Poverty and Purity Codes

This is a graphic that has been going around Facebook.  It shows the results of a Florida program that requires welfare recipients to pass a drug screening in order to qualify for benefits.  According to the graphic, 98% of those tested passed.  The program cost taxpayers $ 178 million.  The big tax savings to the state of throwing the drug users off welfare was $60,000.

The graphic made me wonder: If we were to require drug testing of wealthy people in order to qualify for oil subsidies, or a lower tax rate on capital gains than earned income, what would the graphic look like?  What percentage would fail the test and what would the savings look like?  Is it possible that a larger percentage of capital gains beneficiaries might be using drugs (cocaine on their yachts) than single mothers with minimum wage jobs do?  Is is possible that because of the amount of income involved that the tax savings might actually outweigh the program cost?

I was recently reading the book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg.  Borg spoke about the purity code that operated in Jesus’s time (which Jesus violated and protested by eating with tax collectors and the unclean).  The purity code went beyond a few rituals.  It provided an entire social and political system based on the notion of pure and impure, clean and unclean.

According to one purity map of the time, priests and Levites (both hereditary classes) come first, followed by “Israelites,” followed by “converts” (Jewish persons who were not Jewish by birth). Further down the list are “bastards,” followed by those with damaged testicles and those without a penis. Women who were made unclean monthly were low on the social scale. Behavior also played a role and certain occupations, such as tax collecting, made one an outcast.

So by now you’re probably wondering what all of this ancient history has to do with Florida drug testing.  It is this.  To quote Borg:

“The purity contrast also was associated with economic class. To be sure, being rich did not automatically put one on the pure side (and first-century Judaism could speak of rich people who were wicked), but being abjectly poor almost certainly made one impure.”

When I read this line it occurred to me that our society still operates on this type of a purity code.  Being wealthy does not automatically make a person “pure” but it gives the person the assumption of purity.  A rich person is assumed to be clean, well mannered, smart and moral until proven otherwise. A poor person, on the other hand, lives with the assumption of “impurity.”  His is assumed to be unintelligent, less capable, unclean and less moral until proven otherwise.

So why doesn’t anyone suggest drug testing in order to qualify for oil subsidies?  How far would such an idea go if someone proposed it?  What types of government funding and services should you have to prove you are moral and ethical to get?

(Reposted from my non-fiction blog Broke is Beautiful)

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