Posts Tagged ‘inequality’

The response to the recent fashion for “poverty porn” says a lot about the strange ideas many of us seem to have, regarding how we’d deal with real poverty if we were ever in serious financial trouble.

We seem to think that, if times were tight, we’d be able to tighten our belts for a while, live sensible and sparsely, and ride it out. It’d just take a bit of budgeting and deliberate frugality, which it feels we’d be able to handle if we had to, if we were really tested. We’d knuckle down, we’d scrimp, we’d save. We wouldn’t waste our time and valuable resources on fripperies like a “flatscreen TV” – a fancy gadget modern enough to bewilder many tabloid journalists with its exoticism, but known to the rest of us as “a TV” and which can retail new for like £70 nowadays. But even that seems needlessly lavish, if you’re so poor that it’s a matter of survival. We’d cut back on anything so frivolous as entertainment then, and only spend money on what we truly needed.

We may not all be as deluded on this score as Iain Duncan Smith, but it’s still a prevalent attitude.

After all, we all have money problems to some degree or another. Which means it’s all too easy to sorta kinda picture ourselves in that kind of situation, and imagine how motivated we’d be to find some way out of it. The looming dread of poverty would surely be a powerful motivator that we – not being feckless scroungers and layabouts – would be inspired to leap into action, and work hard and diligently, and make our own independent way in the world. Naturally we’d respond that way, just as naturally as the world would inevitably reward our hard work by making sure we regained our financial security if we just kept at it for long enough.

Good lord it’s such obvious bollocks though. I mean, if you pay any attention to the amount of money people with bills to pay throw away on stuff that’s not strictly necessary but provides them with some kind of happiness or comfort, or if you learn anything about the psychological effects of being in constantly dire financial straits, or if you’ve spent any time actually living in that kind of world, not just on a two-week sight-seeing trip there with a paid-off house and a career in politics and/or media to come home to at the end of it all.

I’ve never lived in the kind of world where the demands and threats of destitution are constantly grinding you down, and anyone in an even slightly higher income bracket or social class can be safely assumed to be looking down on you and holding you at least partly responsible for your predicaments, and Channel 4 are making documentaries to show millions of people what scum you are, and where a nation will turn against you simply for wanting to enjoy an easy, accessible, low-cost way to distract yourself from worrying if the gas is going to be cut off this week and watch some moving picture of a world that doesn’t suck for a while. And I feel fortunate that I haven’t. The idea that the financial situation of the least well-off benefits claimants in this country is enviable is completely alien to me.

How shit does someone’s life have to be before you stop resenting them getting any help from anyone? Christ, let people have their flatscreen TVs. What the hell do you want from them?

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Look, forget for a moment all the problems with my vaguely defined and ill articulated socialist utopia.

Forget any of the specific counter-arguments you’re tired of re-hashing whenever people bring up one of your constant bug-bears, like how government regulation might ever be a good thing.

Step back from all that. Just look at how things actually are, right now. Ignore the details of the system behind it, and just look where it’s got us.

The current system our species has settled on for distributing wealth has basically amounted to: “Here is all* the money: you 85 people over here take half, and you 3,500,000,000 share the other half out amongst yourselves.”

Does that really sound like everything’s working okay to you?

I’m not proposing any specific action be done about it, so stop rehearsing complaints about the dangers of government regulation, and shut up about the fucking Laffer curve for a minute.

Look at the numbers. Look at the shitty kind of life many of those in the bottom 3,500,000,000 are stuck with.

Consider how much the experience of life would be affected for several billion people by the amounts of money being discussed here. Consider how much less happiness, comfort, or motivation eighty-five individuals would experience, if the numbers that appeared on some bits of paper didn’t have quite so many zeroes on the end. Compare the impact that would be felt, by one group and by the other, if some of all the money were somewhere other than where it is.

Can we not just agree that this level of division is pretty fucked up? That such a colossal disparity does not actually represent a discrepancy in how hard people are working, or how much a given person is contributing to society, or how much we all fucking deserve?

I imagine most of my readership will be on board at least that far. But from the way many people downplay the extent to which income inequality in the US and UK is a problem, or deny the assertion that there is any systemic injustice causing or exacerbating such inequalities… I’m starting to worry that some people out there really think that the current situation is how you’d expect things to look if everything was working just fine.

And I’m going to have to take some time to figure out how to even talk to that kind of belief.

*You’re on the internet, you should be used to “all” being used hyperbolically. Of course it’s not all the money being referred to here; it’s actually just several metric fuckloads.

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Spending much time examining the attitudes of, say, Fox News, on the subject of the rich and the poor, can very quickly become very illuminating.

It’s not just Fox, by any means, but they’re among the most prominent apologists for the classism and wealth gap in America. They’re among those devoting serious airtime to bewailing the nightmare of hotel housekeepers earning as much as $60,000 a year, while simultaneously complaining about the unfairness of Obama’s tax policy on those poor souls earning over $250,000, who are really struggling to get by.

What I think it illuminates is just how narrow a band of ideas people like this are actually interested in.

They don’t care to extrapolate downwards and consider, if a couple earning a quarter-million annually is having such a tough time, how much of a struggle it must be for people on one tenth of that income (which is still well above minimum wage). They don’t consider the reasons why the free market might value these housekeepers’ work at $60,000 a year, although they’re happy to assume that investment bankers earning hundreds of times that deserve every penny. They ignore how difficult and specialised a job the staff in this particular hotel might actually have, how good they might be at it, how many specific skills they might have acquired and honed. They seem oblivious to how negligible an impact this supposedly flagrant expenditure actually has on the economy as a whole, and don’t explain why we ought to be concerned that this money is somehow being misspent.

There doesn’t, in fact, seem to be a single economic consideration being given to the matter. It doesn’t even occur to them to consider it on that level.

No, they’ve just got a very clear idea of the kind of people who do this sort of work, and what sort of rewards they do and don’t deserve, based on how they feel about them.

Housekeeping is something poor people do, and should be treated as such. It’s just housework. A lowly thing for lowly people. $60,000 a year just feels like too much. More than they deserve. More than I want to see them getting for that lowly work they do. They’re only housekeepers.

But businessmen earning comfortably into six figures? Well, now, they’re more our sort of people, and you just wouldn’t believe the hard time they’re having at the moment, what with taxes and housing costs and private schools and daycare and sundry other vital expenses, and it’s so unfair the way people think they’re part of some privileged majority.

It’s not like a couple of hundred grand a year means you’re not allowed to have problems. But the way those problems are framed compared to other people’s can reveal a lot about your real priorities.

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Let’s not be political for a moment. Let’s just look at some numbers.

The combined pay of the top 299 CEOs is enough to support 102,325 average jobs.

1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day.

The poverty rate among children in the US is over 20 percent. The US poverty rate among children ranks the US 26th among 30 nations in the rate of poverty among children.

This right here is enough data to tell you that something is terribly wrong, and the current system is failing in dramatic ways.

The first point on its own should be enough to tell you that we have a wealthy class and a poorer underclass, and that something about this inequality is unjust and indefensible.

Stop being a conservative or a liberal for a moment. Don’t focus on the details and just complain about what’s wrong with whatever you think I want to change about the free market. Hold off on leaping to the defense of a system that suits you just fine, because of all the ways the familiar alternatives would be even worse.

Just look at three hundred people being paid a greater share of wealth than a hundred thousand others. And that’s even before you look internationally.

You don’t need political theory to tell you that such imbalance is fucked up.

If we can’t do any better than this, we might as well save ourselves some guilt and just give up now.

But if we can do better, there’s no better time to get started.

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Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum told the mother of a child with a rare genetic disorder on Tuesday that she shouldn’t have a problem paying $1 million a year for drugs because Apple’s iPad can cost around $900.

That’s a slightly coarse summary of his recent remarks, but not nearly as coarse as his actual opinions.

My credibility is this big, and sells for this much.

See if you can follow the logic. Some people pay substantial amounts of money for non-essential electronic goods. Therefore, poor people shouldn’t complain at being expected to spend similar sums of money every month of their lives – or however much cash the market demands, which in some cases can be around a million dollars a year – on medical treatment necessary to save their life.

Where do you even start with something like that?

The problem, as this frothy mixture of callousness and self-interest describes it, is that we’re “conditioned to think health care is something you can get without having to pay for it”.

Yep, apparently I’ve been brainwashed into wanting to live in a world where we actually look after each other. Socialist propaganda has convinced me that I shouldn’t be content to watch my neighbours die from easily prevented conditions because they can’t afford basic and widely available medical treatment.

He declared that one particular sick child was “alive today because drug companies provide care”, missing the point that he could equally be dead tomorrow because drug companies only provide care if you give them thousands and thousands of dollars.

I want your son to stay alive on much-needed drugs. Fact is, we need companies to have incentives to make drugs. If they don’t have incentives, they won’t make those drugs. We either believe in markets or we don’t.

It may seem heartless, hypocritical, and downright bullshittastic for him to tell this woman that he wants her son to live, while offering no suggestion as to how the obvious barrier of the unaffordability of treatment is supposed to be overcome. But it’s possible he actually believes it. He may honestly think that his advice is the best solution for people like this.

Rick Santorum is a capitalist. As such, he believes that a free market system not entirely unlike the one currently in place, but far less cluttered by government intervention (or at least the kind that doesn’t favour it), is the best way to achieve important things, such as developing and distributing life-saving medical treatments.

So he’s extended this idea to what seems like a logical conclusion: that if families like this aren’t expected to pay whatever medical fees arise if they’re unfortunate enough to face a medical crisis, these life-saving drugs would never be created in the first place. Laying down that kind of ultimatum is the only way we can expect to get any useful work done.

It’s sad that sometimes people have to die to keep the system going, but what other way could there possibly be?

What a tragically bleak view of the world.

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Mitt Romney demonstrated his utter inability to comprehend the basic number ordering system last week.

He said, specifically, that he’s “not concerned about the very poor“, and instead wants to focus on the middle-class, the “very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

His rationale is that the very poor have a “safety net” in place, and so we can basically stop thinking about them. Whereas the middle-class, that block in the middle who it’s assumed aren’t really poor but are doing kinda-okay-but-could-be-better – the ones who might actually vote for Romney – well now, they’re worth some pandering.

The point being, of course, that those people are by definition better off than the “very poor” who need those safety nets, and it makes no coherent sense to be more concerned about them.

He also said:

The area that I think is the greatest challenge that the country faces right now is not to focus our effort on how we help the poor, as much as to focus our effort on how to help the middle class in America, and get more people in the middle class, and get people out of being poor and becoming middle income.

A sentence in which he both continues to misunderstand how numbers work and contradicts himself a couple of times.

Oh, and if you look at the actual tax plan Romney’s proposed, most of the middle-class he’s courting get screwed over pretty good anyway. And Obama’s not exactly unfamiliar with similar rhetoric himself.

So, good luck America. Hope that democracy thing works out for ya.

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This five-year-old is being outrageously sexualised by bloggers and journalists. That’s according to her mother, who dressed the kid up like Julia Roberts from Pretty Woman for a show called Toddlers & Tiaras, and got her to sing a song called Sexy And I Know It at a nightclub.

– Here’s a graphic which I’d say represents the relative contributions to society made by these people completely fairly.

– “Imagine what we could accomplish” if, like the President suggests, we followed the example of US troops.

– There has to be a better portmanteau available for this than the clunky “sexapocalypse“. Suggestions?

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