Why Is Poverty A Dirty Word?
A question that I have been trying to answer for 40+ years. Along with the one, why are we afraid of the poor? Both questions are difficult to answer. And really difficult to find a starting point to answer the questions. I have started this piece many times and after awhile and much thought I have thrown it away just to start over and over and…….
The poor have been tagged in the past and are still being tagged as lazy, cheap and promiscuous. Labels that are used to try and explain why there is a condition known as POVERTY. Many define poverty, few actually offer any solutions.
In The US there are approximately 35 million people living in poverty. The present economic crisis will no doubt raise those numbers considerably.
Poverty has become a dirty word because of several factors. One of the factors is the perception of poverty and the poor by society. Through many years and many political tap dances the poor have been used as a tool in elections, both pro and con. Thus perceptions are now standard in some political circles. The people have been taught to believe: 1) the poor are extremely disliked, 2) poverty equates to a moral failure, 3) the poor are uneducated, unemployed and on welfare, 4) the poor are a threat to the upper class who believe that we are in control of our lives, 5) the poor cost us money.
But the poor have a place in American society, they do the filthy, dangerous, temporary, undignified, menial jobs, the labor of the poor at low wages frees up the affluent for more important activities, the poor help create jobs which protects society from the poor, such as police, which would be less needed if there were fewer poor, the poor clear the stocks from the selves with day old bread, dent stores, etc.
In recent elections the poor have not been a concern of the candidates, other than a little political rhetoric they were never a problem to be solved. Look at this campaign season, the McCain camp talks about jobs for America, but offer plans like his home plan, or his gas tax holiday, none of which address the poor of the country. He wants to preserve human dignity by overturning Roe, protecting marriage, promoting adoption, but nothing about the dignity of the poor. As usual the Repubs basically ignore the poor and the problems they face.
Now we have the Dem side of the coin. Obama’s plan is to expand the earned credit, raise the minimum wage, increase affordable housing, and strengthen the family unit, and so on. All sounds good in speeches and sound bites; it does not address the core cause of poverty. The social system as well as the political system has created poverty and it must change to end poverty. Change is what is being promised by both candidates, but unfortunately, neither candidate has the answer. Their proposals are merely band-aids for a gunshot wound.
Until there is a serious attempt to end poverty, then the poor will continue to be joked about, pitied, and most notably feared. Yes, I said feared. Why? Because the poor are a reminder that all is not perfect in this country and a lot of work must be done to make it so. But sadly, no one wants to truly end poverty, just to use it for self-serving ends.
That Irene is why poverty is a dirty word.
Persistence Of Poverty
The 19th century economist, Henry George, addressed this topic.
As productive power increases, rent tends to increase even more — constantly forcing down wages.
Advancing civilization tends to increase the power of human labor to satisfy human desires. We should be able to eliminate poverty. But workers cannot reap these benefits because they are intercepted. Land is necessary to labor. When it has been reduced to private ownership, the increased productivity of labor only increases rent. Thus, all the advantages of progress go to those who own land. Wages do not increase — wages cannot increase. The more labor produces, the more it must pay for the opportunity to make anything at all.
Mere laborers, therefore, have no more interest in progress than Cuban slaves have in higher sugar prices. Higher prices may spur their masters to drive them harder. Likewise, a free laborer may be worse off with greater productivity. Steadily rising rents generate speculation. The effects of future improvements are discounted by even higher rents. This tends to drive wages down to the point of slavery, at which the worker can barely live. The worker is robbed of all the benefits of increased productive power.
These improvements also cause a further subdivision of labor. The efficiency of the whole body of laborers is increased, but at the expense of the independence of its constituents. Individual workers know only a tiny part of the various processes required to supply even the commonest wants.
Modern workers are mere links in an enormous chain of producers and consumers. The very power of exerting their labor to satisfy their needs passes from their control. The worse their position in society, the more dependent they are on society. Their power may be taken away by the actions of others. Or even by general causes, over which they have no more influence than they have over the motion of the stars.
Under such circumstances, people lose an essential quality: the power of modifying and controlling their condition. They become slaves, machines, commodities.
It explains why want increases with abundance, and why wealth tends to greater and greater concentration. It explains periodic recessions and depressions — and why large numbers of potential producers stand idle, without the absurd assumption that there is too little work to do or too many hands to do it. It explains the negative impact of machinery, without denying the natural advantages it gives. It explains why vice and misery appear among dense populations, without attributing to the laws of God those defects arising only from the shortsighted and selfish decrees of humans.
This is an explanation in accordance with all the facts. Look at the world today. The same conditions exist in different countries — regardless of the type of government, industries, tariffs, or currency. But everywhere you find poverty in the midst of wealth, you will find that land is monopolized. Instead of being treated as the common property of all the people, land is treated as the private property of individuals. And before labor is allowed to use it, large sums are extorted from the earnings of labor.
The great cause of inequality in the distribution of wealth is inequality in the ownership of land.
Ownership of land is the great fundamental fact that ultimately determines the social, the political, and consequently the intellectual and moral condition of a people.
Poverty will always exist….it is a must…if capitalism is to work.
There was a possiblity that poverty could have been lessened back in the late 60’s with Johnson’s War on Poverty. Unfortunately, every president since Johnson has dismantled the programs that was used to fight poverty and in doing so they have made sure that poverty will persist.