A Rising Tide Only Lifts All Boats When Everyone Has a Boat.

President John F. Kennedy once said about economic development that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Kennedy was, of course, right, but he missed something really, really important: A rising tide lifts only lifts all boats when everyone has a boat.

This has never been clearer than it is right now. According to a shocking new study out of the Brookings Institution, around 12 million Americans survive on less than $2 per day. To put that number in perspective, 12 million people is about about 25 percent of the 46.5 million people living under the poverty line and about 4 percent of the U.S. population as whole.

Poverty statistics are notoriously difficult to work with, but that doesn’t change the fact this Brookings study is really, really disturbing. 12 million people living on less than two measly dollars a day in the richest country in the history of the world isn’t just shameful, it’s also the sign of policy failure of the highest order.

So where’d we go wrong? Why is deep, crushing poverty, something that’s pretty much unheard of in most Scandinavian and northern European countries, such a problem here in America?

Obviously, there’s no simple answer to that question. Reaganomics, a political system that favors the interests of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, so-called "free trade" deals, ongoing structural racism -- you name it. All of these things go a long way towards explaining America’s ongoing poverty problem.

But when it comes down to it, the real reason there’s such a poverty problem here in the United States is that we’ve never really come to grips with what poverty actually is.

Just look at what Paul Ryan is trying to do right now. As part of his big new anti-poverty plan, Ryan wants poor people to meet with life coaches and, I’m not kidding, sign contracts “outlining specific and measureable benchmarks for success.”

The idea here is that poverty is some sort of mental sickness that poor people need to be cured of before they become good, hard-working middle-class Americans. This is, of course, the same cruel and wrongheaded idea behind pretty much every conservative plan to solve poverty. “If only those lazy poor people got some self-discipline and pulled themselves up by the bootstraps,” Republicans say, “they’ll get rich just like everyone else.”

But while this kind of stuff might sound good on the campaign trail and help Paul Ryan get airtime on cable TV channels, it’s just flat-out wrong. Poverty is not a disease, it’s not a “culture,” and it’s not something you can solve just by telling poor people to work harder. Poverty, at its core, is really just a lack of resources.

Poor people aren’t poor because they’re lazy and don’t know how to work; poor people are poor because they don’t have the resources (aka money) to afford things like housing, food, and education that are essential to living a good life.

So, if we really want to fight poverty here in the U.S., the number one thing we can do is actually give people the resources they don’t have. And yes, this means transferring wealth, you know, that whole socialism thing that everyone is always freaking out about.

If you don’t believe me, just take a look at this graph comparing the pre and post-tax poverty rates in three Scandinavian countries to the pre and post-tax poverty rate in the United States. While Finland, Denmark, and Sweden all have pre-tax poverty rates that are about the same as ours, their post-tax poverty rates are much, much lower. The reason why? Easy -- Finland, Denmark, and Sweden, all have social welfare systems that actually work to reduce poverty, compared with the dysfunction system we have here in the U.S.

Poverty in America has deep roots and is the source of pretty much every other social problem in this country. But luckily for us, the solution to this country’s poverty problem is actually pretty simple.

If we want to make good on the promise of the American Dream and make sure that poverty is a thing of the past or least significantly reduced, we need to start doing right now what countries in Scandinavia have been doing for decades: redistributing wealth from those on the top to those on the bottom.

We do this already with the skimpy social safety we already have, but that social safety net has been on the chopping block since the Reagan era, and barely scratches the surface of what we need to do to ensure a basic standard of living for all Americans.

To paraphrase JFK once again, while a rising ride lifts does lift all boats, it only does so when everyone has a boat. Millions of Americans have been struggling for decades to survive on creaky, sinking boats, or treading water with a piece of driftwood. Let’s give them new boats. Let’s expand the social safety net.


mathboy's picture
mathboy 8 years 39 weeks ago

If not everyone has a boat, that doesn't mean boats aren't lifted, I would phrase it as "A rising tide lifts all boats, but not everyone has a boat."

Maggie72's picture
Maggie72 8 years 39 weeks ago

Many poor people would be more than grateful to pull themselves up by their bootstraps as Paul Ryan and Co. would have them do. However, I would gladly tell Ryan that it is impossible to do so if one lacks boots. The "I've got mine, to hell with you" attitude is pervasive in the US today which is both morally wrong and dangerous. Any society which refuses to care for its most vulnerable is a society on the decline.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 39 weeks ago

Thank you, Maggie. Whatever, "Mathboy". - AIW

stecoop01's picture
stecoop01 8 years 39 weeks ago

Not only do too many people not have any "boats", too many people are being forced to give their meager boats to those with bigger boats. Inflation, tax increases, debt collection fraud, illegal foreclosures, bizarro court rulings favoring big corporations, and laws favoring the filthy rich are taking fleets of boats away from those who are already barely afloat. (I think this metaphor has gone far enough.) The rich are screwing the poor!!!

The legend goes that, when Marie Antoinette was told that the people couldn't afford to buy bread, she responded, "Let them eat cake". Soon after, the French Revolution started, with bloody consequences.

In any society where wealth ineaquality becomes too great, violent revolution is the "equalizer". If the United States doesn't change its course real soon, violent revolution will change the face and make-up of America; history has foretold that promise.

stecoop01's picture
stecoop01 8 years 39 weeks ago

A blog with a boats metaphor...and I see ads for boats...


Non-sequitur's picture
Non-sequitur 8 years 39 weeks ago

To Stecoop01: those ads dont happen with me - dont sign into Google - which I assume you are using. Anything associated with Google tracks not only your searches and purches, but also looks at what is displayed to offer related ads. You can also use an Ad blocker or do not track me app to your browser.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 8 years 39 weeks ago

stecoop01 RE inequality -- I agree that where economic inequality becomes too great violent revolution arises. I do not agree that history shows us that it equalizes.

Non-sequitur's picture
Non-sequitur 8 years 39 weeks ago

I'm on a fixed income from SSA being disabled. Even with the "extra" the SSA gives for being disabled, and currently living in section 8 housing, I barely survive on $4.50 per day.

I have dietary needs which I cannot afford. This occasionally ends with me being in the hospital for a week or two each year because I can't afford to eat properly for my various conditions. Living on 1/2 of that or less is an amazing feat and demonstrates the resourcefulness of the very poor in a system that tends to negate them and take resources away the poorer one becomes.

stecoop01's picture
stecoop01 8 years 39 weeks ago
Quote chuckle8:I do not agree that history shows us that it equalizes.

I'll agree that it does not perfectly equalize, more it greatly decreases inequality; and of course only temporarily. Eventually, human greed and avarice, if uncontrolled, take over and start it all over again.

stecoop01's picture
stecoop01 8 years 39 weeks ago

To non-sequiter: I don't use google at all, don't even have an account. I use FireFox with ad blocking turned on, as well as pop-up blocker. I assume that Thom's web site host may be inserting ads, based on the content of the blog. Anyway, I just find it interesting...

Stella Jane's picture
Stella Jane 8 years 39 weeks ago

It's morally wrong to NOT feed human children... It is an economic stupidity because remediation is SO MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE. So this is LOGICAL and ECONOMICAL!

Feed ALL children worldwide for

ONE MILLION $$$ of each One Billion spent on WAR.


Get with the program folks !

Feed ALL children Educate ALL people

to feed themselves and others

Our RIGHT is to establish ideal human habitat; our DUTY for 7 generations. ALL kept as PUBLIC BENEFIT controlled only by real HUMANS, on GAIA our living planet.


Gather in fields: the congregation.

Plant seeds: the ceremony.

PRAY during the growing/watering.

Share WORLDWIDE: the communion.

Peace n Planting our true way of life.

99% feel the same ...... Feed ALL children Educate ALL people

Please BEE REAL -- get a hive going with somebody anywhere!

BEE ProACTIVE aka benefit the 7 generations in all you do!

PS MAKING IT HAPPEN LOCALLY in your neighborhood.

Thought this local action peace plan might be at the heart of our prayers.... we could rent church kitchens and make wonderful BREAKFAST in YOUR POCKET cookies and donated organic milk for school children. Friday night we use the kitchen again to make WHOLE GRAIN PIZZA with ten vegetables and mushrooms. Salad bar too, all organic fresh!

NO MOVIE NIGHTS -- instead there are ten tables with crafts and skills mentors sitting there to help the YOUTH. A great fisherman, a basket maker, leather worker, food preservation teacher and other useful survival skills teachers /life guides.

RichardofJeffersonCity's picture
RichardofJeffer... 8 years 39 weeks ago

It might be an over simplification to state – If we live in a democracy and then the will of the people should be the governing factor in laws and policy. So, if the majority consensus is that a person living below the most meager of means that a person can live and exist is not acceptable in a wealthy society, then it would be corrected by the democratic process. However, that is clearly not the case in the United States, therefore, we do not live in a democracy or a democratic republic, because the will of the people is not addressed by popular volition.

telliottmbamsc's picture
telliottmbamsc 8 years 39 weeks ago

:) kudo's on the title mr hartmann

jschnabel 8 years 39 weeks ago

Market Basket Wins! See Artie T's speech at www.wmur.com to see the true values that CEOs need to embrace to make this happen. "No one person is better than any other".

Please put some clips on the radio show.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 8 years 39 weeks ago

RE#12 of RichardofJeffer... -- Thom calls it a constitutional monarchy.

mathboy's picture
mathboy 8 years 39 weeks ago

It's always so disheartening to hear people like today's final caller, who care but have no idea how government works. You can't have a referendum to say "Reform immigration policy". That's not a law. Without representatives of the people to hamer out details, the functionaries of the government (bureaucrats, law enforcement, etc.) would be left with virtually no rein or mandate on their actions.

cherylkelmar's picture
cherylkelmar 8 years 38 weeks ago

I don't know if speaking out like I am is right. What do you think? I would love to be on your show to speak about court reform and banking. Please sign my petition at respondtob293121.com.

See my blog on Tom's member page under Cheryl Kelmar

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 38 weeks ago

Cheryl, I tried checking out your petition and this is what I got:

Your search - respondtob293121.com#sthash.6hkLqXfi.dpuf - did not match any documents.


  • Make sure all words are spelled correctly.
  • Try different keywords.
  • Try more general keywords.
  • Try fewer keywords.

Search Results

KTkacer's picture
KTkacer 8 years 38 weeks ago

That's odd. I see no boat ad. I use ABP (Ad Block Pro) and DuckDuckGo, and also Firefox as you do... might want to look into whichof the other 2 things I do that you do not. my guess is something is tracking you, and it saw the boat part in the article and added the ad accordingly....

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