Poverty: U.N. investigation should tell whole truth

Next month, a United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights will travel to West Virginia (among a few other places) to “investigate government efforts to eradicate poverty in the country, and how this relates to the United States’ obligations under international human rights law.”

It would be nice to believe Professor Philip Alston, of the New York University School of Law, will be honest in his assessment, and tell the truth about what generations of government “help” has done for poverty in West Virginia. According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Alston plans to look at social protection and the criminalization of poverty, poverty and healthcare, and rural poverty and its broader structural issues.

Perhaps he should add topics such as the federal government’s effort to increase dependence upon itself; the federal government’s encouragement of the substance abuse epidemic, in its early stages; the federal government’s attempt to wipe out an industry on which much of the state depends; and the failure of many-decades-old federal programs such as the Appalachian Regional Commission to meet ANY reasonable measures of success.

It would also be helpful to the U.N., should that organization be genuinely interested in studying the matter, to do some long-term research. For example, a look at the results of more than 50 years of federal government money disingenuously thrown West Virginia’s way versus the results 20 to 25 years from now, of a planned nearly $84 billion investment by China Energy Investment Corp., announced earlier this month.

Those results would not merely be a comparison of government money with corporate investment. They would be a comparison of generations of people being told they need to depend on the government for handouts to survive with a couple of decades of people being told they are valuable enough to warrant investment — their skills, their work ethic, their loyalty and their determination have attracted the kind of jobs that will allow them to survive.

All that is a lot of work, and a lot of bureaucratic giants, for someone like Alston to tackle. Then again, any job worth doing right means some hard work — ask any West Virginian. Let us hope Alston is up to the task.


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