Jewish World Review Jan. 22, 2004 / 28 Teves, 5764

Thomas Sowell

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Stretching the poor

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | What do you do when you don't have as much of something as you need? One of the things you can do is stretch it out to make it last as long as it can.


That is what the political left is doing with the poor. A lot of noise is made about how we are "running out" of this or that natural resource — almost always falsely — but the real problem of the left is that they are running out of the poor, who serve as a justification of the left's drive to extend their power over all the rest of us.


Not only is the average real income per person rising in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, people seldom stay in the bottom brackets for more than a few years. Over the course of their lifetimes, most of those same people are in the top 20 percent at one time or other.


What is the left to do when they find themselves running out of the poor? They must stretch the poor to make them last — even if that requires stretching the truth.


First of all, the left cannot let the public know that most of the people in the lower income brackets are just passing through, instead of being stuck there for life. Moreover, the statistics presented to the public cannot be in terms of real income per person, because that is rising, which undermines the left's vision.


Instead, the liberal media must restrict themselves to discussing family income or household income statistics, because families and households are getting smaller over the years. That conceals the rise in income per person.


Another tried and proven method for spinning the facts to fit the vision is to focus on some wholly atypical example and keep hammering away at it until it seems to be the norm. A five-pages-long article in the January 18th issue of the New York Times Magazine goes that route.


The subject of this huge expenditure of ink is a woman who has held a string of low-paying jobs and encountered the kinds of problems in her life that not having much money can bring. As a leap of faith, let us assume that the New York Times is telling the truth about the facts. What does this one woman's story prove in a country of more than a quarter of a billion people?


The Times story gets around that problem by simply declaring her to be like "millions at the bottom of the labor force" who are part of "the hidden America." This unsubstantiated assertion is crucial to the point that they are trying to make. But what if your faith can't leap that far?


First of all, most of the people at the bottom of the labor force are young and this is a middle-aged woman with grown children. There are undoubtedly individuals who, for one reason or another, have not moved up over the years, but transforming these exceptions into the rule is part of the magic of left-wing rhetoric.

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If we needed any more evidence that this story is in the spin cycle, it is the Times reporter's blaming other people for not solving this woman's problems for her. For example, "if the factory had just let Caroline work day shifts, her problem would have disappeared."


The reporter refers to employers sarcastically as "untouchable" and declares: "Wages and hours are set by the marketplace and you cannot expect magnanimity from the marketplace." Or a straight story from the New York Times.


What does "magnanimity" mean in this context, except having somebody else pay for what this woman wants? If she goes from the night shift to the day shift, somebody else is going to have to go from the day shift to the night shift.


Other people — notably the taxpayers — have already paid for her in terms of subsidized housing, government-provided dentures, and job training. Moreover, she has also helped herself to more than $10,000 of other people's money by running up credit card debts that she avoided paying by declaring bankruptcy. But it is never enough.


Nothing is easier than for third parties to think up things that can be done at somebody else's expense.


That is what the agenda of the left largely consists of.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)

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