Home > Liberalism, Society > RE: Are America’s poor REALLY getting poorer?

RE: Are America’s poor REALLY getting poorer?

I sent the link in my last post to a group of friends with whom I regularly email about politics — it’s a nice mix of conservatives, moderates, and even a liberal. One of the fellas, who I’d characterize as a conservative Democrat, admitted that he hadn’t thought about the standard-of-living aspect of poverty in America, which he admitted was an important part of the debate on income equality, but added the following “but”:

If one looks at how many Americans are struggling to make their bills, not sure there is a lot of rosy optimism though. After all, just because I bought a washer 7 years ago doesn’t mean I have food today, or can afford to pay my electric at the end of the month. So, not sure how meaningful those measures are if we are looking at survival. Sure they are an indicator of standard of living, but that may not be the dominant concern.

A conservative in the group replied that it’s not about “survival” or the “basics” anymore, but is instead about “fairness,” and even worse, less about what one lacks than about what others have. It’s gone from making sure the poor have electricity, running water, and an education, to, “Why does that rich kid have an iPod and my kid doesn’t?”

I wanted to take it a step or two back, though, because I’m not sure anyone has challenged the notion of even the alleged and fairly-universally-agreed-upon “basic” rights. After all, isn’t it this very notion that created this monster of ever-expanding rights in the first place?

If you say, for instance, that everyone has a right to a basic education in this country (as even many conservatives contend nowadays) — and by “right” they really mean a “benefit” or “advantage” paid for by somebody else — then where do you draw the line? And that’s the problem. You can’t draw it firmly anywhere because you’ve recognized that there’s a line to be negotiated. The line will soon exclude nothing and circumscribe everything.

What started out as a right to a basic education turned into a right to a good education, which turned into a right to a good education where there’s also a good athletic or music program — and so on. And if K-12 is a right, then shouldn’t a college degree be, too? There are plenty today who say so. And from there it’s a small jump to a right to a good job, and then to a good job with “equal” pay (whatever that means), and from there an even shorter leap to a right to a good job with equal pay — that offers health benefits. (Next stop: universal care.) And don’t forget about the right to one’s first home … right on down the line of luxuries to that home not just as a place to hang your hat, but as an appreciating asset! Yes, this is now a right, too.

But we really have a fundamental right to only one thing in this world, in part because it’s the only right no one can possibly enjoy less or more of than the next guy, nor is it something one can feel envious of in another because we all would benefit from it in equal measure: that is, a government that protects us from outside and internal threats to our liberties. No more, no less. The rest is spun as “fundamental rights” by those who don’t understand the concept in the first place — and who don’t care to. All they really mean by rights is some benefit or advantage, bought and paid for by someone else.

Categories: Liberalism, Society
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