Category: Poverty

mass-incarcerationWith the 2010 publication of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander, the conversation about America’s exploding prison population singularly became focused on the intersection of race, poverty, and the War on Drugs. According to the narrative, the drug war disproportionately targets blacks in lower income communities as a means of social control via the criminal justice system similarly to the way Jim Crow controlled blacks in the early 20th-century.

The one problem with mass incarceration-as-Jim-Crow thesis is that it does not fit the empirical data. The drug war is not the reason that today we have nearly 2.5 million people incarcerated in this country. In the mid-1970s the U.S. prison population grew from about 300,000 to 1.6 million inmates, and the incarceration rate from 100 per 100,000 to over 500 per 100,000 largely due to violent crime, property crime, and rogue prosecutors. Drug policy changes would, therefore, have little effect on prison population rolls.

The first significant challenge to the Alexander thesis came from Yale Law School professor James Forman, Jr. In a 2012 article, “Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow,” Forman observes that drug offenders constitute only a quarter of our nation’s prisoners, while the violent offenders make-up about one-half. While sympathetic to the ways in which those living in poor black communities are more likely to end up incarcerated than those in middle-class black communities, it is simply not true that drug policy, targeted at blacks, is driving prison numbers.
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Western activists and foreign aid experts often pretend as though material redistribution is enough to elevate the world’s poor. All we must do is give people the “tools” to do their work, they’ll say, and developing nations will take it from there.

What these “tools” consist of is a bit more blurry. The more serious development experts and economists recognize the need for immediate relief, but point to deeper factors and obstacles that prevent or accelerate the path to long-term prosperity and flourishing — “intangible assets and hidden liabilities,” as Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz have put it.

One such overlooked asset is cultural capital and the ripple effect it yields on a society’s underlying attitudes and overarching philosophy of life. In an excerpt from the PovertyCure series, Michael Miller and Michael Fairbanks explain why it matters.

As Fairbanks explains:

The most important type of capital is cultural capital, and by cultural capital I don’t mean just food and music and fashion and language. These are very valuable things, but I mean, how does a group of people attach meaning in their lives? Are they tolerant of people unlike themselves? Are they optimistic about the future? Do they believe in competition?

It’s trustful relationships…loving new ideas, loving the idea of serving the client very, very well. This cultural capital tells you if the country has the conditions to be prosperous in the future.

For those living in countries with higher levels of such capital, it can be easy to take it for granted, assuming society rolls along simply on the momentum of self-seeking investment and blind consumerism.

If society grasps the proper meaning of work — “as service to others and thus to God” — cultural and economic transformation is a natural byproduct.

Having a healthy understanding of God’s design for work is important for our individual lives, but here we see its importance for flourishing across society. Here we see it’s importance for an enduring economic order that is both just and prosperous.

culture-trust“If a market is going to be sustainable in the long run, we need something very different from unconnected self-seeking individuals,” Miller concludes. “We need people who think of others, and who are rooted in their families and communities. We need a moral culture and a measure of trust that extends beyond family and clan.”

sanderstrumpImagine that a presidential candidate promised to raise taxes on everyone. Under the new proposal, both the wealthy and middle classes would pay more. But as a percentage of a person’s income, the tax increase would disproportionately affect the poor and working class.

Now imagine that when many blue collar and working poor hear about this tax proposal they have a strange reaction: they cheer and consider it one of the primary reasons to support the candidate. They believe this deeply regressive tax that takes a large portion of their weekly paycheck is just what the American economy needs.

While this scenario may seem too absurd even for the bizarre 2016 election, it is actually happening. In fact, such a proposal has been made by both Bernie Sander and Donald Trump.
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Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, February 18, 2016
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True justice begins with seeing and believing in the dignity of every human person. It begins with recognizing God’s image in each of our neighbors, and it proceeds with service that corresponds with that transcendent truth. When distortions manifest, the destruction varies. But it always begins with a failure to rightly relate to this simple reality.

Thus, transformation often begins with a basic shift in our perceptions about others; how we see transforms how we serve. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that this can begin with something as simple as a haircut.

Last Christmas, Ogden Rescue Mission offered an interesting holiday gift to the homeless community, welcoming local hair stylists from the surrounding area to donate their gifts by offering free haircuts.

It was a simple gesture, and it’s one that doesn’t fill a belly or meet what we might call an “immediate need.” A haircut is, in so many ways, “superficial.” Yet the response from these recipients demonstrates the importance of remembering our divine personhood, and how easy it can be to forget.

“It makes me feel like I’m respectable again,” says one man. “I look like, you know, an average person.” (more…)

part-time-help-wanted-blogThe single best weapon against poverty in America is a full-time job.

In 2014 the poverty rate among married couples was 6 percent; the poverty rate among married couples who both have full-time jobs was 0.001 percent.

In 2014, the Census Bureau poverty rate for a family of two was $15,379 and for a family of five was $28,695. An individual working 40 hours a week for minimum wage earns $15,080 per year. If both couples work their earnings total $30,160.

A minimum wage job isn’t going to make them rich, of course, but it’s enough to keep their family out of poverty. That’s why having enough full-time jobs is essential for reducing our nation’s poverty.

Unfortunately, fewer than half of American adults are working for an employer full-time.
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Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, February 11, 2016
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beautiful-tree-private-schools-poorOne of the popular targets of foreign aid is education, and understandably so. Yet as with most solutions sprouting from Western planners and do-gooders, the reality on the ground is a bit different than we typically imagine. Likewise, the solutions are often closer than we’re led to believe.

In his book, The Beautiful Tree, James Tooley chronicles his own investigative journey throughout the developing world, seeking to uncover the local realities of educational opportunity. Originally commissioned by the World Bank to investigate private schools in a dozen developing countries, Tooley began with the assumption that such schools were designed for and confined to the middle classes and elite.

What he found, however, was a situation far more rich and varied.

Beginning in the city of Hyderabad, India, Tooley’s targets initially appeared as expected: private schools designed for the prosperous and privileged. One day, however, on a holiday off from his usual research, he ventured into the city’s slums, spontaneously stumbling on a private school created by and for the local community. He soon met the school’s headmaster, who explained the widespread dissatisfaction with public schooling, from over-crowded classrooms to chronically absent teachers to the severe lack of accountability or parental control. (more…)

Poverty-Inc-300x300Poverty Inc.an award-winning documentary that grew out of the Acton Institute’s PovertyCure initiative, tackles the question: Fighting poverty is big business, but who profits the most?

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently interviewed Mark Weber, a co-producer of the film, and asked about how the documentary was being received:

Have you noticed different reactions from different audiences?

There’s one scene in particular that is perfectly indicative of the disconnect between the West and the rest. The physician and former aid consultant Theodore Dalrymple says, “I bought my first house on the proceeds of foreign aid. Aid has been very good to me. It’s aided me immensely. It’s allowed me to have an interesting life, to travel, no tax. It couldn’t be better.”

At most screenings — I’ll give the Minneapolis-St. Paul film festival as an example — a mostly white, liberal audience. You could just cut the tension in the room with a knife. That’s the norm; most people react that way.

But at predominantly African audiences — I’ll give the Africa Business Club at Harvard as an example — they played the film the opening night of the Africa Business Conference. When that scene comes up, the whole room was just uproarious, laughing and clapping and hooting and hollering and whistling. It wasn’t shocking to them. They all knew, and they were all thankful and appreciative of this guy for saying it out loud. Those different reactions are very revealing of different assumptions.

The film is not doing a whole lot more than trying to bridge that gap.

Read more of the interview here.