Grand Prize

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Grand prize for the most absurd statements about the hurricane goes to those liberal columnists who have self-righteously proclaimed that the New Orleans disaster has "forced" the American people to confront poverty.

This is an example of projection. It’s the media that ignore poverty. The American people, except for that 1 percent who own practically everything, confront poverty every day. You can’t drive around any American city or rural area and not see it.

To the members of the lower middle class, poverty is a pack of wolves loping behind them. One accident, one bout of sickness, one layoff, and the wolves of poverty will devour them. Ignore poverty? How ridiculous. These people know it because they lived it and worked hard to escape it and are afraid every day of their lives they will slip back into it.

No, the media are out of touch, not only with poor people but with middle-class people. Look at the entertainment on television. Practically all of the characters in the shows are portrayed as being more affluent than the people who watch the shows. It doesn’t take long for six-figure commentators to start associating exclusively with people in their income bracket or higher. Pretty soon they think everybody is worried about his or her 401(k) and investment strategy.

Not so. The majority of Americans are worried about keeping their jobs and paying their bills. They are worried about health care. They are worried about their children’s future. This isn’t liberal dogma. It’s fact. We have allowed a system to develop that makes it easier for the rich to get richer and harder for the poor to escape to the middle class.

The underlying cause — and the most difficult to address — is a policy of gradual depreciation of the currency. It’s usually referred to as inflation, but whatever jargon you wish to apply, the end result is that year after year, the dollar a man or woman earns buys less. To hide this from the public, the government periodically changes the base year by which it computes inflation. To further confuse the public, the government harps on the monthly rate of inflation.

Measured in purchasing power, it takes $4 today to buy what $1 would buy in 1967. Now, if wages and prices rose in a uniform rate, as some imagine, everything would be equal. Trouble is, they don’t. Prices, for both goods and services, far outstrip wage increases. Ever-increasing taxes chip away at living standards. Look at your telephone bill, your utility bill and your cable-TV bill. Every conceivable thing that can be taxed is taxed.

The basic unfairness of our system lies in a difference in power. The business owner, the manufacturer, the professional can raises prices and fees restrained only by the competitive factor. This problem is often solved with some unofficial price fixing. Look at the near uniformity of prices among competing brands. Call five orthodontists and get a price for braces on your child’s teeth. Competition, which is supposed to keep prices down, is often nothing more than a cover to keep prices high and uniform. For all the lip service paid to free enterprise, most American businesses and professionals hate price competition with a passion.

So while the businesses and professionals are free to increase their income as the market or their agreements allow, the working man and woman cannot. They are totally dependent on their employer. If the employer gives them a cost-of-living raise once a year, he is, in effect, not giving them a raise at all. If they try to save money, they will lose money, as the gradual inflation will eat away their capital. If you had put $10,000 in the mattress in 1967, it would be worth $2,500 today. The $7,500 was stolen by a combination of Congress and the central bank, for they are monetizing the deficits that have depreciated the currency.

America is being converted into a Third World country before our very eyes. Don’t give me that malarkey about being blind to poverty. We’ll all see more of poverty than we want to if we don’t change the system.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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