Let’s Stop Blaming “Culture” for Poverty


“Rich families are all alike; every poor family is poor in its own way.”

Writers on poverty in America might want to inscribe this over their computers. Even those should who, like David Brooks, are anxiously awaiting “a thinker who can describe poverty through the lens of social psychology.” For that’s not going to help.

Poverty is not something that can be “formulated, sprawling on a pin.” No, for it is not a thing, not something amenable to description. It is a condition spawned by history, nurtured by greed and taught by perceptions of limited possibility. Its causes are myriad; it is a dynamic.

The excuses for inaction on poverty are also myriad. Brooks says “the real barriers to mobility are matters of social psychology, the quality of relationships in a home and a neighborhood that either encourage or discourage responsibility, future-oriented thinking, and practical ambition.” Poverty, in other words…

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