Monday, December 9, 2013

Bah Humbug Said Society to the Poor

I am absolutely shocked at the increasing number of stories I have seen on television by people arguing that we should be reducing assistance for the poor, whether it be through “in kind” payments for food and housing or direct financial assistance such as unemployment or “welfare.” These “experts” and “talking heads” couch their opinion with arguments based on combating fraud and stimulating changes in behavior: Let’s make their lives more miserable as a way of motivating the poor to work harder, to try harder to find jobs, and to save more money as a means to move out of poverty. They seem to think that these people, already living on the margins of society, have the means and aptitude to behave as they desire.

This assault on the poor is classic Social Darwinism, and if you listen to the language of these “policy makers” you will hear the clear suggestion that there is something inferior about the poor, that they are poor because of some immutable characteristic in their genetic makeup. Not all of them express this belief, but they are all unified in a philosophy that believes that the lives of the poor should be made more difficult, that they must “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and not expect help to come from society.

As much as I despise this callous attitude, I am equally disturbed by the hypocrisy of these thinkers, because when it comes to their attitudes towards the wealthy they display a completely different belief in how to motivate “personal growth.” When it comes to the rich, their belief is that we should “liberate” them from the reach of government by reducing taxes and regulations that impose a “cost” on their businesses and personal ventures.

So the poor will “grow” and try harder if we in essence make their life more difficult, but the rich will “grow” and try harder if we make their life easier. Are they serious? Do they believe that the poor are content with their lot in life, or that they are incapable of personal improvement? While there are clearly poor people with little financial literacy, poor financial IQs, and sometimes questionable spending habits, by and large all or their money is spent on necessities; they have little if any money for discretionary spending or saving. If we want to improve their quality of life, help them in their quest for social mobility, and promote overall economic growth, it would make sense to help them secure their needs so that more of their income is available for saving or increased consumer spending. Wouldn’t it?

The wealthy have the means to either make due with less or find some avenue for accruing what they have lost; the poor do not. Let us find a way, either through an increase in the minimum raise or some increase in government transfers, to give motivated poor people the opportunity to improve their quality of life. Economically, it is the right thing to do. Morally, it is the right thing to do. And societally, it is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, doing the right thing is the last thing that our policy makers, most of whom are far wealthier than their constituents, seem ready to do. Happy holidays! And to the poor, a good night.



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Showing Support for the Rise in "Payment Plans" for the Poor Who Can't Make Bail

Poverty and crime are endemic in the inner city, and as a consequence the issue of bail hearings oftentimes becomes a consequential event. Many poor people accused of crime are not able to afford bail, and so they end up languishing in prison while awaiting trial. In many instances, especially for non-violent or "minimally violent" crimes like an assault such as a fistfight, I think that the courts are creating a situation that can cause irreparable harm to individuals and families, and frankly I believe that the issue raises serious 8th Amendment implications.

Let's remember that these people are simply accused of crimes and hence presumed innocent. When a poor person is unable to make what I believe are unreasonably high bail, given their circumstances, forcing them to remain in prison often times leads them to lose their jobs and in some cases their families, further exacerbating the poverty issue. I find it unconscionable that judges set bail that has the consequence of causing these innocent people to lose their jobs or their family status.

The reason I raise this issue is because an article appeared in today's Trenton Times that for the most part seemed to decry the recent trend of bail bondsmen offering "payment plans" for those accused of crimes but unable to afford the relatively high bail amounts. I think this idea is wonderful, especially for those accused of non-violent crimes. These plans are obviously being done out of self interest and not some noble gesture, but the effect is the same. Rather than try to reign in these arrangements, I hope they are expanded and opportunity is afforded to more and more people to find a way to remain free while they await trial.

How does society possibly benefit by having a poor person accused of a non-violent crime to be forced to remain in jail and either lose their job or lose the ability to look for work. Our jails are full of such people, and I find it nothing more than another example of the disdain or disinterest we show to the poor in our society. I think it is unconstitutional, and I would love to see the issue challenged in court. Citizens with the presumption of innocence should be treated more fairly, It is as simple as that.