Thursday, March 13, 2014

Paul Ryan's Backpedal Disected

Paul Ryan's recent comments about "inner city men" have caused a bit of a stir, but I read a transcript of his follow up comments this morning and have a few comments of my own.
After reading the transcript of yesterday morning’s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make. I was not implicating the culture of one community—but of society as a whole. We have allowed our society to isolate or quarantine the poor rather than integrate people into our communities. The predictable result has been multi-generational poverty and little opportunity. I also believe the government’s response has inadvertently created a poverty trap that builds barriers to work. A stable, good-paying job is the best bridge out of poverty.
The broader point I was trying to make is that we cannot settle for this status quo and that government and families have to do more and rethink our approach to fighting poverty. I have witnessed amazing people fighting against great odds with impressive success in poor communities. We can learn so much from them, and that is where this conversation should begin.
First off, let me begin with a little background. I was born poor - outhouse in the woods, no electricity kind of poor. Today I'm a successful businessman. I guess I am one of those "amazing people" Mr. Ryan speaks of, but I still take great issue with his comments.

Paul Ryan speaks from a position utterly outside of, and totally out of touch with, everything he's commenting on. What does Paul Ryan Jr., son of Paul Ryan Sr., a white attorney in a white community in a white state, know about the inner city? He should at least know there's nothing accidental or inadvertent about it.

He got one thing right. The inner city is a poverty trap, but it's no accident. When a society herds its poor into cramped neighborhoods with high population densities and few opportunities, of course it's a trap, but Ryan advocating a "work harder" approach is a little like saying "we made your bed, now you gotta' lay in it."

For decades rich white guys pushing rich white guy policies have treated an ever growing poor working class as acceptable collateral damage in their efforts to make and retain more and more wealth, and Ryan is one of the biggest proponents of this type of policy.
A stable, good-paying job is the best bridge out of poverty.
Unfortunately, the inner city offers up mostly low wage jobs, yet Ryan opposes raising the minimum wage, favoring instead policies like increasing the earned income tax credit (Politico).

The EITC, for those of you not familiar with it, is a credit back on taxes for low income individuals. On the surface Ryan supports it because you have to work to receive the benefit, but look at these two policies a little deeper. A raise in the minimum wage dips into corporate profits and shareholder dividends while a raise in the EITC dips into our tax dollars.

Both require the recipient to work, but one asks the employer to pay the employee a living wage and the other asks taxpayers to pay the employee. The EITC ensures the rich get richer while putting a further burden on the middle class. It's corporate welfare, a rich white guy policy.
The broader point I was trying to make is that we cannot settle for this status quo and that government and families have to do more and rethink our approach to fighting poverty.
The status quo for decades has been rich white guy policy that values capital higher than labor, shareholders higher than workers, owners higher than the productive working class, the rich over everyday taxpayers, etc, etc and Ryan is right there championing the status quo.

He might believe in cutting spending, cutting social safety nets, might believe his survival of the fittest/Atlas Shrugged rhetoric, but he's wrong.

Since fighting my way out of poverty I've got to see the other side of the coin and here's an interesting observation, my money has a much easier time making money than my hard work running my business. It's amazing! My investments go up and up and up and up, the income is taxed at half what my other income is taxed at, and guys like Ryan fight tooth and nail to make sure it stays that way.

I can only imagine starting at the top of the economic ladder - just coast along, everything easy, money makes money, enjoy me some golf.

Ryan can only imagine starting at the bottom, can only imagine the hard work it takes to escape poverty, can only imagine the opportunities he claims hard work can afford.

I'm sorry Mr. Ryan, but the bottom is about survival, about struggle, about getting taken advantage of, stepped on, shat out and destroyed. There's no light at the end of the tunnel, not one you can see from your side of the tracks anyway. When you're at the bottom, all there is is the bottom.

If you want to help, stop blaming the poor and forget your rich white guy policies. Nothing is trickling down. It's trickling offshore, more of a torrent really, flooding the Cayman islands in rich white guy money.
I have witnessed amazing people fighting against great odds with impressive success in poor communities.
That's great, but maybe we should reduce those odds by raising the minimum wage, improving education, lowering healthcare costs, etc rather than ending the payroll tax holiday, raising student loan interest rates and pushing for more corporate welfare. Oh wait, that sounds too liberal. Telling them to work harder is the answer...


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