Conservative pundit Ben Stein suggested that only government-sanctioned religion could save poor Americans from their own “self-sabotage,” reported Right Wing Watch.
“What will make the genuinely poor stop sabotaging themselves?” the actor and TV host asked Friday in The American Spectator. “Maybe, just maybe, if we let God back into the public forum it would help. I have seen spiritual solutions work miracles.”
Stein argued that anyone concerned about wealth inequality was just jealous of billionaires, whom he described as necessary and beneficial to American society.
“They fund symphonies and ballets and schools for inner city kids,” he argued, while recovering from an illness and listening to Big Band music. “They are a bulwark against tyranny because they can afford lawyers to fight overweening government.”
The wealthy are actually good for democracy, Stein argued.
“We want for there to be a high number of rich people who function as a brake on government just as the nobles did on the crown in long ago England,” he said.
On the other hand, Stein argued, poor people dragged down society with their slovenly habits and appearance.
“My humble observation is that most long-term poverty is caused by self-sabotage by individuals,” he argued. “Drug use. Drunkenness. Having children without a family structure. Gambling. Poor work habits. Disastrously unfortunate appearance. Above all, and counted in the preceding list, psychological problems (very much including basic laziness) cause people to be unemployed, have poor or no work habits, and enter and stay in poverty.”
Stein argued that the definition of “real poverty” had been diluted since his childhood in the early 1950s, when cars and air conditioning were considered luxuries.
“Yes, the government designates many tens of millions as poor, but they almost always have indoor plumbing (which my mother did not have in her small town in the Catskills) and they are super nourished as opposed to mal-nourished,” he said. “They get food stamps. They get free medical care. They get vouchers for many of the needs of life.”
While he pities their plight, Stein pointed out that poverty was greatly reduced in scope and severity in the past century.
“In olden times, poverty was the common human condition,” Stein said. “In the USA, as recently as the Great Depression, poverty was commonplace. FDR might have exaggerated when he described one-third of the nation as ‘ill housed, ill fed and ill clad...’ But surely he was not far off.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, of course, enacted New Deal domestic policies that imposed stricter industry regulations and enacted programs, such as Social Security, to fight poverty – although Stein curiously overlooks these.
“Is there any public policy that can help them? We just don’t know so far,” he laments.