OPINION — Over the past few months, I have been working with a few colleagues to develop a new “Utah Poverty Compact” modeled after the immigration compact released in 2010. The immigration compact changed public opinion nearly overnight. My hope is that a new poverty compact would have the same effect on public opinion and policymakers.
Among my several justifications for creating a new poverty compact, two societal aspects are often overlooked.
First, a poverty compact has the ability to decrease class differences in Utah and set an example for the nation. The nation is torn apart by class warfare. One article has received a lot of attention recently for its call to violence against the rich. The author writes:
If the government won’t help (to create more income equality), we have to help ourselves. Sticking up a billionaire on the street for $100 is not going to do it. But one can imagine other ways that angry Americans might express their dissatisfaction with our current division of wealth: A large-scale online attack against the holdings of the very rich; yachts sunk in harbors; unoccupied vacation homes in the Hamptons mysteriously burned to the ground. … People have a right to life and safety, but property does not. A life spent screwing the little people so that you can acquire lots of stuff loses its allure when you know that all that stuff will be smashed to pieces by angry little people.
Extreme? Of course. Unintelligent? Certainly. (People actually do have natural and legal rights to their property.) But these radical sentiments are not far removed from many community protests today. As improbable as it may sound in response to such extremes, a poverty compact could calm these violent and vengeful sensibilities. A poverty compact could relieve discontent among the have-nots.
The upper class always seems to have its own privileged safety net. Who were the first people to get help when the 2008 recession hit? Wall Street, not Main Street. Accusations of greed really stem from these policy-driven inequities. We don’t care that people are successful. We want success too. What the rest of us don’t like is when the rich get richer during economic downturns instead of poorer like everyone else. A new poverty compact can help level this playing field without fueling universal greed.
Another justification for creating a new poverty compact is what it would do for uniting the haves and have-nots into a community of one. Embracing the dignity of struggling neighbors not only elevates their need to be needed and valued by society but society benefits through its newfound humility and compassion. Everyone wins when we see each other as ourselves. Every failed society has turned its back on the poor. We must find natural and sound ways to connect wealth and poverty. We must embrace the complementarity, interconnectedness and interdependence of wealth and poverty.
My goal with a new poverty compact is to create a reliable safety net. If a safety net does not meet the essential needs of people, it is not a safety net. And, like all safety nets, it needs to cover the area of impact. A safety net with a hole in it is hardly beneficial. A new poverty compact can help define what an effective safety net looks like.
Getting to that point in public policy is not easy but reaching that point would be made much easier with a new poverty compact expressing the commensurate values of Utahns. If we get our values right, we’ll get the safety net right. Utah can do this. We have successfully met similar challenges before. It is now time to turn our attention to the heart and soul of society – the happiness, health and welfare of every Utahn. If we do, Utah will once again be a shining example for the nation.
I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.
Paul Mero is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.