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Exceptional Indifference: An International Perspective on U.S. Poverty

Exceptional Indifference: An International Perspective on U.S. Poverty

Ezra Rosser
The visible levels of poverty and of inequality in the United States are not unique to this country, but sometimes it takes an international perspective to bring America’s limited responses poverty into relief

To paraphrase Bob Dole ( the mean old lackey for ADM, MIC/Kansas style and the Farm Bureau among others ), " the poor don’t have lobbyists " and " the poor don’t ( can’t ) vote ". They just gave this grizzled old dickhead a big medal. Some big American hero, eh?
The bottom line is; the Republicans are racists and use the term " block grants " as a invisible noose to hang the poor out to dry, and the Clintonistas/Obamabats in the Democratic Party are their silent enablers.
The legacy parties both love Citizens United, Buckley v. Vallejo and any other vehicle that keeps them fat and happy. And, in power to feed their wealthy, mostly white donors, even more of everything.
The U.N. could of cut to the chase and just said, " America is a kleptocratic country run by a bunch of sickos ". But then, they knew that already, pretty much.


But it isn’t just the Government, is it? It’s the population as a whole, including some of the impoverished who actually voted for Trump. And it isn’t just about the USA - the rhetoric about the poor being undeserving is successful in the UK too, and you can trace its history over the centuries. There is some rotten hitch in human nature that breeds this callousness when it comes to ending poverty - which we could do very easily. We have the means - we just don’t will them.


‘What do YOU mean by poverty, then?’ asked Easton.

‘What I call poverty is when people are not able to secure for themselves all the benefits of civilization; the necessaries, comforts, pleasures and refinements of life, leisure, books, theatres, pictures, music, holidays, travel, good and beautiful homes, good clothes, good and pleasant food.’

'If a man is only able to provide himself and his family with the bare necessaries of existence, that man’s family is living in poverty. Since he cannot enjoy the advantages of civilization he might just as well be a savage: better, in fact, for a savage knows nothing of what he is deprived.

What we call civilization–the accumulation of knowledge which has come down to us from our forefathers–is the fruit of thousands of years of human thought and toil. It is not the result of the labour of the ancestors of any separate class of people who exist today, and therefore it is by right the common heritage of all.

Every little child that is born into the world, no matter whether he is clever or fool, whether he is physically perfect or lame, or blind; no matter how much he may excel or fall short of his fellows in other respects, in one thing at least he is their equal–he is one of the heirs of all the ages that have gone before.’

‘Why is it,’ continued Owen, ‘that we are not only deprived of our inheritance–we are not only deprived of nearly all the benefits of civilization, but we and our children and also often unable to obtain even the bare necessaries of existence?’

‘All these things,’ Owen proceeded, ‘are produced by those who work. We do our full share of the work, therefore we should have a full share of the things that are made by work.’

‘As things are now,’ went on Owen, ‘instead of enjoying the advantages of civilization we are really worse off than slaves, for if we were slaves our owners in their own interest would see to it that we always had food and–’

‘Oh, I don’t see that,’ roughly interrupted old Linden, who had been listening with evident anger and impatience. ‘You can speak for yourself, but I can tell yer I don’t put MYSELF down as a slave.’

‘Nor me neither,’ said Crass sturdily. ‘Let them call their selves slaves as wants to.’

At this moment a footstep was heard in the passage leading to the kitchen. Old Misery! or perhaps the bloke himself! Crass hurriedly pulled out his watch.

‘Jesus Christ!’ he gasped. ‘It’s four minutes past one!’

Linden frantically seized hold of a pair of steps and began wandering about the room with them.

Robert Tressell, Ragged Trousered Philanthropist

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It is not a “nasty, rotten hitch in human nature”.

Human assumptions about things - even about human nature itself, arise from the imposed economic class-relations and assumptions that immerse us as completely as the water around a fish dwelling in the abyssal ocean depths. The current-day western callousness and heartlessness surrounding poverty arose alongside the industrial revolution and the consolidation of capitalism in the mid-19th century. These callous attitudes are their worst in the USA simply because since the 1970s, Capitalism has achieved its most pure form in the USA.


The decay spreads over the State, and the sweet smell is a great sorrow on the land. Men who can graft the trees and make the seed fertile and big can find no way to let the hungry people eat their produce. Men who have created new fruits in the world cannot create a system whereby their fruits may be eaten. And the failure hangs over the State like a great sorrow.

The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price, and this is the saddest, bitterest thing of all. Carloads of oranges dumped on the ground. The people came for miles to take the fruit, but this could not be. How would they buy oranges at twenty cents a dozen if they could drive out and pick them up? And men with hoses squirt kerosene on the oranges, and they are angry at the crime, angry at the people who have come to take the fruit. A million people hungry, needing the fruit—and kerosene sprayed over the golden mountains.

And the smell of rot fills the country.

Burn coffee for fuel in the ships. Burn corn to keep warm, it makes a hot fire. Dump potatoes in the rivers and place guards along the banks to keep the hungry people from fishing them out. Slaughter the pigs and bury them, and let the putrescence drip down into the earth.

This is a passage out of The Grapes of Wrath written by John Steinback in 1939. The issue with poverty and homelessness and inequality goes back a long ways and will never be addressed so as long as an economic system called Capitalism exists. A system that by DESIGN is intended to have wealth inequality so that it can have the “Investor Class” and “the Working Class” can never address poverty without introducing SOCIALISM.

One silver lining that might lead to a better future, if we indeed have a future, is that with Trump in power and with wealth inequality on the rise the world over , Socialism is no longer seen as a “dirty word”. It my opinion it has not been stronger in the USA as example since the 1920’s and 1930’s when people like Eugene Debs were running for office.

What would end that move towards Socialism in the USA is if the Democratic party does as it has in the past and co-opts that movement. In Canada the Liberal Party is where progressives go to die and in the USA the Democrats play that role. While many progressives in the USA look at the presidency of FDR as a “golden Age” , that Presidency is what in fact preserved Capitalism and ended the Socialist movement. Here In Canada much the same happened during the years where Lester B Pearson and Pierre Eliot Trudeau in power when the Liberals took the best ideas being promoted by the NDP and adopted them as their own.

It my opinion that one can not consider themself as a Progressive and a person interested in Social Justice while at the same time promoting a system that sees millions of people living on less then 2 dollars a day even as a small handful defecate into Gold Plated Toilets and especially one where that small handful that defecate into Gold Plated Toilets are the ones that are put in charge.


Poverty in the US is a symptom of the more fundamental problem: too much money in too few hands.

As that famous radical Adam Smith said in the Wealth of Nations: “Wherever there is a great property, there is great inequality. For one very rich man, there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many.” (Note the word “must”.)

Concentrated wealth also means concentrated power. The desires and interests of the uber-rich dominate our politics more than they have in a century. Just look at the latest pathology of a tax bill that our “representatives” passed, that showers millionaires and billionaires with 80% of its tax benefits by 2027 (assuming that US society hasn’t totally collapsed by then).

As anybody but the wealthy and Ph.D. economists who shill for them can realize, trickle-down economics doesn’t work. It’s been tried for 40 years and the result is not universal prosperity but a new gilded age.

The Roaring 20s and a Depression stemming from financial speculation run amok helped spur working class solidarity and radicalism. Pressure from below, especially organized labor, finally forced the pigs that run the country to institute a set of reforms like Social Security, the minimum wage, and the 40 hour work week. If we want a better world we again need to organize. As Bernie Sanders recently said:

“We must develop an international movement that takes on the greed and ideology of the billionaire class and leads us to a world of economic, social and environmental justice.”


It is class warfare and those that have too much are defeating those who have too little with the help of those who have just enough and fear losing it.


Once more, we are back to the root cause, which is the basic cruelty and selfishness endemic to about half of our voting public. Something is missing from the soul of this supposedly “Christian Nation”.

Thanks for the link. The book sounds interesting. Reminds me of Looking Backward,
by Edward Bellamy.

Preface with two underappreciated factoids.
That the natural condition of man is impoverishment. Hobbes said it eloquently: “No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
– For most of human existence, up to about 200 years ago, the life of 99% of humanity was impoverished, hand-to-mouth, sometimes extremely impoverished. Economic downturns in that era were marked by famine, such as occurred several times in France during the 18th century.

And that the laws of Darwin apply. In situations of shortage people will compete and some people will die so that other may live. Only the winners write the philosophies justifying who lives and who dies.

So before continuing, we should pause for a prayer of thanksgiving that it is possible, in today’s age, to live better than that! And a bit of humbleness that we do the best we can and we acknowledge the existence of men such as Dostoevsky described in ‘Notes from Underground’ who, it seems, almost insist that they won’t be saved from a miserable fate.

It is considered a classic of British socialism. An often cited extract is called the “Money Trick”

‘Money is the cause of poverty because it is the device by which those who are too lazy to work are enabled to rob the workers of the fruits of their labour.’

‘Prove it,’ said Crass.

Owen slowly folded up the piece of newspaper he had been reading and put it into his pocket.

‘All right,’ he replied. ‘I’ll show you how the Great Money Trick is worked.’

Owen opened his dinner basket and took from it two slices of bread but as these were not sufficient, he requested that anyone who had some bread left would give it to him. They gave him several pieces, which he placed in a heap on a clean piece of paper, and, having borrowed the pocket knives they used to cut and eat their dinners with from Easton, Harlow and Philpot, he addressed them as follows:

‘These pieces of bread represent the raw materials which exist naturally in and on the earth for the use of mankind; they were not made by any human being, but were created by the Great Spirit for the benefit and sustenance of all, the same as were the air and the light of the sun.’

… ‘Now,’ continued Owen, ‘I am a capitalist; or, rather, I represent the landlord and capitalist class. That is to say, all these raw materials belong to me. It does not matter for our present argument how I obtained possession of them, or whether I have any real right to them; the only thing that matters now is the admitted fact that all the raw materials which are necessary for the production of the necessaries of life are now the property of the Landlord and Capitalist class. I am that class: all these raw materials belong to me.’

… ‘Now you three represent the Working Class: you have nothing – and for my part, although I have all these raw materials, they are of no use to me – what I need is – the things that can be made out of these raw materials by Work: but as I am too lazy to work myself, I have invented the Money Trick to make you work for me. But first I must explain that I possess something else beside the raw materials. These three knives represent – all the machinery of production; the factories, tools, railways, and so forth, without which the necessaries of life cannot be produced in abundance. And these three coins’ – taking three halfpennies from his pocket – ‘represent my Money Capital.’

‘But before we go any further,’ said Owen, interrupting himself, ‘it is most important that you remember that I am not supposed to be merely “a” capitalist. I represent the whole Capitalist Class. You are not supposed to be just three workers – you represent the whole Working Class.’

… Owen proceeded to cut up one of the slices of bread into a number of little square blocks.

‘These represent the things which are produced by labour, aided by machinery, from the raw materials. We will suppose that three of these blocks represent – a week’s work. We will suppose that a week’s work is worth – one pound: and we will suppose that each of these ha’pennies is a sovereign. …

‘Now this is the way the trick works -’

… Owen now addressed himself to the working classes as represented by Philpot, Harlow and Easton.

‘You say that you are all in need of employment, and as I am the kind-hearted capitalist class I am going to invest all my money in various industries, so as to give you Plenty of Work. I shall pay each of you one pound per week, and a week’s work is – you must each produce three of these square blocks. For doing this work you will each receive your wages; the money will be your own, to do as you like with, and the things you produce will of course be mine, to do as I like with. You will each take one of these machines and as soon as you have done a week’s work, you shall have your money.’

The Working Classes accordingly set to work, and the Capitalist class sat down and watched them. As soon as they had finished, they passed the nine little blocks to Owen, who placed them on a piece of paper by his side and paid the workers their wages.

‘These blocks represent the necessaries of life. You can’t live without some of these things, but as they belong to me, you will have to buy them from me: my price for these blocks is – one pound each.’

As the working classes were in need of the necessaries of life and as they could not eat, drink or wear the useless money, they were compelled to agree to the kind Capitalist’s terms. They each bought back and at once consumed one-third of the produce of their labour. The capitalist class also devoured two of the square blocks, and so the net result of the week’s work was that the kind capitalist had consumed two pounds worth of the things produced by the labour of the others, and reckoning the squares at their market value of one pound each, he had more than doubled his capital, for he still possessed the three pounds in money and in addition four pounds worth of goods. As for the working classes, Philpot, Harlow and Easton, having each consumed the pound’s worth of necessaries they had bought with their wages, they were again in precisely the same condition as when they started work – they had nothing.

This process was repeated several times: for each week’s work the producers were paid their wages. They kept on working and spending all their earnings. The kind-hearted capitalist consumed twice as much as any one of them and his pile of wealth continually increased. In a little while – reckoning the little squares at their market value of one pound each – he was worth about one hundred pounds, and the working classes were still in the same condition as when they began, and were still tearing into their work as if their lives depended upon it.

After a while the rest of the crowd began to laugh, and their merriment increased when the kind-hearted capitalist, just after having sold a pound’s worth of necessaries to each of his workers, suddenly took their tools – the Machinery of Production – the knives away from them, and informed them that as owing to Over Production all his store-houses were glutted with the necessaries of life, he had decided to close down the works.

‘Well, and what the bloody ‘ell are we to do now?’ demanded Philpot.

‘That’s not my business,’ replied the kind-hearted capitalist. ‘I’ve paid you your wages, and provided you with Plenty of Work for a long time past. I have no more work for you to do at present. Come round again in a few months’ time and I’ll see what I can do for you.’

‘But what about the necessaries of life?’ demanded Harlow. ‘We must have something to eat.’

‘Of course you must,’ replied the capitalist, affably; ‘and I shall be very pleased to sell you some.’

‘But we ain’t got no bloody money!’

‘Well, you can’t expect me to give you my goods for nothing! You didn’t work for me for nothing, you know. I paid you for your work and you should have saved something: you should have been thrifty like me. Look how I have got on by being thrifty!’

The unemployed looked blankly at each other, but the rest of the crowd only laughed; and then the three unemployed began to abuse the kind-hearted Capitalist, demanding that he should give them some of the necessaries of life that he had piled up in his warehouses, or to be allowed to work and produce some more for their own needs; and even threatened to take some of the things by force if he did not comply with their demands. But the kind-hearted Capitalist told them not to be insolent, and spoke to them about honesty, and said if they were not careful he would have their faces battered in for them by the police, or if necessary he would call out the military and have them shot down like dogs, the same as he had done before at Featherstone and Belfast.


Thank you. It’s really very simple, isn’t it? At some point, Capitalism as we know it, will have to go. For the sake of the Earth and all living things, the sooner the better!

A question that keeps popping up in my mind is whether the upper class’ attitude toward the poor is based on rationality (albeit rationality based on greed) or whether it is influenced by outright malice.

Certainly there was a component of vengeance in Reagan’s myth about poor black women driving Cadillac’s paid for by your tax dollars, but anytime I hear about state and local arguments whether or not to fund social programs, there’s always a liberal who points out:

If you don’t fund social programs now, it’s going to cost you a lot more in the future, from higher crime rates, higher medical costs, especially ER, etc.

This should be obvious, and I’ve never heard a Republican say it’s bogus. So their attacks on the poor are not in their own best, greedy interest, and I can only conclude that at least part of the attack is malicious.

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It’s nice to blame everything on Trump, but poverty in the US has been around decades. It’s slowly gotten worse and more hidden. Locally, a number of cities in multiple states have made it illegal to feed the hungry.
It’s not only the oligarchs who despise the poor. The ‘middle class’ do not want to see them either.

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