a church project that was set ablaze.

For the past eight years the Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore has been working on a project that would provide a community center and low-income housing in the form of 60 senior-citizen apartments. The construction was expected to be completed in December. And last night it all burned to the ground.

Those associated with the project have remained optimistic. Kevin Bell, senior vice president of The Woda Group, vowed to rebuild and said, “This does not make us go away.” And Rev. Donte Hickman, the pastor of the church, says, “This fire is going to spark a revival.”

We should pray the project will soon be back on track and that the community as a whole will heal quickly. But we should also be aware of the long term impact that riots have on a city.

In 2004, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) published two papers that examined the effect of the riots in the 1960s and early 1970s. From 1964 to 1971, as many as 700 riots erupted in cities across America. The large numbers of injuries, deaths, property damage that occurred in predominantly black neighborhoods caused considerable short-term damage on the communities. But the impact over the long run (from 1960 to 1980) was even more severe. According to the NBER,

That’s one of the questions that comes to mind when reading Bill McGurn’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Many free-market advocates, including yours truly, have already expressed concern over what may appear in the papal encyclical due this summer. McGurn concurs but, like a good entrepreneur, also sees an opportunity:

The fears are not without cause. There are many signs that do not augur well, from the muddled section on economics in the pope’s first encyclical [Actually, it was an apostolic exhortation. — K.J.] to his posing for a photo while holding up an anti-fracking T-shirt, to press coverage anticipating he will be to the fight against greenhouse gases what Pope John Paul II was to the fight against Soviet communism.

Even so, the topic is ripe for precisely the kind of corrective a pope has to offer: a reminder that God’s creation is meant to serve man—not man the environment. And its corollary: It is the have-nots who pay the highest price for the statist interventions so beloved of the Church of St. Green.

The term “human ecology” was used by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI (see my lecture on the topic), not only to speak about trendy environmental issues such as climate change but ones less popular among Western celebrities, especially the importance of marriage and family and the evils of population control. In doing so, the popes showed themselves to be pro-social-justice and pro-life/pro-family at the same time.

It’s possible, however, that the opponents of capitalism will use the occasion to attack economic freedom once again, even if it ultimately hurts the poor. Nothing very human about that kind of ecology.

Shoe-That-Grows-Kenton-Lee-04-677x381One day while walking to church in Nairobi, Kenya, Kenton Lee noticed a little girl in a white dress who had shoes that were way to small for her feet. He thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a shoe that could adjust and expand – so that kids always had a pair of shoes that fit?”

That question led to the development of “The Shoe That Grows,” a shoe that grows from a size 5 to a size 12 and can last from 5 to 10 years. The Shoe That Grows is the first project of Because International, an organization committed to practical compassion and creating “innovative products that help people living in extreme poverty.”

The organization’s seven-step process provides an inspiring model for creating innovations that can help those in poverty:

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

AEI’s Arthur Brooks offers up an interesting take on solutions to poverty. He thinks the key lies in “boring things,” and his inspiration is artist Andy Warhol.

I often ask people in my business — public policy — where they get their inspiration. Liberals often point to John F. Kennedy. Conservatives usually cite Ronald Reagan. Personally, I prefer the artist Andy Warhol, who famously declared, “I like boring things.” He was referring to art, of course. But the sentiment provides solid public policy guidance as well.

Warhol’s work exalted the everyday “boring” items that display the transcendental beauty of life itself. The canonical example is his famous paintings of Campbell Soup cans. Some people sneered, but those willing to look closely could see what he was doing.

Warhol’s critical insight is usually lost on most of the world.


homeless-coderOn his way to work in 2013, tech entrepreneur Patrick McConlogue walked past a homeless man, Leo Grand, who was exercising with a heavy chain. McConlogue took this as a sign of Grand’s internal drive and motivation and decided to try an experiment:

The idea is simple. Without disrespecting him, I will offer two options:

1. I will come back tomorrow and give you $100 in cash.

2. I will come back tomorrow and give you three JavaScript books, (beginner-advanced-expert) and a super cheap basic laptop. I will then come an hour early from work each day—when he feels prepared—and teach him to code.

Leo turned down the money and took the opportunity to learn how to code. McConlogue saw this a portending great things: “It turns out Leo is a genius particularly concerned with environment issues.”

McConlogue initially gave Grand a laptop and some books and met with him an hour a day for tutoring. Later he would take off work for five weeks to work with Grand full-time on a smartphone app, “Trees for Cars.” Even before the app launched, McConlogue was dreaming about how to scale up the process into a program to help other “people in need”:

extreme-povertyCan the world put an end to extreme poverty within the next 15 years?

That’s the current goal of the World Bank, and its expected that the United Nations will adopt that same target later this year.

In 1990, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals included a target of halving poverty by 2015. That goal was achieved five years early. In 1990, more than one-third (36 percent) of the world’s population lived in abject poverty; by 2010 the number had been cut in half (18 percent). Today, it is 15 percent.

Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.25 a day. The new goal is to move almost all the world’s population about that line by 2030. Is that even possible?

Bob Geldof

Bob Geldof

Good story in the Wall Street Journal today about rocker-activist Bob Geldof and how he’s spearheading a push by private-equity firms into Ethiopia to effect a “historic shift from aid to trade.” Investments are flowing into private sector projects such as a flower farm, a juice company, pipeline building and commodity exchanges.

A number of high-profile investors have recently shown up here. KKR & Co., the New York-based private-equity firm, last summer bought control of a rose farm, Afriflora, for about $200 million, its first investment in Africa. Blackstone Group plans to build a $1.35 billion pipeline to bring gasoline to the capital, Addis Ababa. Hedge-fund manager Paul Tudor Jones is backing a $2 billion geothermal power project.

The investors are following in the footsteps of Irish punk rock singer turned activist Bob Geldof, whose Live Aid concerts 30 years ago this summer raised about $145 million for the victims of a devastating Ethiopian famine. Mr. Geldof now chairs 8 Miles LLP, a London-based private-equity firm that invests in Ethiopia. 8 Miles raised a $200 million fund in 2012; Mr. Geldof put in a few hundred thousand dollars. “They don’t have to die in vast numbers before we pay attention,” Mr. Geldof said in an interview. “The potential rewards in Africa are far greater than anywhere else.”


Trailer-parkBeing “missional” and showing a concern for justice for the poor have become issues of increasing concern among American evangelicals. Yet the focus tends to tend to be on urban minorities instead of the largest percentage of Americans living under the poverty line.

If you want to hear crickets in a room full of educated, missionally minded, culture-shaping evangelicals, says Anthony Bradley, ask this question: “What are you doing to serve the needs of poor white people?”


Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia has now given away more than 10,000 slices of pizza, using a unique “pay-it-forward” system where “customers can pre-purchase $1 slices for those in need.”

The story is inspiring on a number of levels, illuminating the power of business to channel the best of humanity toward meeting complex needs in new and unexpected ways, often quite spontaneously.

The owner, Mason Wartman, left his job on Wall Street to start the restaurant, following his vocational aspirations and bringing a new product and service to this Philadelphia neighborhood. This is a great social benefit in and of itself, and yet the owner and his customers went further, responding to other signals in their community through generosity and innovation from the bottom up. As several homeless people in the video explain, the grace-filled approach of the business and its customers made a remarkable impact, giving them peace, encouragement, and empowerment. (more…)