If you care about other people, that’s now a very dangerous idea. If you care about other people, you might try to organize to undermine power and authority. That’s not going to happen if you care only about yourself. Maybe you can become rich, but you don’t care whether other people’s kids can go to school, or can afford food to eat, or things like that. In the United States, that’s called “libertarian” for some wild reason. I mean, it’s actually highly authoritarian, but that doctrine is extremely important for power systems as a way of atomizing and undermining the public.
That’s why unions had the slogan, “solidarity,” even though they may not have lived up to it. And that’s what really counts: solidarity, mutual aid, care for one another and so on. And it’s really important for power systems to undermine that ideologically, so huge efforts go into it. Even trying to stimulate consumerism is an effort to undermine it. Having a market society automatically carries with it an undermining of solidarity. For example, in the market system you have a choice: You can buy a Toyota or you can buy a Ford, but you can’t buy a subway because that’s not offered. Market systems don’t offer common goods; they offer private consumption. If you want a subway, you’re going to have to get together with other people and make a collective decision. Otherwise, it’s simply not an option within the market system, and as democracy is increasingly undermined, it’s less and less of an option within the public system. All of these things converge, and they’re all part of general class war.
Last week a headline read: “Poverty is not a major factor in cause of crime.” For the author, crime was simply a matter of personal choice. Such logic is seductive and piggybacks on the US ideology of individual economic responsibility. Poverty becomes something one chooses to move from or not. In such a world, failure to achieve is viewed as the responsibility of the individual.
This is poverty as moral failure and justifies for many any personal prejudice against the poor, including the nonsense that poverty does not impact crime. Such ideas about poverty are often based on personal stories about people who rose up and broke out of poverty. Anecdote is not good science; it’s more like myth-making. Anthropological research into poverty highlights a diversity of experiences among people classified as poor—including great resilience by those who do not escape it.
And while there is certainly academic debate about whether poverty causes crime, it has been proven that many conditions inherent in poverty are risk factors for criminal behaviour. Anthropologists do not document poverty as an economic condition to be measured. Rather they describe poverty as a qualitative social relation of multi-dimensional deprivation. That means poverty affects the quality of a person’s life not just in terms of income but rights, opportunities, capabilities and entitlements.
Yes, poverty doesn’t affect every person in exactly the same way but poverty does impact every person’s ability to achieve his or her full human potential and the World Bank’s 2001 report on poverty said just that.
People living in poverty are more likely to live or come from broken homes, experience low levels of education, suffer high rates of mortality, lack support, possess weak social networks, endure poor health conditions, including poor nutrition, that effects many different abilities. They are also likely to be excluded from market participation and services.
Calling all people who live in poverty “vagabonds” is not only prejudice and deliberately misleading, it suggests poverty is just about being hungry and needing a job, and there is no structural impediment to breaking the cycle. People can come forward with their examples of individual success stories but it doesn’t change the fact that while some individuals break the cycle, the group “poor” on the whole cannot break the cycle and capitalism is designed to function in that precise way.
Capitalism requires an underclass, a poor, an industrial reserve army of labour, to do all the low-paying, awful jobs. That is a fact. Great wealth was, and is, accumulated by dispossession and it produces/d great poverty. Capitalism is a zero-sum game. There must be winners and losers. This isn’t a fun ride for everyone; this is neoliberal 21st century capitalism and it’s not that different in its punishments to late 19th century capitalism.
In this sense, poverty is a consequence of historical relationships that include white supremacy, racial hierarchy, underdevelopment, the creation of laws, class warfare, urbanism, transnational geopolitics, and how such big processes made and make the world. Poverty is not an abstraction one can personally choose to overcome or not. Rather, poverty is about social processes and the effects those processes have on making people.
Let’s end with a simple question. What came first: poverty or the culture of poverty?
Anthropologist Phillipe Bourgois spent years living and researching drugs dealers in the ghettos of Puerto Rico. He noted that rather than guns and drug culture being the culture of the ghetto, the ghetto and its poverty should be understood in historical and social context as the reaction to particular social and economic configurations in the colonial relationship between the USA and Puerto Rico.
A similar argument can be made about T&T. Yes, a culture of poverty can lead to criminality and anti-social behaviour, but we should also understand how the historical circumstances of our colonial relationship gave us the poverty that in turn constantly produces/d the culture of poverty we now denigrate and fear.
Put bluntly, blaming the poor for living in poverty rather than fixing the society that produces/d poverty is a massive blind spot found among some who do not live in poverty. It helps them feel successful and accomplished—superior. It’s a hold over of the divide-and-conquer politics of colonialism and racist at heart.
Poverty and the many wider socio-cultural issues, like crime, that it impacts, exist (and always will) because of the type of society we’ve all built, not because of the failure of individuals to personally overcome poverty.
• Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at UWI, St Augustine
As the UK’s leading experts on social policy and the welfare state, we urge the government to reconsider the benefit cuts scheduled for 1 April and to ensure that no further public spending cuts are targeted on the poorest in our society. We have two major concerns.
First, as the government’s own impact assessment has demonstrated, the 1% uprating in the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Act will have a disproportionate effect on the poorest. Families with children will be particularly hard hit, pushing a further 200,000 children into poverty. In addition, those with low to middle earnings and single-earner households will be caught by the 1% limit on tax credit rates. These new cuts come on top of the cumulative impact of previous tax, benefit and public expenditure cuts which have already meant the equivalent to a loss of around 38% of net income for the poorest tenth of households and only 5% for the richest tenth.
Second, the welfare state is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. All developed countries have them and the less developed ones are striving to establish their own. Welfare states depend on a fair collection and redistribution of resources, which in turn rests upon the maintenance of trust between different sections of society and across generations. Misleading rhetoric concerning those who have to seek support from the welfare state, such as the contrast between “strivers” and “shirkers”, risks undermining that trust and, with it, one of the key foundations of modern Britain.
In fact the divisions are not so simple. For example, the borderline between low and no pay is fluid. Families move in and out of work and in and out of poverty. Around one in six of economically active people have claimed jobseeker’s allowance at least once in the last two years (almost 5 million people). The record level of youth unemployment accounts for most of those households where no one has ever worked. Around 6.5 million people are underemployed and want to work more. The 50% rise in families receiving working tax credits since 2003 reflects the 20% increase in the working poor, as one in five women and one in seven men earn less than £7 per hour. Now the majority of children and working-age adults in poverty live in working, not workless, households.
In the interests of fairness and to protect the poorest, as well as to avoid the risk of undermining the consensus on the British welfare state, the government should increase taxation progressively on the better off, those who can afford to pay (including ourselves), rather than cutting benefits for the poorest.
Stephen Graham - Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism (via effusionofbiopower)
this is Trinidad/Port of Spain and Eastern Corridor right now
The ‘politics of envy’ is a cliche of Thatcherite ‘meritocratic’ ideology. Mrs Thatcher, in a 1975 speech debunking the post-war consensus, attributed a saying to the Mid-West: “Don’t cut down the tall poppies. Let them rather grow tall.” If this doesn’t sound very much like a Mid-West homily, it is because it is derived from Herodotus. But the idea that this encompasses a folksy wisdom, a ‘common sense’ if you will, is important to Thatcherite and neoliberal ideology. It means, don’t cut down those who excel out of envy; encourage them, fertilise them, let them excel all the more. The idea is that people who succeed in markets deserve their success: their success is ‘meritocratic’. In this, she was not innovating: she merely gave fresh expression to an old conservative trope, present in Nietzsche as much as Rand. But its staying power as a free market fable is acc0unted for by its political uses.
The more sophisticated ideologists of neoliberalism, such as Hayek, recognised the danger in attributing merit to market outcomes: it was a thinly veiled social Darwinism that distorted the real justification for free markets, that being their superior productive capacity. But reactionaries like Thatcher understood that people do care about social justice, and are not enthralled by GDP figures. She thus took the logical step of binding the argument for free markets to a mawkish, simplistic morality fable, in which egalitarianism is a conspiracy against excellence. And to this day, Tory ideologues such as Jenkins, when in need of a quick social justice fix,alight on the old chestnut about the ‘politics of envy’.