Poverty is a total lack of money or material possessions. Imagine a man who has no clothes, no home, no food, no weapon—he is impoverished. Now, though, he finds a cave, something to eat, and a weapon. In the strictest sense of the word, he is no longer impoverished. The next morning, he meets another man who has a cave, food, weapon, and something to wear. In a social sense, in comparison, the first man is "poor". Poverty, then, has both an absolute and a relative meaning.
Is an American slum-dweller so impoverished? He doesn't sleep in a mud hut or the open, doesn't go naked, doesn't eat roots or herbs. He doesn't worship witchdoctors (except those in Wash. D.C.). Is he so poor? In fact, he has more material possessions than most people of the world would dream of having.
In India, corn does not come wrapped in steel. In the Congo, water does not come from spouts. In Bolivia, buses do not traverse the mountain trails. But in New York, with no more mental effort than required to push a broom, a man can earn enough to buy the corn, the water, the bus ride, and a newspaper that tells him he is "poverty-stricken".
Assuming an arbitrary standard, the question remains, why is there poverty in a nation of surplus food, of millionaires, of two car and two house families? Today, I list three major reasons:
(1 ) Some people desire to be poor in order to have time to pursue an important goal, for instance, the student who works only part-time—the intern—the self-employed person just starting an enterprise.
(2) Some people do not care. They have no plans, no goals, no future. That is why they are poor. They resent the effort required to stay alive, because they hate life. They even resent all the red tape involved in getting a welfare handout. Too much trouble.
(3) The government is guilty of causing much of the poverty it claims to be "fighting". I will list several examples and then prove one of them.
Welfare creates a dependency mentality. The progressive income tax used to finance it destroys incentive. There are no taxes, however, on welfare payments. The draft wrecks the plans of many non-college youths who begin enterprises only to be forced into the service. Potential jobs never come to be. The ICC, FCC, FDA, HEW, and other restrictive government agencies stifle personal initiative. Anti-Trust "laws" place successful businessmen in constant fear of sudden, senseless attack. The government has entered into many spheres of activities rightfully the domain of private enterprise. Potential jobs are thus destroyed.
Over 600 government agencies are active in areas which morally belong in the private sector. How does this reduce potential jobs? Observe the similarities between Bell Telephone and the Government Post Office, and then note the vast differences in performance:
(1 ) Both charge for their service. Bell makes a consistent profit; the GPO loses millions a year.
(2) Bell's prices have dropped, even with inflation; GPO's have risen.
(3) Bell's service has improved, while the Post Office has been forced to burn mail in order to clear Chicago's downtown office.
(4) Bell has expanded into both related and unrelated fields, while the GPO has troubles just delivering mail.
When an organization makes a profit, it makes money—money which can be saved, spent, or invested. Saved, spent, or invested, it provides jobs that didn't exist before. When the prices of a service drop people will have more money for other things. More laborers will be required to meet this increased demand.
When a service improves, particularly, if the prices are concurrently dropping, more people will use it more often, requiring the company to hire new people. When a corporation expands into new fields, workers are needed—at all levels—to teach, to sell, to maintain, to improve further.
But when an organization loses money, charges higher and higher prices, provides worse and worse service, stagnates, even degenerates, the difference will come from the taxpayer's pocket.
Ask yourself—who provides the bulk of America's tax revenue? The figures I have seen indicate—the poor. Ask yourself—do you fight poverty by stealing money, or by making it?—do you fight poverty by taxing those who aren't?— do you abolish suffering by torturing those who've overcome it?
If the poor are ever to rise from their slums, they must make only one demand of the senators in Washington: "Get out of our way!" And if the government really cares about their plight, it must also do only one thing:
heed that demand—DECONTROL!
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Poverty—The Land of "Do-It-Yourself" Done It to Itself".