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Volume 2, Issue 3 - Institute for Policy and Governance - Virginia Tech

Volume 2, Issue 3 - Institute for Policy and Governance - Virginia Tech

Volume 2, Issue 3 - Institute for Policy and Governance - Virginia

College of Architecture andUrban StudiesSchool of Public andInternational AffairsVirginia Tech Institute forPolicy and GovernanceQuarterly NewsletterJuly 2013 Volume II, Issue IIIFrom the Director : Social Research in Difficult TimesThere is no gainsayingthe fact that we live in a difficulttime in American politicsand governance. OurPartners for Self Sufficiencyand Kellogg Compete programstaff here at the Institutedaily witness the ravagesthe recent long-livedrecession has visited uponfamilies and individuals inour region. Large numbers of those with whom we workhave lost their jobs, while many more face penury asthey wrestle with addictions and trauma of various sorts.In short, our staff members see the complexities and vagariesof poverty and all it brings in train each day. Andmany of us not working directly with the poor to helpthem find employment and support services are, in avariety of ways, researching and addressing the effects ofpoverty and inequality for democratic governance hereand abroad.As we here at the Institute go about our work,the nation’s recent economic troubles have also broughtout many voices wishing to find scapegoats to blamefor the challenges America now confronts. Indeed, oneof our major political parties has adopted an ideologythat argues that the poor and marginalized should beassigned a significant share of the blame for our collectivetrials. In this view, this population’s alleged “dependence”on government has sapped them of all energyand self-motivation while straining the nation’s coffers,whereas all others in the polity, especially the rich, aremodels of self-made individuals, who make no suchdemands. There is so much factually wrong with thisview that it is not necessary to unpack it here. Sufficeit to say that all empirical evidence points to the factthat the best off individuals in our society were routinelyprovided advantages as they grew up that were just asroutinely not offered to the nation’s poor. Some wealthyand upper middle-class citizens doubtless lacked strongsupport growing up, and some poor individuals havedone well despite not receiving familial and other aid asthey matured. But these are exceptions to a well-wornrule. So, the ideology does not fit the facts, but it isnonetheless potentially powerful because it appeals to araw emotion: no one wants to be used, least of all by an“other,” who seems different than oneself.Nor is the propensity of some Republicans tovilify the poor and vulnerable new. This attitude in ourpolity dates to the Elizabethan Poor Laws, but our societyhad long ago declared this perspective not onlywrong headed, but also reprehensible. Today, however,many of our nation’s conservative leaders are again makingthis claim and also alleging that those who receivepublic support are being robbed of their liberty thereby.To put this statement into practical perspective let meoffer specific examples: to receive clothing when youhave none, a warm meal when you would not eat otherwise,lodging when your recourse would be to sleep onthe street or health care when you might require it andare neither insured nor sufficiently wealthy to purchaseit yourself—all of these, in this view, deprive those individualsreceiving them of their liberty. In this understanding,people so assisted are thereby denied the presumablyennobling suffering of going hungry and livingwithout shelter or access to health care.Poverty is not nearly so simple, nor so readilyaddressed as this argument asserts, nor are the poor responsiblefor the nation’s economic and political woes.Instead, we have collectively created these problems withour decisions to engage in two self-launched wars thathave consumed nearly $4 trillion of our national treasureand lasted for more than a decade. The poor andvulnerable did not make those choices, nor were theyresponsible for the recession or the nation’s accountsVirginia Tech Institute For Policy and Governance || 205 W. Roanoke St. Blacksburg VA 24061 || 540.231.6775

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