Self Interest?

by Terry Plotkin

There is a rural county in Kentucky that is made up of mostly white people. It is one of the poorest places in the country. Most of the people there are on food stamps, and they don’t have health care. They got some bad news recently when they found out their food stamp ration was cut. What’s worse is that if the Republicans, in their effort to cut the deficit, get their way they are going to be cut again. Substantially. No one likes to have their income cut, but when you are poor any cut is severe because there is no excess money around.


Thankfully, I do not need food stamps, but I am willing to pay more in taxes so people that need it can have enough to eat. I am not a saint, nor am I a liberal, but it feels fine to me to give a little to someone who cannot afford food. I am in no position to judge them on whether they need it or are taking advantage of the system or refuse to work. I suspect that most people are in real need or they wouldn’t ask or be eligible.


Rather than cut their food stamp allotment we could reduce our deficit in a far better and fairer way. Allow working people to feed themselves by paying them a living wage, say $11 per hour. ‘Preposterous!’ Conservatives would rant. ‘This will cost jobs!’ As if they care. They would rather the taxpayers supplement companies like Wal-Mart or McDonalds with food stamps and other benefits so they don’t have to take care of their own employees.  I can assure the conservatives if Wal-Mart or the fast-food industry were forced to pay a livable wage and thus get off welfare (That’s right. The Walton family, the richest in the world, is feeding at the public trough by underpaying their workings and thus forcing them onto food stamps.) it would not cost any jobs at all because those companies need to stay where they are, and they need workers to run their businesses.


Back to those people in Kentucky. In the last election they voted 73% for Romney. Yup. They voted for the party that would cut their food stamps and deny them health care. Is it ignorance? Self hatred? Racism? Gay bashing? Abortion antagonists? Religion gone mad? I can’t figure it out.

6 Responses to “Self Interest?”

  1. One thing that angers republicans to no end is to state the fact that the US is a socialist republic. We have an evolving social contract that is at the heart of our government. Many of the arguments about food stamps and other forms of welfare are essentially arguments about the terms of our social contract.

    I think we clarify things if we think of this social contract as we might think of any contract. Well-written contracts define the terms, the agreements, the limitations, and methods of dispute resolution.

    Wouldn’t it be refreshing if Congress produced such a document that stated, “The US federal government will provide A, B, C etc. to groups X, Y, Z, etc? The limitations are. . . Disputes are resolved by. . .

    This would be a long document but could be simplified. I would like everyone to vote on this and come to agreement. Let there be advocates and debates, but ultimately, lets put the facts on the table and come to agreement as to what we, as a nation, want to provide to the underprivileged and dissenfranchised.

    The current state of things is that a debate on food stamps is a public brawl fueled by misrepresentations, distractions, fear-mongering, and downright lies. The facts are there and the argument should be fairly simple, but there are no advocates of the facts that are trusted by both sides.

    I know it is a sore point for many, but I keep going back to the United Nations (or a future improved version) as a neutral arbitrator of human rights. Let us have our debate on a social contract, but let’s check our work against standards set by the world community – a community not under the perverting influence of politics – at least that’s the ideal.

    I may rant from time to time, but in the end I am an optimist. Let there be some light in our messy world.

  2. The poor people in rural america, or the poor people anywhere, should move to where there are jobs, and get a job… I am willing to pay them 20$ an hour, mininum wage increase,,,, but the people not working at all, ever… has got to stop… and living in a rural setting is not an excuse to never work.

  3. If it were so simple for a poor person to move to a more prosperous area and to be able to get a good job, then it would be happening.

    I read a study once, that said, on average, it takes at least three generations for a family to get out of poverty. It is a myth that in this country anyone who is wiling to work can succeed. It is a myth that the US has the best economic mobility. The reality is that, if you are born poor in the US, then regardless of how hard you try, it is highly unlikely that you will escape poverty in your lifetime.

    It is much more likely that (if you were born in a European country) you could pull out of poverty.

    The biggest most insidious myth is that poor people are stupid and lazy. Take any person (regardless of intelligence and enterprise) and put him in a poor household with sparse resources and no viable opportunities then call him lazy and stupid when he refuses to abandon his family to pursue prosperity elsewhere – does he even have bus fair? Does he have money to rent an apartment? Can he get any job that pays more than minimum wage. Sorry to burst your bubble, but a poor person can’t leave his family support network and expect to succeed in a minimum wage job.

    Our capitalistic society has been a creeping force pulling prosperity from rural communities – retail stores, small farms, service businesses all being consumed in ways that disadvantage and disempower rural communities.

    Citizens of these communities who do work want their taxes to be used to help their communities and the poor who are their friends and neighbors. They understand their neighbors are not looking for “excuses to never work”; they are looking for a helping hand while they are looking for work.

    Final note: there are no federal programs that just give money to people without also insisting that they are looking for work.

  4. First let’s pay a livable wage to anyone who is working full-time then we will see who is left on public assistance. Next, let’s make sure that we offer employment to anyone who needs it. This is easier and more affordable to do than some might think.. This will take care of most of the people getting food stamps. After that we will find out who is taking because they don’t want to work. I am sure there are some, and they can be dealt with case by case depending on their circumstances and need. Still, no one has explained why poor people vote for Republicans when those same people try to cut the benefits that these people need to live.

  5. Kentucky: I saw a public tv documentary about rural KY. The kids were helped by good teachers, and guided and supported to continue on to college. Most of them could not ‘do it’. They were initially positive, and appreciative, and still they felt great difficulty leaving their ‘place of self’.., i guess you could call it. Most ended up returning home to deep poverty, scouring the roadside for coal to bring home. They felt greater satisfaction, or ? being home and being loyally present to their families. Most family members were in ill health. In my opinion, dental neglect there is not an exaggeration. Many gravely miss the income from tobacco farming. The rural areas of KY and TN, often not many miles from wealthy horse farms, suffer deeply from what I have seen. Change is very hard. It often does take generations.

  6. Susan hits on such an important point – we are social animals, and the family unit really works on a number of levels to ensure our survival – we need our families.

    When the previous commenter says,

    “The poor people in rural america, or the poor people anywhere, should move to where there are jobs, and get a job. . .”

    he has no idea how impossible that is.

    It’s hard for me to imagine how isolated (from compassion and reality) one must become to embrace the opinion that our sons and daughters can just leave our families when in cases of poverty, these sons and daughters are essential for survival.

    Conservatives rage against the decline of family values while (in the same breath) they encourage families to break apart!

    They think medicaid should be replaced with families taking care of their elders. Yet they encourage sons and daughters to move away and work somewhere for minimum wage. Ooops, sorry I forgot, they don’t want minimum wage either. They think employers (like our commenter, Jason) will pay everyone a living wage.

    This is the Ayn Rand fantasy (read Atlas Shrugged) where government gets out of the way and corporate lords give everyone great jobs and poverty disappears. If only that would be true. Show me anywhere in the world or in history that that ever happened.

    On the flip side, I could site innumerable examples where governments get out of the way and the middle class disappears leaving only a small ruling class and the majority in poverty.

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