Why celebrities can't overcome the myth that one's socioeconomic condition is random.
One of the left’s favorite linguistic touchstones is differentiating between the economically “lucky” and the economically “unlucky.” Sometimes, they substitute “blessed” for lucky; other times, they substitute “unfortunate” for unlucky. The underlying notion is clear: economics are random. On average, anyone, regardless of intelligence, initiative and decision-making ability, can be poor. So, too, anyone can be rich in the lottery of life.
Nowhere is this myth more closely guarded than in Hollywood. When it comes to Tinseltown, the elites who live in posh mansions off of Sunset Blvd. believe that they could just have easily ended up in a one-bedroom hole-in-the-wall in Pacoima, waiting tables at the nearest Chipotle.
So when Ben Affleck announced this week that he would attempt to spend no more than $1.50 on food and drink in one day, he raised few eyebrows in the self-important liberal Mecca that is Los Angeles. Sure, this multimillionaire wears expensively tailored clothes to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Sure, he earns millions per movie. But he can eat like a poor person!
This is a logical maneuver for a follower of Howard Zinn: Affleck thinks he’s rich because he exploits poor people, even if he’s never actually exploited a poor person. He lives in the greatest country in human history, and is rich because he is a talented writer, director, and actor (he’s progressed somewhat since Reindeer Games). But to assuage his guilt, he’ll tell the lie that millions of Americans are barely able to consume their minimum calorie requirements each day thanks to the cruelty of capitalism.
According to OMG!, the Yahoo Hollywood blog, the director and star of Argo will be raising cash for the Global Poverty Project. Other celebs joining the quixotic quest to get skinny include Sophia Bush, Josh Groban, Debi Mazar, and Hunter Biden.
So, how many Americans are living on $1.50 per day? Virtually nobody. According to a study by the University of Michigan, about 1.7 million households in the United States were living in extreme poverty based on their cash income. That number was just 700,000 when you include welfare and food stamps. When state benefits are included, that number drops precipitously.
But we shouldn’t be fooled by the notion that millions of Americans are just a food stamp away from starvation. Private charities continue to care for the hungry. The costs of these government programs are staggeringly large, and represent taxpayer money better served by reinvestment into the economy and charitable giving.
Beyond that, decision making counts. While Hollywood likes to portray those who are permanently poor as universally hard-working, moral, excellent decision makers, the permanently poor (not counting those who truly cannot take care of themselves like the disabled and mentally ill) are largely poor because they make poor decisions. Those poor decision are often incentivized by the government.
The good news is that at least Affleck is raising money for a private charity. Mayor Corey Booker of Newark, New Jersey tried a similar stunt last year in order to stump for more government spending.
Affleck will no doubt cite his heroic gesture as evidence that America’s government must do more for the “unlucky.” But if liberals actually wanted to help with poverty, they might try focusing on incentivizing personal success. They might make an effort to use their celebrity to encourage childbearing within marriage, since unwed motherhood is the single most correlative factor in poverty. They might try to push for school choice since the poor suffer most from our catastrophic public education system . They might even work to start businesses and work with them in areas that have historically taken government money rather than building industry.
But it’s easier to eat three bananas a day in front of the cameras. That makes for good imagery and for a self enhancing sense of personal morality as well. Encouraging good decision making sounds preachy and judgmental. It implies that people like Ben Affleck are rich for a reason. And Hollywood can’t live with that reality. It would force them to try to help others in a material way. It would force them to stop condemning everyday Americans, middle class people who can’t afford the luxury of spending a day posing for TMZ while tearing down the philosophy of capitalism that provides true opportunity.
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