Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Reading Rick: Part 3 (The Roots of Prosperity)

This posting covers pages 119-194 of Rick Santorum’s book, It Takes a Family

Part Three: The Roots of Prosperity

Chapter XIII: Abundant Families in the Land of Plenty
Chapter XIV: Economic Responsibility
Chapter XV: Work and Human Dignity
Chapter XVI: Wealth and Ownership
Chapter XVII: The Power of Knowledge
Chapter XVIII: Faith-Based Transformations
Chapter XIX: Smart Reinvesting
Chapter XX: Wealth and Race

Abundant Families in the Land of Plenty

There are three themes to this short chapter – economic opportunities leads to marriage and children. In countries with less economic opportunity there is a lower marriage and birth rate. The second theme is that higher taxes equal less freedom (to take care of your family and your community). For example, this statement on p. 123: “Beyond marginal [tax] rates, we must also do more to help families, particularly families that are raising children. As I mentioned before, one reason parents are not spending enough time with their children is because of the increased taxes we have imposed on the average American family with children.” One thing that that has struck me throughout this book is the almost complete lack of concern for those past childbearing age. I think those on fixed incomes are concerned with rising health care costs and increasing property taxes. Yet we are hearing nothing about that. Clearly the book is aimed at a particular audience, and the women in those households have not yet reached menopause.

The last theme in the chapter is a description of his view of the liberal policy towards families and welfare. He says liberals are only concerned about the children of welfare parents and not those of working families and that liberals are not concerned with the breakup of the family. In contrast, he says “Most Americans, however, and conservatives in particular, believe the natural family is something to be respected, protected, and nurtured.” Again, I don’t know what liberal handbook he is reading from but the one I’ve been working from is missing the “destroy the natural family” chapter.

Economic Responsibility

Here he discusses the history of the welfare system and his involvement in welfare reform in an abridged format. In his view welfare has made people dependent on government money and kept them in poverty.

The sentence that most took me aback was this from page 128: “The so-called sexual liberation of the late 1960s took hold in society, I believe, because of two principal factors: the legalization of abortion, which started in the late 1960s and culminated with Roe v. Wade in 1973 and – for low-income women – the availability of abortion plus the financial safety net provided by government welfare.” In my college classes that covered this topic, the loosening of sexual mores was tied to the introduction of more easily available contraception, such as the birth control pill, and the coming of age of the baby boomers, with an emphasis on youth culture.

Work and Human Dignity

Here is Santorum’s view of the effects of the enacted welfare reforms, from p. 136: “Research has shown that in every state in the union, a mother working half time at minimum wage is still better of than if she were on welfare. And these women aren’t making minimum wage ($5.15 per hour). They are averaging somewhere around $8 per hour.” While I have no statistics to back up my skepticism, I am skeptical.

He ups the ante by not only providing more statistics but by deriding liberals who refuse to acknowledge the success of welfare reform. In his words (p. 137), “According to liberals, every person deserves a ‘living wage’ regardless of her contribution to a given enterprise.”

Further, “I am all for providing women on welfare with basic training so that they can take entry-level jobs, but beyond that I believe that they should provide for their education under the same circumstances as everyone else – through a combination of financial aid, loans, savings, hard work, and sacrifice. In other words, they must earn it.” (pp. 137-8) I cannot help but note that he thinks all of the people moved off of welfare are women, and he mentions never married mothers more than once.

Santorum provides some first person stories from people who moved from welfare to work and they are heart-warming, the children who were excited when their mother got her first pay check because they wouldn’t have to use food stamps at the grocery store, for example.

He also says that to take an active role in welfare reform he hired five people on welfare to work in his offices. He provides further information on two of them, one eventually went to college and became a teacher, and the other became the administrative assistance for a surgeon, married and bought a house. While I admired him for taking a hands-on role, I don’t wonder that they able to find better jobs with a reference from a senator’s office. I do wonder if those who found a job at McDonalds or part-time at Wal-Mart reached similar levels of success.

I do agree that work provides a level of self-respect that welfare cannot. I do agree that those on welfare should be encouraged to find work and move off of public assistance. I’m not sure that it needs to be such a quick change, and that a more gradual move may be more beneficial. As I wrote in a separate post, my college education was publicly funded (loans paid off on time, with interest) so it would be hypocritical of me to be anything but in favor of providing others with that same opportunity. Giving someone an opportunity to get an education seems to me to be one of the best investments a society can make. Knowing that my current good fortune is based in large part on the government monies given and loaned to me has made me much more civic minded than I think I would have been otherwise. I cannot help but think that it would have a similar effect on others.

Wealth and Ownership

I can briefly describe this chapter but to fully understand it you will have to read it yourself. Here is the chapter theme from p. 144 “We have not democratized access to economic capital.” I would agree with that. He goes on to describe his ideas to set up Individual Development Accounts (IDA), which would set up a nest egg of $500 for each child at birth. The details of it escape me, but I am concerned by a note on p. 153 that upon reaching 18 the child would have to pay back to the government all federal monies paid into the account; it is effect a no-interest loan. He also describes Personal Retirement Accounts (PRA) to supplement social security payments. As examples of ways to empower people economically he describes a faith-based nonprofit program to help people come up with a down payment for a house.

I was surprised that he did not mention two things. One is Grameen banks, either in the U.S. or other countries, sometimes called microlending, where people pool their resources and make small loans to each other, or a large lender makes small loans to people in small groups who are responsible for see that each other pays it back.

The other is investment clubs. The National Association of Investors Corp. has been offering investment education for over 50 years. I’ve been a member of an NIAC-affiliated investment club for over five years and have learned a tremendous amount about investing and the stock market.

He quotes Jack Nicholson from the movie A Few Good Men. (“You can’t handle the truth").

The Power of Knowledge

This chapter covers the importance of teaching economic literacy and I would have to agree with him on this. If people don’t learn how to handle money then no matter how much they earn, they will almost always be poor or in debt.

Faith-Based Transformations

Here Santorum turns his attention to the problem of generating economic capital in communities as opposed to families. He cites two specific examples of neighborhoods or communities transformed by faith-based economic initiatives. They are very nice stories. I looked at the web site of one of them and found no mention of the programs he mentioned. Perhaps they have been eclipsed by a growing or changing mission.

Smart Reinvesting

Here he focuses on strategies that can be used when deciding what neighborhoods are ripe for renewal and which ones are too far gone and need other types of assistance (for example, waiting for tenants to get fed up and move out so landlords are forced to sell to developers). He also provides a case study of renewal in the town of Chester, Pennsylvania.

Wealth and Race

This chapter can be summed up in two quotes. From p. 189: “I have a particular concern for our nations’ African-American community.” From p. 190, here is his view of why the heyday of black enterprises from 1867 to 1917 has faded, “No, what really changed the economic terrain for African-Americans was something else: the arrival of liberal welfare policies, the liberal cultural [sic] of victimhood, and poorly thought-out liberal urban renewal.”

I don’t know what I could add to that; it sort of leaves me speechless. The heyday of black enterprises was from 1867 to 1917? Really?

Bibliographic Essay

Again, I am under-impressed with the currency and depth of the works he cites.

Next: Moral Ecology

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