I often disagree with the opinions, observations and positions taken by Professor Kurt Hochenauer in his commentaries that appear periodically in Oklahoma Gazette. This is to be expected because Hochenauer is a self-identified progressive (he used to be a liberal), and I have always been and remain a conservative. However, I do agree with some of the comments he recently made about systemic poverty in Oklahoma (Dec. 30, 2009, Gazette). We, as a state, have been dirt-poor in the past. This condition has continued into the present and will most likely continue into the future.
Hochenauer reports that Oklahoma suffers from poverty. There’s nothing new here. Most of us know that this condition exists. What he doesn’t discuss are the causes of our poverty. We, as a state, have all of the resources available to make us ” if not rich ” at least richer than the national average.
We have abundant land that can be purchased at very reasonable prices. We have lots of cheap power. We have a plentiful supply of water. We also have a workforce that is willing to work for very reasonable wages and benefits.
With all of these plusses going for us, why are we poor? We should have people lined up at our borders clamoring to enter the state to start businesses and create jobs, but we don’t. We should be asking why this is not happening.
The proposed cures for poverty that Hochenauer puts forward in his commentary are nothing more than those that we have tried in the past. Free insurance, food banks, subsidized housing and other assistance programs all encourage poor people to remain poor. These giveaway programs do nothing to create value and make the economic pie bigger. They do nothing to create jobs for the people they are supposed to help. They are just a redistribution of wealth. The existing economic pie would just be sliced up differently.
Progressives like Hochenauer apparently think that Oklahomans can educate themselves out of poverty. We now have kindergarten and prekindergarten programs and ” if this trend continues ” the mothers of newborns will be required to surrender their babies to state educators immediately after birth. Progressives seem to think that doing more of something that produces inferior results will suddenly produce superior results and solve our poverty problem. This belief is akin to the definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get different results.
How is increasing the number of college graduates going to help us escape poverty? We could easily double the number of Oklahomans with college degrees, but where are these new graduates going to work? Increasing the number of college graduates without increasing the number of jobs available will mean that we have a better-educated group on welfare if those new college graduates choose to remain in Oklahoma.
Without understanding of the cause of poverty and proposing new cures, the condition will most likely persist.
“Russell W. Jones