By Bill Maher
The greatest thing about America was that you could come here with nothing and, purely by hard work, become fabulously wealthy.
But this isn’t happening anymore. More and more money is concentrated in the super-rich while wages for the middle-class are stagnant and the poor are, well, if they’re lucky they might get some cheese and a flu shot.
The worst part is, while America is turning into a banana republic, actual banana republics are starting to turn into what America used to be.
I don’t know much about Brazil, other than that they do amazing things with wax. And have you seen the carioca? It’s not a foxtrot or a polka. There I go quoting 1930's show tunes again.
But it turns out that Brazil, which used to be the most unequal nation on earth, may soon become more equal than the US.
According to The New York Times, while almost all of the increase in income in the US has gone to the top one percent, "between 2003 and 2009, the income of poor Brazilians has grown seven times as much as the income of rich Brazilians." How did they do it? Here’s the part Grover Norquist isn't going to like: they did it by giving poor people money.
They did a study, and it turns out that the one thing that poor people lack the most… is money. I know, it's counterintuitive, but bear with me.
It’s a program called Bolsa Familia, or Family Grant, and what they do is give monthly small payments to families directly into their bank account.
It’s not a lot of money – about $13 per month per child – but that’s enough to lift a family out of poverty. And they only get it if the kids stay in school and get regular medical checkups. Now they've got kids going to college who before would have been slumdogs. Or Tea Party sympathizers.
Mexico and some other 40 other countries have similar programs.
Doesn't this disprove the old conservative notion that handouts never work? Of course handouts work. Money doesn't solve every problem, but it does solve the problems of not having money. I was just watching the "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" the other night and the daughter of one of the housewives graduated from college and everyone’s giving her envelopes with checks, which are handouts.
Rich people give slightly less rich people handouts every day, but for some reason the notion of giving money to people who actually need it is considered beyond the pale. And the people who most hate handouts to the poor are the Christian conservatives, even though Christ, who I understand they're big fans of, told his followers that they had to give away everything they own. Although to be honest, back then there wasn't much worth owning, anyway. "You mean I have to give up my sack of rags and my bucket of rocks? Whatever you say, Lord."
More proof that handouts work is LBJ's War on Poverty. Before he started his Great Society programs, the poverty rate in the US was 22 percent. When he left office, the poverty rate was 12.2 percent, which is slightly lower than where it is today. In other words, LBJ did more to reduce poverty in five years than we've achieved in the 40-some years since he left office.