The Especially Deserving Poor

Mike Petrilli, Oct 11, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Mike Petrilli continues his ridiculous campaign to normalize poverty. Today he focuses on helping the poor - but only those who deserve it. "A good many of our policies and programs, then, should be designed to help people with the drive, work ethic, tenacity, and motivation to rise.... In short, we should bring an ethos of meritocracy back to our anti-poverty efforts--the same ethos that still works relatively well at the top of our social structures and could work equally well at the bottom." I might have some sympathy with this perspective were I to observe the ethos successfully at work at the top. But too frequently, the rich have become so not due to work ethic, tenacity and motivation, but rather through good fortune, illegal behaviour or connections. If Petrilli really wants a merit-based society, then he should apply it to everyone: give each person an equal start in life, with equal resources. For example, a 95 percent or greater inheritance tax, for starters. Elimination of offshore accounts and similar privileges for the rich. That sort of thing. Ah - but we know that will never happen. And thus the whole idea of aid for the poor based on merit is a shallow hypocrisy, a ruse designed to do what the economy does best: to keep the majority of poor people poor.

Why can't these debates feature real opponents to the advocates of wealth and power, and not just the straw men propped up as media spokespeople? Can you imagine, say, a true socialist on CNN? An actual environmentalist, as opposed to a 'sustainability' advocate? An educator steeped in Friere and Illich, rather than policy reform wonks?  No, neither can I. People like Petrilli are shills, and they should be refuted with conviction and force, not treated as authorities of any sort.

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