“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” (Mahatma Ghandi)
“If you don’t want your tax dollars to help the poor, then stop saying you want a country based on Christian values. Because you don’t.” (Comedian John Fugelsang, sometimes mistakenly attributed to former President Jimmy Carter)
“A bunch of rich people convincing poor people to vote for rich people by telling the poor people that other poor people are the reason they’re poor.” (NOLA.com comment, Oct. 14, 2015)
By guest columnist Earthmother
Not being an economist, there is much I do not understand about macro-economics. But as an observer, I have some questions that I hope some of you who do understand economic structure can help me comprehend.
(Disclaimer: I am not an ascetic and have not followed Jesus’ teaching to sell all that I have and give the proceeds to the poor. We’ve worked hard, have a nice home and nice things, way more than we need. I try to remember that money is not the root of evil—the love of money is. In most ways I’m no different from any other middle class American.)
I get the thinking behind the desire of the “one percenters/oligarchs” (or whatever we choose to call the wealthy ultra conservatives) for a poor educational system for the masses while their own children attend outstanding non-public schools. This creates a latter day feudal, Dark Ages situation where people who are kept ignorant and uneducated are easier to control, and provide an unending source of cheap labor. With no critical thinking skills, the disadvantaged vote as they are told by overlord politicians and the hate media….never realizing that they themselves are members of “The Other” that the hatemongers are telling them are the reason their lives are difficult. (Here’s a sad little rabbit trail—to a suggestion that a woman speak to her school board member, she replied in fear, “Am I allowed to speak to elected people? Will I get fired from my job or punished?”)
Several journeys to Third World type countries make one highly sensitive to socio-political trends that could result in similar conditions in this great country of ours. Here’s a brief, firsthand glimpse of what a nation looks like when the wealthy can afford all the luxuries the world offers while the majority of the population cannot afford the basic necessities of life.
With a minimal tax base and small government, there are few government services, and those are often corrupt. Many streets are littered with garbage; people live in housing sometimes made of scraps, cardboard and tin—with no electricity or indoor plumbing. Children and adults, dressed in rags, beg for food or change, eat from garbage dumps, and root through trash for anything of use. People who get sick or injured often die because they are unable to afford basic healthcare; there is no government “safety net.”
People of all ages walk for a day to see a missionary doctor in a schoolhouse, then walk for a day back home. People bathe in and drink from polluted streams of water; they are infested with parasites, and die from infections that could be prevented with over-the-counter medicines but which are out of their reach.
When you’ve bought food for toddlers abandoned to the streets because the parents cannot afford to feed them, worked in an orphanage and talked to children who were rescued as army personnel and fun-loving civilians rid neighborhoods of “vermin” street children, you cherish you own kids more and pray such things could never happen at home. (Google “street children shot” if you think this is melodramatic.) Women have babies they can’t afford to feed, in patriarchal societies where women have few rights and no access to birth control and family planning services, and are beaten if they say no. Men abandon their families en masse either to work far away or just to avoid their responsibility. Women have little education or job skills to be able to support themselves and their children. Even scarce jobs in skilled labor areas such as welding and construction pay paltry wages, leading to illegal immigration.
Louisiana already looks much like a Third World country in many ways. The litter problem is a startling similarity. We have cities with neighborhoods with lovely homes, world class restaurants and attractions, sprawling university campuses that turn out graduates who go on to lucrative careers in prestigious fields.
But we are also a national leader in several less attractive quality-of-life areas: poverty, chronic disease, AIDS and STDs, violent crime and income inequality, and we remain near-last in education and literacy, health care accessibility and outcomes, life expectancy and economic parity. There is a possible correlation between Louisiana’s high poverty rate and poor education, etc., and the fact that we also have the highest percentage of the population incarcerated in the U.S., which has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world, gives us the dubious distinction of being the prison capital of the entire world.
Add an unfair, regressive tax system, wages kept low so that people at the top can take home more, a criminal justice system that appears designed to perpetuate poverty, uncaring and/or ineffective leaders, all agenda-driven and backed by a sophisticated and effective propaganda machine, and we have a Third World-style society in the making.
So finally to my questions: Since the one-percenters already have more money than they can spend in several lifetimes, and the servant class is already sufficient in number to care for them, how does it benefit them to impoverish large numbers of people and create a huge underclass? With no money to buy things, the poor can’t purchase the goods and services to keep the wealthy wealthy.
Why inflict the unpleasant sights of abject poverty on their families? (Seeing these things is very disturbing if one has a heart at all.) Often the “let them eat cake” people don’t notice the poor and disadvantaged in our midst. No one has explained that people who are hungry, poorly nourished with non-nutritious foods, and chronically ill, are not good students or employees.
If not motivated by altruism, what about the purely pragmatic idea that throwing a bone to the underclass keeps the upper class safe in their homes and safe from people who have little and want to take theirs in order to survive. If you read local and national news it should come as no surprise that we already have a huge problem resulting from the struggle between the Haves and the Have-Nots.
Does denial of healthcare services to the less advantaged provide more and better care for the wealthy? Does paying a living wage and allowing employees to work enough hours to qualify for benefits and earn enough to pay the rent and buy food somehow diminish the rich? Why destroy traditional corporate pension plans and also attempt to cut Social Security benefits, so that retirees fall into poverty and lose their dignity?
How does it make sense to deny birth control and family planning services to poor women, then penalize them for getting pregnant by curtailing pre-natal care and seeking to withhold nutrition assistance to mothers and children? Why continue to insist that cost-free abstinence-only is all that’s needed to prevent pregnancy, when it’s proven to be rather unrealistic? Has anyone reasoned that when women are abstinent, theoretically their male significant others are, too? Just ask Sen. Bill Cassidy’s teen daughter if it works, and ask never-married spokeswoman-in-chief Bristol Palin how that abstinence thing is working out for her and her growing family.
Why do smart people ignore the failure of Friedman Chicago School economics, wherever it’s been implemented, worldwide? (Hint: read Naomi Klein Shock Doctrine.)
It would be naïve not to acknowledge the fact that every dollar (or euro, kroner, peso, lempira, or whatever) not given up by the wealthy in the form of reasonable taxes or fair wages and benefits for employees is another dollar in their bank account. Employers’ base pay rates on the value they place on work, and employers certainly have that right. What does it say about one’s attitude about the inherent value of people who perform menial task—those who clean their toilets, secure their property, and cook and serve their food? When is more than enough enough? And why is it desirable and moral to deny everyone else a reasonable standard of living?
Seriously, what is the rationale for the rich wanting to keep other people down? How does it benefit them? How does it enhance their lives, or take anything from them if other people have sufficient resources to live on? I was taught that the U.S. classless society was different from other countries where aristocrats controlled the peasants. Was that teaching wrong or just invalidated by human nature?
When did the term “common good” become socialist/un-American/anti-capitalist? When did it become alright to take funds from needy children, the poor, the sick, the disabled, and give those tax dollars to the rich in the form of corporate welfare, including sports franchises and motorsports tracks owned by mega-millionaires? Why do free market capitalists thinks it’s their right to demand government handouts to grow their wealth instead of investing their own money?
Awaiting enlightenment from folks wiser and more educated than I.