My seven year old daughter asked me at the dinner table tonight, ”Is the United States a rich country?” I said ”yes it is”. She said ”aren’t there lots of people the the USA who are poor?” I said ”yes there are”. She said ”Why are there many poor people in the USA if it is so rich?” I didn’t know what to say.
I wrote this text on my Facebook page and one of my American friends who is a died in the wool republican answered “Tell her not everyone in the USA works smart or hard, and some are just unfortunate. . . just like in every other country.” My friend reply is unfortunately all too typical of the kind of poorly thought through and heartless rhetoric prevalent in the USA today. These arguments although effective miss the point. We Americans think we are the brightest, the strongest and the best at everything and find it extremely difficult to learn from other nations.
But not every other wealthy country has the kind of poverty we see in our country, the USA. Some countries address the issue of poverty differently. My American friend gave three explanations for poverty. People are either lazy, dumb or unfortunate (and I assume he would allow for some combinations of these three). These explanations, although common, at best only describe why some succeed better than others. They do not explain why a nation chooses to let some of its people live a dream life while others live in dire poverty. In a functioning democracy it comes down to the choices we as voters make. If we want to provide food, housing, equality in education and quality healthcare to fellow citizens who are less fortunate, we can. Many other western capitalist democratic countries have succeeded. We Americans can succeed as well! It is not about lowering the standard of the wealthy, it is about raising the standard of those who are worse off in society.