From Larry James Blog

by

Larry James is President and CEO for Central Dallas Ministries, a human and community development corporation with a focus on economic and social justice at work in inner city Dallas, Texas.

This is from his blog two days ago titled, “Creating Poverty.” I thought it might provoke an interesting discussion. (Thanks to either DeJon or Terry – or maybe both – for leading me toward Larry’s blog.)

What we have at work in America today amounts to a production model for manufacturing poverty.

Think about it.

Wages today, calculated in real dollar terms, have slid lower than five years ago.

Good paying jobs are outsourced overseas. The new jobs being created by our economy do not pay anywhere near wages of the jobs they replace.

Gasoline prices don’t need to be described!

Utilities cost more, much more in some sections of the country.

Auto liability insurance, required by law, grows more expensive each year, but provides less and less benefit.

Housing costs, calculated in real terms and as a percentage of income, continue to soar.

Consumer prices also inch up so that food, clothing, medications, transportation, child care, all cost more every year.

Government at every level slashes public programs benefiting the poor, even those with a work requirement, even those tied to food security.

The number of uninsured Americans increases by the day, as health costs soar.

No surprise then, is it that over 1 million Americans fell below the poverty line last year?

In inner city communities the impact is often disastrous.

Simply put, these are the facts of life in my part of Dallas.

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24 Responses to “From Larry James Blog”

  1. DeJon Redd Says:

    I blow off a little more steam at the religious institution.

    Here’s a fun game. Go to your local Christian book store and ask to see their section related to combating poverty in America or AIDS in Africa.

    Good luck.

    The funniest T-shirt I ever saw said this: “I said the Prayer of Jabez and all I got was this stupid shirt.”

    Larry James is the kind of speaker I need to hear. He challenges, provokes, and demonstrates the uncomfortable example of sacrificial love.

    Al Sturgeon is not so different, just nicer.

  2. Michael Lasley Says:

    Dejon — a good friend of mine told me the next time he was asked to speak at his church, he was going to start his lesson with: “6500 people died from AIDS in Africa yesterday (or maybe it was the number of children who died of starvation, but you get the point), and no one here gives a damn.” I’m not sure his church ever asked him to speak again. But you bring up a good point about Christian bookstores and the focus of a lot of christian writings. Ick.

  3. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Mikey, your friend reads Tony Campolo. 🙂

    And DeJon, I’d self-grade myself as very different from Larry James in the not-so-good way, but thanks for the compliment anyway.

    I don’t have the Jim Wallis book in front of me, but he actually cited the quote I’ve often heard that, “No one gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.” I really like that statement, especially while meditating on its relation to Jesus’ story of the “nameless” rich man and Lazarus.

    And on that note, my word verification looks very naughty: xzdtcxy

  4. juvenal_urbino Says:

    …and no one here gives a damn.”

    Don’t forget the kicker. “And most of you are more upset by the fact that I said ‘damn’ than by the fact that all those people are dying.”

  5. Larry James Says:

    Thank, Al and all. . .it is a real lift to know of all of you!

    I talked to a person once who was in a youth ministry conference where Campolo started sort of like you suggest. Except in the version I heard, he stepped to the mic and shouted “Sh…!” Paused for dramatic effect and then said, “32,000 people died last night because of hunger and poverty and you are more upset that I said the word ‘sh–‘ than you are about that fact.”

    Tony is a wild man, but you gotta love him!

    Let’s stay in the game. . .all the best.

  6. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Wow, I feel like we have our 1st celebrity comment! Thanks for stopping by, Larry, and for not getting mad at me for spreading your thoughts around. 🙂

    I especially enjoyed your comments in regard to “personal responsibility” on the comment board. I was wondering if that discussion would break out here…

    And DeJon, I’m afraid I’d break down and buy that Jabez shirt if I saw it. Jody almost bought a “Willy Nagin & the Chocolate Factory” t-shirt in the French Quarter a couple of weeks ago!

  7. Michael Lasley Says:

    Your right, JU. I forgot that. Probably because Damn doesn’t bother me.

    I missed a chance to hear Campolo talk a few weeks ago when he was at the local Pres. church, and I wish I had gone to see him. I’ve only read one of his books, and it was a long time ago (Following Jesus Without….). I like it when speakers upset people for the right reasons (I don’t really like it when they try upset people just for the sake of causing a stir).

  8. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Probably because Damn doesn’t bother me.

    That’s because you’re the damn pater familias.

  9. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Hello, Larry James.

  10. Joe Longhorn Says:

    This is the second pater familias reference I’ve seen in the last two days! I love that movie!

    Now to the topic of the post…

    I appreciate everything that Larry and his organization are trying to do. I agree with Dejon that most of the steam needs to be blown in the direction of our religious institutions.

    Larry’s points on his blog are meant to tug at the heart strings and generate disgust and anger. Good on him. That’s what his organization is trying to do. Motivate people to take action.

    But, Larry, your list doesn’t offer any solutions other than the simplistic conclusions the average person derives from your statements.

    – We’ve got to raise wages.

    – We’ve got to stop sending the good jobs overseas.

    – We’ve got to lower the price of gas.

    – We’ve got to lower the cost of utilities.

    – We’ve got to either eliminate the requirement for auto insurance or lower its cost.

    – We’ve got to lower housing costs.

    – We’ve got to stop the rise in consumer prices.

    – We’ve got to stop slashing government programs that help the poor.

    – We’ve got to get everyone health insurance.

    At face value, we can all nod along with these statements. But this shallow agreement doesn’t have any comprehension of what it would take to accomplish these goals.

    It would take a level of government control that none of us here would or should be comfortable with. Folks that hang around this blog are upset that the government may have information about what phone numbers dialed other phone numbers. Now we want a government system that knows exactly how much cheese a particular family consumes and how many times they go to the doctor, and what they go to the doctor for?

    Governments and bureaucracies are not good at solving this problem. We’ve been in a “war on poverty” for 40 years now with no real progress. And if you think our government is bad at this, go check out some of the shining examples of social experimentation in Europe or even Canada. Remember, capitalism is the worst system in the world, except for everything else.

    I have two more quick points about cogs in Larry’s “poverty machine”. First off… real wages are lower than 5 years ago, but are currently on the rise and have been for the last two years. Second, Larry’s point that “good-paying” jobs are outsourced overseas is a very U.S.-centric view of the issue. Aren’t these jobs that leave the U.S. good for the poor in other countries?

    I’m sure that Larry knows what I’m about to say as I’m sure he deals with it all the time. I could go on a while about the economics of the points that Larry raises, but let me sum up with this one statement: If you artificially raise wages (i.e. raise the minimum wage) you will cause a real rise in consumer prices as manufacturers (wage-payers!) compensate for the increased labor costs.

    It’s another one of those complex systems. Thinking that we can just tinker with a couple of the knobs on this machine and control the output is overly simplistic. I think Larry knows that we are in for the “long war” on poverty. And we all need to support the fight in the best way we see fit.

  11. juvenal_urbino Says:

    It would take a level of government control that none of us here would or should be comfortable with.

    Joe, I honestly don’t know how anyone can continue to hold up the boogey man of government power over our lives as an argument against combating poverty, while still supporting the current administration. It just isn’t credible.

    Under their extraordinary claims for presidential power, the executive branch can not only secretly monitor how much cheese a citizen eats or our healthcare habits, it can declare us to be enemies, arrest us, lock us up, not tell anyone about it, prevent us from having access to a lawyer, and hold us indefinitely, all on nothing more than presidential fiat. And as if that isn’t enough, they go on to claim that none of those actions are reviewable by anybody in any other branch of government.

    I realize that your experiences at Guantanamo indicate they aren’t using all that power there right now. But that doesn’t change the fact that they insist they have it, and could use it at any moment if they wanted to.

    You just can’t support an administration like that and then turn around and imply anti-poverty programs or national health insurance would give the government too much control over our lives. It’s not a serious argument.

  12. Joe Longhorn Says:

    I really don’t want to turn this into another political thread, JU. I am talking in practicalities.

    The only historical examples we have of the level of government control you seem to advocate are utter failures. Marxism has failed. Multiple times.

    (As an aside… You seem to base your entire political arugment on the case of Jose Padilla. Most “serious arguments” don’t rely on a single data point.)

  13. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I think Juvenal brings up a worthwhile point to consider (combining this thread with GTMO). When we fear “big” government, do we mean in size, or scope, or both?

    President Bush seems to me to have ushered in the biggest government in U.S. history when it comes to scope, and that should scare people who fear that sort of thing.

    Joe seems to be talking more of the “size” of government in terms of numbers, which leads to fear of national health insurance, etc.

    Are both “bigs” bad? Is one more to be feared than the other?

  14. Michael Lasley Says:

    Joe — you bring up a good point about us just shallowly agreeing with the points on Larry James’ blog. Most of us were probably upset when we read it, but it probably didn’t change anything we did yesterday. Which is a shame. I’d like to think his post would help churches to act like Al’s has in the wake of Katrina. To put aside arguments over issues about worship and who is doing what in a church and start doing something — helping build homes for those who don’t have homes or feeding those who don’t have food. Churches, or individual Christians, need to have a plan for this regardless of who the President is. I’m not familiar enough with James’ organization to know what they are doing. I have the same sort of questions as you about what to do. I’d like to hear ideas. What can we do today to help change these problems? If Larry James is still reading this post, I’d like to hear what he would suggest. And since Al’s church has been breaking with conventions on this, what would do you have for us, Al?

  15. Terry Austin Says:

    This is from his blog two days ago titled, “Creating Poverty.” I thought it might provoke an interesting discussion. (Thanks to either DeJon or Terry – or maybe both – for leading me toward Larry’s blog.)

    That credit probably belongs to DeJon. I read Larry’s blog but don’t know if I’ve recommended it to others. (No offense, Larry. Most of the people to whom I would recommend it are already reading it!)

  16. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I’ve got crap for you Mikey (the gift that keeps on giving). We’re not doing anything tangible anymore. We’re getting “back to normal,” which is not good. I’m asking the same questions you ask.

    I’m a Habitat for Humanity freak, so I urge people to dive into that head first. It isn’t like this very often, but at its philosophical base, it is more “Church-like” than most all the churches I’ve seen.

    I read your question (correct me if I’m wrong) more as how can an individual go about helping the poor more than how can a church. I’m learning to see those as two very different questions.

    To be overly simplistic, an individual can ask a simple question, “Do I know any poor people?” If not, there are many organizations that can introduce you (the state foster care system, big brothers/big sisters, habitat for humanity, boys club/girls club, local soup kitchens, residential child care facilities). It really isn’t so difficult to do from an individual standpoint.

    Now from a communal standpoint, I’m at a constant loss. At this point I propose to keep asking the uncomfortable questions of my group (comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable). I don’t think it is THAT difficult to move forward (ideas are plentiful) – what is needed is a small group of folks dedicated to the proposition. I think it flows from there.

  17. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I really don’t want to turn this into another political thread, JU. I am talking in practicalities.

    Fair enough. But I’m talking in practicalities, too, albeit a bit indirectly. If conservatives continue to politically oppose government programs aimed at alleviating poverty (or at least its more dire effects) because the programs are too “Big Brother,” that creates a practical [political] barrier to the creation of practical programs aimed at alleviating those problems.

    The only historical examples we have of the level of government control you seem to advocate are utter failures. Marxism has failed. Multiple times.

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to. What level of gov’t control have I seemed to advocate?

    (As an aside… You seem to base your entire political arugment on the case of Jose Padilla. Most “serious arguments” don’t rely on a single data point.)

    My argument is based on the Padilla and Hamdi cases, as well as statements made to Congress by AG Gonzales, claims made in presidential signing statements, internal administration memos that have become public, public statements by various members of the administration, including the president, and the theory of the “unitary executive” underlying much of that stuff.

    Do you think I’m misreading things and this administration hasn’t claimed the executive branch has the powers I listed? If you think I’m hearing them correctly, does a presidency with those powers not alarm you as a conservative? Do they not seem to dwarf the power to know how much cheese I’m eating?

    (Again, all these questions are genuine.)

  18. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Okay, I feel the need to clarify my comment. I had received a phone call and then had to leave to pick my daughter up at school, so I rushed and posted the comment without fully explaining.

    When I offer the question, “Do you know a poor person?” – that isn’t a yes or no question; instead, I mean “Do you know a poor person in the sense of helping he or she transform his or her life?” Therefore, getting involved in a soup kitchen, etc. is not an event to check off the list once a week like many view “church,” but instead a path to relationship with an individual with whom you can begin to change the world. I think all of us trying to follow Jesus ought to be able to name names (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).

    This appears to be what Larry James and his folks do. Get to know real people with real names and real problems and help them battle a society unfriendly to their problems in many ways and be unsatisfied with anything less than success.

    But the communal battle is mystifying. I suspect Larry James wrote what he wrote because of how frustrating it is to continually encounter systemic problems that impedes the potential successes of the people he works with every day.

    I, for one, agree with Joe/Mikey that we shouldn’t wait for the government to fix the problem. We should get busy and work at it ourselves either way.

    But on the other hand, I believe the government has a responsibility to be about solutions, too: first, by the very nature of the beast (a collective that makes you follow its rules has a basic responsibility to those over whom it holds power), and second, because our government in particular has as in its very mission statement a pledge to promote the general welfare of its people.

    This is why I have a very hard time voting for a member of the Republican Party, who best I can gather, has as its ultimate solution giving more money to the wealthy to eventually create jobs that eventually help the poor, which reminds me of the quote that called it “that less-than-elegant metaphor that if you feed the horses enough straw the birds will get something to eat.”

    I became poor in a single day this past year, and in my newfound plight (which for many poverty comes this quickly), I would not have seen the wisdom in FEMA giving wealthy people money so that it would eventually help me.

    I don’t love voting for Democrats. They don’t seem to have provided many effective solutions to poverty in America either. I appreciate that they have tried to get what was needed (the things outlined in Larry’s article) directly into the hands of the people that need them, but their system has been problematic.

    So I don’t have any great ideas about how to cure the systemic problems, but I believe those in government should be about the business of offering solutions. I believe churches (as collective groups) should be about this business, too, to the extent that they can cure societal problems. And I believe individuals shouldn’t merely point fingers in the meanwhile, but get about the business of enacting justice one person at a time.

    So that explains me right now: (a) voting for people who care about this problem and offer solutions, (b) trying to figure out how my church can be about this collectively, and (c) involving myself in the lives of people in need no matter how it turns out with either (a) or (b).

  19. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Terrific post, Al. Terrific.

    I guess my score is: A) yes, B) I’ve pretty much given up, C) yes, but not since I relocated. And, D) I try to convince others of the importance of these issues.

    Backing up one:

    President Bush seems to me to have ushered in the biggest government in U.S. history when it comes to scope . . . Joe seems to be talking more of the “size” of government in terms of numbers

    Fair enough, but has the president not also ushered in the biggest government in U.S. history in terms of numbers?

  20. Larry James Says:

    Al, no celebrity here! Glad to be reading your most stimulating blog!

    Joe, you are correct, my posts offer simple conclusions. Problem is, no one wants to follow through with action. Everything on your list from my list could be acted upon and the result would reduce poverty.

    Take the wage issue. Minimum wage in this country is criminal. If nothing else, the government could provide employers who raise the wage to $8 per hour a tax credit for a period of time to offset corporate expenses and allow prices to adjust. There are ways.

    You are simply wrong about your history when it comes to the “war on poverty.” Lyndon Johnson was able to drive poverty down as a % of the population by 19%. Vietnam–another war!–interrupted him. The outcome? Continued expansion of black middle class. Had the funding continued, who knows where we would be.

    Ronald Reagan did more to set the poor back than any President in modern history. Much of his rhetoric was thoroughly racist.

    The fear of “big government” keeps poor people poor and it is simply a myth and a shield for the rich to continue to reap most of the benefits of the labor of our people. Nothing new here. But don’t be fooled, it could be much better.

  21. Larry James Says:

    One more thing. The church in America–every expression of it, every denomination–cannot adequately address the scale of the problem of poverty. First, there is no will in our churches to do much beyond episodic charity work. Second, we don’t give or recieve enough money to even touch the major issues–housing, education, health care. We are fooling ourselves about the power of the church to act against these major problems.

    We could affect change by our political influence, but then we are currently spending that capital on issues like abortion, gay marriage and anti-taxation.

  22. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Wow. Good stuff, Larry. I hope you will keep dropping by – I think we have some really great discussions from time to time, and I would love for there to be more voices added to the mix.

    I must unfortunately agree with your assessment of “church” in America in regard to will, power, and choice of political concerns. The second (lack of power) highlights that large-scale solutions must involve government.

    Yet I think addressing the first – the “will” of churches – can have somewhat of a domino effect on the rest. Anyone agree or disagree?

  23. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Sure.

  24. Jeremy Gregg Says:

    Fully agree. The question is… how?

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