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WHY HASN'T POVERTY BEEN SOLVED? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jim Jordal   
Tuesday, 10 April 2007

WHY HASN’T POVERTY BEEN SOLVED?

By Jim Jordal

 He [proud, wicked exploiter] sitteth in the lurking-places of the villages; In the secret places doth he murder the innocent; His eyes are privily set against the helpless. He lurketh in secret as a lion in his covert; He lieth in wait to catch the poor: He doth catch the poor, when he draweth him in his net.  He croucheth, he boweth down, And the helpless fall by his strong ones. He saith in his heart, God hath forgotten; He hideth his face; he will never see it.

Psalm 10:8-11 (ASV)

Continued association with persons and groups in the anti-poverty movement leads one to the increasing realization that problems of intergenerational, long-term poverty in the U.S. will not easily yield to traditional charitable and support programs, no matter how well-intentioned or heavily financed. Along with being a condition of low financial resources and lack of legitimate money making opportunities, institutionalized poverty often includes personal values inimitable to any escape from destitution. And almost nobody identifies the causes of these dysfunctional values or dares suggest that perhaps they arise from ethics modeled and purveyed by leaders in the entertainment and media industries. It would be difficult to persuade me that these moguls of entertainment don't know better--check out what they allow their own children to watch. No, what really drives the trend toward increasingly prurient programming is the vast profit to be made. They do it simply because it pays.

For example, figures show that one of the surest ways to become poor and to remain so is to be a single parent, especially a female single parent. Yet who among the many persons proposing economic aid to single parents ever suggests that perhaps there wouldn't be so many single parents if somebody took a stand against lax sexual mores commonly portrayed and even celebrated by American entertainment programming? Why does it take the Religious Right to stand for something so obvious and so eminently in our best interests?

Another leading cause of poverty is crushing debt arising from over-consumption and misuse of credit. We read almost daily of massive debt incurred by irresponsible credit card use, and of increasing mortgage foreclosures. So why don't those of us seeking to abolish poverty bring some pressure to bear on the misleading, predatory lending practices of many financial service institutions, and on unscrupulous advertising seeking to create never-ending wants for those most vulnerable financially?

Why aren't more liberals condemning the moral vacuum in America? Perhaps because traditional liberals are seriously conflicted. They bleed for the under privileged, yet argue vehemently against limitations of personal freedom, even though unrestrained personal freedom is a leading cause of poverty and social dysfunction. It's as if personal freedom is the paramount value in society. But personal freedom cannot be long maintained in the absence of justice, decency, and public morality. Nations sliding down the slippery slope from freedom to license cannot long persist, as has been proven many times in the human experience.

But neither can societies espousing rigid, dictatorial methods of social control exist on any extended basis in the modern world. Dictatorships now measure their longevity in decades, not centuries. Cuban dictator Fidel Castro with almost 50 years in power is one of the longest-tenured dictators in modern history. In the past century the Soviet monolith persisted for 70 years before sliding into oblivion. Hitler lasted only 12 years. China is snow in its 58th year of dictatorship, but is rapidly moving toward moderation under the influence of ethical human considerations popularized by the Internet and driven by trading partner demands for better treatment of workers.

What we need is advocacy, not only against political, social, and economic systems causing poverty, but also against immoral, destructive attitudes spawned by the mass media and entertainment industries. What we need is not a movement to the right or to the left, but a world transformation of the heart in which justice becomes more important than making money or maintaining political or military power.

Truthfully, we don't want to solve poverty because too many of us gain wealth from activities creating debt and suffering for the poor. The biggest cause of poverty is not dysfunctional behavior by the poor--it's complacent, selfish behavior by American power brokers, opinion molders, and we, the selfish, disconnected, passive middle class. We all profit to varying degrees from the poverty of others, and we remain persuaded that it's not in our best interests to do anything about this situation.

How many times have we heard this biblical comment "The poor you have always with you" taken out of context and used to explain or even justify inaction by well meaning Christians against poverty and injustice? God did not instruct that the poor would be always with us no matter what, but that the poor would be with us unless and until we institute His laws of economic and social justice as found in the Jubilee message of Leviticus, and until we take seriously His commands for righteousness and decency in all matters affecting the "least of these" in our midst. Then, and not until then, there will be no more poor among us.