NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – An income inequality panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference agreed that the 50-year "War on Poverty" has failed to enrich the poor and that family breakdown is contributing to the problem.
"The most important cultural bulwark to getting ahead in America is marriage, which is increasingly an institution just for the well-educated," said Rich Lowry, editor of National Review. Lowry argued in a panel on Thursday that the poverty problem has less to do with income inequality than with income mobility, "the question of whether people on the bottom are getting ahead." He declared that if Mark Zuckerberg lost all his wealth tomorrow, that would help no one.
Lowry summed up the path to prosperity in two words: liberty and responsibility. If someone has the liberty to create value in the economy and the responsibility to live prudently, they will get ahead. "The research shows it's very easy" to escape being poor, he explained. "If you graduate from high school, get a full-time job, and get married before you have kids, your odds of being poor in America are extremely slim."
Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, agreed, pointing to the success of welfare reform. "15 trillion dollars have been spent on the War on Poverty – enough to fund every operation in the federal government for four years," but "10 million more people are in poverty today than before the war started," he pointed out. In 1996, however, welfare reform caused a dramatic drop in poverty within one year, he argued.
For welfare programs, Scalise suggested adding "a requirement that if you can get a job you have to." He attacked Obamacare as a fundamentally anti-jobs policy. "We have a law on the books right now with perverse incentives to reduce your workforce and the number of hours your employees work," the congressman stated. The president's healthcare law is "forcing millions of people to lose their jobs and cut their businesses."
Evan Sayet, a Jewish American stand-up comedian and conservative speaker and author of KinderGarden Of Eden: How the Modern Liberal Thinks, argued that the prosperity America has enjoyed since World War II has enabled a new liberal mindset that values freedom over work. "As far as having the right values to protect you from the bad things, everything was allowed to change after World War II," Sayet said. He explained that disease, hunger, poverty, and physical pain have each been nearly completely vanquished at that time.
With the passing of "The Greatest Generation," there is no countervailing mindset to dismantle the liberal mentality of carefree indulgence, Sayet argued. "The question on income inequality is never 'why,'" because poverty "comes from behavioral choices."
Lowry argued that out of wedlock childrearing has become a more popular choice among the middle class. Among "the middle third of America" in terms of education, those who graduate from high school but not from college, the out of wedlock childrearing rate increased from 13 percent in 1982 to 44 percent today. Among the college educated, however, it is only 6 percent.
"All that social capital is being passed along among the top but in the lower end and the middle it's not," Lowry explained. Educated families are teaching their children to have intact families, but less educated families end up failing to teach their kids how to correct their own failures.
"We as conservatives and we as Republicans have a difficult job," Sayet argued. "It is so much easier to say 'give us money and power and we'll give you healthcare.'" Nevertheless, he called on Republicans to reach out to the undecided voters who have never heard about conservatism from a true conservative.
Scalise agreed. "We've got to get back to being the party of big ideas." The congressman argued that "Republicans have always been the party of big ideas, while Democrats are the party of big government," he maintained. In order to promote new ideas, Scalise insisted that Republicans need to focus on "what we're for," rather than "what we're against."