How dare you question the Edwards Center at UNC?

All right, you skeptics, just why is it so hard to believe that John Edwards’ center at UNC Law isn’t really about solving poverty? Why don’t you believe all those statements about how Edwards’ interest in the center is not political? Why do you continue to think it’s simply about giving Carolina publicity and Edwards an issue for 2008?

Is it because of the timing of the center’s creation? Is it because no one’d heard a peep out of Chapel Hill about a poverty center until the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity was announced in early February? Does it have anything to do with the fact that shortly after Edwards lost in November, UNC Law School Dean Gene Nichol openly talked about his desire to get Edwards into UNC Law? Could it be that you’re suspicious over the center’s whirlwind creation in a matter of weeks without input from lawmakers or the public? Did all that make you think UNC’s real interest was in rescuing a darling of a desperate politician on the brink of political irrelevancy?

Or is it also because Edwards announced his new directorship not in Chapel Hill, not in Raleigh, not anywhere between Murphy and Manteo, but in New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary of 2008, at a Democrat fundraiser?

Is it because the poverty center was created within the school of law, despite being obviously outside the discipline’s scope? Is it because it was not created somewhere else, say, the economics department? Is it because Edwards keeps talking about governmental “solutions” to the problem? Does it have anything to do with Edwards’ recent speech at a Democrat fundraiser in South Florida, where he advocated such ways to fight poverty as raising payroll taxes to support Social Security, raising taxes via “roll[ing] back tax cuts,” raising the minimum wage, expanding the earned income tax credit, and in his inestimable words, “doing something about inner city schools”?

Did rehashing those worn-out socialist notions increase your skepticism about the program’s promise of “innovative and creative” solutions to poverty? Do you wonder whether an economics-based approach to alleviating poverty would seek to scale back rather than increase governmental interference with the economy? Do you think a center truly focused on helping the impoverished — and completely independent of Democrat Party politics — would instead suggest ways to reduce regulation, cut bureaucracy, and otherwise favor a more hands-off approach toward people’s incomes and decisions? Is that because you think having government dictate people’s financial decisions tends to increase all kinds of societal costs that disproportionately harm those in poverty? Do you think it makes it harder for people in poverty to find employment, buy affordable goods, and receive charity from concerned individuals?

Is your skepticism also because Edwards and UNC officials appear to use the terms “poverty” and “poor” interchangeably? Does that concern you because it’s not the sort of mistake serious academics make? Is it because you know that “poverty” is privation, the lack of basic necessities, but “poor” is a relative marker that does not necessarily mean living in poverty? Is it also because statistical measures of people in poverty in America generally exclude all current government services (food stamps, housing aid, etc.) they receive? Would that not mean that the poor in America are generally not in poverty, and even those who are, still aren’t as left out as Edwards and UNC imply? Do you worry that Edwards’ confusion over the distinction between the poor and the impoverished denotes not scholarship on his part, but demagoguery?

Does Edwards’ consistent call for raising the minimum wage make you more doubtful about the seriousness of the center? Is that because you know the minimum wage hurts the poorest the hardest? Do you wonder why the man who was the only choice to lead UNC’s poverty center doesn’t seem to know the effects of wage floors on the least employable? Are you amazed he would actively seek to make the poorest people harder to hire — in the name of helping them? Do you sometimes wonder how basic truths of economics could evade a supposed scholar seriously intent on studying poverty?

Is that why you think scholarship isn’t engaged with the “Edwards center,” that it’s all about politics? Is that why you find UNC’s interactions with the Edwards campaign extraordinarily shameful, like institutional prostitution?

Are those all your reasons, or are there more?

Jon Sanders is a policy analyst for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh.

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