Sunday, March 30, 2014

Does Culture Breed Poverty?

Republicans and Conservatives are of course wrong on just about every issue, including abortion, equality, sex, public health care, homosexuality, guns, race, the environment, crime, foreign policy and everything else. But the Number One reason why I loathe them is that they want to grab all the money. The desire to be rich at the expense of others is the defining characteristic of the capitalist, it is at the core of the political Right.

Congressman Paul Ryan recently said that “we have this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working and learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

Syndicated columnist Eugene Robinson debunks this nonsense quite well. See: Blaming “Culture” Dodges Poverty Issue.

I want to piggy-back on Robinson. As the author aptly observes: “Say the word “culture” and you sound erudite.” Paul Ryan thinks that he correctly remembers the Sociology One course he took as a General Ed. requirement.

A little bit of knowledge can be worse than no knowledge. Think of the patient who reads up on everything medical and tries to cure himself, then dies, vs. the one who doesn’t claim to know anything and hands himself over to his doctor.

Just the same, it’s wrong to practice sociology without a license - as Paul Ryan does. Perhaps Ryan has also read the famous Moynihan Report (1965) about the black family. Perhaps he includes in “culture” the family. The breakdown of the family, most advanced in the inner city. That is what Moynihan was warning against.

The “culture/family breakdown” thesis as a CAUSE of poverty, particularly black poverty, has been popular for a long time. I dealt with it in my sociology classes as far back as the 20th century.

But it is a bad hypothesis. Robinson is a better sociologist than Paul Ryan: He knows that family breakdown and the devaluation of work are the EFFECT of poverty, not their cause. “Who succeeds and who doesn’t...mostly depends on OPPORTUNITIES...”

Poverty is a vicious cycle. Since the great recession began, we know that the longer a person has been unemployed, the less likely he is to be re-hired. The longer someone has been incarcerated, the less likely he is to ever get a job again. Racial discrimination in hiring remains a reality.

Every sociologist knows that if you want to change society, you must first change the INSTITUTIONS. The culture will follow. Nothing changes more slowly than culture (look at the old idiots still waiving confederate flags in the South). The “culture of poverty” emerged when people became poor. People became “lazy” when they could no longer find jobs.

Similarly, the “culture of poverty” (read: laziness) will disappear AFTER the people in the inner city and in Appalachia are given a chance for a decent education and a decent job.

Paul Ryan and the cultural warriors have it all wrong: by creating an ever growing chasm between the poor and the rich, they are CAUSING the “culture of poverty.” leave comment here

© Tom Kando 2014