by Robert Metz – January 1989

The spring of 1989 saw a truly hopeless spectacle: hundreds of marchers trekking from Windsor to Queen’s Park in Toronto in what was being billed a “March Against Poverty”. Their objective? To persuade the Peterson government to increase its spending on social welfare programs in an attempt to “eradicate” poverty.

Fully aware of our provincial deficit, but entirely ignorant of its implications, the poverty marchers nevertheless demonstrated how committed people can be to a cause … even if its goals are obviously self-destructive.

Two of the poverty marchers, in an attempt to address charges that they were being “irresponsible” by calling for increased government spending at a time when deficits are at an all-time high, actually went out of their way to demonstrate their irresponsibility … and the fundamentally flawed philosophy that motivates them.

In a letter to the editor titled “Marchers want poverty eradicated”, “poverty marchers” Paul Connolly and Roy Ratkov wrote: “Quite frankly, the poor don’t give a hoot about Premier David Peterson’s deficit. … Rather, they have seen Liberals, and Conservatives before them, for decades leading their country-club friends to the public trough where they’ve gorged themselves on the wealth created by hardworking Ontarians. … (We) recognize that poverty is a crime perpetrated upon the innocent and weak … For our part, we will shed no tears if, in order to implement phase one of the Thomson report, the government must tax the rich out of existence or compel corporations to pay their share.”

While I can sympathize with their frustration and anger concerning politicians’ “leading their country-club friends to the public through where they’ve gorged themselves on the wealth created by hardworking Ontarians,” to suggest leading the poor to that same “public trough” is nothing less than suicidal, and certainly does not justify anyone else being allowed to gorge the wealth created by hardworking Ontarians.

Fact is, the “public trough” can only be filled with private wealth, and most of that wealth comes from the very people the “poverty marchers” would “tax out of existence”. When the rich no longer exist, the public trough will have to be filled with the wealth created by hardworking Ontarians who aren’t rich … and who simply won’t be able to afford it. Then what tune will the poor be marching to?

It is the height of economic and social ignorance to suggest that “poverty is a crime perpetrated upon the innocent and the weak”. Murder is a crime. Stealing is a crime. Misrepresentation and fraud are crimes. But poverty is merely an economic condition … presumably a temporary one … not a crime. If one man works hard to become a success while another chooses not to, one will become wealthy while the other will certainly remain poor. But where’s the “crime”? Who’s the perpetrator? Who’s the victim?

Poverty afflicts not only the “innocent and weak” (a small minority) but also the ignorant, incompetent, and lazy. To assert that poverty is a crime … regardless of who it happens to or why … is the real crime being perpetrated. Those who use this argument are playing upon people’s natural compassion to help the “innocent and weak” to justify a welfare system that will ultimately destroy the strong and healthy. When that happens, how will anyone be able to help anyone else?

As past U.S. Secretary-Treasurer William Simon so eloquently put it: “The concept that “wealth is theft” must be repudiated. A society taught to perceive producers as criminals will end up by destroying its productive processes. One must be taught to understand the relationship between (these processes), and poverty.”

The poverty marchers have made it abundantly clear that they don’t want to know any of this. By their own admission, they simply don’t “give a hoot”. But self-imposed ignorance does not make one “innocent”.

By sticking to their victim mentality, and by using the “innocent and weak” to justify their objectives, the poverty marchers are marching towards poverty … for all of us … not away from it.  {end}

- Robert Metz     Consent #7   January-April 1989