Given the widespread bias against anything connected to President Donald Trump, I wasn’t surprised to see vitriol aimed at Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson recently for suggesting that poverty is a state of mind.
Carson grew up in inner-city Detroit and became a success in large part because of his single mother’s insistence that he read, study hard, and not settle for the circumstances surrounding him.
It strikes me that background gives him much better insights into the topic than many of the critics who lashed out at him.
Harsh Labels Abound
The popular liberal theory is that ladling more and more taxpayer funds into ever-expanding government programs is the answer to our nation’s woes.
If you don’t agree, then you automatically attract a series of harsh labels: bigot, uncaring, heartless, and associated terms.
As more than one doubter has pointed out, the primary beneficiary of anti-poverty programs has been the bureaucratic networks and cottage industries that sprang up to service this “need.”
Check out Huey Perry’s classic, They’ll Cut off Your Project, for a first-hand account of how the original funds poured into Appalachia were more about greasing political hands than helping the poor.
Help or Hurt?
Ironically, soon after the hubbub over Carson’s remarks erupted, I interviewed the pastor of a church in an impoverished area of Appalachia for a forthcoming story.
Although the church is small, it is in the midst of completing a multi-purpose building.
The facility will provide space for such things as literacy tutoring, GED programs and meals for low-income people. Obviously, the members of this church have a heart for the poor.
Yet, during our interview the pastor noted that area residents were among the first recipients of federal food stamps. He doesn’t see that as a blessing.
“People have been raised to expect things,” he told me. “The War on Poverty was a complete failure. With the millions—and billions—spent, we haven’t seen anything.”
Granted, the government dole-out isn’t the only reason for negative developments; the downturn in coal has been a major factor too.
But as I talked with the native of this poor, rural area, he pointed out how Uncle Sam’s “help” has brought little lasting benefit and added to the misery.
It also reflects some of the comments in Hillbilly Elegy, the best-selling book by Appalachian native J.D. Vance.
In it, Lance lampoons well-meaning politicians for inflicting more harm with their ivory-tower solutions to problems of which few have first-hand knowledge. Such as cracking down on payday loan firms, which Vance says are a lifeline for many living paycheck to paycheck.
That a church of several dozen could be tackling such a monumental project also illustrates how spiritual solutions—although frequently derided by the news media and other skeptics—hold far more hope than government programs.
As this pastor tells it, the Lord spoke to him and said education is a leading answer to addressing the poverty, illiteracy and ignorance that keeps so many people bound up in hopelessness.
The other will come from looking for divine help: “I believe God is getting ready to show people that what they state couldn’t do, He’s getting ready to do.”
Including changing a state of mind that looks more to the government than Him.