Being poor today is a lot different from being poor in the past. It wasn’t all that long ago that being poor meant you went hungry on a regular basis and froze all winter. Thanks to the capitalist system, and a whole bunch of smart capitalists inspired and rewarded by that system, this is no longer the case.
But that doesn’t mean that poverty has become a walk in the park. There are still problems associated with poverty, and these problems fall into two categories: problems that capitalism can’t solve, and problems that capitalism is being actively prevented from solving. In both categories, changes in government policy are called for, but nothing like the usual changes recommended when someone talks about “doing something” about poverty (i.e., either handing over money, or forcing the evil plutocrats to hand over money)…
In the first category goes the apallingly high crime rate found in cheap neighborhoods. I’ve heard plans for free-market police agencies, but I don’t see what would prevent them from becoming simply another collection of tribal gangs of the sort that we’ve seen all too often in human history. In any event, I’m assuming here that free-market capitalism is not the proper mechanism for providing police protection, and that the government is. When I think of the government failing to solve the problems of poverty, this goes at the top of my list.
Simply put, living in a cheap neighborhood should not make you a target. If the thugs infesting these neighborhoods wore foreign military uniforms, or waved swords in the air and shouted “Death to America”, we’d stop at nothing to clean them out (at least I hope we would); instead, we give them a slap on the wrist and let them go back to preying on innocent people. And so-called “liberals” have routinely had the unmitigated gall to call people like us racists when we advocate proper police protection and effective punishment for criminals, which would be funny if it weren’t so disastrously stupid, given the large-than-average number of non-white people living in the neighborhoods where these thugs are allowed to flourish. Of course, there’s the other brand of idiocy that blames all this criminal activity on “drugs”, as if the drugs were causing a thug infestation beyond the power of the authorities to combat. Never mind that the laws against same not only distract resources away from the thug infestation, but grant a protected monopoly to those same thugs, enabling them to buy better weapons, and encouraging them to engage in a brand of “cutthroat competition” not often seen in the legitimate business world. I don’t give a damn how many idiots can be prevented from hurting themselves by these laws, they don’t justify any increase in the murder rate.
Into the other category, the problems that capitalism is being actively prevented from solving, go problems with housing, education, and health care. In all three of these cases, the government is either directly providing the resource or heavily regulating its production and/or distribution. Actually, the problem with housing can go in both categories. The government is interfering with the construction of housing to meet demand in many places, and regulating up costs in most places; also, its blatant refusal to properly police cheap neighborhoods means that people who can afford better neighborhoods are understandably very afraid of cheap houses going up anywhere near them and will exert whatever pressure they can in the local political system to prevent it by any means necessary. The cases of education and health care are simpler cases of supply being actively prevented from meeting demand and regulatory ccosts being inserted in the process of producing the supply and driving up costs. Products from more lightly regulated industries, such as electronics, get steadily cheaper and become accessible even to the lowest economic strata over time, while the prices of products in these three categories remain high.
Our friends on the left regularly point out that it is people’s relative wealth that determines their access to housing, education, and health care as wealthier people bid the price of these things up; they think it’s a sign that we are fools to deny that the lower economic classes are “falling behind” even as they are getting wealthier, and completely overlook or ignore that it is in fact a clear sign that the supply of these things is being actively restricted by extra-market forces (i.e., the government) and forcibly kept from meeting demand. The solution is not for the government to put more money in to chase that same restricted supply but to unrestrict the supply. And if idiots hurt themselves? Let them. It’s better than depriving the poor of things that should have worked their way down to their price range long ago. If we let supply rise and prices fall, not only can those of little means afford these things that they can’t today, but they can afford them on their own, stand on their own two feet with their heads held high, and get them by right, not by charity.
If we made these changes, could we banish poverty forever? Well, in a sense, we already have – no one goes hungry anymore. But, poverty is and always has been a relative term, and so long as free human beings exist, some will do better than others. I eagerly await and hope to see the day when the evil plutocrats will all have their own spaceships, and the poor will have to make do with secondhand personal aircraft, and no one gets shot for living in the wrong neighborhood, and the least among us get anti-aging treatments about 20 years after the richest of the plutocrats do (and the middle class, including yours truly, has to wait about 10 years after the first of the ageless plutocrats. I’ll gladly take “10 years later” over “when Hell freezes”, which is what we’ll get if too many of us pitch a hissy fit about the idea of those plutocrats getting the anti-aging treatments…).