published Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Lloyd: Economic inequality: A tale of two lives

By Thomas Lloyd

One of the more pervasive conservative talking points is the idea that government perpetuates poverty by giving handouts. To quote a recent Times Free Press commentary by a local Republican, "A dependent class finding sustenance from government is politically advantageous to some; it's destructive to those seeking to be independent, pursuing competition and success."

In other words, if one works hard, good things will come to you. Mooch off the government, and you are destined to fail. Such a sentiment would be true in a society where upward mobility could be achieved on an equal playing field. The problem is that we may be equal in rights, but not in the circumstances in which we are born.

I am once again reminded of my stepsister who passed away last January. Judy worked hard all her life, but never had health care, a mutual fund, a pension or more than a few dollars in the bank. She died relatively young, having never owned her own home; her life lived from one paycheck to another. Though we were related by the marriage of her mother to my father, our lives could not have been more different. I was in college when our parents married. Judy was working for minimum wage.

Our respective mothers determined our individual fates. Judy's mother never went past the second grade and was indifferent toward education. My mother was self-taught, but she believed that my future could only be secured through learning. I remember her soft voice reading with me from the Children's Classics before I was 5. I had a relatively high IQ. Judy's was low average. I went to college on a full scholarship, while Judy barely graduated from high school.

Even though my mother was only in my life for 11 years, her influence laid the foundation for my future. Without an education, I could never have become a Marine officer, which in turn gave me economic security and lifelong health care. I also could not speak for Judy and others like her in this commentary. Judy, on the other hand, received no encouragement to better herself. Her mother asked my father once in reference to me, "How long is he going to go to school?" Consequently, Judy inherited her mother's life of barely scrapping by.

Years ago, I visited Judy in her government-subsidized apartment. I was struck by how neat and clean the place was. She told me that she had to go on welfare to get the apartment. It hurt her pride to quit her job, but her wages were not enough to pay for rent and day care for her child. She supplemented her government check by doing laundry and cleaning houses for cash. I wrote her a check and told her to use it for her daughter. The check was never cashed.

Contrary to the stereotypes perpetuated by many conservatives, Judy was not lazy, nor happy to receive a handout. She had pride and wanted to be self-reliant, but simply did not have the means to achieve it. She was a kind and gentle woman of innate dignity and decency born into circumstances not of her making. It wasn't her fault that she wasn't born with talent or the intellect to compete and to a mother who believed school was a waste of time.

I think of Judy whenever I hear or read that the poor are being deprived of their self-reliance by the so-called "Nanny State." It is hard to believe that affluent people living in comfortable homes in the suburbs begrudge the paltry amount of their taxes that pay for less than $5 a day worth of food stamps for a poor family. If the government won't help these people, who will? Are the millions of poor supposed to line up at the local food banks? Will the local megachurch pay their heating bills? Is the local television station going to hold endless coat drives to keep their children warm in winter? Perhaps their children can beg on the streets as they do in Third World countries.

Self-reliance is great if you are born into it. For Judy and millions like her, it remains elusive. The government is not just a behemoth entity that taxes, dispenses justice and fights wars. The government is us. If we are truly a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, then it is our social contract to help those in need. This is not socialism or liberalism. It is simply the decent thing to do.

Thomas Lloyd is a freelance writer and retired Marine officer. He resides in North Chattanooga.

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soakya said...

Mr. Lloyd, At some level you must have felt your sister was lazy because why would you give her a check and tell her to use it for her daughter. Why not let her use it for what she felt it needed to be used on. Maybe she realized this herself and that's why she didn't cash your gift that was to be used on her daughter.

Why just one check, if your not willing yourself as a brother to provide for her needs on a continual basis why do you expect others to do it? Why do you need the government to meet the needs if as you say the government is us. Then you meet the needs that you see. That truly is the decent thing to do. Government has no responsibility to help the poor you do Mr. Lloyd and it would seem you failed to help the poor when you had the chance.

December 26, 2013 at 12:43 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Soakya, I don't know whether you claim to be a libertarian or not but you certainly seem to fit the libertarian mold with your knee-jerk antipathy for government and your childish, nonsensical notion that it should be entirely up to individuals to meet the needs of the poor and the disadvantaged. The only way that libertarianism (or your brand of extreme conservatism or whatever) could work is if we lived in a world in which almost everyone shared your identical concept of utopia and everybody pulled their own weight and had the exact same values as you. But even in such a homogeneous society there is no way that the needs of the poor, the unemployed, or the uninsured could be met by individual acts of charity. You might claim that if everyone were pulling their own weight, then there would be far less poverty, and that might be true, but you are assuming a perfect or near-perfect society and extrapolating from there.

In our society today, with our fascist government having become a plutocracy (of, by, and for the rich and the corporations) and not the democratic republic it was intended to be, there is a large swath of society that is working hard, as Mr. Lloyd so clearly pointed out, but they have very little to show for their efforts. That swath takes up a very large portion of the lower and middle classes. They are working at jobs that pay a meager $7.25 - $8/hr. and their only recourse is to work 2 or even 3 of those low-paying jobs because there are very few jobs out there that pay a decent living wage. How does a person even have time to look for something better or to go to school and get the necessary job-training for a high-tech job when they have to put their nose to the grindstone 16 hours or more a day just to feed their kids and pay rent?

December 26, 2013 at 4:11 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

And as for helping the poor with donations or charitable giving, if simply giving handouts to the poor and disadvantaged creates "dependency," as you libertarians and teabaggers like to admonish, then it doesn't matter whether the handouts come from the government or from individuals - the very act of providing a handout is perpetuating the dependency, or so you claim. So how far do we take your reasoning (if one could dare to call it "reasoning") before we simply refuse to help the needy in any way and FORCE them to fend for themselves or starve to death or die from lack of health insurance? Something, somewhere along the line, is going to have to be done COLLECTIVELY that will help and sustain those at the bottom rung of the ladder, so that they at some point will be able to pull themselves up. Sure, some few will always lack the self-respect and the ambition to better themselves and will be content to live a life of dependency on handouts, but the vast majority of people living in poverty or on the brink of it today are working hard but getting nowhere. But all I ever hear from you rabid righties and libertarians is your denunciation of the poor as "moochers and takers" and your denunciation of liberals for not giving in perpetuity to some charity or some poor family or individual. Many, if not most of us, do give within our means, but to give without ceasing, whether it be hospital bills or food bills, is not only impractical but impossible for most people and idiotic to for you to even suggest.

Your libertarian calls for "individual freedom" are absurd and childish. You are like adolescents, forever stuck in that me-phase of development, thinking that the world revolves around you and you alone, and as such, you are unable to deal with the varying shades of gray that exist in the real world. The sort of individual freedom you envision has been tried before (back in the Wild West and the era of the robber barons) and it simply does not work and it never will work. Government is here to stay, whether you like it or not, and it is up to us to determine whether we make that government serve the interests of the many or we go along with the status quo and allow it to serve only the interests of the few at the top.

December 26, 2013 at 4:18 p.m.
soakya said...

ricky, if I didn't know better I would say you are the retired marine officer. you have the same pathetic ideology.

So, let me see if I hear you correctly. People don't have the money to give individually but when we use a middle man, the government, we have the money. Please use your high IQ and explain this to me.

Government can't be compassionate, people can be compassionate. Government don't have the responsibility to help the poor, people do, that includes you ricky. if you need the government to force you to help the poor then you really don't want to help the poor. if you and the retired marine and the rest of you progressives would give as you expect others too government could get back to doing what its supposed to do.

You progressive are always calling for everyone else to help the poor but you won't do it yourself just like the retired marine who gave his sister one check then put a stipulation on his gift, to be spent on the child. Why is that Ricky?

The marines sister was not fated to end up where she ended up, she choose her path and I don't blame her, she did what was in her best self-interest. Where was her highly intelligent marine brother to lend a hand to help her out of her dire straits, oh, wait he gave a check, once.

let me be clear Ricky, I am for freedom, you and the retired marine are for bondage. that is where you progressive want to see the poor in bondage.

Again show me one person who says we don't need government.

You want to know how someone has the time to go to college while working 16 hours a day, ask someone who did it.

December 26, 2013 at 4:45 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

I have had my say and I stand by it. I've wasted enough time with a fool like you. We are going to disagree no matter what. Enjoy your delusions.

December 26, 2013 at 5:09 p.m.
soakya said...

of course you do, you're ignorant in almost all things you speak of and you refuse to accept the truth. oh by the way posting on a forum doesn't make you a freelance writer.

December 26, 2013 at 5:20 p.m.
soakya said...

one more thing, thanks for your years of service.

December 26, 2013 at 6:15 p.m.
shenwriter said...

I am the author. Thanks for the comments. I would never criticize a critique of my work. It's an opinion piece. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

December 26, 2013 at 6:28 p.m.
Plato said...

I've been following politics and government issues since the 60s and historically, up until the recent rise of the so-call Tea Party and the Ayn Rand ultra-libertarian type of philosophy both Democrats and Republicans agreed on the necessity of a social safety net. There were certainly debates around the edges but neither party wanted a country where it was "every dog for himself".

What I find particularly bizarre is that the same people that are so worried about paying someone a meager subsistence while they are temporarily out of work, never seem to mind the $2 Billion a week we wasted in a worthless war in Afghanistan or the F-35 AKA "Flying White Elephant", which is 300% over budget and not even needed. The total coast of this political boondoggle over it's service life will be $1 Trillion dollars. That's more than the entire defense budget for one year and enough to provide unemployment insurance for every single unemployed person until the middle of the century.

The silence from the self-proclaimed conservatives is deafening.

December 28, 2013 at 12:23 a.m.
soakya said...

I don't believe anyone is saying you can't cut defense there is waste, fraud and abuse there also but that is one of the responsibilities of government. charity is not a responsibility of government that is the responsibility of the individual.

December 28, 2013 at 7:56 a.m.
hotdiggity said...

Rickaroo, thanks for your thoughtful and well reasoned post and a special thanks to the author. And Plato is also correct in that both parties had traditionally supported at least a basic safety net for people as being in the best interests of the country as a whole.

"Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members -- the last, the least, the littlest." -Cardinal Roger Mahony

December 28, 2013 at 10:34 a.m.
hotdiggity said...

soakya says - "charity is not a responsibility of government that is the responsibility of the individual."

I guess you have no problem with corporate welfare/charity? Because hey, everyone knows corporations are people.

Perhaps if we give even more "charity" to the rich it will trickle down to the unwashed masses.

December 28, 2013 at 10:55 a.m.
soakya said...

hotdiggity, wrong again. if you read my post you will plainly see I believe all corporate welfare needs to stop. I would be willing to bet I would go farther than you in cutting corporate welfare. I bet you are for corporate welfare as long as it is in your backyard. I bet you have no problem with VW, Amazon, Alstom and the hundreds of others that receive hundreds of millions of tax dollars at all levels of government and then on top of that not paying their local property taxes. I say stomp it out. Tell me hotdiggity what do you say about corporate welfare as a matter of fact show me one progressive that belly aches about corporate welfare on this forum that says corporate welfare in your own backyard needs to stop. you are no more against corporate welfare than any TN republican politician is.

governmnents don't have a responsibility to help the poor you do hotdiggity. governments can't be compassionate but you can hotdiggity if you chose.

perhaps if you, rickyroo and the retired marine gave a little more charity to those in need the government wouldn't have too.

December 28, 2013 at noon
soakya said...

Milton friendman introduced the negative income tax known today as the earned income credit as a solution to eliminating welfare agencies but we ended up with both. if we would have adopted his plan we would be in a better position today.

I think we need to move the charitable deduction from an itemized deduction to an adjustment on the 1040 and do away with the yearly limit on gifts based on your adjusted gross income. If an individual wants to give 100% of his adjusted gross income to the poor let him deduct it. As it stands now you have to itemize your deductions to claim this. this would encourage more giving. Progressive should be happy because government is still involved. surely you believe most charitable organizations can do a better job of meeting the needs of the poor at a lower cost than government. If these organizations don't fulfill their responsibilities would it be easier to pull your gifts from them and give to other groups or would it be easier to direct your tax dollars for better uses when the government waste and abuses your tax dollars. I believe if we answer that honestly we know the answer.

December 28, 2013 at 1:28 p.m.
Plato said...

soakya said...

"charity is not a responsibility of government that is the responsibility of the individual"

That type of statement underlines the delusion concept of the far right regarding unemployment insurance. The people that receive unemployment benefits are by and large not poor, they are folks have have worked, most for many years, but through no fault of their own find themselves unemployed. These are people that, along with their employers, have paid into state unemployment funds for years. In many instances those funds have now become exhausted due to the recession and the chronic unemployment numbers that exist for a variety of factors.

Yes there is nothing in the Constitution that compels the federal government to assist states regarding their unemployment funding, but if your attitude is just "let them eat cake" then what you are advocating is that we as a country become something akin to a banana republic where the wealth gravitates to an small elite class at the top and others are left to fend for themselves.

No food? - let churches feed them or starve. Sick or injured? use home remedies or just suffer and die. That may be Constitutional but that's not the America I was raised in and that's not what I would want the wealthiest country in the world to become.

December 28, 2013 at 2:27 p.m.
soakya said...

you sir are mistaken and it is you are advocating for a banana republic, for that is what we are now. when you have the executive branch legislating instead of executing and enforcing laws then you have a banana republic.

Unemployment insurance is just like any other insurance. a premium is paid for a certain amount of benefits and when those benefits have been paid the policy is complete. Try to get state farm to pay for your car accident twice.

government has its role and it is not charity, that is the individuals role.

December 28, 2013 at 3:24 p.m.
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