Member Perspectives: The Economics of Poverty

The strength of the American Solidarity Party will always be our passionate defense of our four principles of respect for life, social justice, environmental stewardship, and a more peaceful world. However, it can also come from how we respectfully argue our positions on other issues that challenge our communities. Here, ASP member Sarah Field offers some thoughts on the economics of poverty.

By Sarah Field

Why is poverty so widespread in a country as wealthy as the USA? Why don’t the poor just get better jobs? Have government programs encouraged laziness? Do we need better incentives to get people off the public dole? Or are people trapped in a system they are powerless to escape?

I’m not an economist or an expert, but I’ve been following the topic for a few years now, and I’ve come to a few conclusions. Hear me out, and then let me know what you think!

People Don’t Stay Poor Because It’s Easy

Every now and then, a well-meaning friend will post a meme or an article describing the dangers of government supporting the poor. Poor people are social parasites, getting free food, free housing, free college, and free healthcare, all at the expense of their hardworking, more responsible counterparts! It’s not uncommon for someone to chime in with some corroborating anecdote. I know someone like that—living off the government and begging for handouts, but I notice she’s got a cell phone, eats good food, wears nice clothes, drives a nice car, and keeps having kids. These people clearly don’t know what it really means to be poor [insert comparison made to a developing nation or the Great Depression], and certainly don’t know how to practice frugality. At the very least, if they had any self-control whatsoever, they wouldn’t have all those kids! But this is what we get when the government offers handouts to anyone who doesn’t have the gumption to make it on their own. It’s just too good a deal for these freeloaders to pass up!

A whole framework of blame is difficult to take apart piece by piece. But a few thoughts are important to keep in mind:

  • The government doesn’t just give free money to anyone who doesn’t want to work. While the rules vary from state to state, generally speaking, getting assistance is contingent on things like being functionally broke (say, no more than about $2,000 in assets), having a net income at or below the current poverty level for the size of your household, and having a job, actively seeking employment, being a caregiver (in certain situations), or being disabled. And you can’t just say you fit the qualifications; you have to be able to prove it. In some states, you must also pass a drug test in order to qualify.
  • Disability is particularly difficult to qualify for. Conventional wisdom says that getting approved for benefits typically requires the assistance of a lawyer, who of course gets a cut for his or her services. There are plenty of conditions which could hinder you from getting a good job, but are not considered severe enough for you to qualify for disability benefits.
  • Higher education is often a requirement to get a better job. But going to college on the government dime comes with high expectations. If your grades, attendance, or class completion rates are not up to standards, you could very easily end up with a nasty debt and nothing to show for it. Scraping by with barely passing grades won’t cut it; you have to be a good student, which is hardly the image depicted in these memes.
  • Cell phones and cars may be luxury items in certain places and circumstances, but try getting a job without some mode of transportation or contact number before you judge others for having them. Also, loan companies don’t want to help you buy an older, less expensive car, and may charge higher interest rates or outright refuse the loan. Understandably, they want to make sure the vehicle has a decent chance of outliving the loan. In short, the line between luxury and necessity is not always where it seems to be at first glance.
  • Perhaps frugality is a lost art. But the occasional special meal or nice second-hand outfit is not terribly expensive compared to non-negotiables like housing, utilities, and transportation. You may not even be allowed to keep your kids if you don’t maintain a certain basic standard of living determined by the government.
  • Speaking of kids, they are a natural part of life, one of the most basic elements of being human—dare I say, a part of God’s expressed plan for mankind. The idea that they are a luxury item is a relatively new one, promoted by Planned Parenthood and other organizations that may or may not draw a line between preventing pregnancy and providing abortions, between assisting those in need and promoting eugenics. Do we really want to be part of a movement that either despises life at its most vulnerable or discourages the poor from something as basic as a normal marriage?

In reality, nobody lives a life of ease at the expense of the government. People get government assistance because they need it in order to survive. They may be surviving at a higher standard of living than their counterparts in Uganda or Haiti, but they could still be precariously close to going bankrupt, living on the streets, suffering from a preventable (and potentially contagious) disease, losing their kids, or being unable to pay a fine, which could result in jail time.

Poverty Hurts Everyone—Not Just the Poor

A common theme among anti-poverty memes is the role of government. Typically, the assumption seems to be that the less we help the poor, the better—unless you’re a politician running for election. If only the government would stop encouraging these behaviors with so many support programs, we wouldn’t have this problem! If you want to get rid of animal pests, you quit feeding them. How hard is that to figure out? But of course, we are stuck with this horrible blight on our economy because all these freeloaders keep voting for the politicians who support them, and politicians only care about getting votes.

Aside from the dubious claims that the poor vote only for politicians who promise handouts, what these memes don’t take into account is the fact that poverty hurts everyone. Think about this: What happens when the poor go bankrupt? Lose their homes? Catch communicable diseases? What happens when they end up in jail? Or when their kids end up in foster care? What happens to the next generation when they grow up without stable homes and families? Every one of these “personal” crises ultimately costs society as a whole.

Therefore, to suggest that the only reason the government supports assistance programs is in order to get votes is to ignore real problems that affect everyone. Programs that keep the poor more or less afloat are cheaper, in the long run, than programs to rescue them from circumstances far more dire.

But they could at least work hard like everybody else and get a better job! Of course they can’t expect to start out as managers. But that’s how the system works. You save your money, work your way up the ladder, and eventually you have a healthy middle-class income. Unemployment rates aren’t even all that high right now. Surely there is no excuse for anyone to live in chronic poverty. We’re just giving people the wrong incentives!

I’ll address these concerns in the next two sections.

Means-Based Welfare Discourages Incremental Improvements

Suppose you are a currently making $2,000 per month before taxes. In addition to your income from whatever job(s) you have, you get $200 per month in food stamps, and your family healthcare needs are covered by Medicaid. Now, suppose you get a better job or a nice raise and start making $2,500 per month. You go home rejoicing that, finally, things are looking up! Unfortunately, this pushes you right over the limit for assistance. Gone are the food stamps, and you have to go to another form of health insurance, with a regular monthly payment and a hefty deductible. Your tax rate also goes up, so you bring home less of what you make. Oh, and maybe your new position requires new clothes (employees often have to pay for their own uniforms), more expensive transportation, or some other up-front investment on your part. All of a sudden, the extra money has completely evaporated! You were actually more financially stable before you got the better job.

Though these numbers are hypothetical, they illustrate what many people in the grip of poverty face. All too often, an incremental improvement in income is going to hurt them, rather than help them. (And this can even be a problem when a child in the household gets his or her first job.)

But suppose you anticipate this and start scrimping and pinching pennies so as to have a rainy-day fund before you take the plunge. Or maybe you just want to save up for a car so as to avoid exorbitant financing rates. Smart move, right? Well, you have to be careful about doing this, too. If you have too much in your bank account at the next evaluation, you could lose your welfare benefits on that basis as well!

Long story short, you may not like being on government assistance, but you have to do what you can to survive. There’s simply no point in quixotically refusing assistance, only to end up on the streets or going bankrupt.

The Poor Do Not Control Poverty Rates

It’s true that the unemployment rate is not what it was ten years ago. But having a job and not needing assistance are two very different things. Indeed, a good portion of the jobs currently available pay barely enough to support a single adult, let alone a family. Let’s take a look at some statistics to get an idea of just how many jobs do not provide a living wage.

Take the $15 per hour threshold that many suggest should be the new minimum wage. One source reports that 42.4% of American workers make less than this level per hour. Even at forty hours per week (with no days off), that’s equivalent to an annual income of less than $31,500 before taxes. At thirty-five hours per week (still considered full-time work) the worker gets less than $27,500 per year. For a couple with three kids, an annual income of $27,500 is below the federal poverty threshold. Further, of the 42.4% making less than $15 per hour, only about 12.4% make significantly more than minimum wage. There aren’t too many folks who can survive on $7.25 per hour without assistance. Even with two incomes, it’s going to be tough.

In recent years, more than 15% of American workers have been employed part-time, meaning they work fewer than thirty-five hours per week. Since many job-related benefits are tied to being a full-time worker, part-time workers are less likely to get paid sick time, let alone health insurance through their employer. While working more than one part-time job seems like it ought to be doable, many such jobs require a level of flexibility that is difficult to achieve while holding another job. And you still don’t get benefits or overtime by virtue of working two or more part-time jobs.

In light of the above, we see that a huge chunk of the population can only rise above the poverty threshold by either working ridiculously long hours, or having two incomes, or both. If they have children, this means farming their kids out to daycare, which in turn means they have to earn more money just to break even. There are other options, of course. If the parents work opposite shifts, they can watch their own kids, although they may get very little time to build a healthy relationship with each other. And if they live near family or other willing helpers, or qualify for some kind of assistance, the costs can be lowered, but that doesn’t solve the “social parasite” stigma.

Microeconomics tells us that any one of these people could work extra hard, maybe get a degree or develop some new skill, and eventually get a better job. But macroeconomics tells us that, for a better job to open up, someone else must die, retire, get fired, or quit. As a general rule, for any person who goes up the ladder, someone else must go down.

Of course, there are ways this can be shifted: through businesses creating more jobs, or making lousy jobs into better jobs, and so forth. Better matching of training to available good jobs would also be legitimately helpful, if only we could better predict the future! Some people can even break out of the cycle by successfully creating their own businesses—but that generally requires some kind of starting capital, and success rates are notoriously low. In short, the average person in poverty hasn’t the slightest control over real shifts in the number of available good jobs.

Simply giving the poor better “incentives” to get off the government dole is not going to solve this problem.

So, What Can We Do to Get People out of Poverty?

First, let’s stop treating poverty like a moral failure. Most of the poor are working very hard to provide essential services for society. They answer telephones and provide food service and hospitality. They are cashiers, nurse aides, and janitors. Some of them work in local government, keeping your taxes low, and some serve in our military. Don’t want to pay more for these services? Then have the grace not to complain when the government subsidizes these (and many other) industries in the form of welfare!

But we must do more than merely acknowledge that we need these people and that we benefit from their hardship. We must do more than accept that our present economy relies on working beggars. Justice demands that we ensure people get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

Again, I’m not an economic expert, but there are political actions that could help. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

One popular option is to raise the minimum wage. This should greatly increase the self-sufficiency of the poor, reducing the amount the government must spend on welfare assistance. But it could put a considerable burden on businesses and institutions that can’t actually afford to pay higher wages—which could lead to fewer total jobs as owners and managers either take drastic measures to stay afloat or go under. And it eliminates lower-paying options, even for basic entry-level positions that may be ideal for those who are just learning the ropes and don’t need to support themselves yet, let alone a family. Ultimately, many fear that raising the minimum wage will hasten a higher cost of living for everyone, as higher costs of production eventually get passed on to consumers. It’s only a matter of time until $15 per hour in the dollars of the future is no better than $8 per hour in today’s dollars. Perhaps one way to mitigate some of these concerns would be to generally raise minimum wage but permit companies to have a certain percentage of designated entry-level positions or employees at any given time. This would allow for some jobs to still pay lower wages, but in fewer numbers.

Another option might be for the government to incentivize smaller ratios between the highest and lowest paying jobs within a company. In this system, CEOs would make less, while line workers would make more. But how much real difference would it make? Would companies struggle to find talent for top positions? Would they find loopholes in the form of more disparate benefits? Are CEOs really the problem, or is it shareholders?

Perhaps the government could subsidize certain types of industries with tax breaks and credits for paying higher wages so that workers could receive fair compensation without overburdening companies, raising prices, or bearing the brunt of the stigma of “living off of handouts.” Of course, that assumes, perhaps naively, that such subsidies would in fact be passed along to workers. It also leaves open the question of who would decide which industries would be subsidized, and on what basis.

​Another option that has been gaining momentum is a universal basic income (UBI) or a citizen’s dividend. This is an amount the government would simply pay to everybody, regardless of need. In theory, if the amount were set high enough, it could replace other assistance programs, cutting out much of the overhead needed to determine who is or isn’t eligible for them, and mitigating concerns about lost benefits linked to pay increases. It would allow businesses to continue to pay people what they can afford, while giving individuals more choices in what kind of job to work (or whether to have one parent stay home with the children in lieu of sending them to daycare). Hopefully, it would help to alleviate animosity from those who don’t get assistance towards those who do. But for those whose greatest concern is that government assistance promotes lazy habits, it is anathema. There are also concerns about how it would be funded. And finally, it is unclear what other unintended consequences could result.

We could also tweak our means-based system to be phased out more gradually. In particular, why would we encourage middle-class workers to save upwards of $10,000 for a rainy day (let alone for retirement) but kick people off Medicaid and food stamps for having a fraction of that amount? It’s almost as if the goal is to keep people as vulnerable as possible so they have to keep coming back for more help. Low asset ceilings are especially risky for people with frequent, chronic, or life-threatening health problems, among whom universal affordable health care would be extremely helpful—for maintaining not only health, but also financial stability.

Conclusion

We may not have all the answers yet. But we must recognize that no government program makes it easy to be poor. We must acknowledge that poverty is as harmful for society collectively as it is for poor people individually. We must stop blaming the poor for a lack of sufficient jobs, and we must stop penalizing them for planning ahead and getting better jobs. Most importantly of all, we must get serious about ensuring that all people who are willing to work can support themselves and their families.


An older version of this article was previously published at https://www.imagodeipolitics.org/2018/03/02/some-thoughts-on-the-economics-of-poverty/.

Announcing My Candidacy for Mayor of Bowdon, Georgia

by Logan Jackson

I have been a member of the American Solidarity Party since August of 2016, and I am currently the vice chairman of the Georgia chapter of the ASP. What inspired me to join the ASP is that I love that we are looking for the common good and that we use common sense when it comes to the way that we approach issues. I have been a member of both the Democratic and Republican parties. They both left me; one moved too far to the left and the other moved too far to the right. The ASP is, for me, the happy medium.

I have been communicating with the city council for years, but nothing gets done. I have been asking the same questions for over fifteen years and I get the same answers. It was early in January, when I was sitting at my desk writing yet another email that I knew would not get answered, that I decided not to send the email, but instead to run for mayor. I decided at that moment to speak about things that the sitting mayor and city council would not. We are losing our tax base here in the city and the mayor and council will not do anything but raise taxes. The only problem is that my city’s median income is just $25,000.
Below are the areas that I will focus on as mayor in order to make sure that the city grows and improves. Emphasizing these areas will help to bring in businesses as well as new residents.

Community Identity

For years, Bowdon was known for its textile industry. There were between two and three thousand people in the workforce here, which does not include the rubber plant that at one time had three shifts. Sadly, all the textiles plants have closed except for Bremen-Bowdon Investments (BBI), and the rubber plant burned down. As a result, for the last fifteen to twenty years, Bowdon has lost much of its identity. It is very important that the citizens of Bowdon hold to who we have been historically as we move forward. After we have restored our community identity, then Bowdon can start to move toward the future.

Action

We cannot continue to kick the can down the road and ignore vital services, such as water and sewer facilities and the police department, that are needed. We need someone that will be bold in fixing the things that are important and able to say “No” to those things that are not vital. The mayor and city council must have good communication with the public, and must prioritize the future while making policy decisions, rather than only considering the present impact.

Transparency

We must ensure that the residents of Bowdon know what is going on with their local government. If we all expect state and federal governments to be transparent, then why wouldn’t we want our local governments to do the same? If I have the honor of being elected, I will hold town hall meetings quarterly. I will also give an annual State of the City address to let the public know what actions the city has taken during the past year, and to inform them about any actions that are planned for the upcoming year. I also plan to have a weekly “Coffee with the Mayor,” which would be a time for me to hold office hours for appointments or walk-ins.

I look forward to the opportunity to work side-by-side with the residents of Bowdon, creating a local government that helps to restore our community identity, prioritizes vital services, and provides exceptional transparency. So, Bowdon residents, remember when you go to vote on November 5th: “Want Action? Vote Jackson!”

Religious Freedom and Public Service

Those for whom the dogma speaks loudest are also those most qualified to serve.

By Tai-Chi Kuo, JD, CSM, CSPO

American Solidarity Party National Committee, Vice-Treasurer

American Solidarity Party–Illinois, Vice-Chairman

In February of this year, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America penned a letter to Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), in their capacities as ranking members of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, conveying the organization’s “grave concern” over an unconstitutional “religious test” whereby a nominee’s fitness for a federal judgeship was considered on the basis of the nominee’s religious faith or membership in a particular religious organization. The Orthodox Union’s letter was in reference to questions posed by Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) during committee proceedings inquiring whether federal judicial nominee Brian Buescher would renounce his membership in the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic men’s organization) owing to the organization’s traditional views on sexuality and life, should he be confirmed for the position. This letter is significant not only because the Orthodox Union’s concern crossed Jewish-Christian religious lines, but also because the Buescher nomination was not an isolated incident, and efforts to restrict Americans with deeply-held faith convictions from participating in American public service and public life are on the rise.

Attempting to disqualify Americans from public participation on religious grounds is certainly “nothing new under the sun.” In the modern era, John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism, Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, and Barack Obama’s Christianity have all been cruelly scrutinized during their presidential campaigns. However, over the past several years, these once-rare occurrences have increased at an alarming rate. From Texas Republican Dorrie O’Brien’s unsuccessful coup to remove Dr. Shahid Shafi (R-TX) from his Texas GOP position on account of his Islamic faith, to the aforementioned Democratic Senator Feinstein’s challenge of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to a federal appellate court position because her Catholic “dogma live[d] loudly within” her, to Senator Bernie Sanders’s (Ind-VT) attempted rejection of Russell Vought’s appointment as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget over his Christian beliefs on salvation, attempts to discourage people of faith from public life have arisen across seemingly the entire gamut of the American political spectrum—and show no signs of de-escalation as preparations for the 2020 presidential campaign season begin in earnest.

With a contentious and pivotal election looming on the horizon, Judge-Designate Neomi Rao has already been attacked by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) during her District of Columbia Circuit Court nomination hearing over her personal beliefs regarding sexuality and whether they have ever influenced her hiring decisions. Meanwhile, the West Virginia Republican Party has created propaganda smearing U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN), a Muslim, by accusing her of links to the 9/11 attacks. Separately, Representative Omar has also faced spurious accusations of anti-Semitism from Democrats and Republicans alike, leading to a U.S. House Resolution which broadly condemned bigotry and discrimination.

This increase in attacks against people of faith in government should indeed cause “grave concern.” The attacks are also unconstitutional. Religious freedom has been enshrined under the First Amendment, and Article VI of the United States Constitution guarantees that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” So, while the United States is not a theocracy, people of faith have been intentionally empowered to live out their faith, both in their private lives and as public servants. It is the faith of many of our American public servants that has brought some measure of redemption to their otherwise flawed legacies.

Faith has inspired Americans in high office towards excellence, towards tolerance, and towards caring for “the least of these.” Indeed, as former Governor Mitt Romney said in his famous “Faith Speech,” the American values of “equality of humankind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty . . . are not unique to any one denomination. They belong to the great moral inheritance we hold in common. They are the firm ground on which Americans of different faiths meet and stand as a nation, united.” Faith has influenced American leaders as far back as the Revolutionary War, when the signatories to the Declaration of Independence included notable clergymen like John Witherspoon, and in the war’s aftermath, when George Washington assured the Jewish congregants of the Touro Synagogue that America would give “to bigotry no sanction,” and when James Madison pushed to enshrine religious freedom in the Bill of Rights. In more recent times, former President Jimmy Carter strove for universal healthcare and human rights while in office and afterwards at the Carter Center, and he also built homes with Habitat for Humanity—all on account of his faith. Former President George W. Bush cited the importance of faith and faith-based organizations in the fight against HIV/AIDS>, to which he contributed by pledging $15B towards a global fund. Former President Barack Obama partnered with churches to fight unemployment and to feed needy children.

The American Solidarity Party champions religious freedom, both by supporting religious institutions in their refusal to perform activities contrary to their beliefs, and by affirming laws which protect the right of people of faith to practice and live out their religion without intimidation in the public square. It maintains that religious freedom transcends the “freedom of worship” afforded inside the walls of a church, mosque, synagogue, temple, or other place of worship. Today, the religious freedom of public servants is increasingly under fire. When President Kennedy’s suitability to become our nation’s leader was being challenged because of his Catholicism, he warned: “Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you—until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.” Our current situation renders his words prophetic. So, as disparate as our dogmas can be, let’s continue to fight the good fight for religious freedom in order to perpetuate the redeeming legacy of those that have come before us: that those Americans for whom dogma speaks loudest are often those most qualified to serve.

About the Author

Tai-Chi Kuo currently serves as Vice-Treasurer on the National Committee of the American Solidarity Party and as Vice-Chairman of the American Solidarity Party of Illinois. He is a first-generation Asian-American immigrant who began pursuing his American Dream at the tender age of four when his family emigrated from the Republic of China (Taiwan) and settled in the Chicagoland area. Tai-Chi is an Evangelical Christian who attends a historically Chinese-American church and who began his journey into politics after hearing a message on the subject of “Public Faith” exhorting Christians not to withdraw from public service, but to engage deeply with American society on the pressing issues of our times. He joined the American Solidarity Party in the summer of 2017 and has been active as an officer in its Illinois chapter since that time. Tai-Chi is passionate about religious freedom, faith in the public square, Asian-American issues, and Greater China issues.

Professionally, Tai-Chi has worked in roles related to project management and business analysis for over ten years on numerous financial services, technology, and legal projects. Tai-Chi holds a Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago and is currently pursuing his Master of Business Administration (online) from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, which is also his undergraduate alma mater where he majored in Advertising and minored in East Asian Languages and Cultures. Tai-Chi is engaged to be married in 2019 and has family in Illinois, Hawaii, Taipei, Beijing, and Fuzhou. During his free time, Tai-Chi enjoys reading, playing board games, listening to opera, and practicing martial arts.

Civil Asset Forfeiture: When Law Enforcement Agencies Become Highway Robbers

By Eric Anton, National Committee Member

There is a general perception in the United States that the law enforcement community exists to protect and serve the general population. Indeed, this reputation is largely deserved; I contrast this with the experiences of many in other countries where the police are largely seen as dishonorable pests to deal with. In my time in Afghanistan, a large number of the locals I interacted with saw the police as being in the same category as locusts or any other natural disaster that could never be avoided, but only endured. Sadly, many of our fellow citizens find their interactions with the police to be fraught with peril, violence, and outright oppression, and thus view law enforcement in much the same way as the Afghans do. The causes of their negative experiences are myriad and vexing, but at least one of these outrages can be traced to greed; its corrupting influence is a pestilence which threatens many of the basic provisions of justice that most of us take for granted in this nation.

Here I am speaking of “civil asset forfeiture,” which is a legal tool by which the law enforcement community can seize property that they allege to have been involved in a certain criminal activity. This property can include everything from cash, to cars, to real estate. Law enforcement may employ this process without charging the property owner with a crime, because they are bringing the charges of criminal wrongdoing against the property itself, rather than against its owner. The legal test in such cases is generally “the preponderance of evidence” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and there is a presumption of guilt rather than of innocence. Thus, the property owner must prove innocence to contest the seizure after the fact, while the state does not need to prove guilt prior to seizing the assets. In consequence, the stories of completely innocent persons having their property seized and being driven into grinding poverty without so much as a criminal charge, let alone a criminal conviction, have grown too numerous to count.

Now, imagine this: you are a young black male driving at night and you get pulled over by the cops. You’re concerned because you have a criminal record for some minor crimes in the past, but you’ve turned your life around. In fact, you are now a small business owner; you’ve just closed up for the night and are on your way home. Without warning, the cops take you out of your car, handcuff you, and detain you without reading you your rights or telling you what was wrong. They search your car and find the day’s take from your restaurant: over seventeen thousand dollars. After two hours of this abuse, you’re released, but your car has been impounded and the cash that you were going to use to buy supplies and equipment for your business has been confiscated. You have not been charged with a crime. This actually happened to a man named Mandrel Stuart in 2014, and his is not the only example out there. Civil asset forfeiture is a distressingly common occurrence during traffic stops and is tainted with the stench of racial profiling. Furthermore, it is incredibly difficult for people to get their property back, especially for racial minorities, who are already looked upon with suspicion by the justice system. In many cases, law enforcement has pressured property owners to renounce ownership of their property in order to avoid facing criminal charges, as happened to Javier Gonzalez, whom Texas police threatened in 2008 with a money laundering charge if he didn’t give them a briefcase of ten thousand dollars in cash that he was carrying.

So, why do the police do this? In most states, the police are allowed to keep the assets and use them to fund their own departments, or can get around state restrictions on this practice by teaming up with federal agencies through the “equitable sharing” system, in which the federal and local agencies divide the spoils amongst themselves. It can reasonably be surmised that greed has infected the whole process and that some police departments have taken on the role of brigands who steal from the poor and racial minorities—people without the political or economic power to challenge these outrages. A recent report in South Carolina found that black males represent thirteen percent of the population, yet accounted for sixty-five percent of those whose assets were confiscated. This same report found that fifty-five percent of the seizures that involved cash were of amounts less than a thousand dollars. In other words, the police in South Carolina are focusing their brigandage on those who do not have the means to fight back.

The American Solidarity Party should become an advocate to help the poor and disenfranchised by overturning this monumentally unjust practice. We champion the rights of the poor, minorities, and those who face oppression from our criminal justice system. Ending civil asset forfeiture should be a key component in our drive to reform the system and to correct the historic injustices inflicted on the most vulnerable people in our society.

Against Leeroy Jenkins-ism: Solidarity and Subsidiarity on the World Stage

By Patrick Harris
American Solidarity Party National Committee, Secretary

Subsidiarity is one of the concepts that gets thrown around a lot in discussions of Christian democratic politics—for good reason, to be sure. Different forms and levels of governance exist for different purposes, and higher levels should support, not supplant, lower forms. Ordinarily, this principle is used (and sometimes abused) in discussions about whether or how the state should intervene in a particular economic or social issue. But there’s really no issue in which the logic of subsidiarity is clearer and more obvious than in foreign policy.

Put simply, it’s good that there are different countries. They exist for a reason. That doesn’t mean nationalism is an unmixed good, of course; untempered by an acknowledgement of human dignity that is borderless, it can be quite dangerous. Yet, it remains true that people are best able to govern themselves in community with others with whom they share interests, values, traditions, and institutions. Likewise, the people best qualified to decide the internal arrangements of a country are the people who will live with the consequences.

Consequently, there is, or ought to be, a very high bar to clear for one country to meddle in the internal politics of another. The capacity to intervene is not the same thing as the competence or the right to do so, even in the service of a good cause. We understand this in domestic politics when, say, the state government makes it impossible for a town to change its property taxes or zoning laws. We understand this in private life when your Aunt Helen won’t shut up about how you should really change your tacky drapes and keeps telling your kids they can come live with her if you won’t let them keep a golden retriever in your walk-up apartment.

The current US foreign-policy establishment is a bit of an Aunt Helen—if Aunt Helen had eleven aircraft-carrier strike groups and a recurring habit of cluster-bombing the houses of people with bad drapes.

Admittedly, the comparison is a tad frivolous. There are a lot of terrible rulers in the world today, with terrible crimes to their names. Until a few years ago, Muammar Gaddafi, the former leader of Libya, was one of them. Despite decades of not posing a tangible threat to the United States and voluntarily giving up its nuclear program, it’s safe to say Gaddafi’s regime was not a Jeffersonian democracy. Gaddafi massacred Libyan citizens in an attempt to hang on to power, and threatened to massacre more. So, as a noted American stateswoman put it gleefully, “We came, we saw, he died.”

These days, Libya has open-air slave markets and a dangerous ISIS affiliate, and has been in (another) civil war for the past five years.

Outcomes like those in Libya are why American politics needs a party with a commitment to just war principles. They show why it’s important for the American Solidarity Party to offer a credible and coherent alternative to the two-party duopoly in foreign policy, not only in terms of condemning unjust wars, but also in taking a critical view of the mindset that makes them possible in the first place. Part of that mindset is the assumption that the interests of the United States are essentially boundless, that there is no place in the world where we do not have the right—even the duty—to intervene. Part of it is the belief that, in any given crisis, doing something is always better than doing nothing, since American “credibility” is at stake. Part of it is the hope against hope that there are always readily-identifiable “good guys” in every situation, and that American attempts to tip the scales on their behalf will never backfire.

A countervailing force for realism and restraint is desperately needed. That’s true not just in the case of the wars we fight directly; it’s also true of conflicts we facilitate through proxies and clients. (I’ve written about the disaster that is Yemen here, and things have gotten worse since then.) It’s true of our efforts to coerce foreign governments through sanctions and to dictate the outcomes of foreign elections or political crises through ostensibly peaceful means, which have a peculiar way of escalating.

Late last month, Marco Rubio provided a great case in point, as he often does. The senior senator from Florida appeared to taunt Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro by tweeting a series of pictures of deposed foreign dictators, including an image of Muammar Gaddafi when he was in power juxtaposed with his bloody visage while he was being tortured and killed by an angry mob during the Libyan Civil War (the one in 2011). Aside from proving that borderline sociopathy is a bipartisan condition when it comes to foreign affairs, Rubio’s tweet makes clear that the most diehard hawks are happy to piggyback off the more limited steps the US has taken to intervene in Venezuela.

Make no mistake: in recognizing the opposition leaders and attempting to assist them in ousting the Maduro government, the US has already committed itself to a policy of regime change. If the situation there worsens further, it is entirely possible that we will find out what President Trump’s assertion that “all options are on the table” really means. The potential slide toward more drastic measures is precisely why a party committed to just war principles should seek to promote a broader strategic posture of restraint. As one of the great cultural touchstones for Millennials reminds us, fools rush in.

You might ask, “What about solidarity?” Shouldn’t we care about people suffering under corrupt governments? Far be it from me to suggest that solidarity stops at the water’s edge. International cooperation should be part of any Solidarist platform. We should seek peace among nations and common effort on questions of common concern. None of that makes the United States an effective or disinterested arbiter in the affairs of every nation on the globe.

National sovereignty is not an absolute good, nor is restraint the same thing as isolation. But the overwhelming tendency in American foreign policy for decades has been toward attempts to expand American hegemony, with disasters like the Iraq War brushed aside as mere aberrations. Meanwhile, a huge swath of the electorate, cutting across party lines, is looking for an alternative to an interventionist consensus that does a disservice to both our interests and our values. The American Solidarity Party can be that alternative, if it is willing to look beyond the stale and destructive clichés that have shaped our foreign policy debates for far too long.

Presidential Candidate Spotlight – Joe Schriner

It started in 1990. I felt a spiritual calling to leave my profession, my home—I was a mental health counselor in private practice in suburban Cleveland—and go on the road. I did.

This was the start of an eight-year, 150,000 mile research journey across America. From town to town, and quite serendipitously, I would meet these amazing people who had developed phenomenal local models to help women in crisis pregnancy, save the environment, heal families, curb crime, promote peace, bring social justice to the poor, and so on.

It was as if God, below the surface of the “cacophony of dysfunction” going on in the country, was developing these models as building blocks to, ultimately, dramatically shift America—when the time was right.
I took a lot of notes.

Prior to being a counselor, I’d been a journalist. I met Liz on a research trip through Alaska. We got married, started having kids, and kept traveling. After the eight years, we settled for a short period. During this time, through more considered spiritual discernment, we were inspired to take the notes, draft them into position papers, establish an overarching platform based on the research—and start the run for President.

Funny though, the resulting platform didn’t match up, across the board, with any party’s platform. Pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, yes, but also pro-environment and pro-social justice. What our platform did match up with was Catholic social teaching. I knew something about that because I am a strong Catholic versed in those teachings.

We launched on the presidential quest in April of 1999. Since then, it has been: six successive election cycles, 100,000 miles of campaign traveling, some 1,000 newspaper articles, some 200 regional network TV news shows, hundreds of radio shows, a good number of college talks, and a whole lot of street corner stumping.

We’ve reached millions. And we’ve used various strategies from our previous research to plant seeds that then ripple out into the wider community from there. This has spanned 20 years now, and counting.

In 2012, I was contacted by the Christian Democratic Party (now the American Solidarity Party). They wanted to “endorse” me in that campaign. When I checked out the website, I was astounded! It matched our platform, almost exactly. I accepted the endorsement. During the 2016 campaign, I was approached about considering vying for the ASP nomination. I declined because, at the time, I had decided to focus my energy more on internal campaign work. That’s done.

Our campaign, we believe, now stands at a “tipping point.” What’s more, the ASP now seems to have more of a nationwide structure in place (albeit kind of a “Gideon’s Army” numbers wise). The synergy, with God’s grace, should surprise everyone!

So . . . my “passion” is to see the models we’ve researched inspire people in every town across the country, and what better way to mobilize that than through the Presidency? Concurrently, I want to see the ASP become a quite formidable mainstream Party in this country, soon!
What a wild ride this combination could be!

Presidential Candidate Spotlight – Brian Carroll

Our party achieved remarkable membership growth in 2016, and I was one of those new members. I would like to help the party grow even more in 2020. I believe that both major parties are fracturing and that the American Solidarity Party is in a good position to pick up new “free agents.”

I followed a path of political disengagement. I voted a straight pro-life (GOP) ticket from 1980 until 2010. In 1990, I helped found a local pro-life organization and served as a spokesperson when we appeared before the city council to oppose the opening of an abortion facility. However, in 2010, the California Republicans ran a pro-choice candidate for governor. I did not want to encourage that trend, so I carefully studied the Democratic candidate. I realized that in many areas, I agreed with his positions over what the GOP candidates supported. Concurrent with the 2015-2016 presidential campaign, my home congregation experienced a church split. During March 2016, after 35 years of membership in the GOP and in my congregation, I resigned from both. Cutting my political ties meant that when I discovered the American Solidarity Party that August, I was ready to jump in feet first. I also joined a new a house church which is now fully organized and chartered and blesses my wife (Vicki) and me abundantly.

Whether we call ourselves “Pro-Life for the Whole Life” or something else, I believe the American Solidarity Party is first and foremost a party that confronts the culture of death that surrounds us. We will not win everywhere, but we must constantly look for ways we can win victories anywhere that God grants us success. Life issues are also social justice issues, and now critical climate issues have become life issues. This means that, on some subjects, our allies will be from parties to the right of us, and on others, they will be from parties to the left. Walking such a tightrope will require leaders who are able to cultivate friendships on both sides, yet not stumble into self-defeating compromises. The other tightrope will be running a secular campaign that manages to glorify God. That is my goal.

In retrospect, my worst failures in life occurred during times when I felt God nudging me toward something and I turned Him down. During the last 18 months, I have felt God nudging me into the current presidential race. In 2018, I ran for Congress. Though I lost the race (finishing in fifth place out of the six candidates), I was amazed at the success of a low-budget, part-time campaign. The time is ripe. I believe that the American Solidarity Party best advances the ideals I hold for the American people, and I plan to use the next two years to further those ideals. I will retire from my current career in June, after forty-three years working in the field of education. Going forward, I will support the Party in whatever capacity God provides, with the skills and energy with which He empowers me.

Presidential Candidate Spotlight – Joshua Perkins

I grew up in a mixed-race working-class family in Houston, was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school, attended Rice University (paid for by scholarships and loans), and have worked for the past nine years at a life insurance company in an actuarial role. I have been blessed with over a decade of marriage to my wonderful wife, Jocelyn, and we are raising four children (so far) while attending an Anglican church.

My political upbringing was pretty conservative, and I was fairly libertarian from high school through college (I cast a write-in vote for Ron Paul in 2008); however, I slowly became aware that a truly consistent libertarianism would result in bad outcomes—up to and including premature death—for real people who simply lacked money or economic opportunities, which didn’t fit well with my moral and religious convictions about the equality of all people.

By 2012, my shift toward a centrist position was mostly complete, and I voted for the most moderate Republican presidential candidate (Jon Huntsman, Jr.) in both the primary and the general election that year. Although my position on many (perhaps most) of today’s political issues had moved from the right to the center or center-left, I still couldn’t vote for Democrats because of their stance on abortion; however, due to the increasing tilt of the Republican party to the right, I found myself unable to stomach voting for most of their candidates, too, which left me adrift and without a place to hang my political hat. Providentially, I found the American Solidarity Party in the spring of 2015, and I have been proud to be a member ever since.

My main impetus for putting myself forward as a candidate for the presidential nomination is to broaden the discussion and give the membership more choices; if the process shows that any (or all) of the other candidates would be a better nominee, I will gladly step aside and endorse that person (or persons) instead.

In addition to our four core principles, I plan to focus particularly on issues under the following platform headings:

Civic Engagement

In order for our party to have a significant impact on local and national politics, we have to be a viable electoral alternative, which means the most important structural issues are breaking the political duopoly by significantly improving ballot access for third parties, implementing alternative voting methods, and eliminating partisan gerrymandering.

Personal Security and Criminal Justice

Systematic racism, mass incarceration, and concerns about police accountability are some of the most pressing problems facing racial and ethnic minority communities in our country. These problems need to be addressed effectively in order to make progress toward the goal of true equality for all.

I hope that this nomination process will be clarifying and unifying for our party, and I’ll do my best toward that goal.

Coalition Building

by Brian Talbot, Jr.

In my time as a local ASP leader, I have found that some of the most productive work for  advancing the causes of our Travis County chapter of the American Solidarity Party has been in the context of partnering in solidarity with other groups. This first began when I reached out to the county chair of the local Libertarian Party affiliate in my area. We met and talked about issues facing our area and the growth of third parties in our state. While nothing concrete came from that meeting, I established a good relationship and spread awareness of the ASP.

My more recent efforts at coalition building have been effective in showing that we can take concrete action on the local level. In December, the Travis County ASP partnered with the Texans for Voter Choice coalition (TVC). TVC advocates for fair ballot access for third-party and independent candidates by changing the outdated ballot-access and petitioning laws that have remained unchanged since their adoption in 1903. During my first TVC meeting, I volunteered to work with a representative from the League of Independent Voters (LIV) to help establish a lobby day at the state capitol in Austin. Despite the fact that I had no lobbying experience, I was willing to learn and contribute what I could. As a result, TVC—in conjunction with the LIV—held a lobby day on March 5th. Through this experience, I gained new working relationships, as well as a new set of skills to use in my work with the ASP.

It has been important for me and our local ASP chapter to learn how to work with other groups toward a common goal, despite our differences on issues, just as our government should. With the Travis County ASP as a member of the TVC, I’ve continued to build our relationship with the Libertarian Party and started building relationships with the Green Party, Constitution Party, and America’s Party in Texas, as well as with other groups.

Being in a third party isn’t easy. Being a leader in a third party isn’t easy. But when we all work together, committed to a common cause, there’s nothing we can’t do. That’s solidarity right there. It’s going to both help the ASP be successful and help change American government for the better, all the way from city council to Capitol Hill.

Brian Talbot Jr. is the County Chair of the American Solidarity Party of Travis County, Texas. More information about the Travis County ASP can be found at asptc.wordpress.com.

UPDATE:

3/10/2019: Since the writing of this article, the Texas Voter Choice Act entered the Texas House of Representatives as HB 4439.

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