Brilliant column from Timothy Egan

He writes a weekly piece for NYT’s Opinionator, and this one is nothing short of brilliant. I particularly note the irony in the quote from (where else?) a millionaire Southern Republican Congressman:

“The explosion of food stamps in this country is not just a fiscal issue for me,” said Representative Steve Southerland, Republican from Florida, chief crusader for cutting assistance to the poor. “This is a defining moral issue of our time.”

Yep, it is. The explosion in food stamp use is due to the Recession, spawned by de-regulation and greed, which cost millions of Americans their livelihoods. The fiscal burden was created by tax cuts, which mostly went to the wealthy, some of whom caused the Recession, and which went a long way to the record budget deficits (after Clinton presented Bush with a balanced federal budget) and tightened spending just when we needed to spend more. So the “defining moral issue” is whether we’re going to let the people who caused the disaster walk away free and rich (appears we will) while working to make the lives of those millions who lost so much even more desperate.

The stone-hearted, like Rep. Southerland and his ilk, will scoff, as Mayor Bloomberg does at the end of Egan’s piece, that hey, the world is unfair. It certainly is, but we could make it a lot less so. If you’ll stand me a self-referential moment, I will slap in a section of a speech I once gave to a conference on homelessness:

The Market people will say, “hey, Life’s not fair.” True. Even . . . “duh!” But when you fall back on that bit of obvious “wisdom,” you’ve thrown off any feelings of obligation for making things more fair. And that’s wrong. The Market is not some invisible hand shaping our lives, a hand whose motives and means are outside our control. We have the power to decide how fair life will be. We can make decisions, promote behaviors, allocate resources, pass laws that lessen the unfairness of life.

Sometimes, I hear people talk about the Market in almost religious terms, and I get the feeling it’s the secular equivalent of Intelligent Design. In fact, I’m wondering now whether we should start up a movement to insist that altruism is taught alongside capitalism in our schools. Any of you legislators in the audience want to introduce that as a resolution in the session come January, give me a call; I’ll be happy to help you write it.

When we have people cold and hungry and sick and without hope because they cannot provide for the basic necessities of life, then there is a problem. We need to make a few tweaks to the system.

When we ignore our responsibilities to people who are cold and hungry and sick and without hope because they cannot provide for the basic necessities of life, then we are actors in a tragedy.

And to the extent that some people are required to be cold, and hungry and sick and
without hope in order for society or the Market to function, then we have entered the realm of sin.

Yeah, there are some hustlers and cheats out there; I’ve even known a few. But their sins pale in comparison to the conscious decision to inflict suffering on millions of people because you just don’t give a rat’s ass.



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