Ben Carson’s rise from poverty to surgeon to the top of the Republican presidential field is an unquestionably great American success story, and one that has profoundly shaped his views on economic policy. It is also unquestionably rare.

In Detroit, Carson’s hometown, a child born to the poorest 20 percent of parents has about a 5.5 percent chance of reaching the top 20 percent of income-earners as an adult. That same child has about a 0.22 percent chance of reaching the top 1 percent, which is a 1-in-450 shot.

Carson knows well how difficult it is for children born into his old neighborhood today to escape poverty, and in his own experience and political education, he sees hope for them. “I do believe we have an obligation to help poor people,” he said in a 25-minute phone interview recently. “I am a Christian. The Bible talks a lot about our obligation to help the poor.”

The best way to do that, Carson said, is through policies meant to accelerate economic growth and job creation, including tax holidays for multinational companies, reducing government regulation of business and cutting corporate tax rates.

He also said to help the poor America must pay down its “tremendous” national debt, which he blamed for the Federal Reserve holding interest rates near zero for the past several years. The debt “keeps the Fed from allowing interest rates to rise,” Carson said. “Who does that hurt? Poor people and the middle class. Because it used to be that was the way those people could make money” – by saving it interest-bearing savings accounts.

Carson’s comments have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What is your impression of your old neighborhood in Detroit today?

It has deteriorated. In the beginning, I was born there, and it was a sort of idyllic neighborhood with GI homes – the average home was only 700 or 800 square feet, but you had your own lawn. It was pretty cool.

Remember, you’re talking 50 or 60 years ago. People really had very different attitudes. A lot of people tried to encourage their kids. They wanted them to have a better life, they talked about education. People looked out for each other – if you got in trouble, other parents called your parents. Most families were intact. We were a real exception at that time [after his parents divorced].

What in your youth shaped your views about poverty, and poverty policy?

My mother was a huge influence, and she worked very hard, leaving very early in the morning, getting back very late and night. Sometimes we didn’t see her for a week. She didn’t like the idea of dependency. Even if she sometimes took government aid, she always wanted to be independent. She would get in arguments with others, who would say, there’s aid for dependent children – you don’t need to be working.

The more children you had, the more aid you got. That was really during the time when I think a lot of damage was done to our society. Because it was really right after and right in the midst of the strides made by the civil rights movement.

By the time I was a young attending neurosurgeon, I was really struck by the number of indigent people I saw coming in who were on public assistance, and who were not working. They were able bodied people, and they were not working. I thought, this is out of whack.

At that time, I started doing what no good Democrat should do, which was listen to Ronald Reagan. He was so reasonable. He wasn’t racist like they said. It was just so logical, and so empowering. He emphasized hard work and self-reliance, but also emphasized that he was there, and the government was there, to help facilitate that. Not to give you everything, but to help you rise above your circumstances.

Is the government doing a good job now of helping people rise above their circumstances?

No, we’re not doing a good job of that now, are you kidding? We’re doing a horrible job of it. There are just millions and millions of people who should be working, and who are not working. That’s of course a huge drag on the economy and on society. We don’t have the sort of environment that encourages entrepreneurial risk-taking.

What in your mind is the diving line between government programs that work and those that don’t?

There has been a myth out there that Carson grew up poor and he benefited from these programs and he wants to get rid of them all. That’s a blatant lie. What I do want to do is work on mechanisms that help people rise out of a state of dependency, and things that help bring back jobs.

That’s why for months now, I’ve been talking about a repatriation tax holiday [to encourage companies to bring foreign profits back to invest in America]. You talk about stimulus? This wouldn’t cost anything. That would be the biggest stimulus since FDR’s New Deal.

I don’t want to get rid of any safety net programs. I want to create an environment where they won’t be needed. There’s a whole book on policy and things that I believe that I have to do. But unlike a lot of people who are politicians, I believe that the best way to take care of the downtrodden in society is to create an atmosphere that allows people, through their own hard work, to rise. And that’s what we don’t have right now.