A Poverty of Empathy

From In These Times:  http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/14034/a_poverty_of_empathy/

The GOP’s social welfare philosophy dates back to 1818.

BY Maggie Garb
October 16, 2012

In 1818, the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism, New York’s first anti-poverty organization, issued a report advocating the need to relieve “the community from the pecuniary exactions, the multiplied exactions, and threatening dangers” associated with paupers.

These middle-class worthies were alarmed at the cost of heating the almshouse in winter, the appearance of women and children scavenging for coal and food scraps along city streets, and the able-bodied men left idle by a serious economic downturn. The report listed the causes of urban poverty: intemperance in drinking, idleness, “want of economy,” gambling, pawnbrokers and “imprudent and hasty marriages.”

Nowhere in the 20-page document did the authors mention the twin burdens of urban laboring people: low wages and few jobs. Instead, the report framed poverty as a moral failure, arguing that the “habits and vices” of the poor need to be remade. The Society later suggested installing a running wheel in the poor house—a massive machine combining the grueling monotony of a hamster wheel and a Stairmaster—to train the poor in the discipline of work.

The Society’s report brings to mind Mitt Romney’s comment about the 47 percent: “My job is not to worry about those people—I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Yet unlike Romney, many Americans are indeed worried about poverty. They feel themselves slipping downward from an already tenuous middle- or working-class style of life. And no one wants to face up to the inadequacy of America’s social safety net.

Like members of the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism, many in Washington reframe poverty as the opposite of work: Those relying on government anti-poverty funds are weak, dependent, or mired in some kind of antisocial marginal culture. Without a strict work requirement, America will become a “nation of government dependency,” said Mitt Romney in August.

Lost in the ongoing welfare debate is the fact that poverty often accompanies work, as Barbara Ehrenreich demonstrated in her 2001 investigation of minimum-wage earners, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Government statistics back her up. A significant number of employed Americans are eligible for the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. Most of the people receiving government housing vouchers are employed.

Continue reading at:  http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/14034/a_poverty_of_empathy/

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How Propagandists for the 1% Are Manipulating Christian Teachings to Rob the Middle Class

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/how-propagandists-1-are-manipulating-christian-teachings-rob-middle-class

The neoliberal utopianism that caused the financial crisis has been repackaged for the 2012 election.

By Michael Meurer
October 17, 2012

 In the endless swirl of headlines about the current global financial crisis, the dominant narrative, which is also driving the 2012 US presidential election, is that crippling amounts of public debt run up by profligate government spending have brought us to the brink of financial ruin and must be offset by deep cuts in social services and “entitlements.”

It is a false narrative that masks the largest ongoing financial swindle in human history, a swindle being carried out at public expense by a small class of elite financial speculators. This speculative class has been unleashed over the past three decades by a Utopian neoliberal political project now embodied in its most virulent form in the Republican presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Let’s start with the depth and size of the underlying financial crisis, which is almost in the realm of hyper-reality. In 1997, for example, the total value of annual financial transactions worldwide was an already-staggering 15 times greater than global GDP. Today, it is 70 times greater . (1) In 1995, the six largest US banks controlled assets worth 17 percent of annual GDP. Today, the figure is 64 percent . (2) Again in 1995, the global total of outstanding derivative debt obligations was $17.7 trillion. By 2010, at nearly $470 trillion , outstanding derivatives were 741 percent of global GDP . (3)

This wholesale financialization of the US-led global economy has burdened the public sector with the task of propping up unregulated speculative debt in the private sector that is 7.4 times our annual productive capacity. Add US deficit spending for three wars since 9/11, and major cuts in the top tax rates, and the burden becomes unsustainable. The difference is being made up in the guise of austerity, as everything we own is liquidated, from personal and retirement savings, to homes and public-sector assets that have been built up over generations.

In the US, the inexorable logic of this process is embedded in the numbers that comprise the national debt. By most estimates, the national debt is at least $15 trillion .(4) Here is one way to understand where the money went.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/how-propagandists-1-are-manipulating-christian-teachings-rob-middle-class

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