Posts Tagged ‘poverty’


Sorry. I just couldn’t resist this one from Barry Levinson, on the minimum wage according to the logic of Abbott and Costello:

Lou: I am below the poverty line, things are desperate.
Bud: Then you need a job… go to work, Lou.
Lou: I have a job!
Bud: Then all is well.
Lou: But I can’t afford to live and support my family.
Bud: I thought you said you had a job.
Lou: I do.
Bud: Then why’d you say you can’t support your family?
Lou: Because I can’t!
Bud: But you just said you had a job.
Lou: I know.
Bud: Do you have a job or are you living below the poverty line?
Lou: I’m living below the poverty line. A lot of us are.
Bud: Then you don’t have a job?
Lou: I do have a job. A minimum-wage job that I can’t even support my family on.
Bud: Are you working illegally?
Lou: It’s a legal job, Bud!
Bud: A legal job and you’re living below the poverty line?
Lou: Precisely.
Bud: Oh, I get it. You’re working part-time?
Lou: It’s full-time. Forty hours a week! They need to raise the minimum wage.
Bud: But if they raise the minimum wage, it will put people out of work.
Lou: Who?
Bud:The people who are living below the poverty line.
Lou: I’m living below the poverty line!
Bud: Exactly. Isn’t it better to be working and living below the poverty line, than not working and living below the poverty line? That way you have a sense of pride.
Lou: But I need more money to get by.
Bud: Do you want to put people out of work? Do you want to be responsible for them losing their jobs?
Lou: No.
Bud: That’s the spirit. You all share in getting less.
Lou: Why can’t we all share in getting more?
Bud: That’s socialism.
Lou: Then what’s sharing and getting less?
Bud: That’s capitalism!
Lou: Why is getting a little more socialism?
Bud: Because if you all get a little more, someone is going to get less.
Lou: Who?
Bud: The person who used to get more. The job makers.
Lou: Why can’t they make a little less?
Bud: Well, that’s un-American! This is the free market… Do you want to destroy
American capitalism?
Lou: Of course not.
Bud: Do you want to stifle the American economy. Suffocate ingenuity?
Lou: No.
Bud: That’s the spirit.
Lou: But I can’t support my family. Bud, I work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, no vacations, and I still can’t support my family.
Bud: Criticize. Criticize. Be thankful you have a minimum wage. There was a time you could have been paid less than minimum.
Lou: There was less than minimum?
Bud: Yes! Be thankful that these are the good times.


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There’s no doubt that Paul Ryan’s recent comments on the problem of poverty in America (which you can listen to here) were imbued with more than a small hint of racism. And, as Paul Krguman has argued, “today’s G.O.P. favors the interests of the rich over those of ordinary families.”

But what’s been overlooked in the recent furor of Ryan’s racism and the tax-cutting measures favored by Republicans is another dog-whistle theme: working-class sloth. Both Ryan and conservative commentator George Will can talk all they want to about the “culture of poverty” but what they’re most concerned about—which, in this political culture, they do nothing to hide—is the need to force workers to have the freedom to sell their ability to work to employers. That’s the real cultural problem they’re focused on.

Here’s Will, backing up Ryan:

To say that poverty can be self-perpetuating is not to say, and Ryan did not say, that poverty is caused by irremediable attributes that are finally the fault of the poor. It is, however, to define the challenge, which is to acculturate those unacquainted with the culture of work to the disciplines and satisfactions of this culture.

OK, then, let’s focus on the culture of work. Let’s talk about the injustice of not being able to find decent jobs at decent wages. Let’s discuss what it means to be dependent on the whims and wishes of employers, who can choose to hire (or not) workers if and when they want to—and then impose the conditions under which that work will be performed. Let’s take seriously the idea that workers, if they’re lucky, manage to find a job only to have a large portion of the value they produce appropriated by someone else.

Because, in the end, that’s all Ryan, Will, and the other “culture of poverty” commentators are worried about: that if a large portion of the population isn’t acquainted “with the culture of work to the disciplines and satisfactions of this culture,” the tiny minority at the top won’t be able to get theirs.

You want to talk culture of work, then? Let’s imagine and enact a culture of work in which those who do the work actually have a say in how much work there will be, under what conditions that work will be performed, and what will be done with the value that is created above and beyond what those workers need to reproduce their social existence.

That’s a discussion worthy of our attention.


Watch this magnificent performance by Rebirth, a poetry ensemble of high-school-age Chicago teens, featuring Simone Allen, Semira Allen, Maya Dru, Adam Ross, Onam Lansana, and Nile Lansana. They are affiliated with the community arts program at the Logan Center.

“Money Has No Heart” was performed on 8 March 2014, during the 2014 Louder Than A Bomb teen poetry festival, organized by Young Chicago Authors. The Olympics-style poetry competition started with 120 teams from the city of Chicago and the suburbs.


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Here’s the link to my appearance, with Lorraine Chavez, to discuss the economics of the Second Great Depression on Liberal Fix Radio.


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