Help the poor – but not from Washington


On Monday evening, The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart wrote how he is “looking for the president to use the word “poverty” or “poor.”” Capehart points out how the political class’ focus on the middle-class ignores the straits poor Americans find themselves in.

Capehart is clearly well-intentioned, and his aim to help the poor deserves great credit. However, his piece makes two errors that are worth pointing out.

First, he says the evidence points to President Obama caring about the poor:

Because of the relentless focus on the middle class — those in it and those who aspire to join the club — poverty and the poor often go ignored or unremarked. That’s not to say that those issues are not important to Obama. Quite the contrary, as any honest assessment of his record that goes deeper than the headline-grabbing actions would show. Still, use of the words “poverty” and “poor,” especially its impact on children and in this particular address, would be the thunderclap of attention needed to kick start a renewed effort to do something about it.

Capehart must be seeing a different President Obama than the rest of us. This President has jumped the national debt beyond almost all historical levels, which has slowed the economy’s growth. This means Americans are both poorer and unable to finds jobs to become less poor. He has signed a health care law that raises taxes, and has put up regulatory burdens that have prevented thousands of jobs in the energy sector alone. He even continued the Bush policy of bailing out banks and special interests instead of helping Main Street.

Second, Capehart seems to think the kickstart to helping the poor should be Washington-centric (emphasis added):

Last week, I told you about a coalition of 16 advocacy groups calling on Congress to establish a new National Commission on Children. Save the Children has amassed almost 100,000 signatures in an online petition  calling for one. Folks call for the creation of commissions all the time. Then they wait for the nod. And if the nod comes, they convene experts, write a report and hope that one of their recommendations leaps from obscurity to become enacted policy. But this time might be different.

For starters, these folks have cash to finance the endeavor. The Center for the Next Generation alone has raised more than $1 million for a proposed national commission on children. Also, these groups envision a new model for the commission: one that has the three P’s as its focus: public engagement, private-sector involvement and personal responsibility; and one that calls on all stakeholders to be a part of the solution, rather than wait for one prescribed by Washington.

The idea holds great promise. All that’s needed is for Obama to say the word and to go as boldly as the advocates want.

It is great that a private organization is working to raise money and enact a vision. But is Washington really the best place for such a program to be centered? Consider:

  1. The current economic situation was created by Washington and its Big Business buddies. People are literally poorer because of bad policies in Washington. Corralling  Washington’s influence in various industries would be good for the poor.
  2. Washington-centric education policies have worsened America’s education system, wasted hundreds of billions of dollars while doing so, and ignore the importance of personal choice with regards to schooling. Turning power back to the states, as per the Constitution, would be better for the poor, who tend to lack educational opportunities.
  3. The current tax code has further centralized power in Washington, creating both class warfare and a lack of entrepreneurial potential for too many in America. Tax reform (i.e. eliminating Washington’s ability to pick and choose winners) would create an economic boom that would decrease how many people are poor in America.
  4. Regulations such as the federal minimum wage increase poverty.

Capehart’s intentions are good – the political class often ignores real solutions to provide economic opportunity. But his solutions should focus on getting Washington out of the lives of the American people, not further entrenched.