The Corner

The new poor

Over the weekend, I posted a couple of things re Graeme Frost, the Democratic Party’s 12-year old healthcare spokesman. Michelle Malkin reports that the blogospheric lefties are all steamed about the wingnuts’ Swiftboating of sick kids, etc.

Sorry, no sale. The Democrats chose to outsource their airtime to a Seventh Grader. If a political party is desperate enough to send a boy to do a man’s job, then the boy is fair game. As it is, the Dems do enough cynical and opportunist hiding behind biography and identity, and it’s incredibly tedious. And anytime I send my seven-year-old out to argue policy you’re welcome to clobber him, too. The alternative is a world in which genuine debate is ended and, as happened with Master Frost, politics dwindles down to professional staffers writing scripts to be mouthed by Equity moppets.

But one thing is clear by now: Whatever the truth about this boy’s private school, his family home, his father’s commercial property, etc, the Frosts are a very particular situation and do not illustrate any social generality – and certainly not one that makes the case for an expensive expansive all-but universal entitlement.

A more basic point is made very robustly by Kathy Shaidle: Advanced western democracies have delivered the most prosperous societies in human history. There simply are no longer genuinely “poor” people in sufficient numbers. As Miss Shaidle points out, if you’re poor today, it’s almost always for behavioral reasons – behavior which the state chooses not to discourage but to reward. Nonetheless, progressive types persist in deluding themselves that there are vast masses of the “needy” out there that only the government can rescue. An editorial in Canada’s biggest-selling newspaper today states:

A total of 905,000 people visited food banks across the Greater Toronto Area in the past year. 

The population of Toronto is about two-and-a-half million. Is the Star suggesting one in three citizens of one of the wealthiest municipalities on earth depends on “food banks”? Or is it the same one thousand people getting three square meals a day there? Or ten thousand people swinging by a couple of times a week? And, in that case, how many of them actually “depend” on food banks? Only the Star knows. But the idea that 905,000 Torontonians need food aid is innumerate bunk.

So, in the absence of real need, we’ve persuaded ourselves that we need to create more and more programs for the middle-class and wealthy. Several correspondents have written to scoff at the idea that the Frosts are wealthy, citing family friends who suggest the grandparents chip in for the private-school fees.

But hang on. That’s as it should be. That’s the kind of healthy transgenerational solidarity without which no society can survive (see Europe). Graeme Frost’s maternal grandfather died last December, and The Baltimore Sun reported:

At Bendix, he helped develop the first microwave landing systems for commercial aircraft and worked on NASA’s manned space program from 1960 to 1977. For the next decade, he worked in management at Bendix facilities in Iowa, Florida, New Jersey and Baltimore. From 1989 to 1991, he was vice president of engineering at Nurad Technologies, which manufactures antennas.

Mr. Sebring never officially retired, serving as an engineering consultant for the Navy for 15 years, assisting with communication systems between helicopters and surface ships.

So executive vice-presidents’ families are now the new new poor? I support lower taxes for the Frosts, increased child credits for the Frosts, an end to the “death tax” and other encroachments on transgenerational wealth transfer, and even severe catastrophic medical-emergency aid of one form or other. But there is no reason to put more and more middle-class families on the government teat, and doing so is deeply corrosive of liberty.

And, if the Democrats don’t like me saying that, next time put up someone in long pants to make your case.

[UPDATE: Mister Innumerate, heal thyself. The population of the “Greater Toronto Area” – rather than the city itself – is, in fact, about five million. A reader writes:

So that would imply that about 1 in 6 people in the Greater Toronto Area visited a food bank in the past year. Is that so hard to imagine?

Er, yes, it is. One in six people in the Greater Toronto Area visited a food bank? At the very trough of the Depression, one in four American workers was unemployed and the lines at the soup kitchens snaked down the streets. If one in six Torontonians needed food from food banks, you’d notice it.]

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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