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Culture of Poverty

Patricia Cohen has a great NY Times article on the resurgence of cultural explanations for generational poverty. Conservatives (as Cohen states) never abandoned the obvious connection between culture and poverty,

But in the overwhelmingly liberal ranks of academic sociology and anthropology the word "culture" became a live grenade, and the idea that attitudes and behavior patterns kept people poor was shunned.

Most interesting is not the sudden liberal awakening to culture as a factor in economic success, nor the pathological ideology which kept liberals blind to this common-sense explanation for decades, but rather the oppressive censorship and dogmatic ideological rigidity present in academics and among the left.

Of course, the left is only taking baby steps toward sensibility and reality. While acknowledging the relevance of culture, "they attribute destructive [cultural] attitudes and behavior not to inherent moral character but to sustained racism and isolation." One couldn't expect it would be long before racism was called upon to explain everything. Baby steps.

UPDATE: For an even more cynical perspective on the supposed reformation of liberal thought on poverty, see the Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector on NRO. Spoiler: liberals still think poverty is the reason for poverty - and the solution is thus to simply throw around more (of other people's) money. Rector identifies the most obvious culprit leading to poverty as "the collapse of marriage."

In low-income communities, the overwhelming majority of children are born outside marriage and raised by single mothers on welfare. If these single mothers were married to the actual fathers of their children, two-thirds would immediately be lifted out of poverty. But, despite these obvious facts, the Left is reluctant even to mention the connection between marital collapse and poverty.

The main problem for liberals in talking about the "culture of poverty" is that any honest examination of behavioral roots of poverty will, almost certainly, diminish public support for the welfare state. Thus, any clear discussion of the links between poverty and behavior is to be scrupulously avoided.

Categories > Economy

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My father, God rest his soul, was raised in poverty. Real poverty. His parents divorced when he was three in 1928. At age five he was picking cotton after school on his uncle’s cotton farm in Harlingen, Texas. His uncle lost the farm during the depression and his mother, brother and he moved to San Antonio were his mother promptly put both him and his brother into an orphanage when he was seven years old. His mother got a job cleaning the church across the street from the orphanage and lived in a janitor’s closet. He had one meal a day, if he was lucky. His brother died a couple of years later in the orphanage. Poor medical care and bad diet led to many diseases that were incurable at that time. A few years later his mother took him out of the orphanage and they made the long trek on Route 66 to California. They lived in the labor camps. Need I say more? In California he was sent free of charge to a Catholic School were he graduated a year early from high school and later became an electrical engineer. He worked HARD and became very wealthy. He married my mother had children and raised all of us. My father never committed a crime in his life. Matter of fact he never got a speeding ticket. Poverty has nothing to do with moral values or crime. There are two really good books that address the very issue of crime, poverty, and the underclass. “The Dream and the Nightmare – The Sixties’ Legacy To The Underclass” by Myron Magnet, editor of the incredible City Journal. “Life at the Bottom” by Theodore Dalrymple. Dalrymple is a doctor who worked for years with the poor in hospitals and prisons in Britian..

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