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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 21, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsElephant in the Room

Conservatives care about poverty, too

In sixth grade, I had an assignment to write a speech on an issue I was passionate about. I chose poverty, and at the time, I believed more government was the answer. Since then, my political beliefs have shifted to the right. During that transition, however, I did not abandon my passion for solving poverty. Quite the opposite happened: As I read and researched more, I came to the conclusion that free markets are the solution to limiting poverty, not more government programs.

A recurring problem Republicans face is that we let Democrats dominate certain issues, poverty being one of these. When Republicans avoid discussing poverty, it appears that they do not care about people in need. This needs to change. I was glad to see Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Tim Scott lead a forum earlier in the year on the topic of freemarket solutions to poverty. We need all Republicans on board.

When Democrats address poverty, they promise more programs and more money. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked. More than 50 years since the War on Poverty was declared, the percentage of Americans in poverty has barely changed. Instead of having outoftouch lawmakers and bureaucrats in Washington throw money at a problem, conservatives believe in the innovation that happens at the local level. We should replicate programs like the Doe Fund in New York City, which lifts people out of poverty while also helping them overcome drug addictions and criminal recidivism. And instead of raising the minimum wage, conservatives support alternative solutions like the Earned Income Tax Credit, which rewards low to moderateincome individuals for work by letting them keep more of their money. Republicans must also concede that the EITC needs reform to make the program available for people who do not have children.  

Changing the way we deal with social services is vital. A relatively new program called Pay for Success could help. In this model, private investors fund social services at the outset. If these social services meet their intended goals, governments reimburse the investors plus a return. We need more innovation like this.

We need a safety net for those truly in need, but we do not need politicians applying a one-size-fits-all solution to problems that are much more unique than that. We need a limited government and free markets. And most of all, we need conservatives who fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. At its core, conservatism is compassionate. We need to do a better job demonstrating this.

Kyle Stewart can be reached at kstewart1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @KyleStew107