"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Freaks, Dwarfs, And Boors - Hilarity In The More Honest Days Of The Enlightenment

Thomas Dickie has written a book entitled Cruelty and Laughter: Forgotten Comic Literature and the Unsentimental 18th Century reviewed in the London Review of Books by Thomas Keymer.

The 18th Century is most often thought of as the Age of Enlightenment which provided our own Founding Fathers with the philosophical foundation for the new republic but it was also an era in which laughing at deformity, misery, rape, and all manners of shortness, fatness, and ugliness was commonplace.  Two questions are posed by the book, but neither are sufficiently answered.

Image result for goya images dwarves

Was the 18th Century, despite its historic intellectual contributions, the emergence of revolutionary democracy, and its remarkable rejection of medieval superstition and cant, stupid, unevolved, and still culturally backward? Second, if the century was none of these things, then why did it unabashedly revel in what we would consider today as unacceptable, unenlightened behavior?  Is there something about such jokes and hilarity that serves a purpose which has disappeared today? Or do we all laugh inwardly at ‘freaks, dwarfs, and boors’?
Compassion was invented in the 18th century, or so the story goes. Sensibility and sympathy were the wellspring of benevolent action and the glue of society (Adam Smith). There were no qualities more admirable ‘than beneficence and humanity … or whatever proceeds from a tender sympathy with others’ (David Hume). Fashionable poems deplored slavery and child labour, and wrung tears from the public on behalf of the distressed. Sterne assured his readers that his purpose in A Sentimental Journey (1768) ‘was to teach us to love the world and our fellow creatures better than we do – so it runs most upon those gentler passions and affections, which aid so much to it.’
Not everyone was sympathetic to forms of woe – especially to deformities. In Cruelty and Laughter, Simon Dickie mounts a compelling case against what he calls ‘the politeness-sensibility paradigm’, by resurrecting a jeering counter-discourse that revelled in human suffering and physical affliction.
With their unrepentant nastiness and gloating delight in other people’s pain, the ubiquitous jestbooks gleefully up-end the official values of the age. The humanitarian sensibilities we associate with the Enlightenment are nowhere to be seen. In compilations with titles like England’s Witty and Ingenious Jester, The Buck’s Pocket Companion and Fun for the Parlour, blind women are walked into walls, crutches are stolen from one-legged beggars, dwarfs are picked up and tossed from windows and starving paupers are fed shit pies.
Image result for 18th century jest books images

This phenomenon was not, Dickie argues, simply a persistent holdover from the traditions of a more crude, rural, unsophisticated medieval age.  Not only was ‘jesting’ alive and well in the Tudor period, but it was vibrant, popular, and flaunted in the 18th Century.
Dickie also insists that 18th-century jestbooks weren’t just blasts from a barbarous past. They were produced in greater numbers than ever, replenished by new material that statistically outweighed the old. With their pointedly contemporary settings and reference points, their topical jokes about London theatre, parliamentary business and the latest fashions, many went out of their way to flaunt their modernity.
Nor were these jestbooks popular only with the lower classes – to Falstaff and his cronies at the Boar’s Head Tavern – but to the aristocracy as well, the very class that produced out of its ranks the achievements of the Enlightenment:
The content [for upper class readers] were conspicuously upmarket productions, well printed on good paper, decorated with engraved frontispieces and rococo ornaments, and priced so as to exclude all but genteel readers with disposable income. The content matched the price point: uppity tailors bilked by fashionable clients, dim footmen humiliated by boorish sparks, the shiftless poor getting their comeuppance from high-born pranksters. Evidence survives in sale catalogues, library stamps and personal inscriptions of strong demand among the elite for works of this kind.
They were consumed not only by dilettantes or libertines, like Horace Walpole, John Wilkes and James Boswell, but also by landowners, clerics and society hostesses – Hester Thrale, Samuel Johnson’s confidante, owned several jestbooks and comic miscellanies.
The most Dickie allows himself is a shudder of donnish distaste: ‘One wonders how anyone could have laughed.’ Yet laugh they did. The thriving subgenre of ‘ramble novels’ with titles like Adventures of a Rake and Memoirs of the Noted Buckhorse has none of the subversive richness of Darnton’s libertine bestsellers, and most are no more than episodic vehicles in which a boorish prankster-hero causes havoc and inflicts humiliation wherever he goes. Far from avoiding these novels, elite readers went at them with relish
The jestbooks and their sexual humor and rape jokes were popular with men and women alike.
Women not only consumed but energetically produced jokes about victims enjoying rape or being humiliated in court. Jestbook assumptions are central to works like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s ‘Virtue in Danger’, a sarcastic ballad on a real-life society case of 1721, and to the startling premise of Eliza Haywood’s novel of 1727, The Lucky Rape. Decades later more decorous women writers were still using the basic tropes of misogynist humour. Comic scenarios about scheming maidservants and bogus chastity were routine in the novels of Charlotte Lennox, who once acted on her feeling that hussies were there to be beaten, and had to defend herself at the Middlesex Sessions. Even Jane Austen said of a neighbour’s late-term miscarriage: ‘I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.’
 Image result for lady mary montague virtue

Finally, even disabled writers enjoyed writing humorously about their deformities or disabilities:
Some of the most hostile mockery of disability came from writers who struggled with it themselves. Fresh from a stage lampoon of Swift’s one-legged bookseller George Faulkner, the actor-playwright Samuel Foote fell from his horse and lost a leg, provoking sly jokes from Johnson about ‘depeditation’ and ironic consolation poems with missing (metrical) feet.
Foote replied with a new comedy, The Lame Lover, and took the title role, Sir Luke Limp, himself. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, disfigured by smallpox, traded insults in print with Pope, whose body – or, as she put it, ‘wretched little Carcass’ – had been stunted and twisted in infancy by Pott’s Disease. Christopher Smart, whose Jubilate Agno memorably deplores the vilification he received as a supposed lunatic – ‘For silly fellow! silly fellow! is against me’ – was an indefatigable collector and disseminator of deformity jokes.
The famously hideous actor-manager Theophilus Cibber turned his ugliness into a lifelong performance, hamming it up as Pistol, Abel Drugger and the role devised for him by Smart, Mynheer Von Poop-Poop Broomstickado
Image result for theophilus cibber images

So, what was going on? In an early book on the psychology of laughter, the author suggests that laughing at the deformed is an affirmation of superiority:
Why is mimicking a person or an animal ludicrous? Because the imitation is of something which is regarded as inferior. We do not laugh at the perfect imitation of a beautiful song, nor do we ridicule the perfect imitation of a human figure whether sculptured or painted, but we laugh at defects, at the representation of awkwardness, of clumsiness, and silliness. In mimicry it is not simply the imitation of any kind of gestures, or of action, or of mannerisms, or of speech, that is regarded as ludicrous, but it is only certain definite manifestations, only certain motor activities or postures that excite laughter. The imitation in mimicry excites our laughter because the gestures, postures, speech, and phrases imitated are considered as silly, senseless, stupid (Boris Sidis The Psychology of Laughter 1913)
Physical deformity was thought to be an indication of moral depravity:
When we mimic persons and their modes of behavior it is to bring out in the language of gestures the moral and mental inferiority, the inner senselessness of the person (Sidis)
Other humor researchers suggest that there is more to humorous disparagement than feelings of superiority:
A second class of humor theories, whose roots lie in classical Greek and Roman rhetorical theory, includes those theories of humor based on malice, hostility, derision, aggression, disparagement, and/or superiority. Included in this group are ethnic, racial, and "dumb" jokes. Scholars, theorists, and researchers who espouse theories of humor based on hostility or malice frequently cite the similarities in bodily positions between
aggressive behavior, such as fighting, and laughter to substantiate their claims (Amy Carrell, University of Central Oklahoma 1998)
Igor Krichtofovitch (Humor Theory 2005) agrees with additional insights:
And don’t most of us experience intense euphoria when a well-placed joke puts our opponent in a funny, unfavorable, frequently demeaning position? Moreover, to do this it’s not at all necessary to demonstrate your real mental superiority. The power of the joke is that it does not necessarily have to be well-argued. Its purpose is to psychologically elevate the joker over his rival, and to place the latter in a foolish position. An important and irrefutable observation to which we will refer many times is the fact that the joker and his target perceive the joke, especially a particularly offensive one, entirely differently. The victim, as a rule, is not up to laughing. And this once more speaks to humor being a type of a weapon in the battle for social status.
According to the theory of psychoanalysis, in certain situations, humor and its derivative laughter play to the aggressive behavior of groups. S. Freud noted that for the tendentious humor, three persons are needed: first, someone who uses laughter (wit); second, a target for aggression; and third, someone who receives the goal of laughter (wit) - the extraction of pleasure (‘I’ and ‘It’).
Freud also supposed humor to be one of the manifestations of instincts – sexual and aggressive. According to Freud, humor is as much a means of the attraction of the female as the magnificent tail of the peacock or the bright comb of the rooster.

There are at least 1000 more citations on humor theory, but a sampling of them show that there is general consensus of the obvious – we laugh at deformity because we are glad we do not look that way, find deformity a caricature of normal life and therefore funny, and have a natural tendency to marginalize ‘the other’.

A simpler theory is that some things are simply funny:

“It seems surprising that people laugh at the misfortune of others. For instance, a man is walking down a winter street, slips, wildly flails his arms, and finally falls. The reaction of the spectators is varied, but after the victim stands up and sheepishly brushes the snow off his clothes, the majority of the on-lookers smiles or laughs – the incident turned out to not be serious. The fall itself turned into a comical event, breaking the monotony of the rhythm of everyday life.”
With this example, Dmitriev (Russian humor theorist) supposes that “the spectator relaxes (nothing grievous or dangerous has happened!) and begins to laugh.”  (Krichtofovitch)

If any of these theories are accurate, then we are no different from the citizens of the 18th Century.  We moderns all laugh at the same deformities, differences, and distortions of life as our ancestors.  We just do it internally instead of externally.  Most of us tell the ‘racial, ethnic, and dumb jokes’ referred to above, but save them for friends.  Given the times, we are less likely to tell the longer joke (“A woman and a dwarf walked into a bar….”) and give offhanded one-liners; but they are still jokes ‘at the expense’ of someone else.  Most of us will have to admit that it feels good, in the current atmosphere of Political Correctness to tell these jokes, make these cracks, and laugh at them. 

While one conclusion is obvious – people have laughed at deformity, sexuality, and perversion for millennia and laugh for the same psychological and sociological reasons – the other is not.  We have not progressed from the 18th Century as many ‘Progressives’ would have us believe.  We have not achieved a cultural superiority thanks to a modern enlightenment and the new understanding of social dynamics.  We are the same human beings with the same human nature and psychological and social needs as the Romans, Greeks, and probably the cavemen long before them.  We have only decided to repress and submerge our natural inclinations for the sake of an idealistic view of society.

Does that make the inclinations go away?  No.  Nor does increased tolerance for “disparagement humor” mean that individualized attacks of ridicule should be condoned.  They should not; but listening to comedians make us laugh at the very distortions we laugh at in private would only be admitting the truth about ourselves. Laughing at others is no one-way street, for it means tolerating the laughter pointed at us.  No one is immune from pointed jokes; and in a way this openness and self-generated tolerance may be a better way to promote real acceptance of everyone.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Radicals And The Left

Sean Wilentz, in his review of Michael Kazin’s book American Dreamers: How The Left Changed A Nation, discusses the role of radical politics and the impact they have had on American society  http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/aug/16/left-vs-liberals/?page=2

For Kazin, the left consists of anyone who has sought to achieve, in his words, “a radically egalitarian transformation of society.” The definition embraces an enormous array of spokesmen and causes, and Kazin’s account runs from the abolitionists and workingmen radicals of the Jacksonian era through a succession of socialists, women’s suffragists, Greenwich Village bohemians, and civil rights protesters, down to today’s left-wing professoriat.

The radical Left has succeeded far less than is commonly sought in achieving these goals largely “because it has often been out of touch with prevailing values, including those of the people they wish to liberate. He concludes that American radicals have done more to change what he calls the nation’s ‘moral culture’ than to change its politics.  The rap on these radicals is that they were so confident of the righteousness of their ideas, that they underestimated the influence of those who were more cautious or rejected them outright.  As importantly, because these ‘American dreamers’ had little political acumen or even the desire, patience, and persistence to push their ideas into policy, they were more often than not coopted by the liberal establishment.  This liberal elite in their view watered down their vision and marginalized those who originated and proposed it.

Kazin argues that the liberal components of the governing elite have supported major reforms strictly in order to advance purposes of their own. Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans, he writes, embraced emancipation only halfway through the Civil War, when it became clear that doing so “could speed victory for the North” and save the Union, their true goal. Franklin D. Roosevelt endorsed labor’s rights only when he needed to court labor’s votes.

Even when they are successful, Kazin writes, the radicals—“decidedly junior partners in a coalition driven by establishment reformers”—end up shoved aside as the liberals enact their more limited programs and take all of the credit. Prophets without honor, the leftists return to the margins where they and later radicals dream new and bigger dreams until another social movement jars the establishment.

Governing elites by their very nature have the power, money, and authority to coopt what they want and take credit for it; and to reject, marginalize, or discredit what they do not; and only accept ‘radical’ ideas when their interests and the temper of the times coincide with them. 

Perhaps more importantly and what neither author nor reviewer acknowledge is that there is rarely anything radical.  More often than not, what radicals of either Left or Right propose as unique, has historical precedent.  Neither emancipation nor abolition was a new idea in 1864:

The Spanish government to enact the first European law abolishing colonial slavery in 1542.  In the 17th century English Quakers and evangelical religious groups condemned slavery as un-Christian; in the 18th century, abolition was part of the message of the First Great Awakening in the Thirteen Colonies; and in the same period, rationalist thinkers of the Enlightenment criticized it for violating the rights of man. The Somersett's case in 1772, which emancipated a slave in England, helped launch the British movement to abolish slavery.

Revolutionary France abolished slavery in 1789; Haiti achieved independence from France in 1804 and brought an end to slavery in its territory, establishing the second republic in the western hemisphere. Britain banned the importation of African slaves in its colonies in 1807, and the United States followed in 1808. Britain abolished slavery throughout the British Empire with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. (Wikipedia)

It took so long for this ‘radical’ idea to be put into practice because of the complex cultural, social, political, and economic factors governing a divided American society.  While he believed in the rights of man and lamented the deprivation of those rights through slavery, his political position had to evolve and mature through a series of justifying arguments – Constitutional, moral, religious, and political.  More than anything else his commitment to Union deferred his Emancipation Proclamation. 

In some cases, radical ideas were neither slow in maturing or coopted by the political center, but simply idealistic, unrealistic, and disastrous expressions of zealotry. Radical Reconstruction, put in place by Congressional Republicans desirous to once and for all punish the South, disable it, and right the wrongs of a century, should have known that the suddenly disinherited plantation owners, seeing their former slaves cavort in State Legislatures, would take it lying down:

After the Civil War, for example, various radicals tried to move beyond emancipation to ensure full economic as well as political equality for ex-slaves. Most of the ex-slaves, however, hoped that Reconstruction would provide, Kazin writes, “a chance to exercise the same rights white citizens had long taken for granted”—hopes that were “hardly revolutionary,” that aimed “to fulfill the promise of liberal capitalism.” As it turned out, ensuring even basic civil and political rights for Southern blacks required extensive federal force that secured a restive interracial democracy in the South until a violent counterrevolution by Southern whites overthrew Reconstruction in the 1870s.

Even before the war, the radical Abolitionists did Lincoln more harm than good, and he, trying to balance the anti-slavery sentiments of the North, the rebellious South, and his desire for Union above all, had more fights with these Northerners than the most cantankerous Southerners.

Radical influence in the New Deal was far less important than usually thought.  The long Depression had taken its toll.  America in the early 30s was still rural, sparsely-populated, and untouched by government.  The Depression wiped out private savings and the culprits were clearly Wall Street, speculators, reliance on margin and living beyond one’s means.  Left with nothing and disillusioned with the private sector, the American public turned to Big Government – the only American institution with money or the power to print it.  Roosevelt’s ideas were not radical – they were logical, historical derivatives.  Yet Kazin insists on casting the era within the misleading framework of radicalism vs. liberalism:

Kazin understands that liberal reformism has existed independently of radical agitation—he cursorily calls the New Deal reforms “liberal achievements,” and mentions a stillborn liberal “new age of reform” in the 1960s—but his book chiefly makes liberalism’s ideas seem like weaker versions of the radicals’ ideals, advanced as responses to the radicals’ protests.

Perhaps as importantly, neither author nor reviewer places Leftist radicalism within the larger context of history.  While one might have lauded Roosevelt and his reformers in 1933, many of his programs have been either discredited or viewed as only temporary solutions to immediate problems.  The radical agenda – ‘creating a radically egalitarian transformation of society’ had salience in the Depression, because everyone was equal, but poor; and what better time than then to raise all boats?  While many of the programs were necessary then and are in force today (bank deposit insurance, bank regulation, Social Security, Fair Labor Standards, etc.), the encouragement of unionism, reliance on public sector social programs, and the consolidation of federal power are looked at much more circumspectly now.

There was nothing radical in the idea of civil rights either, for this, too had been a subject of debate during the Enlightenment, which in turn took its inspiration from Classical Greece and Rome; and more recently in the debate surrounding the writing of the American Constitution.  The de jure emancipation of the slaves (Constitutional Amendment) was enacted in 1865, but there were few in either North or South between then and the de facto emancipation of 1965 (Civil Rights Act) who doubted that black people were politically equal to whites.  Women’s suffrage was made the law in 1867 and debated long before that.  In the United States women were considered unequal until the passage of the 19th Amendment  in 1920; but again the idea had to mature in the general population until the 1960s. 

In both cases, the ideas behind the ‘radical’ movements were not new at all.  As importantly, current social, political, and demographic factors were far more important to the activist movements than any individuals.  Abby Hoffmann, Mario Savio, and Mark Rudd were facilitators, but the real force behind the civil rights movement of the Sixties was The Baby Boom.  There were more twenty-somethings alive at the time than ever before or since.  These Americans grew up in the repressive Fifties, by the end of which time authoritarian social rule began to weaken as the economy rapidly grew, social and geographic mobility increased, exposure to Europe and other countries became possible. Education became less a means to an end, characteristic of Depression-era parents, and more an end unto itself.  That is, students had the luxury of taking political philosophy seriously and thinking about moral and ethical principles as they applied to America.

A major omission of both Kazin and Wilentz is any reference to the radical right which has had its own share of influence.  Ronald Reagan’s challenge to big government in the early 80s certainly changed the American landscape just as profoundly as Roosevelt and the New Deal. His muscular defiance of the Soviet Union, risking nuclear confrontation, was a radical departure from the policies of co-existence and put the final nail in the coffin of Leftist love of Soviet ‘egalitarianism”.  To be sure, and consistent with my arguments about the influence of the left, both ideas were not radical and their times had come.  More and more Americans were seeing the failure of Great Society programs and their tax dollars going into the pockets of the unsupervised managers of them.  The war in Vietnam soured national faith in government, and Jimmy Carter espoused the worst negative, defeatist attitudes of Washington.   The Soviet Union by the time of Reagan’s challenge was collapsing, imploding, and near its end.  Reagan’s stance in the context of that dissolution was not radical, but inevitable and good politics.

I agree with Kazin’s conclusion that Leftist radicalism was more bark than bite, and that there were many determining factors other than the supposed visionary perception of radical reformers.  There is no doubt that individuals and ideas play a role in societal change.  In the popular democracy of America, we cannot rely on the general public to have any new or great ideas; and thus we rely on those with them to speak out.  Although all the factors enabling change may be in place, it often requires someone with charisma to ignite the fire.  Just don’t take too much credit is all.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Poverty And Why We Can’t End It

Poverty in America continues, and while it has been higher – 15 percent in 1983 – it now stands at 11.3 percent, the second lowest rate on record and only a fraction over the very lowest since records have been kept (11.1 percent in 1973). So it isn’t that poverty has increased as a percentage of the population; the number of people in poverty has increased because of population growth. 

Image result for images the depression

While the total number is important, it is the percentage rate that really tells the story.  First, the fact that the proportion of people in poverty today is near its lowest in 40 years means that both Democrats and Republicans share the responsibility.  Both Clinton and George W. Bush presided over America during years when the poverty rate was higher than it is now.

Second, even though the country has radically changed since 1973 – greater number of immigrants, more participation of women in the labor force, fewer manufacturing but more high-tech and especially service jobs, etc. – the poverty rate has not.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, given the media attention attached to it, the poverty rate has remained relatively low despite the increasing income and wealth disparity in the country.  Despite the brouhaha, the concentration of wealth is not contributing any more to poverty than it has – if it has – in the past.

Peter Edelman tries to analyze these and other factors in the New York Times (7.6.12).  Unfortunately he stresses the importance of those government programs – Medicaid, Social Security, and Food Stamps – which keep people from falling into more extreme poverty than he does suggesting how to generate wealth and income among the poorest Americans. He suggests a number of reasons why poverty persists; but rather than address the structural issues which underlie them, he makes implicit assumptions about government failure.  In his view, it is the responsibility of government to raise people out of poverty just as it has prevented their further fall:
Why have we not achieved more? Four reasons: An astonishing number of people work at low-wage jobs. Plus, many more households are headed now by a single parent, making it difficult for them to earn a living income from the jobs that are typically available. The near disappearance of cash assistance for low-income mothers and children — i.e., welfare — in much of the country plays a contributing role, too. And persistent issues of race and gender mean higher poverty among minorities and families headed by single mothers.
The question is why do people work at low-wage jobs and what can be done to raise family income?  First of all up until 2010 the number of illegal aliens in the country has been approximately 11 million.  While this is approximately only 3 percent of the total US population, illegal immigrants make up 5 percent of the workforce (NPR, 3.7.06 report).  These illegal immigrants have been willing to work for the minimum wage or below, thus forcing down overall wages in certain industries.  Recently legal immigrants, many with little or no English and education are unlikely to demand higher wages and benefits. Until these illegal and legal immigrants return home (this is already happening for Mexican immigrants), their wages will remain low.

Second, while there are are higher-level jobs available, especially in the high-tech industries, rapidly increasing as a proportion of GDP, employers find few qualified American applicants.  Major corporations like Apple, Microsoft, and Intel have gone on record lamenting the skilled labor shortage in American. 

The public education system is broken, few children graduate at or above grade level, and few have been given the risk-taking and entrepreneurial skills demanded by competitive business.  A large proportion of the black population still lives either in poor, dysfunctional neighborhoods or in more abject poverty in the South.  Unless these systemic problems are more directly confronted by community leaders, rejecting the corrosive tradition of entitlement and focusing on achieving majority American norms, residents of these neighborhoods will remain unemployed or employed in low-wage jobs.  

Charles Murray has recently written a book (Coming Apart) which chronicles the plight of the white rural underclass and suggests that it suffers from the same dysfunction as the urban black, especially the breakdown in family structure and consequent loss of majority norm values.

Image result for images book coming apart

Edelman cites “persistent issues of race and gender” as contributing factors to poverty, and once again suggests that it is government’s job to address them.  Gender is a non-issue in 2012.  While the glass ceiling no doubt exists in certain professions, the recent appointment of a young woman as CEO of Yahoo is but one example of talent trumping sex.  The proportion of women in law school, medical school and other educational institutions is in many instances higher than men.

Race is an issue, of course, and while landmark Supreme Court decisions have guaranteed de jure equality and desegregation, reality if far from those ideals.  Crossing the Anacostia River in DC is like entering a Third World African country.  All DC wards across the river are over 90 percent black, predominantly poor, with social indicators far below the norm. 

Fifty years of social programs have made very little dent in minority poverty, employment, incarceration, and health rates.  While there is no doubt that if America could solve the problem of the inner cities, it would have done it by now.  Edelman gives no answers because he cannot; and he, like the rest of us, have spent the last five decades stumbling over this conundrum.

Only one factor related to poverty mentioned by Edelman – more restrictive social programs – is clearly and directly in the hands of government; and yet there are strong reasons for their limitation.  Welfare programs, beginning with Bill Clinton, have become less permanent features of poor communities than the temporary investments envisaged when they were created.  A de facto permanent dole discourages social mobility, job searches, and income prospects. 

Welfare today is becoming more efficient, but is still far from the type of intervention that can enable people to rise out of poverty that it was originally thought to be.  Social Security is part of a safety net with wider spaces in it, but it is the more productive model of better education – greater adherence to majority norms - better jobs - higher wages - more savings that should be considered before expanding government welfare.

Edelman concludes with a litany of progressive solutions:
We know what we need to do — make the rich pay their fair share of running the country, raise the minimum wage, provide health care and a decent safety net, and the like. But realistically, the immediate challenge is keeping what we have. Representative Paul Ryan and his ideological peers would slash everything from Social Security to Medicare and on through the list, and would hand out more tax breaks to the people at the top. Robin Hood would turn over in his grave.
While reforming health care is necessary and should be a priority, the other items on his list are not.  ‘Fair share’ is not easy to define when the economic contributions of the wealthy are considered.  Raising the minimum wage, according to many business owners will depress job creation.  The definition of ‘a decent safety net’ is also unclear, given my observations above; and the ‘slashing’ of Medicare and Social Security, i.e. reassessing both payments and benefits for rich and poor – is absolutely necessary in a society which has shunned taxes. 

Poverty is a structural issue, not one that can be solved by government programs.