October 1, 2012
I feel like I’m in something of a Dickens Twilight Zone. Are we all being transported back to a time in human history when debtors prisons and workhouses for the poor were the norm in dealing with those lower income levels Mitt Romney has deemed the 47% not worthy of his concern?
There is often the blind assumption that the poor are always responsible for their plight
We’re all familiar with that part of the Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, where Ebenezer Scrooge is approached by two gentlemen gathering donations during the Christmas holiday to help provide “some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time”. Scrooge frowns and shakes his head at the two men as they entreat him to donate. He tells the men to leave him alone after assuring them that such ne’er-do-wells can best be assisted by the prisons, workhouses, treadmills and poor laws that were still in place then.
I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”
One of the gentlemen replied, “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that.” SOURCE
That last line about how Scrooge wasn’t even aware that conditions were so bad at those workhouses that “many [of the poor] would rather die” is symptomatic of very wealthy people who often view most poor people, especially those so destitute that they are homeless, as lazy derelicts and what aid they receive is more than they deserve. Some would view them as the secured caste in India, better known perhaps as “the untouchables”.
Those institutions Scrooge mentions were publicly supported. They were the harsh government efforts by which the poor were dealt with in early 19th century England. They are a far cry from what civilized Western societies offer today who treat people much more humanely and provide esteem-building incentives to overcome their poverty. For example:
The Poor Law was the Victorian answer to poverty [that] was enacted in 1834. Prior to passage of the New Poor Law, indigent care was the burden of individual parishes, but the new regulation required parishes to band together and create regional workhouses where the poor could apply for relief. Little more than prisons for the poor, workhouses were notorious for denying civil liberties, separating family members, and destroying human dignity. As a result, most of the poorest people went to great lengths in order to avoid this degrading solution. SOURCE
Though we have become more humane over the last two centuries there are signs that some segments within society would like to “Restore America” to a level and time where such humane assistance was not available. Take for example Mitt Romney’s comments recently in an 60 Minutes Interview with Scott Pelley:
Pelley: Does the government have a responsibility to provide health care to the 50 million Americans who don’t have it today?
Romney: Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance, people– we– if someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.
If I were Pelley I would have followed up this comment and asked Romney, “what about the aftercare these people will need Governor? Many can’t afford it and because of it will surely die”.
The refrain from many of those who will either be voting for Romney or against Obama is “Let ‘em die!” . Of course Romney and others within the GOP hierarchy would not be so brazen to simply say let them die but the policies they support are creating that very condition.
Those politicians who signed Grover Norquist’s No Tax pledge have agreed to shrink government small enough so it can be drowned in a bath tub. This means deep and lasting cuts to social welfare programs that provide “some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly …” Some recent news has revealed that this tactic is having the “Scrooge Effect”.
For generations of Americans, it was a given that children would live longer than their parents. But there is now mounting evidence that this enduring trend has reversed itself for the country’s least-educated whites, an increasingly troubled group whose life expectancy has fallen by four years since 1990.
The reasons for the decline remain unclear, but researchers offered possible explanations, including a spike in prescription drug overdoses among young whites, higher rates of smoking among less educated white women, rising obesity, and a steady increase in the number of the least educated Americans who lack health insurance. SOURCE
The conditions mentioned in this report, that scientist feel may be the causal factors for lower life expectancies for the country’s least-educated whites, are predominant in the South along with two adjoining states – Texas and Oklahoma. This has become a region of the country that routinely votes Republican in large numbers
Red staters love their tobacco and high fructose, fatty foods. A 2006-07 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health showed that those age 12 or older in 6 of the states in this region had a higher rate than the national average of 8.1 percent of people who had used an illicit drug in the last month. That region’s high school graduation rate was a full 8 points below the national average of 74.9%
Based on the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the national average for uninsured people was 18.4 percent in 2010. Half of the states in the South including Texas and Oklahoma had higher rates, with my home state of Texas leading all others at 25% – 1 in 4 Texans have no health care coverage. These rates will likely improve over time thanks in part to that “socialist” legislation Republicans are trying to repeal and derisively call “Obamacare”. The Congressional Budget Office projects that 32 million more people will have insurance by 2019.
What jumps out and grabs me the most in all of this is how this region of the country consistently votes against their own self-interests. In sheer numbers, these states draw in the larger share of public assistance programs than any other region.
In a NY Times article earlier this year, data revealed that “the share of Americans’ income that comes from government benefit programs, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, more than doubled over the last four decades, rising from 8 percent in 1969 to 18 percent in 2009.” Take a look at the map below to see where the greatest concentration of these needs are located.
The darkest areas are where the highest concentrations of social welfare beneficiaries reside
Click on image to interact
It quickly becomes clear that those areas of the country that routinely vote Republican are most dependent on welfare assistance; benefits that Republican elected officials routinely vote to reduce or eliminate altogether
Voters in this region also elect politicians that favor legislation that enriches corporations while ignoring matters that would reduce the effects of obesity, smoking, drug use and health insurance coverage. Regulations aimed at mollifying the ill effects of poor diets, smoking and pollution are always cited as government overreach by GOP representatives, often ignoring how the consequences of their actions are leading to the advanced death rates of those least-educated whites.
By getting these voters to support legislation and policies that diminishes their chances of survival, the Romneys of our age, the modern day Scrooges, have surreptitiously collaborated in reducing that surplus population who rely on Social Security and Medicaid/Medicare benefits; benefits they are entitled to.
Do the Grover Norquist loyalists think in terms of reducing this population to advance their own income status? Are they really unaware that these low and middle-income people who collect these benefits in most cases are part of that work force that enabled the 1% to acquire their fortunes? Without a labor force that earns a living wage there would be far less demand for the goods and services that businesses rely on to make a profit. Depriving them of the means to enhance their lives and become productive members of society is a short-sighted effort by those who actively seek to eliminate safety net coverage, vital resources for retirees and those who lack adequate health coverage. Such a strategy is bound to come back and bite the Scrooges of the world on the butt and ultimately pick their own pockets.
[T]he United States has experienced an upward redistribution so profound that it affects far more than incomes. Whole sectors of the economy and regions of the country have been decimated by these economic changes. The descent in all manner of social indexes is most apparent among poorly educated whites. Conservative commentator Charles Murray has documented in his new book the decline in marriage rates and family stability within the white working class. … While other Americans’ life expectancy has advanced, the life expectancy of whites without high school diplomas has declined since 1990 — by three years among men and five years among women.
The market is not just redistributing income in the United States, then. It is redistributing life. - Harold Meyerson
The two gentlemen who confronted Scrooge for a charitable donation were not buying into his statement that he was unaware of the deplorable conditions in the workhouses
“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.
“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”
It is only later, when confronted with his own mortality that Scrooge concludes that mankind is indeed his business more than he is willing to concede. We also discover that his assets are far greater than he had led us to believe as he gives generously to these two men later as well as to the Cratchits and his own family. What Scrooge learned was that accumulated wealth may indeed be an individual right but it doesn’t permit us to cut ourselves off from the rest of humanity.
Believing that we are independent of each other and that our success is based solely on our own actions is a bogus premise. Believing too that an unfettered free market is the sole answer to our economic survival ignores the lessons of history where human greed will always prevent a fair shake to allow a rising tide to lift all boats.
When the system fails, and it will because mankind has yet to create a singular equitable system, we need to allow those public resources to fill the voids where charities and local efforts alone can’t. No one should plan their life around the charity of others or rely on a public safety net to catch them when the economy falters. Common sense however tells us that inevitably there will be conditions that require some kind of system in place that can address this failure.
But neither should we have to fear that opportunities exists only for the fortunate ones who inherited their wealth or are a member of an advantaged group. The revered notion of an American dream does not mean we will all share equally in the wealth that free markets generate but it should ensure that mechanisms are in place to provide the necessities for good health and security without being an undue burden. Corporate interests must put people, especially their employees on a level plain with their profits. They are not mere objects for venture capitalists like Romney to dispose of in order to maximize their bottom line.
Until we can find a better economic substitute for the free market system, it will fall on the wealthiest amongst us during tough economic times like these to make necessary sacrifices. Not the 47% who Romney wants to ignore. These are usually the people who get squeezed the most, making it even more difficult to sustain a reasonable measure of security and good health. There are no throwaway human surpluses. Only those who are kept down by soul-less people who have contrived a misguided premise that we ” are all on our own.”