It's A Gray Area: Government is not the road out of poverty

The road to success for communities struggling with poverty is generally not hard to find, or even to travel. All it requires is a firm reliance upon yourself instead of government.

To drive that point home, candidly ask yourself what government has actually done for you in the last five years. Yes governments make promises, but have they kept you safe? Educated your children well? Provided you with a good job, or any job at all? Provided you with good health care?

Probably not to any satisfactory degree. So why do you believe the governments' promises for the next five years?

Instead of placing your faith in more government promises, put your reliance upon what works, which is you , as well as your family, religious organization and community. Here are three concrete suggestions that will guide you to success.

First, avoiding poverty is generally not hard to do if you follow these three simple rules: Get at least a high school education; do not have children outside of marriage; and get a job – any job. Once you obtain an education, learn and demonstrate a good work ethic. Show that you are reliable and can perform, and money and job security will follow.

The second suggestion centers on schools, because a good education is the key to just about everything. So please ask yourself this: Who is in a better position to know how and where a child should be educated, the child's parents, or the government? I have never had anyone respond with anything but the child's parents.

Facing that obvious answer, we should set up a system in which the parents can control how and where the government money that is paid for their child's education can be spent. If that happens, the parents will demand — and receive — excellence.

How are your government schools doing today in educating your community's children? Many are failing — particularly those in minority communities. But in Milwaukee, where parents were given the power to choose about six years ago, virtually all of the schools are performing quite well. And the same results are now being seen in New Orleans for the same reason.

You can call this power a school voucher, scholarship or consent card — it doesn't matter. This system of school choice works! And that would be the biggest boon to poor and minority communities.

The third suggestion begins with a story. When I was in the Peace Corps, in the smallest town in Costa Rica that had a high school, the landlord of the Soda Americana, where most of the high school teachers and I lived, was from China and was named Chunga.

After living there for about a year, one day I told him that I had noticed that most of the shops and stores in our town were run by Chinese people like him, and asked how this had happened. Chunga said that after the deposing of Chang Kai-shek in China by Mao Tse-tung in 1949, many Chinese fled to Taiwan. But others kept on coming to Hawaii, and still others came to the west coast of all of the Americas, including Costa Rica. And when they came, they brought with them a successful tradition.

In my town, just like in China, the Chinese community was unofficially overseen by a successful group of elders. This tradition allowed a young man (at that time this was restricted to males) to come to the group of elders with an idea to open a bakery, butcher shop, etc. In effect, he would present an oral business plan.

The elders would respond by making suggestions and then, if they thought the plan was feasible, they would provide the young man with seed money to get his business started. This was not a loan; it was a gift. But it would only happen once.

If the new business was successful, the young entrepreneur hoped that he would later be fortunate enough to be an elder himself. Then someday he could also contribute to similar business ventures by other young men. But if the business was not successful, the young man would lose so much credibility — or "face" — that he probably would have to leave town. So under those circumstances, you can imagine the incentives that were felt by these young men to be successful.

This was the reason there were so many Chinese merchants in my town, and also many other places in the world. So my third suggestion is that the successful elders in impoverished American communities — and there are many — create a similar program. It has worked in the Chinese communities for generations!

In summary, the road to success is paved with a good education, a strong work ethic and community support. Actually, this is the libertarian way, and it is not hard. It simply requires you and your community to take charge of your own lives and stop relying so much on government promises.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach. He can be contacted at

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