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The poverty debate: Democrats and Republicans on how to solve poverty

Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss and his wife in Savannah, Ga. in 2008.
Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss and his wife in Savannah, Ga. in 2008.
Photo by Bruce Tuten

Democrats and Republicans’ ideas about what policies they believe will be the most effective in fighting poverty are driven largely by differences in philosophical ideas and beliefs about society. This article will dissect these philosophical differences and examine the role they play in the development of policy in Atlanta and nationwide.

The philosophical differences between the ways that conservatives and liberals approach poverty can be summed up into two major areas: the source of the problem and the role of the state.

The source of poverty

Conservatives attribute most of poverty to poor decisions made by people, e.g. dropping out of high school or unplanned pregnancy. Liberals, in contrast, tend to believe that, while some poverty can be associated with poor decision-making and a culture of poverty, the bulk of poverty is due to imperfections in the market and exploitation of workers.

As such, Democrats are more open to policies that seek to correct these imperfections. Republicans, on the other hand, believe such programs hinder economic progress.

For example, the former mayor of Atlanta, Democrat Shirley Franklin, attempted to raise the minimum wage for city employees to $10.50, what she called a “living wage.” However, this action was blocked by the largely Republican General Assembly, which instituted a statewide ban on local minimum wage laws higher than the federal minimum wage.

The role of the state

Conservatives believe in minimal state involvement. They generally believe that the government’s role in society is to maintain order, enforce social contracts, and maintain national security. Liberals believe government should do all of the above as well as take a more activist interventionist role in the market because capitalism has inherent self-destructive tendencies that only government regulation can protect it from.

As such, Democrats believe that government does have the power to fight poverty because it can eliminate inequality and exploitation, and that it should seek to eliminate poverty for the betterment of society as a whole. Republicans, however, tend think the government should not try and solve poverty. They believe that it is ultimately the market that can solve poverty and government intervention only exacerbates the problem.

This attitude is demonstrated by the two Republican senators from Georgia, Sen. Johnny Isakson and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who both have voted multiple times to cut welfare benefits.

Republicans would rather see programs that address the deficiencies of people rather than deficiencies in the economic system. Sen. Isakson voted yes on a bill that seeks to promote work and marriage among welfare recipients and Sen. Chambliss voted yes on a bill that seeks to discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy.

The differences in conservative and liberal ideology about the source of poverty and what the role of the state is play a major role in the different groups’ policy decisions. For Atlanta, only time will tell the effectiveness of the latest policies enacted to fight poverty.

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  • Metrodad 4 years ago

    30 million illegals taking jobs and otherwise depressing wages equals an evaporating middle class. This accounts for the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. The Democrats want to gain some electoral advantage by championing the immigration cause as a civil rights issue, failing to see the harmthat is being done to the citizen minorities

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