Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

absolut-capitalism

Clearly, Pope Francis’s criticisms of capitalism (as I have discussed here and here) have touched a nerve. They certainly have in the case of Harvard’s Ricardo Hausmann, who attempts to argue both that capitalism is not responsible for causing poverty and that more capitalism will eventually eliminate poverty.

Hausmann’s story is a very familiar one. What it comes down to is the idea that the majority of people before capitalism arrived one the scene were poor and as capitalism develops and more and more people became wage-laborers with rising real wages. But areas of the world still remain outside of capitalism and those people will remain poor unless and until capitalism is allowed to fully develop.

It’s a story that is as old as Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and it’s been told and retold by generations of classical and neoclassical economists ever since.

Their story is certainly right about one thing: capitalism does create the promise of ending poverty.

The problem is, their story conveniently overlooks important aspects of the development of capitalism—all the ways capitalism has over the course of its history created more, not less, poverty. I’m thinking of four instances in particular.

First, Hausmann never examines the actual emergence of capitalism, the so-called primary of accumulation of capital, when noncapitalist producers (feudal serfs, members of family and tribal communes, and so on) were dispossessed of their land (as large landowners took possession of their lands) and then forced to have the freedom to sell their ability to work in both rural and urban labor markets.

Second, Hausmann fails to mention the working poor, all those people who work for someone else and yet remain (along with their children), because of low wages and intermittent employment, below the poverty line.

Third, there’s nothing in Hausmann’s story about capitalist instability and all the times (including, most recently, during the Second Great Depression) wage-laborers are thrown onto the unemployment lines and forced (together with their families) to try to survive on food stamps and other poverty-level programs.

Finally, Hausmann presumes all the poor self-employed workers in India and elsewhere somehow exist outside of capitalism, when in fact they are often producing commodities either for capitalist enterprises or for the other workers who are directly employed by those enterprises. They’re not outside capitalism; their work is inextricably connected to how capitalism operates, especially (but certainly not only) in the Global South.

Those are four main ways (and, of course, there are many others, which I don’t have the space to discuss here) capitalism does in fact cause poverty, in both the North and the South, now and over the course of its history

They are the reasons why, as Pope Francis said in a recent speech in Bolivia: “This system is by now intolerable: farm workers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable.”

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[ht: ja]

Cities are back on the nation’s radar—as the dynamic location of the “knowledge economy” and the “creative class.”

What, then, about the other cities, the spaces of concentrated poverty, structural racism, and police violence? Well, for the past year, we’ve been learning about some of them: Detroit, Ferguson, and Baltimore.

Still, how are all these other cities—three of which are in New York (Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo), according to a new report from the Century Foundation—not on the nation’s radar?

Addendum

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As it turns out, the list of ten metropolitan areas with the highest concentration of Hispanic poverty includes seven of the same areas in the previous list: Syracuse, Detroit, Rochester, Milwaukee, Fresno, Buffalo, and Cleveland.

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The concentration of non-Hispanic white poverty, in contrast, is highest in a somewhat different list of metropolitan areas. Detroit, again, and McAllen stand out with more than one-third of their white poor living in high-poverty areas. Detroit, Fresno, and Syracuse are the only metropolitan areas on all three lists, but the concentration of white poverty is much lower in Fresno than in Detroit or Syracuse. Smaller metropolitan areas with fewer than 1 million persons dominate all three lists, but New York, the largest, is included in the list of cities with the highest concentration of white poverty.

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children

Certainly not in the United States.

According to the most recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation,

Nationally, 22 percent of children (16.1 million) lived in families with incomes below the poverty line in 2013, up from 18 percent in 2008 (13.2 million), representing nearly 3 million more children in poverty. The child poverty rate among African Americans (39 percent) was more than double the rate for non-Hispanic whites (14 percent) in 2013.

In 2013, three in 10 children (22.8 million) lived in families where no parent had full-time, year-round employment. Since 2008, the number of such children climbed by nearly 2.7 million. Roughly half of all American Indian children (50 percent) and African-American children (48 percent) had no parent with full-time, year-round employment in 2013, compared with 37 percent of Latino children, 24 percent of non-Hispanic white children and 23 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander children.

As the authors of the report make clear,

Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development. Already high compared with other developed nations, the child poverty rate in the United States increased dramatically as a result of the economic crisis. The official poverty line in 2013 was $23,624 for a family of two adults and two children. Poverty and financial stress can impede children’s cognitive development and their ability to learn. It can contribute to behavioral, social and emotional problems and poor health. The risks posed by economic hardship are greatest among children who experience poverty when they are young and among those who experience persistent and deep poverty.

It’s quite possible (given the decline in unemployment) the indicators of economic well-being for children will improve when the 2014 data are available. However, I’ll venture to guess the rates of poverty and of parents’ lack of secure employment will still be much too high—so high they’ll demonstrate that, in the United States, children simply don’t count.