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Equality of Economic Opportunity Through Capital Ownership

by Louis O. Kelso and Patricia Hetter
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"Men in Cadillacs meet at champagne lunches to plan our future while expecting us to stand hat in hand," an inner city minister from Chicago told a House Education and Labor subcommittee in April 1965, and in April 1966, Sargent Shriver himself was unceremoniously routed by the poor from a Washington, D.C., poverty conference where the keynote complaint was bawled into the microphones by Mrs. Johnnie Tillman of Watts. "When all this poverty money is spent," shouted Mrs. Tillman to applause, "the rich man is going to be richer and I’m still going to be receiving a welfare check."

These rumbles from America's poverty craters signify that the impoverished resent being rehabilitated by their "betters"—and even suspect that the poverty under attack in the Anti-Poverty War is mainly their betters' own.

To understand such rank ingratitude, we must remember that the economic objective of the poor in an affluent society is exactly the same as everyone else's: to be affluent. The sociological jargon of the poverty investigator obscures this fact. It also obscures the special peculiarity of the poor, that unique characteristic of their caste that fatally distinguishes it from every other caste: namely, lack of money. "There's One Thing Money Can't Buy: Poverty!" reads the legend on J. Paul Getty's paperweight. This great truth should be emblazoned on the shield of every poverty warrior. The poor lack money. They lack money because they do not know the secret of producing wealth. They know it is possible to be old, unemployed, uneducated, lazy—even disabled or bedridden—and still be excessively rich. But you have to be in on the secret, and the poor by definition are not.

What the poor man wants is an end to his poverty. Charity, handouts, even his own personal social worker, have no appeal. Even if humiliation has crushed his spirit, or he has learned that what he can produce in the economy on its terms is not worth his effort, he hates being dependent on the ephemeral good will of others. Experience has taught him that the bread of charity is not even bread, but crumbs, and that distribution when measured by need is, has been, and always will be niggardly.

In practice, charity is always niggardly because people are incapable of judging the needs of other people to be as great as their own. This is true whether the dispenser of affluence is a Soviet commissar, an American politician, or one's own rich Great-Aunt Maud.

To be sure, the compassionate man is prepared to do much for the poor. He will feed them, clothe them, teach their children, bandage their sores. He will live for them gladly and die for them with grace. He will do everything under heaven for the poor except give them what they yearn for most—the secret of his ability personally to produce the wealth that enables him to serve them. At that juncture, the compassionate man—and the compassionate society—always back off. And this the poor man knows.

The theme of the government anti-poverty program is “economic opportunity."

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-- Originally published in Trends in Management-Stockholder Relations, the Newsletter of Georgeson & Co., December, 1963.



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