Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

Wimer

There are two different ways of reading the information in the chart above.*

One way is that the various programs associated with the War on Poverty have succeeded, at least to some extent. That success can be seen in the difference between the “market poverty” rate (technically, the pretax/pretransfer anchored supplemental poverty rate) of 28.7 percent in 2012 and the “poverty rate with government programs” (technically, the anchored supplemental poverty rate) of 16 percent. Many fewer people are living at or below the poverty line with government transfers and tax credits than if those programs had not existed.

But there’s a second way of reading the chart: capitalism in the United States produces poverty at just about the same rate today (at 28.7 percent) as it did back in 1967 (when 27 percent of the U.S. population lived at or below the market poverty rate)—which makes it all that much more difficult for government transfers and credits to “solve” the problem of poverty. Thus, the War on Poverty still leaves 16 percent of Americans in poverty.

The conclusion, if we combine the two readings, is that the publicly provided social safety net (which lowered the poverty rate by some 40 percent in 2012) is actually a subsidy to large corporations, which continue to pay very low wages to millions of American workers and thus to generate enormous profits they alone appropriate and decide how to use.

The real War on Poverty will only begin when we decide to change how the economy itself is organized.

*The chart is from a column by Thomas B. Edsall, based on data presented in a paper by Christopher Wimer et al. (pdf).

7

Yesterday during my office hours, on the eve of the 2015 NCAA tournaments, I spent some time with a student discussing the “unmistakable whiff of the plantation” associated with major-college athletic programs. I then sent them to read Taylor Branch’s 2011 article in The Atlantic.

It just happens that, today, George Yancy published his conversation with Noam Chomsky about the unmistakable legacy of slavery and “slavery by another name” in the United States. I reproduce the first part of that conversation below.

Here are a few charts to put the current situation (with respect to racial disparities in poverty, unemployment, wealth, and incarceration) in perspective:

fafacc4b-2b73-4f2b-8134-2a57a605f6dd-620x479

black-wh-un-sa

 

FT_14.12.11_wealthGap2

web-1492262

George Yancy: When I think about the title of your book “On Western Terrorism,” I’m reminded of the fact that many black people in the United States have had a long history of being terrorized by white racism, from random beatings to the lynching of more than 3,000 black people (including women) between 1882 and 1968. This is why in 2003, when I read about the dehumanizing acts committed at Abu Ghraib prison, I wasn’t surprised. I recall that after the photos appeared President George W. Bush said that “This is not the America I know.” But isn’t this the America black people have always known?

Noam Chomsky: The America that “black people have always known” is not an attractive one. The first black slaves were brought to the colonies 400 years ago. We cannot allow ourselves to forget that during this long period there have been only a few decades when African-Americans, apart from a few, had some limited possibilities for entering the mainstream of American society.

We also cannot allow ourselves to forget that the hideous slave labor camps of the new “empire of liberty” were a primary source for the wealth and privilege of American society, as well as England and the continent. The industrial revolution was based on cotton, produced primarily in the slave labor camps of the United States.

As is now known, they were highly efficient. Productivity increased even faster than in industry, thanks to the technology of the bullwhip and pistol, and the efficient practice of brutal torture, as Edward E. Baptist demonstrates in his recent study, “The Half Has Never Been Told.” The achievement includes not only the great wealth of the planter aristocracy but also American and British manufacturing, commerce and the financial institutions of modern state capitalism.

It is, or should be, well-known that the United States developed by flatly rejecting the principles of “sound economics” preached to it by the leading economists of the day, and familiar in today’s sober instructions to latecomers in development. Instead, the newly liberated colonies followed the model of England with radical state intervention in the economy, including high tariffs to protect infant industry, first textiles, later steel and others.

There was also another “virtual tariff.” In 1807, President Jefferson signed a bill banning the importation of slaves from abroad. His state of Virginia was the richest and most powerful of the states, and had exhausted its need for slaves. Rather, it was beginning to produce this valuable commodity for the expanding slave territories of the South. Banning import of these cotton-picking machines was thus a considerable boost to the Virginia economy. That was understood. Speaking for the slave importers, Charles Pinckney charged that “Virginia will gain by stopping the importations. Her slaves will rise in value, and she has more than she wants.” And Virginia indeed became a major exporter of slaves to the expanding slave society.

Some of the slave-owners, like Jefferson, appreciated the moral turpitude on which the economy relied. But he feared the liberation of slaves, who have “ten thousand recollections” of the crimes to which they were subjected. Fears that the victims might rise up and take revenge are deeply rooted in American culture, with reverberations to the present.

The Thirteenth Amendment formally ended slavery, but a decade later “slavery by another name” (also the title of an important study by Douglas A. Blackmon) was introduced. Black life was criminalized by overly harsh codes that targeted black people. Soon an even more valuable form of slavery was available for agribusiness, mining, steel — more valuable because the state, not the capitalist, was responsible for sustaining the enslaved labor force, meaning that blacks were arrested without real cause and prisoners were put to work for these business interests. The system provided a major contribution to the rapid industrial development from the late 19th century.

That system remained pretty much in place until World War II led to a need for free labor for the war industry. Then followed a few decades of rapid and relatively egalitarian growth, with the state playing an even more critical role in economic development than before. A black man might get a decent job in a unionized factory, buy a house, send his children to college, along with other opportunities. The civil rights movement opened other doors, though in limited ways. One illustration was the fate of Martin Luther King’s efforts to confront northern racism and develop a movement of the poor, which was effectively blocked.

The neoliberal reaction that set in from the late ‘70s, escalating under Reagan and his successors, hit the poorest and most oppressed sectors of society even more than the large majority, who have suffered relative stagnation or decline while wealth accumulates in very few hands. Reagan’s drug war, deeply racist in conception and execution, initiated a new Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander’s apt term for the revived criminalization of black life, evident in the shocking incarceration rates and the devastating impact on black society.

Reality is of course more complex than any simple recapitulation, but this is, unfortunately, a reasonably accurate first approximation to one of the two founding crimes of American society, alongside of the expulsion or extermination of the indigenous nations and destruction of their complex and rich civilizations.

polyp_cartoon_Corporate_Think_Tank

Special mention

dt.common.streams.StreamServer Toles-8-3

March 7, 2015

Special mention

030515JackOhman_Tribune_0 latuff_large

TPL_USA-319

The Poverty Line [ht: sk], a fascinating collaboration between photographer Stefen Chow and economist Hui-Yi Lin, explores a simple question: what does poverty mean in different countries?

We are not simply trying to compare poverty in different countries; we want to create a way to understand poverty within the context of a single country. By first calculating a per-person, per-day expenditure based on the country’s national poverty line, we produced a visual representation of everyday food items that would be accessible within that country for that amount of money. Where possible, we selected foods particular to that locality. We faced challenges in determining a method that would be feasible across different countries’ systems, and this project our way of bringing all this information together in one accessible, yet eye-catching visual presentation.

Thus, for example, for the United States (specifically, New York City, October 2011), they calculated the daily per-capita basis of the poverty threshold (of $31.08, set for single-person in under-age-65 households), and the daily low-income household food expenditure (of $4.91). Hence, the photograph of 5 slices of pizza above.

TPL_Germany-3

For Germany (Hamburg, November 2011), the slices of salami represent $6.61 of daily food expenditure from a daily per-capita poverty threshold of €30.91.

TPL_Brazil-192

And in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro, May 2012), $1.23 (daily food expenditure based on a daily per-capita level of extreme poverty of R$2.33) allowed someone to purchase eight eggs.

The artists’ project started with China in 2010 and has since expanded to 24 countries across 6 continents.

Toles-2-3

Special mention

1350241004 bootstraps cartoon

2013-12-01-danzcolor5810

During last night’s discussion of capitalism verusus Catholicism, I made the point that everyone—rich and poor—is negatively affected by capitalist inequality.

My argument was that poor people are put at a distinct disadvantage within an “economy of exclusion,” because they are denied the basic material conditions necessary to sustain not only their individual lives, but also their participation in the wider society. But, I went on, rich people are also hurt by inequality, in the sense that are forced to act in selfish and unethical ways in order to maintain their positions of privilege.

I then referred to the psychological literature on the behavioral effects of inequality, about which I’ve written before (here and here). The latest contribution to this literature was just published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: “Social Class, Power, and Selfishness: When and Why Upper and Lower Class Individuals Behave Unethically,” by David Dubois, Derek D. Rucker, and Adam D. Galinsky. The authors set out to disentangle the differences between unethical and self-serving behavior in relation to social class. Here’s what they found:

Both higher and lower social class individuals can engage in unethical behavior, but the target of that behavior might often differ: The unethical behavior of upper class individuals is more likely to be self-beneficial, whereas the unethical behavior of lower class individuals is more likely to be other-beneficial. This parsimonious account complements and qualifies recent work on social class and unethical behavior (Piff et al., 2012) by advancing the argument that the link between upper social class and unethical behavior occurs primarily for self-beneficial reasons.

As I’ve argued before, the point is not that rich people per se display behavioral pathologies—or, for that matter, that poor people are noble. It is fascinating that there are systematic differences in the target of their unethical behavior. But I’m more interested in the idea that both groups, within a highly unequal society, are forced to behave in ways many of us would consider unethical, whether self-serving or altruistic.

What I had in mind when I made my remarks was, of course, Marx’s statement “that the capitalist is just as enslaved by the relationships of capitalism as is his opposite pole, the worker, albeit in a quite different manner.”

But after the fact, as I was driving home from the discussion, I had another thought: what if that is the true content of the preferential option for the poor? We often think of the preferential option as a kind of basic moral test, in the sense of judging the adequacy of current economic arrangements in terms of how the most vulnerable members of society are faring. But what if there is a somewhat different interpretation—that changing society to eliminate poverty will benefit not only the formerly poor but also everyone else? In other words, creating institutions that eliminate the kinds of grotesque inequalities that characterize contemporary capitalism will benefit even those who are not poor, since they will no longer be forced to lose or undermine or otherwise forsake their humanity by engaging in unethical self-serving behaviors. Thus, eliminating capitalist inequality can be seeing as restoring humanity to everyone, both poor and rich.

In that sense, the poor and vulnerable represent a universal class—not because of some kind of inherent nobility, but because eliminating the conditions of poverty and vulnerability will benefit not only themselves, but all others in a capitalist society.

That—and not pity or charity or individual instances of social mobility—may be the truly radical content of the preferential option for the poor.