Thursday, August 04, 2011

More about the power thing

Sorry it took me so long to get to it.

As RobertaX talked about here, there's another facet to the Powers That Be and their treatment of this country's poor: "the poorer you are, the more you need Help From The Government."

This is the thing: in order to keep themselves in Power, the Government has to justify its continued existence.  To put it plainly, politicians have a vested interest in poor people remaining poor.

Now, I'm going to be fair as I can be.  I do think most politicians, when they first get into politics, really do want to help people.  Unfortunately, anyone who thinks that politics is the way to help people is doomed to be disillusioned quickly.  Unless you're going to get into government and work to limit what you can do, you are going to be ineffectual.  A few people will be helped, yes, but many more are going to be stomped on.

A friend of a friend of mine--a fellow who now works in city government--bemoaned to me once upon a time that federal government workers, as he was at the time, advanced not from skill but from merely hanging on long enough.  The mother of another acquaintance, who at the time worked at BAMC, regaled me once upon a time with a tale of the end-of-fiscal-year buying spree her department was working on.  See, if they didn't spend every red cent they have and ask for more, their budget would be cut.  Nevermind that they clearly didn't need the budget they had, if there was a surplus.  Any cuts were unconscionable, simply because they were cuts.

This isn't isolated.  Government agencies have to justify their continued existence.  Government agencies which work with the poor have to have a steady supply of poor people in order to do this.  Upward economic mobility is therefore anathema.  For these agencies to continue to exist for decades, poverty must continue for generations.  It is truly that simple.

I've mentioned before that Robert Kiyosaki, of Rich Dad, Poor Dad related in the book he and Donald Trump wrote that Kiyosaki's father discovered, once he got up high enough in the organization, that Hawaii's schools had an agreement with the Dole folks to flunk out a percentage of students every year so that the pineapple company would have a steady supply of uneducated workers to employ at low wages.  I am of the opinion that something similar likely exists in this city, given the need for a continual supply of hotel maids and theme park workers.  Well-educated people will not want to work for $8/hr.  This is why laid-off college graduates so often have a difficult time finding low-rung employment: their prospective employers know they'll jump ship at the first opportunity for a decent paying job.

Because of my divorce agreement, my daughters have to be put in either "public" or private school (long story short, I didn't think homeschooling was worth going to trial over; I've been proven wrong).  So I'm unfortunately in a position to tell that, yeah, government schools really are as bad as all that.  Worse yet, teachers and administrators are vehemently opposed to anything which might change that.  Know that whole "teaching to the test" thing it's hip to decry?  Those are basic skills tests.  There should be no such thing as teaching to the test, but it happens anyway.  Know why it happens?  Because jack-all is done in the grades kids don't have to take standardized tests during.  Teachers present the information in a lackluster manner, but no one ever fails.  Instead, clueless kids eventually wind up in a pass-or-else position and the teacher lucky enough to get them has to force-feed the knowledge to them just enough to get them past the test.*  There's no doubt in my mind that this is a cumulative effect.  And a lack of education is the fast route to public housing.

As is no surprise to pretty much anybody, the only thing most students have a knowledge of when they graduate high school is what a good person they are. They lack critical thinking skills, or many skills at all, but they know they deserve all that is good in the world.

Enter the government.  Poor?  Really, really poor, as in your cupboards are bare and you have no way to fill them?  Go to the food pantry.  Learn you can go there maybe once a month.  That's in the big city (and an improvement, mind, over when I was a kid & you could hit them up once a quarter).  If you want to do something as crazy as eat on a regular basis, you need the government.  You need food stamps, in fact.

Know what the bitch is about the SNAP program?  You requalify once every six months or so, and you have to report income and holdings.  In other words, if you want to save up to do something crazy like go to school and improve your lot in life, or sit on a smallish emergency fund so you're not caught with your ass in the wind, and the government is going to decide you don't need to eat until that money is gone.  They make it as close to impossible to get ahead as they can. 

And then there is the flip side of means testing.  If you're a single mom making $12,000 a year and you get food stamps and Medicaid for your kids, the point where you are disqualified for these programs comes a lot sooner than the point where you can realistically afford these things yourself.  So if you're actually a good parent--defined here as "one who puts her kids' well-being above her political principles", you will eventually have to answer the Do I take a slightly better-paying job and lose the ability to feed my kids, or do I stay where I am to make sure their stomachs are full?  (My mom never got food stamps when I was a kid.  I went hungry a lot so she didn't have to take government assistance.  It's bullshit, sorry.)

It's a vicious cycle.  And not one that is easy to get out of.  Yes, making better decisions when you are very young will prevent much of it, but look up there at my paragraph on government education.  Most people aren't being given the ability to make those decisions.

So here I come to my inevitable question: What the fuck do we do about it?  It's a pervasive problem; a symptom of a system that is rotten through and through.  We cannot burn it down to the ground and start over again.  We should not sit back and talk about how things ought to be; because reasoning from what is to what ought to be never really accomplishes anything.

But the problem is big enough that it kind of overwhelms me, if I am to be honest.  I can, as Dave Ramsey says, change my family tree.  I can work to make sure my kids have critical thinking skills.  I can unplug the television.  I can force my children to reason things through.  On a larger scale, though?  I don't really know.  I'd like to tell the little girl next door that she doesn't have to follow her family down the path of drug abuse/selling and illegitimacy and hatred of intelligence, but it's nigh impossible to tell a kid that what their family is doing is wrong, even when it is, because that implies that the child is wrong.  And I only have the opportunity to engage so many people in real life.

I think that's part of the reason I have this blog.  It gives me the opportunity to tap into the hive mind.

What the heck do we do, y'all?


Suz said...

A. Term Limits. It's a start.
B. Vote out Every incumbent, from the township trustees on up. Go ahead and elect a few of those loudmouth radicals; could they possibly make it worse?

Fowl Ideas said...

We could create an even larger bureaucracy to punish the huge bureaucracy that's spending our money irresponsibly.

I remember a children's story from grade school where a man was trying to get rid of a mouse who was eating his food. He brought a cat into the house which promptly chased the mouse away. Then the cat became a nuisance so he brought in a dog that chased the cat away. Then the dog became a nuisance, etc. The man worked his way up to living with an elephant that ended up stomping on his furniture. Then he brought the mouse back into the house, scared the elephant away and he was happy with the mouse.

peter d said...

First of all, I know what you mean about the using all the budgeted money. Of course, if you don't use it they give you less the next year. And of course, Murphy involves himself, something screws up and you don't have money to replace it. You definitely have a point. It's sad that things have gotten to the point of spending money just because it's there.
BTW, MC tells me that Memphis is going to no grades for the elementary schools. That'll solve everything. She told me that after telling me about the alternative school where her sister & brother-in-law work deciding to quit the demerit system. Only positive reinforcement. Somehow I don't think that will work with hoodlums smoking, fighting, and cussing out the teachers.