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Just Asking

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Who would have guessed that the panel discussion on poverty at Georgetown University would have generated so many comments and commentaries? Many people have discussed some of the statements by President Obama. I wrote a commentary a week ago about his frustration with religious groups who he believed spent more time talking about social issues than addressing poverty.

Thomas Sowell decided to write about the plea from the president for wealthy people to help the poor. The president proposed that one of the ways to fight poverty would be to “ask from society’s lottery winners” that they make a “modest investment” in government programs to help the poor. For the moment, let’s set aside the harsh reality that government programs don’t help people escape poverty. Faith-based organizations are much more effective in addressing poverty and many other social problems.

Thomas Sowell focuses his comments on the rhetoric about “asking” the more fortunate for more money. He reminds us that the government does not “ask” for anything. It seized what is wants by force. “If you don’t pay up, it can take not only your paycheck, it can seize your bank account, put a lien on your home and/or put you in federal prison.”

He also questions this idea that wealthy people are lottery winners. Perhaps some are. But Thomas Sowell asks: “Was Bill Gates a lottery winner? Or did he produce and sell a computer operating system that allows billions of people around the world to use computers, without knowing anything about the inner workings of this complex technology?”

Thomas Sowell also questions the frequent phrase: they need to pay their fair share. He points out that this fair share is never really defined. He believes that it “must remain undefined because all it really means is more.”

The rhetoric of the president and many in Congress is made to sound fair and equitable: “We should ask people who won society’s lottery to pay their fair share and make a modest investment in government programs to deal with poverty.” It may sound nice, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Viewpoints by Kerby Anderson

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