Have you ever wondered why poor people are poor? It’s not as though there aren’t plenty of role models around. Millions of people live highly successful, productive lives in this country. So why don’t people at the bottom of the income ladder copy the behavior of those several rungs above them and better their lot in life?
If this question doesn’t really interest you, that’s understandable. What’s not understandable is why it is not an interesting question for those who regard inequality of income the burning issue of the day.
For example, when is the last time you saw a Paul Krugman column on why poor people are poor? When Krugman writes about poverty, he can’t get more than a few sentences into the piece without launching into an attack on Republicans for being racists and indifferent to the plight of the poor. And that’s on a good day. When he’s in a bad mood, he depicts Republicans as actually delighting in the suffering of the poor. What motivates Krugman more: Concern for the poor? Or hatred of Republicans? You decide.
Okay. What about the rest of the paper? When is the last time you saw a New York Times unsigned editorial on why the poor are poor? How about any editorial in The New York Times?
Actually, there was one — just a few days ago. Under the heading “Where The GOP Gets It Right,” Nicholas Kristof writes that Republicans have been right all along — especially in stressing the role of strong families, job creation and education reform. (You wonder if Paul Krugman and Nicholas Kristof ever talk to each other.)
Yet good as it is, the Kristof column has one gaping hole: it totally neglects the role of incentives.