January 11, 2014

Conservative elites vs. tea partiers on the ground: The War on the War on Poverty

National Review's long piece on Booneville, Ky., often a journalistic venture spot as ground zero of Appalachia (along with the Owsley County that contains it) and thus, of the success or failure of the War on Poverty, illustrates the sneer conservative elites can have for the tea party leaning folks on the ground, even while presenting the latest conservative economic theoretical nostrums, the latest tricking up of trickle down, as gospel

That's clear indeed on page 4:
The lesson of the Big White Ghetto is the same as the lessons we learned about the urban housing projects in the late 20th century: The best public-policy treatment we have for poverty is dilution. But like the old project towers, the Appalachian draw culture produces concentration, a socio­economic Salton Sea that becomes more toxic every year.
Kevin Williamson is lying through his teeth here.

Conservatives (as well as a fair amount of what were to become neolibs) fought like hell to block expansion of "dilution" of poverty, through making public housing units smaller and moving them out of the ghetto.

They fought like hell, and as Pro Publica has documented, both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations were right with them, on things like HUD grants. Folks in Booneville, if you think Kevin D. Williamson wants you moving into HIS neighborhood, I've got some Kentucky beachfront property to sell you.

That's bad enough. Making your last graf of the piece one of outright condescension, with a twist of Social Darwinism, wrapped in the flag of pity, is worse:
And if you ... look over your shoulder back toward the mountains, you don’t see the ghost of Elvis or Devil Anse or Daniel Boone – you see a big sign that says “Wonder Bread,” cheap and white and empty and as good an epitaph as any for what remains left behind in those hills and hollows, waiting on the draw and trying not to think too hard about what the real odds are on the lotto or an early death.
With conservative elite friends like this, do tea partiers in rural white poverty land really need enemies?

In between, there's the conservative truisms that are wrong, like blaming regulation for the demise of the coal industry, rather than noting mechanization, played-out coal seams, and cheap natural gas have all been part of that, while regulations have also protected safety for the (fewer and fewer) remaining miners.

In reality, poverty, like Tolstoy's misery, has degrees of uniqueness to different locales, on the demographic scale, as well as different individuals. Look at another sparsely populated space — the Navajo or Sioux reservations. White America shoved them on bad land and then, especially with the Sioux, constrained the only reasonable way of life for them on what share of that land they still had left. Dense poverty of the ghetto has been exacerbated by conservatives.

The further reality is that, Williamson's hillbilly stereotyping aside, the War on Poverty HAS helped reduce the poverty rate. Not as much as good liberals would like; that's in part because, phony lip service aside, "good" conservatives like Williamson have fought it for 40 years.

Krugman has now weighed in on part of this, though he's more charitable in general to Williamson than I am.

Of course, we're going to see more of this in the months ahead, such hypocrisy. And, per the "uniqueness" of poverty in different locations, even if the Obama Administration is (good) reversing those damaging old HUD practices, that really doesn't help rural poverty so much. And, in future years, when the bubble of oil fracking declines again, and gas is, in today's prices, another dollar or more a gallon higher than now, rural poverty will sadly be even more isolated than now.

As for other nostrums that are partially or wholly untrue? Marriage may not be such a poverty-reducer, especially if it's to a younger woman who's a single mother. That's especially true if we don't follow Williamson's hypocritically stated desire to disperse poverty. Besides, if marriage as an institution, and not just an expense-reducer, really does help lift people out of poverty, then .... gay marriage! Funny, Williamson didn't mention that, either.

I don't claim to have a lot of personal answers. (I do have knowledge; I live in an area of rural and small town multi-ethnic poverty probably about two-thirds as bad as Booneville.) Not me personally, nor even the height of LBJ's Great Society at best practices. But, I can admit that, without a sneer, without condescension, without hypocritical failed nostrums.

Related to this, for would-be social justice warriors, is this piece about the perils, pitfalls, and needed care in explaining the issue of "privilege" to a poorer white person.

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