Monday, September 19, 2005

Of Course Bush Cares by Ed Quillen

Happy Monday peeps--cut and paste time since I lack creativity today and Ed Quillen of the Denver Post, as usual, says what I'm thinking better than I ever could.

The images from New Orleans, of people waiting for days on rooftops and freeway overpasses, inspired a benefit concert on national television on Sept. 2. There, rapper Kanye West went off-script on the live broadcast to observe that "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

West was roundly denounced for that, and many have hastened to point out that George W. Bush is no racist. Others have stepped up to say that the slow response was based not on racial factors but economic status. That is, the federal government would have acted much more quickly to rescue wealthy people of any color; poverty, not race, determined the speed and scale of the response.

And they conclude that President Bush doesn't care about the poor. To buttress that assertion, they note that the president's first public statement of sympathy went to Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, who lost one of his houses in Hurricane Katrina, not to some working family who lost everything.

But that's a superficial assessment. Further analysis shows that it's terribly unfair to President Bush. He cares about America, and America needs poor people.

We can start with a statement often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president: "Common looking people are the best in the world: that is the reason the Lord makes so many of them."

The Bush variant would be, "Poor people are the best in the world: that is why we're making so many of them."

According to U.S. Census Bureau report on poverty, 37 million people were in poverty (12.7 percent) in 2004, up from 35.9 million (12.5 percent) in 2003. In 2004, there were 7.9 million families in poverty, up from 7.6 million in 2003.

In 2000, the year before Bush took office, there were 6.4 million families in poverty. The family poverty rate was 8.7 percent then; it's 10.2 percent now.

Why is an increase in poverty good for America?

Consider the Social Security system, which could be in financial jeopardy at some date in the not-so-distant future. The working poor pay into the system through a regressive tax - the rate is the same whether you make $12,000 a year or $90,000 a year, and the percentage actually drops after that.

If you're poor, your life expectancy is shorter. You don't live as long to collect the benefits. Thus the more poor people to pay in and die early without collecting anything, the more solvent the system. And a solvent Social Security system must be a good thing for America; why else would Social Security reform have gotten so much attention from our president?

There are, of course, many other benefits from poverty. It helps fight inflation because poor people are willing to work for less, thereby nipping the wage-price spiral in the bud. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor issued its annual National Compensation Survey. As a headline in the Wall Street Journal last Tuesday put it, "Most paychecks fell in 2004."

Thus inflation is being held in check despite the increases in energy prices. Low inflation means that bonds hold their value, and thus the coupon-clipper class stays comfortable - and we know how important that is to our country.

Nor should we forget that the lower American wages are, the less attractive our country is to illegal immigrants, and you don't have to be Tom Tancredo to agree that we've got some problems there. And poverty can help solve them.

New Orleans demonstrated that poor people tend to congregate in areas close to work with good transportation (they can't afford cars, and thus they pollute less while not contributing to urban sprawl). These areas often make good industrial sites (for, say, toxic-waste incinerators). Because the occupants are poor, their real-estate is worth less, and thus land-acquisition costs are lower for American corporations. And who could be against reducing corporate costs?

Add all these considerations together, and you can see that it's a gross libel even to imply that George Bush doesn't care about poverty. He cares about America, and America needs poor people.

Ed Quillen of Salida is a former newspaper editor whose column appears Tuesday and Sunday.