Live Long and Prosper: Leveling the playing field

Mar 3 • FEATURE SIDEBAR, NEWS & VIEWS, Op-Ed, ViewsNo Comments on Live Long and Prosper: Leveling the playing field

After streaming another episode of “Star Trek” in frigid St. Louis last week, a colleague and I watched the Duke-Carolina game at the Friday’s attached to the hotel. Negative 5 degrees before the windchill isn’t sightseeing weather. I smiled, “I’ve come to expect that kind of excellence.”

Sally said, “Carolina basketball’s the best. And looks like you got that whole poverty thing figured out, too.”

I didn’t know what she was talking about until she told me that a “Working Group” of our Board of Governors recommended closing the poverty center at Chapel Hill.

Sally taunted, “Closing a poverty center? Didn’t any of those clowns even think about how partisan, mean-spirited and outright stupid that might look?”

“I should hope not,” I countered, not quite sure how exactly I planned to defend my home state. After 20 years here, I’m sure that defending the honor of my adopted state is my sacred duty. Sometimes the defense of this state requires great sacrifices, up to and including sacrificing common sense.

Sally lives in the Northeast or Midwest or California. I forget which. It doesn’t matter anyway. She clearly was not brought up right. No Southern charm. No ability to say something with a sugary smile while meaning the complete opposite. Bless her heart. Sally said gruffly with not an ounce of grace, “So, you got ‘no mo po’ in Carolina?”

That’s when I sprung to this great state’s defense. I explained that I applaud this “working group.” Six of the eight members are wealthy, white male Republicans. Their hands are filthy with the dirt of the work they do. The two remaining members are wealthy, white women Republicans. I explained that not one of these work group members gave so much as a thought to the public, streams of data or decency. And why should they? They courageously held tightly to their principles, foremost of which is prosperity—their prosperity. Because their prosperity is our prosperity.

Sally snapped, “Defending these recommendations is a lost cause.”

I continued undeterred by reality, much as many politicians often do, “Carolina is built on the blood of peculiar institutions and lost causes,” I reminded her.

We Carolinians don’t need to waste taxpayer money for a bunch of academics to tell us the main causes of poverty and develop a plan about how to deal with it. Sure, some people work very hard to get poor or stay poor. When opportunity knocks, they practically slam the door and shout, “I’d rather stay poor!”  But finding folks that work that hard to get poor is like finding diamonds in a coal-ash pond. No, the two main causes of poverty are the dumb luck of being born poor and greed that often seems to accompany being rich.

Today, as in most of history, if you’re lucky enough to be born rich, you tend to have opportunities to stay rich, and you’re not giving a penny away to some slacker. The playing field is level enough, thank you. Pull on those bootstraps and quit whining. Folks blind with greed may not even realize it.     

If you’re unlucky to be born poor, you stay pretty poor. “Upward mobility” has existed in every culture, but no culture, including ours, offers many opportunities for advancement. A dirt-poor peasant with a strong arm in Rome could join the legion, work his way up the ranks and retire to a vineyard. But most peasants, then and now, don’t retire on the vineyard; they die on the vine. Despite some increases in opportunities to move out of poverty, it’s still true that where there is a road out of poverty at all, it isn’t paved.

I told Sally there were good Christian reasons for closing a center studying poverty, and I’m sure regardless of whether their recommendations are adopted, our esteemed working group has a plan: a “Prosperity Plan.”

Remember that old greeting we learned in Sunday school, “Live long and prosper?”

“That was Mr. Spock,” Sally said.

“Stolen from the Bible, no doubt.”

Sally stopped me before I could explain ‘The Plan.’ She motioned for the waitress. “I’ll have whatever he’s having.”

“Sweet tea for two, c’min up.”

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