We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
I say that it can be either, both, or neither. If one grows up in a drug- and crime-tolerant environment, it's more likely that the wicked side of one's nature will be given free rein and things won't work out well, just as it's easier to live like a Boy Scout when all around you are doing the same.
My problem with addressing the subject this way, however, is that it ignores the large numbers of voluntarily poor, unluckily poor, and temporarily poor. Poverty is not a unitary phenomenon. Is a struggling artist or actor "poor"? And what is poverty in America anyway?
I think that French may be speaking more about "the poor in spirit" than the materially-deprived.
I have a hard time believing French's comment that more are saved by "the Cross" than government programs or private charity but can appreciate the follow-on sentiment that some form of "commitment" to getting out of poverty is essential. In the trenches, much of "poverty" work is shifting (at least in my 'hood) to teaching to fish rather than providing the fish, although in the current economic environment, both are needed, sadly.
As to the constant comparisons of american poor with other poor across the globe, 'tis true, they are largely better off but there are more than just a few problems with that line of reasoning. One, we live here, not there, so we need to improve the context of our own society to the extent we can. Two, human emotions tend to measure in relative terms and if you care about a "happiness quotient" or some form of measurement not based on DVDs per capita, the kid who shows up in school with no gym shoes, change of clothes or calculator (due to family finances) is getting set up for a sense of personal failure - with potentially negative consequences for his/herself and for the larger society. Three, agree with Barry completely, poverty is not a unitary phenom. I could go on. but I won't. at the moment.
It's funny when you look back at history. The stories about pioneer families who always had a gun mounted over the mantel or near the door, or in hand when they went outside, but no stories about rampant children slaughtering people.
Or the telling of my grandparents of what they endured during their childhood and the depression. Same with my parents about what it was like to come to adulthood during the depression. My own stories about how we had to watch every penny or do without (never without love though).
All these things came to a somewhat happy ending because of....what WAS the difference? Freedom to carry and use a gun, struggle and want....eventually led to a better life. So what is the difference today? Why does poverty, now, always lead to crime and a dissolute life?
the communications revolution has fed and watered every little seedling of normal human nature, including prominently the vice of envy, and especially so among those who do not comprehend the otherworldness of global instant realtime communication of word and image, and so are unaware of the lethal corrosiveness of their freedom to live in a contant state of comparison of their own lives to the exalted lives of the tiny fraction of the most accomplished, gifted, rich, or lucky.