An Important Read about Poverty in America

This was a change for me to read The Rich And The Rest Of Us: A Poverty Manifesto by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, but with the recent talk about the divide between the rich and the poor, I wanted to see what this book had to say. Though I do not agree with everything that the authors put forth, there was a lot that challenged assumptions that I have made and views that I have held.

Poverty Tour

They share the stories they heard when their Poverty Tour went on the road and visited communities across the U.S. The stories they found were heart rendering. Many were examples of people that were what they felt was a comfortable middle class life, and then health problems, or the Great Recession caused to be dropped down into poverty.

They go over the history of the last few decades of treatment of poverty in the political arena. The poor seemed to become more and more marginalized. I was reminded that it is common now to look at the poor as being in a state of sin or maybe immorality.

This is a pretty quick read, and gives one much to think about. I was surprised that President Reagan is not held in high esteem by everyone. Likewise, the welfare to work programs instituted by President Clinton were not considered a good thing, in that the authors felt that some poor were pushed unprepared into the workforce.


There is a significant amount of reference to Greed. This sort of discussion is rare amongst  the Conservatives or Libertarians that I listen to occasionally. I guess that the Free market point of view is that the Market will properly channel Greed into growth, efficiency and innovation, which will generally improve our lives. I think that government regulation seeks to counteract rampant greed by legislating against monopolies or creating consumer protection laws.

Of the things that I do not agree with in the book, is the general theme that the widening gap between the rich and the poor is dangerous because of the possibility that there will be a class war, or at least a considerable destabilizing influence on our democracy. The authors, or at least one of them seems to be on the side of the occupy Wall Street participants, or the group that advocated the homeless squatting in houses that were vacated because of foreclosure. I suppose that it is just the concept of civil disobedience that I disagree with in these cases.

The authors state: “This manifesto is founded on the fundamental conviction that there must be a renaissance of compassion in America: There can be no genuine compassion without a resurrection of an explosively radical movement of righteous indignation directed at eradicating poverty.”

I think that some assumed that the market economy is what it is, and people should learn to thrive by their own talents and efforts. It seems important to consider that an unfettered market that can lead to extremes of wealth, it will naturally lead to extremes of poverty.

I would consider signs of unhealthy greed being the one case where Wall Street banks facilitated the creation and selling of securities that were doomed to fail, and yet sold them whole-heartedly  to unsuspected buyers.

The other area where I think that regulation has caused unforeseen effects is how it is better for banks to evict owners of foreclosed properties and leave them empty, (supposedly being better off taking the loss) rather than working to help someone stay in their home.

Common Myths about Poverty

The book shares the following 10 Myths about poverty, a few of which I probably ignorantly believed.

  1. Poverty is a character flaw.
  2. America’s manufacturing is going to bounce back.
  3. The Great Recession has ended.
  4. Minorities receive the majority of government entitlements.
  5. No one goes hungry in America.
  6. America takes care of its veterans.
  7. Government handouts created the nation’s deficit.
  8. America’s wealthiest pay more in taxes because they earn more.
  9. Medicaid takes care of our senior’s health care needs.
  10. Poverty does not exist in the suburbs.

I think that the biggest benefits of The Rich And The Rest Of Us: A Poverty Manifesto is that it reminds us that despite the political rhetoric, there are many that are below the poverty line that really want to better their lives. I believe that many were propelled into poverty by the recession caused by poor policies and corporate misdeeds.

I highly recommend this book where the authors strongly encourage us to treat the poor compassionately and to spend as much creative effort to find innovative solutions to poverty as we do to create the next gizmo or blockbuster entertainment.

Have you read this book, or listened to the radio program of the authors? Let me know! And thanks that use my links to Your purchases there help support my blog.