The Editorial Board of The Philadelphia Inquirer Asked for "Radical New Thinking" and "Radical Realism"

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

I’m guessing that they won’t like my “radical new thinking” and “radical realism”!

About fifteen years ago, I worked for a ready-mixed concrete company in suburbs of Philadelphia, and one of my responsibilities was driver recruitment. The biggest problem? More than half of potential recruits couldn’t pass the drug test!

The greatest anti-poverty program is a job, and a huge percentage of those in poverty in Philadelphia have made themselves ineligible for decent jobs through their own choices to use drugs. Reducing poverty cannot come from the top down, from boards and commissions and charities. It must come from the bottom up, from a community which refuses to use drugs and will not tolerate those who sell drugs.

I know, I know, it’s just horribly politically incorrect to say this, but poor people are poor primarily due to their own choices.

Solving Philly’s poverty problem requires radical thinking — and realism | Editorial

The Inquirer Editorial Board | November 22, 2020 | 6:00 AM EST

One of the great challenges of living in a city with the high poverty rate that has long dogged Philadelphia is how to remain optimistic that the proposals designed to alleviate it can work.

The past few decades have seen many attempts to “solve” the poverty problem, both nationally and locally. Mayor John Street launched a $300 million anti-blight program called the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative. In 2013, Mayor Michael Nutter launched the Shared Prosperity program, designed to streamline and maximize available aid to people. Both had their successes, but change in the poverty rate was incremental.

The latest effort, a “Poverty Action Plan” was released in early March from City Council and a committee including Darrell Clarke, Maria Quiñones Sanchez and Allan Domb. Last week, Council announced the creation of a new nonprofit to implement the plan, funded with a $10 million grant from the city.

The plan, originally described as a “moonshot” designed to lift 100,000 people out of poverty by 2024, offers a set of sweeping actions: seven strategies that range from providing a basic income to individuals and wage tax refunds to adult education and job training stipends. It creates a Poverty Commission, described as a public-private partnership including city and state government, philanthropies, universities and civic institutions like the United Way. In addition to a fund, it creates a dashboard to measure progress.

The commission also assembled a staggering number of people: five co-chairs, 19 full committee members, and 57 additional people spread over three separate committees.

So, 81 people, probably none of them truly poor themselves, involving government employees, philanthropies, universities and civic institutions. Philadelphia is going to have yet another anti-poverty program put together and run by the elites, most, and possibly all of whom have never been poor, have never, to use the expression of Robert E Howard, had their lives nailed to their spines, trying to put together a program for people who are not like them.

Many are familiar names who have been at the front lines of fighting poverty for years, if not decades. While it will take a large, all-hands-on-deck effort to make inroads, it is of concern that, especially in this town, many people means many politics, and many often-conflicting agendas. And the last eight months have complicated things further, since many organizations will be fighting for their own survival.

Translation: the same people who have “been at the front lines of fighting poverty for years, if not decades,” and failed, will be at it again. Is there any reason to expect different results?

Part of leadership is setting goals that are slightly out of reach. But leadership must also recognize that there needs to be a possibility of success, especially confronting complicated problems like poverty. Lifting 100,000 people out of poverty will take vision and optimism. But it will also take a lot more than $10 million – and a lot longer than four years. Solving this crisis requires a capacity for radical new thinking as well as radical realism.

“Radical new thinking as well as radical realism”? I can provide the Inquirer Editorial Board with that, but I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t like it. But perhaps, just perhaps, some actual plainspokenness is needed here.

There are three things which have to be done to reduce poverty in Philadelphia, and they need to come from within the poorer, primarily black, communities.

  1. People have to stop using drugs! The Philadelphia Police can only do so much to find, stop and arrest drug dealers. Drug dealers exist because people want to use drugs, and they will continue to exist as long as people are willing to buy and use drugs. But drugs lead to lost employment opportunities as employees in a lot of fields are subject to pre-employment, random and post-accident drug tests, as well as lowered productivity when on the job even if applicants get past the drug screens. Drug use leads to other poor lifestyle decisions, and syphons money from people’s earnings into useless spending which does not improve their situations or enable them to save.The neighborhood has to take action that the police cannot, to drive out the drug dealers and give them no shelter or security. The dealers need to be shunned as the neighborhood cancers they are.
  2. Neighborhood women and girls need to step up and take leadership roles. Most of the bad behavior, from petty crimes all the way up to Philadelphia’s exploding murder rate, comes from young males, and, if we are brutally honest about it, young black males. But there is one thing that young males value more than anything else: sex. Young women in poor neighborhoods need to stop rewarding the bad behavior of young males with sex. The guys who stay in school, the ones who try to make something of themselves, they are the ones that young women in the neighborhoods should date.This is something that their mothers, and the other older women in the neighborhoods, need to stress to younger women as they grow up.This point will be denounced as horribly sexist, but I am far beyond caring about that. You may think it sexist, but it is true nevertheless.
  3. Fathers in the neighborhood must step up and take responsibility. Almost every negative social statistic, for suicides, for criminal behavior, for dropping out of school, and for out-of-wedlock childbearing, is much higher for people who grow up without their fathers present in the home. Young women should not date young men who are unlikely to stick around if the woman gets pregnant, and young women should not let themselves get pregnant by men to whom they are not married. Single parenthood is very often a one-way ticket to poverty, at far greater rates than are the case for two-parent homes.Again, that point will be condemned as sexist, but there is one incontrovertible fact: pregnancy and child rearing put a much greater burden on women than men, and if the man is absent, 100% of the burden falls on the woman. Men who impregnate women and then refuse to step up and do their duty as fathers need to be shunned in the neighborhoods.

There are many other behaviors that only people in the neighborhoods can fix, only the individuals involved can change, but they are all part of the three points made above. The various ‘civic leaders’ the Editorial Board mentioned can stress these things, but only the people on the ground in their neighborhoods can actually change behavior.

Readers can denounce me as sexist or racist or whateverist, but it doesn’t matter to me; I am retired, living out in the country, and I can’t be fired for writing something some people will find uncomfortable. Because uncomfortable or not, the points I have made are true, and any rational examination of the facts will bring the reader to the same conclusions.

This is the “radical new thinking” and “radical realism” the Inquirer’s Editorial Board wanted. That it is not #woke, nor sufficiently sparing of the feelings of some, that it is horribly politically incorrect does not mean it should not be examined for whether it is true or not. That it puts much of the blame for poverty on the behavior of the poor will be seen as unjustifiably harsh, but harsh or not, it is still true.

Poor behavior leads to unfortunate consequences, consequences which are often far beyond what people would like to believe. No well-intentioned committee of 81 committed fighters against poverty, no brilliant Mayor of perfectly good motivations, and no priest nobly absolving parishioners of their confessed sins can change the consequences of poor and economically inefficient behavior.

The solution to poverty can be encouraged by all of those people, but the implementation of the solution has to come from the people in poor communities themselves.
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