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How do we eliminate the paradox of poverty & privation amid plenty & abundance?

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Author Topic: How do we eliminate the paradox of poverty & privation amid plenty & abundance?  (Read 8250 times)
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« on: August 24, 2010, 10:01:59 am »

The American Workplace: Sweatshop USA
Workhouse Nation: Part Three

Preceding the above was Part Two of Ransel's "Workhouse Nation" report, from which the following key excerpt is lifted:


Robert Reich, Clinton's Labor Secretary, has posited that there's a "radical restructuring of the economy that is going on behind the scenes."  In other words, behind the people's backs.  "...people who lost their jobs were pushed into lower paying jobs..."  And those who had lower paying jobs were pushed out entirely, while bank, and other corporate profits, continue to escalate.  Corporations continue to consolidate, further concentrating power in the hands of their shareholders, as real property/wealth is distributed upward to the "opulent minority."   
And now all of us freeloading, entitlement-grasping working people on whom they not only depend, but whom they themselves have immiserated, must be made to pay for the "opulent minority's" good times via a present-day version of the Victorian workhouse
The Enclosure Acts in Britain forced people off the land they'd worked by right for centuries, fencing them out, driving them into the "great dim sheds" of the Industrial Revolution (1700-1800). Though Britain amassed natural and financial resources from its colonies and profits from its slave trade, this made up only 5% of Britain's national income during the Industrial Revolution.  Britain's dense population for its small size, and the Enclosure of common land created a readily available labor supply.  And it was through the Enclosure movement, in large part, that the peasantry was destroyed as a meaningful resistance and removed the obstacles to Britain's mandate of capitalism.
And while prior to the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648), it had been a Christian's duty to undertake the seven corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; welcome the stranger; clothe the naked; visit the sick; visit the prisoner; and bury the dead, after the Reformation, "outdated," other-directed values became inconvenient. Moral expectations and noblesse oblige disappeared and it became necessary to regulate poor relief by law.
The moral economy was replaced by a political economy in which the well-off had no moral obligation to help the ill, the aged, the widowed, the orphaned or the unemployed.  Such obligations were replaced with a cash payment which destroyed both the human link between the haves and the have-nots, as well as the right of the poor to claim relief in times of hardship, like illness, a hard winter or trade depressions.  And with the appearance of laissez-faire economic theory, poverty came to be seen as the result of self-chosen immorality, irresponsibility, or idleness, or an inherent weakness or inferiority - all of which were used to justify leaving the destitute to their destitution at the "invisible hand" of the "free" market. 
At approximately the same time, Thomas Malthus was expounding his theory that the relief of poverty itself created poverty.  In other words, those who could not work should, if necessary, starve rather than have government provide any kind of relief because it "distorted" the "free" market that determined the "natural" level of wages and prices.  The "law" of supply and demand had to be allowed to operate freely without acknowledging that the "free" market was often the cause of unemployment/idleness.  This "natural law" assumed that people would work for any wage offered rather than starve themselves and their families (which was exactly the point) and in order for wages to rise, the labor supply had to become scarce through starvation, disease and/or exposure to the elements.
There's a modern version of this theory at work today in South Carolina, where "Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer has compared giving government assistance to 'feeding stray animals.'  'My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals.  You know why?  Because they breed.  You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply.'  'How do you fix it?  Well you say, look, if you receive goods or services from the government, then you owe something back.'  "We can't afford to keep just giving money away."  He said that government continues to reward bad behavior by giving money to people who 'don't have to do a thing.'
He failed to mention Bush's $1.3 trillion tax cut for the disgustingly wealthy.  Nor did he touch on tax breaks, abatements and subsidies to our largest corporations.  He seems to have forgotten the more than $23 trillion allocated to the banks, no questions asked, or the onerous workfare obligations imposed on those who receive public assistance and the tax on unemployment benefits.
Britain's remedy for fixing the problem of giving money to people who "don't have to do a thing" was workhouses.  Workhouses had appeared in Britain in the 1600s as places for people to live and work when they couldn't support themselves. The unemployed, able-bodied poor could only get relief by going into these workhouses, even if trade depressions had caused their "idleness."  The work, like factory work, was continuous, boring, hard and degrading.  They crushed bones, broke stones and "picked" oakum, e.g. unbraided bits of used, tarry rope, the fibers of which were then used as caulk for sailing ships.  The workhouse, like workfare, was used as a deterrent.  And as they are for welfare, conditions were made as harsh and degrading as possible so only the truly desperate would apply to "the house."  And once poor parents entered a workhouse, they were held to have forfeited responsibility for their children, enabling landlords to take them as unpaid "apprentices" until they came of age, 18 for girls, 24 for boys.
At the same time, debtors could be locked up "until their families paid their debt.  Some debt prisoners were released into debt bondage to become indentured servants until they paid off their debt in labor." (emphasis added)
And in fact, two to three Europeans who came to the American colonies were debtors when they got here.  Some colonies, like Georgia, were supposed to be debtors' asylums.  In 1789, the Society for the Relief of Distressed Debtors determined that of 1,162 debtors in New York's debtors' prison in 1787 and 1788, over half, 716 of them, owed less than 20 shillings.  In 1831 imprisonment for debt was abolished in New York, and in 1841 Congress passed a law that offered bankruptcy to everyone.  Debtors' prisons all over America were finally abolished and bankruptcy laws liberalized as Americans realized that most people do not fall into debt of their own choosing - or as a result divine retribution. 
But in 2009 in Georgia, people who couldn't pay their fines - plus the monthly fee to the private corporation that collects the payments - were often sent to jail, according to Stephen Bright, President of the Southern Center for Human Rights.  And in 2006, the center sued on behalf of a woman locked up for eight months in Atlanta because she couldn't pay a $705 fine.  And until a few years ago in Gulfport, Mississippi, defendants who couldn't pay their fines were put in jail 'til they "sat off" their fines.
Barbara Ehrenreich points out that while debtors' prisons no longer exist, a creditor can petition a court to issue a summons for nonpayment of a bill.  If you fail to appear you're in contempt of court, which lands you in jail - where you can run up more debt.  An increasing number of prison systems charge their inmates for room and board.  Taney County, Missouri charges $45 a day, Springfield, Oregon charges $60, and New Jersey is considering a $10-15 day fee. Nobody knows what happens if an inmate can't pay.  More time in jail to "sit it off?"
Prisoners' rights advocates worry that as government budgets come increasingly under pressure, courts and prisons will get even tougher about forcing indigent defendants to pay cost and fees, and will imprison more of them if they can't come up with the money, in effect imprisoning them for poverty.
In America prior to the 1930s and Social Security, destitute elderly poor people went to the poorhouse, or workhouse.  Such "houses" were widespread in America.  Poorhouses were often on "poor farms," where any able-bodied residents were made to work.  These could be part of the same economic complex as a prison farm, and most produced at least some of the produce, grain and livestock they consumed, like serfs working on a medieval manor, or Victorian residents of a workhouse.  "Residents" (inmates) were expected to provide labor to the extent that their health would allow, in the fields as well as providing housekeeping and care for other residents.  Rules were strict and accommodations minimal.

Now the "opulent minority" is instituting another set of Enclosure Acts.  This time, rather than fencing us out, they've built a fence to keep us in.  The wage slave system wasn't escape-proof enough, so we've been enclosed within a fence of debt from which there is no escape.  To that end wages will be halved - again.  Foreclosures strictly carried out.  Insurance for health, like that for cars, will be mandatory.  Unions have already been neutralized, reduced to shells of their former selves.  Free speech is relegated to zones behind barbed wire fences policed by minions of mammon armed with gas, guns and tasers.  And now that Obama's healthcare "reform" has become law, the workhouses of Victorian England will pale by comparison with the "great dim sheds" of our new plantation-poor farms constructed by Halliburton.

« Last Edit: March 19, 2011, 09:02:32 am by Geolibertarian » Report Spam   Logged

"For the first years of [Ludwig von] Mises’s life in the United States...he was almost totally dependent on annual research grants from the Rockefeller Foundation.” -- Richard M. Ebeling

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