Among the papers I wrote before finishing sophomore year a couple weeks ago was one tracing the development and dominance of culturalist views of poverty in American discourse and policy on poverty, bringing together quotes from Republican and Democratic think tanks popularizing the ideas, from Presidents Clinton and Bush endorsing them, and from welfare recipients attesting to the devastating impact of the policies they wrought. I talked about the intuitive appeal of a culturalist perspective – of the idea that the poor are suffering from a culture of poverty and not from material deprivation and economic displacement – as an alternative for the middle- and upper-classes to recognition of responsibility for the conditions of the poor and the potential for themselves to become poor in the future, not through moral failing but through economic crisis. No quote in that paper, however, could sum up the seductive appeal and utter dishonesty of the culturalist view as well as this one delivered yesterday by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Alphonso Jackson:

Being poor is a state of mind, not a condition.

Perhaps I can be among the first to call for Secretary Jackson’s resignation.


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