Melissa Harris-Perry Show Panel discuss risk & poverty


This is a few weeks old, but I think this is an important discussion.

MONICA MEHTA: Which is enabled by taking risks. And that was the big thing that was missing from the “you didn’t build that speech.”

HARRIS-PERRY: What is riskier than living poor in America? Seriously! What in the world is riskier than being a poor person in America? I live in a neighborhood where people are shot on my street corner, I live in a neighborhood where people have to figure out how to get their kid into school because maybe it will be a good school and maybe it won’t.

I am sick of the idea that being wealthy is risky. No! There is a huge safety net that whenever you fail will catch you (slams palms together) and catch you (slams palms together) and catch you (slams palms again). Being poor is what is risky!

MEHTA: Melissa–

HARRIS-PERRY: We have to create a safety net for poor people and then won’t because they happen to look different from us, it is the pervasive ugliness!

COATES: It is, it is.

HARRIS-PERRY: We cannot do that!

COATES: There is the other side being that small business owners do take risks, of course. And when we–

MEHTA: That’s what makes entrepreneurs different from other smart, hardworking people. And my point was that that is what was missing from the speech.

BOB FRANKEN: You mean the entrepreneurs who built things all by themselves?

COATES: They don’t build them by themselves, they build them by employing other people.

MEHTA: Yes, the ones that use the roads that all of us have access to, the teachers have access to. But some of us go to Dairy Queen and some of us start businesses.

GILES: I’m sorry but the whole notion of job creators—consumers are job creators. We’re the ones who make, who help make business, and who help make industry. And it’s very hurtful I so agree with what you just said (looking at Harris-Perry).

There was a picture on the front-page of the New York Times this Tuesday that really irked me. It was a black man that was in a homeless shelter in New Orleans and it showed empty beds around him and he was laying back with his feet crossed. And there was something about that picture to me that just looked like ‘This is an example of some lazy person, sponging off of the largess of other people.’

There are just these pervasive things that are out there. They just are!

FRANKEN: Besides which, your premise (addressing Mehta), correct me if you disagree. Your premise is that the person must be able to have all the wealth he can accumulate. All the wealth he can accumulate as a reward for taking risks. And I guess my question is, how many vacation homes do you need? How many private jets do you need? I suspect that if people were to give a little bit back to the government that enabled them, that they would, in fact, still want to take those risks.

MEHTA: I don’t think that’s the thought process of the small business owner who makes $250,000 a year. We’ve lost 220,000 small business owners in the last 10 years. We’re mixing apples and oranges. We’re talking about people that are super-wealthy and putting the policies that should affect them on real people who are just trying.

HARRIS-PERRY: You’re right, small business is different than Bain Capital. But I’ll also say, 10 years, President Obama has been president than few—less than four.

First of all Small Business is Bain Capital. it’s also Price Waterhouse-Coopers. It’s also the local laundromat. It’s also the local corner store . This is why “small business” is a meaningless classification when discussing risk. Owners of small businesses like Bain and PwC , have different access to debt relief, labor markets, capital and exit strategies than say a laundromat or a food truck.

Risk as something you choose is inherent to the neo-con informed view of personal risk offered to the discussion by Business Finance Expert Monica Mehta. This made the usually calm Melissa Harris-Perry lose her temper because of the neglect of discussion of small facts.

Note: What’s wrong with our political press is that the facet of the debate that was most newsworthy to most media outlets was that Harris-Perry lost her temper, not what was actually being discussed.

Harris-Perry apologized for losing her temper:

Harris-Perry: Let me start by saying that when I apologized, my apology was not for what I said. It was not even for the passion with which I said it. But it was for yelling at a guest. I’ve been a guest on many shows, shows where I agree with the host, where I don’t agree with the host. And I do feel like, as a host, the thing that I want to be is not someone who, even if I fundamentally disagree with my guests, makes my guests feel like I’m yelling at them. To me, it makes me feel like a bully. Because I’m sitting there in the host’s chair. So my apology was for yelling at a guest. No matter how much we may have disagreed.

And no one asked me to do that apology: it was just my initial reaction. I in no way apologized for the sentiment, because I am angry. Like, not just disappointed, and not just finding that it lacks facts: I’m angry at the portrayal of poor, working-class people in this country and the idea that, somehow, poor people, working-class people, have it easier, or that they’re lazy, or that they don’t want, or that they don’t deserve help. You can’t actually have lived in a poor neighborhood, seen how hard it is to live in our neighborhoods, and managed everything from public transportation to schools to crime to finding decent groceries. That stuff is actually hard. And so I don’t, in any way, apologize for the sentiment. My worry–at least at that moment–was that the sentiment would be lost behind the yelling. I studied black women’s self-expression, and I worried that all they would see is a yelling black woman. So I just want to be clear that the sentiment is still there.

The sentiment isn’t lost, it’s purposefully obscured. It’s easier to tsk-tsk tone than it is to actually discuss how difficult it is to mitigate the risks of being poor.

I was mildly surprised Harris-Perry lost her temper, but I was more surprised Mehta tried to compare and contrast financial risk between entrepreneurs and workers while discounting the risks inherent in attempting to be economically mobile as a member of either class of economic participant while starting out impoverished. When someone asserts a policy argument around facts omitting inarguable data it should be immediately disconsidered and vociferously challenged. Temper or not, Harris-Perry was correct to dispute the isolation of business risk from personal risk.