An outstanding post from my friend John today. Commended reading.
Those people for whom the system doesn’t work, be they those who are born without the prerequisite cognitive abilities needed to prosper or be they those who, because of life circumstances that they had absolutely zero control over, had serious obstacles placed in their life’s path, are why I’m troubled by the full-bore commitment to capitalism within certain segments of the Republican party. I don’t see how they have rightfully interacted with the fact that there are people living in our country for whom upward mobility is not attainable without help.
Even if I were to concede that it’s possible for a person to pull himself or herself up by the bootstraps, what about those individuals who don’t have any bootstraps with which to pull themselves up by? Look, my capitalist Republican friends, I agree with you that the best way to build wealth and security is through the free market. I agree that the future counterparts of my home improvement store co-workers will have a higher standard of living if free market principles are allowed to run their course. But what about today? What about those for whom the system doesn’t work? What about the children going to bed hungry tonight? How does capitalism feed and comfort them? How does capitalism acknowledge that we’re not created equal, and that some of us need help? How does capitalism help people for whom the bottom rung of the ladder of success is out of their reach to grasp that rung?
I’ve never thought about it this way, but an article by David Brooks in the New York Times yesterday titled “The Republic of Fear” jolted me into an idea I’ve never considered before.
We tend to think of economic solutions to poverty, whether in America or the developing world. Education, political stability, and cultural factors may make it onto the radar, but we assume the real solutions to the problem will lie in economic policy or habits.
Brooks makes an excellent case that actually, our American minds are so deeply colored by the safety and stability of our political and legal processes, we don’t see these factors when working in the developing world:
We in the affluent world live on one side of a great global threshold. Our fundamental security was established by our ancestors. We tend to assume that the primary problems of politics are economic and that the injustices of the world can be addressed with economic levers. When empires like the Soviet Union collapse, we send in economists with privatization plans instead of cops to help create rule of law. When thuggish autocracies invade their neighbors we impose economic sanctions.
But people without our inherited institutions live on the other side of the threshold and have a different reality. They live within a contagion of chaos. They live where the primary realities include violence, theft and radical uncertainty. Their world is governed less by long-term economic incentives and more by raw fear. In a world without functioning institutions, predatory behavior and the passions of domination and submission blot out economic logic.
The primary problem of politics is not creating growth. It’s creating order. Until that is largely achieved, life can be nasty, brutish and short.
Fantastic piece published on The Atlantic’s education page yesterday. Well worth your time to read.
Why Ivy League Schools Are So Bad at Economic Diversity – Robin J. Hayes – The Atlantic
By society and the job market, I continue to be seen as a “high-achiever” in essence because I was never set up to fail.
No other kid from my block in East Flatbush was so lucky. At their truly public schools (not charters, not magnets, but common schools available to every family in the neighborhood), they routinely faced atrocious conditions including gun violence, overcrowding, and a curriculum that emphasized obedience over innovation. As outsiders to the college-prep “feeder system,” which includes a small number of competitive high schools including Philips Academy and Trinity, the students who persevere despite these formidable demands and manage to graduate, are rarely seen as “high-achieving” by schools like Yale.
The whole question of health care in America dizzies my brain. I’ve been reading articles on health care reform for my entire adult life and I don’t know what we ought to be doing as a country.
I do feel pretty strongly that the massive economic disparity in health care coverage and accessibility is a top-priority problem, as is tort reform (to drop the cost of malpractice insurance). I wonder whether any reform will come of all this fighting — the corporate interests are so big; our political will to make hard choices is so weak.
This post from the blog YourBrainOnEcon gave me a lot to think about. Take time to read the entire analogy and the closing comments.
The group who produced this video are short on research to back up their claims. That is a flaw. But I’ve seen many articles in the past year or two discuss the rapidly growing gap between the few people on the planet who own 50% of the wealth, and the other 7 billion of us.
At some point, we must recognize this isn’t the best situation….
Darrell is a nice conservative guy who got tired of the anger and hate surrounding the 2012 election, the fury of rhetoric from both sides. He decided to do what few of us are willing to do: walk a year in the mindset of his opponents. So he’s blogging “My Obama Year” and his attempt to understand the progressive point of view.
In fact, take 5 minutes and go read his review right now…. it’s succinct and clear and crisp writing, and it won’t take you more than 5-10 minutes. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
So, Darrell makes three major points based on Ehrenreich’s attempt to step into the shoes of the working poor and understand just how hard it is to “make it” in America these days. She worked a series of minimum wage jobs and survived to write a book about it.
His observations afterward are simple:
1) the upper classes don’t understand the poor.
The people making the laws literally cannot understand the mindset of someone who has no social capital, no solid education, no mentors for career advancement, no aspirations to become anything better. To be poor is to live in a world the not-poor cannot understand. The book’s author didn’t. And so she tended to blame the poor for their failures, when her own successes and abilities are built on the shoulders of factors beyond her control — social status, family wealth, parental involvement, access to education, etc.
2) being poor is expensive.
Ever try to dig yourself out of a financial hole? It’s tough. Unless you’re making enough money to save a chunk each month, you can NEVER ever get ahead. As Darrell writes, the startup costs of being poor are very high.
3) being poor in America still sucks.
We collectively love the mythology of the American Dream — if we simply work hard enough, we can achieve success. People who are poor are being catered to by the government. They have no excuse, the story goes, for failure.
[points come from Darrell’s post; examples partially mine]
Truth is …. poverty strips people of their humanity. It robs whole families and ensuing generations of the ability to launch themselves or their kids into a more stable position.
I didn’t really understand this until recently. I think the American Dream mythology is so strong in our rhetoric, especially during election years, that any of us who made it into college or into a stable job feel pretty good about our success … and assume that everyone else has the same chances.
But many people are beginning to recognize this isn’t the case.
Now the crux of the argument is this: what are we supposed to DO about poverty? More on that when I have something to say. 🙂
In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about the poor, and how working for more just and humane systems/institutions is absolutely a biblical theme. [This site comes from a definitely point of view rather than an objective list, but the verses can speak for themselves.]