A Note About Class Warfare and the Earned Income Tax

When the powers that be saw urban cores diversifying racially in the 60s and said “here’s a good idea: lets move the hell out and take our EIT with us,”  that was class warfare.  And the poor have been losing ever since.

Bill O’Reilly addresses what he sees as the real problem with Mitt Romney’s “I’m not worried about the very poor” comment here, saying that the real causes of continued poverty are “poor education, addiction, irresponsible behavior and laziness. That’s right far-left people. Some folks are lazy.”

O’Reilly’s right, of course, that each of these things contribute to poverty.  But some of these things, like poor education, are systemic causes.  Saying “some folks are lazy” doesn’t square with calling laziness a systemic root of poverty.  That collapses into race-baiting buzzwords and O’Reilly knows better. That’s journalistic laziness, Bill, and you know it.  Maybe you’re making a Straussian meta-point here, but I doubt it.

That said, the failure of the Great Society is something we must wrestle with across the political spectrum.  Why has it failed? Why do our core cities have poorer educational systems than their suburban counterparts?  Why can a school in the City of Allentown be without books or year-round music education and a school a mile away in the suburbs have access to the finest of these things in spades?  And why, when we ask that question, are we called class warriors?

With regards to the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone, we’ve been considering the historic fallout of situations that arose along with the Great Society:  the flight of capital from urban cores and the subsidizing of the suburbs that came with the decision to move Earned Income Tax out of the cities in which they were earned (cities whose infrastructures make that earning possible in the first place) and into the townships where they were used to build impressive schools and new neighborhoods for cents on the dollar when factoring in environmental and social externalities.

It’s no great wonder why the Great Society failed.  In the Allentown example, it failed by the State legislature’s design. It failed because any entitlement program without robust endemic opportunity creates dependency.  This is where Newt Gingrich is right in spite of himself.  And let’s make no mistake:  I’m not proposing some great apologia for the failed policies of Lyndon Baines Johnson.  From Vietnam to Camden, New Jersey, those speak for themselves.   There are many on the right who believe that systemic dependence on the welfare state was Johnson’s goal and remains the only true goal of most liberals.

I’ll say this:  I believe LBJ was probably one of the biggest racists to have occupied the White House in modern times.  I don’t think he cared about most people, let alone people that didn’t look like him.  I believe he was cynical enough and manipulative enough to believe that his policies would ensure black fidelity to the Democratic party for the “200 years” about which he is said to have boasted.  But I do not believe the Great Society is, on its own, the key to understanding the unsolved issues of poverty in this country.  Add things like capital flight and the movement of EITs from urban cores to cow pastures, and then we’re cooking.

Who’s to blame for the origins of our often racially charged class warfare?  Whatever you believe politically, you can’t honestly think it’s the poor.  You can’t honestly think it was African Americans who were moving to then-prosperous industrial cities for a piece of the opportunity they’d been promised since Lincoln.  If you do, you might be more beholden to ideology than to generative solutions.

Speaking of ideology, isn’t it a shame that, as the media and the ideologues have it, we have but two systems from which to form our political identities?  We’re either left or we’re right.  Oh, sure, maybe some of us are soft-left and soft-right, but really, the key to figuring all of this out lies in the talking points of one of our two bogus systems.  It’s almost as if someone, somewhere is making money from all this confusion and childish division.

If you’re like me, you’re too liberal and too conservative for either camp depending on the issue.  Good for you.  Not for being like me, but for not being people who insist on dividing us with labels and political rhetoric.  Meta-narratives be damned, because the truth is in the middle, and it’s far more interesting.  The future will not come from the front of the room, nor from the busted framing fables of either broken party.

It will come from us.