Kathryn, thanks for linking to Rubio’s excellent speech. I completely agree with both of the Rubio quotes you highlighted. The free-enterprise system has lifted more people out of poverty than any government program, and yes, our “social problems create our poverty.” But there’s a tension inherent in these two points. It’s not precisely true that the free-enterprise system itself has lifted people out of poverty; it’s more true that the free-enterprise system has created opportunities that allow hard-working (or even moderately hard-working) individuals to succeed. But if you destroy the people’s industry and virtue, then all the economic liberty in the world won’t save them.
Kathryn, thanks very much for your question. When I’ve written about poverty’s connection to depravity (see here and here, for example), I have not at all been arguing that depravity is a phenomenon unique to the poor. Indeed, as a Christian (of the Calvinist persuasion), I understand that no one is righteous. In fact, it’s not merely that we’re “not righteous” — it’s a fundamental tenet of orthodox Christianity that no single aspect of our lives is perfect. Put another way, “We are completely sinful. We are not as sinful as we could be, but we are completely affected by sin.”
I am arguing, however, that American poverty is quite closely linked to individual moral choices. In fact, those moral choices are far more important than any other factor in determining whether a person is — or will remain — poor. For example, we’ve long known that a vast gulf exists between single-parent poverty and marital poverty (36.5 percent of female-led single-parent families are poor compared with 6.4 percent of married two-parent families, according to this Heritage study), and we’re now learning that cohabitation is bad for kids as well. Cohabitation, divorce, and premarital sex are all choices (though I recognize it takes only one person to initiate a divorce), and when you throw in additional risk factors like addiction, criminality, or academic failure, you have a recipe for poverty.
Read both posts and contribute to the discussion in the comments. It’s far more civil than usual!