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