Mario Cuomo of New York electrified the 1984 Democratic Convention with his tale of America as two cities, one rich and one poor, almost permanently divided into two classes. Today John Edwards is running for president on this same platform and using the same metaphor.
But America is not divided into two cities; instead, America is divided into two separate and unequal economies, one that works well and one that is fatally flawed and must be fixed so as to combat poverty.
Our mainstream economy is entrepreneurially capitalistic: It is market-oriented and based on private property, ownership, the rule of law and with widespread access to capital and seed corn for new business ventures. It rewards work, savings, investment and productivity. This economy dominates the American market and serves as an example to the world of democratic capitalism.
The second economy functions in almost direct opposition to our mainstream capitalist economy. Similar to a Third World socialist economy, it denies people an entry into the mainstream due to the barriers to economic activities along with a virtual absence of any link between human effort and reward. It perpetuates poverty, dependency and welfare while discouraging employment, and it prevents access to capital, ownership of assets and quality education. The irony is that this second economy was created out of a desire to help the poor, alleviate suffering and provide a social safety net. However, instead of independence, this welfare-based economy has led to near perpetual dependency, and the social and economic costs to our nation are enormous in terms of unfulfilled potential and dashed dreams. As secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1988 to 1993, I visited pockets of poverty in ghettos and barrios throughout America. I spoke personally with people living in the depths of poverty and hopelessness. I vowed then to take part in a bipartisan effort to help create an urban American Renaissance. I applaud Edwards' attempts to raise the issue of poverty and challenge the Republican candidates to join in the debate.
The problem is that self-improvement and ownership of assets are discouraged by regulatory and tax policies that trap people in impoverished areas. In too many cases, the poverty that exists today is due in part to government welfare coupled with regulatory and tax policies that punish work, savings and investment and discourage ownership of assets. The system redlines certain areas of our country, limiting people's access to capital, credit, mortgage loans and well-paying jobs.
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