One might ask when the last expose' will be filmed, edited, and shown about our homeland. It is always a good place to go for a story, so the answer is probably never. On the other hand, it is a good place to observe what socialism, in the name of government assistance, has done to a once proud people.
One trillion dollars did not end poverty in the mountains. Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty began to funnel money into the mountains, unfortunately, with only little impact. The poverty rate changed from around thirty eight percent in 1964 to thirty percent today. Not much to show for a trillion bucks.
The afflicted mountain people shown on 20/20 exist in a state of misery. Miserable people often take drugs or drink alcohol. Mother's Little Helper, a legendary drug song by the Rolling Stones, wasn't written about backwoods hillbillies. No, it was for the woman of the 1960's who had it all except for peace and tranquility. When you narrow it down, that is what most humans want from this life; just a little peace and tranquility in a sea of problems and turmoil that we more often than not find no comfort in.
Never excuse the lawbreakers though. Never give them the benefit of the doubt concerning their miserable existence in this most notorious of brevities, or try to find out why they consistently dole out scarce resources needed for food, rent, and clothing for their kids just to find tranquility from a chemical laden capsule. Stick them in jail forever, and endless rehab; separate them from the families that need them. Punish them forever for trying to escape despair; protect them from themselves with punishment.
The fact remains that unless one is born into the system that perpetuates such misery, seeing it, hearing it, and smelling it doesn't allow anyone to think they somehow know the plight of the desperately poor. Government failed. Endless orisons never seem to reach high enough out of the dark hollows even for those who remain faithful despite the trials. Education is not treasured, and real work is only for those who live where it can be found. Junk collectors and moss gatherers permeate the trash littered hillsides while the self-righteous, middle class multitudes ring out with, "Just go out and get a job!"
The saddest thing of all is that the people who suffer and are stuck in these mountains are a victim of what many around here don't like to discuss, even though it is so true. "The swirling eddy of hopelessness" in our Appalachian mountains is notorious and seemingly forever. It is easier to blame it on shiftless, lazy, ancestrally challenged people than to consider there may still be a solution to the problem. Poverty doesn't have to be forever.
There is a way to end this problem but government can't do it by tossing subsistence money allocations to the unfortunate like one might toss bread crumbs to a hungry carp. Politicians have visited many times, have tried, and failed. There is not enough charity to end it, even if charity was the answer.
The free market system is the answer. If businesses move into Kentucky's little corner of Appalachia, much of this nonsense called poverty would disappear. Those children who were interviewed on 20/20 were, for the most part, just as intelligent as anyone in this country. The only things that gave them away were their dialect and the history of poverty they experienced and then retold. Remove them from the "The swirling eddy of hopelessness" and the sky would be the limit for them. Remove them from a society that doesn't know a good paying job and the eddy's gentle, but deadly swirl would turn into a rushing stream of capitalistic endeavor and prosperity. Target the kids for positive change at school. Sadly, the adults may be beyond help; just another lost generation unless convinced there is indeed a world, worthy of living in without the crutch of drugs.
Failed governmental systems mysteriously arise from political graveyards in times of crisis. Socialism survives somehow and thrives, hovering just below the political visual threshold of many Americans who in fact do not even have a clue what it means. Consider the failures our government created in Appalachia as evidenced by the 20/20 report, but more importantly from all the other indicators of poverty that statistics provide. Spreading the wealth is a recipe for failure and a roadmap to dependence.
America did not achieve the highest standard of living in the world by depending on government for its every need. Individual entrepreneurs who took risks to establish a business and then hired people to share in the wealth made us the only place on earth where people would risk death to come to. Instead of dumping more money into the Appalachian welfare sink hole, why not provide incentives to the private sector by lowering taxes and giving them monetary and other incentives to locate here, prepare children to do the work early on, and then hire the younger generation just as they graduate from high school.
A trillion dollars in welfare didn't change things very much. Forty five years of bailouts failed. Generations continue to be born and will die in some the worst poverty stricken areas of this nation. It would be a great day in Appalachia if only our poor neighbors one day could experience an occasional recession as we are now in instead of living in one their entire lives.
Chuck Owens is department chairperson of social studies at Middlesboro High School.