Poverty News Round Up

With the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other:

1. The safety net held up relatively well in the recession.

“The main message of my whole paper is that I believe the social safety net responded appropriately and in a very healthy way to this severe downturn, and we should be pleased that the president and Congress were able to supply this assistance,” Mr. Moffitt said. “I could not identify one group of people that was not helped by the safety net. That includes single mothers; single men without children; families with no children; the disabled; people with very, very low incomes and more modest incomes — they were all helped.”

2. Our already insane food policy may get even worse.

American food policy has long been rife with head-scratching illogic. We spend billions every year on farm subsidies, many of which help wealthy commercial operations to plant more crops than we need. The glut depresses world crop prices, harming farmers in developing countries. Meanwhile, millions of Americans live tenuously close to hunger, which is barely kept at bay by a food stamp program that gives most beneficiaries just a little more than $4 a day.

3. While I have mixed feelings about celebrity involvement in politics, it is nice for Ashton Kutcher to bring WalMart’s poor treatment of its employees to the attention of his twitter followers. Sadly, we don’t have 15 million followers on twitter, so Kutcher has probably brought the issue to people who don’t normally pay attention to poverty.

4. Redistribution doesn’t always go from top to bottom. Sometimes it goes from bottom to top.

Government plays a role, too, doling out subsidies to highly profitable industries. There is currently a lot of political will to cut food stamps, the way we subsidize the food consumption of poor people, but little interest in cutting farm or oil subsidies, which we use to subsidize the profits of agri-business and oil companies. Redistribution doesn’t necessarily go in the direction – from top to bottom – that is commonly believed.

5. Some reflections on policy-oriented philanthropy. Does giving to organizations that help put poverty on the agenda actually make a difference?

“a philanthropist should seek out constellations of interest groups that “should have more capacity than they do,” given the importance of the issues they work on. And since dramatic victories can be won even when the victors have far fewer resources than their adversaries (a point made by Prof. Baumgartner), one should not necessarily steer clear of issues with strong opposition; if anything, one should steer clear of areas in which the side one agrees with is already well-developed and well-resourced, leaving less room for further philanthropic impact.”

The Bible:

Today’s lesson from Jeremiah should be read as a warning to church and political leaders (remember, these two were the same people when Jeremiah was writing):

23:1 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.
23:2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD.

The sheep metaphor is one of the most frequently recurring themes in the Bible. Usually God is the Shepherd, but in this case the text clearly refers to the leaders of the people who have destroyed and scattered the very people they were supposed to care for. Considering the current state of the sheep, I’d say this is bad news for our current shepherds.



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