Sunday, September 26, 2010

WTF Happened???

America's growing poverty: a midnight food stamp line outside a WalMart.

The Census Bureau recently reported that a record 43.6 million Americans were living below the poverty line. In 2008 there were 'only' 39.8 million but now there are more than 3 million more. Do you blame the Obama admin's legislative cowardice? Do you blame the Republican party's determination to block everything? WTF Happened???

If this doesn't depress you, you must be f*cking dead already. How can we complacently wave Ol' Glory and boast about being the greatest country on earth when almost a sixth of our people languish in poverty? We have a ways to go before we get to the levels experienced in countries like Nigeria and Mozambique. But, disturbingly, we are already ahead of places like Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia in destroying our middle class and making more poor people. Out of 141 countries ranked by Nation Master using CIA data, the USA is currently 121.

Of course, good conservatives will just stick their stumpy fingers in their ears and go "la-la-la" when you talk about poverty. They'll dispute the data and call it a liberal plot to make America look bad... but the fact remains that the data does make America look bad and we should be getting off of our fat asses and tackling the problem.

Both Jesus Christ and Karl Marx told us that the "poor will always be with us". Poverty, to some degree, has always been accepted by economists as a component of, and an inevitable byproduct of, a democratic capitalist system. In economic terms, the poor provide a pool of cheap labor to keep the industrial wheels turning. Their existence helps employers push low salaries on employees 'lucky' enough to have jobs and helps incentivize workers to shut up about unions and better benefits. It might not be fair, but its fairer than the extreme alternatives: libertarianism or communism.

But there is a point at which there really are too many poor for comfort and they start to look less of a resource and more of a burden. Then poverty should become a concern to even the most hard-headed, self-reliant conservative because the whole country gets dragged downhill fast and opportunity for all gets scarce. Maybe when your country is languishing at the bottom of the top twenty least poverty-stricken nations, as we are now, that time has arrived.

Poverty is an affliction. It might be there like a nagging hangnail for societies like the Netherlands or France. Or it can be like full-blown AIDS devastating a country like Liberia where 80% of the population are dirt poor. Given how proud and eager we are to show off America as an ideal, shouldn't we all be working to reduce poverty so as not to disfigure "America The Beautiful"? Otherwise we start to look like a guy in a body building competition showing off his pecs and abs while hoping no-one notices the big fat tumor growing out of his neck.

Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart's U.S. operations, provided some vivid insight into the extent of American poverty last week while speaking at the Goldman Sachs Retail Conference:

And you need not go further than one of our stores on midnight at the end of the month. And it's real interesting to watch, about 11 p.m., customers start to come in and shop, fill their grocery basket with basic items, baby formula, milk, bread, eggs, and continue to shop and mill about the store until midnight, when ... government electronic benefits cards get activated and then the checkout starts and occurs. And our sales for those first few hours on the first of the month are substantially and significantly higher.

Simon talked about WalMart's food stamps sales spikes in a very matter of fact way with no particular accent of shock or concern. It was as if one of America's wealthiest CEOs was explaining some abstract anthropological tidbit for the edification of all the other wealthy CEOs. But:

Two years ago, Bill Simon's predecessor Eduardo Castro-Wright remarked upon the "disturbing" surge in sales of baby formula visible on the 1st and 15th of every month.

The growth of poverty once shocked even a WalMart CEO whose business largely thrived on the upward redistribution of po' folks money. But it no longer seems to surprise Bill Simon. Now its just there, a part of the landscape, another growing customer demographic.

The existence of poverty in America does not diminish my pride in this country. But the fact that we don't really seem to give a sh*t about it and just accept growing poverty most certainly does. Sorry to offend the flag wavers, but if this is the American way, the American way is dead wrong.


1 comment:

  1. Once again, your insight and hewing to the truth sate my thirst for believing we are not a complete nation of 'tards bent on voting for the folks destroying us .... knowledge is power, and dogmatic dicks bent on re-election at the cost of out nation's future shouldn't be getting more that 2% of the vote. The Republic Party has a plan, if America and Obama FAIL, they can win. Treason is their platform.

    Left Back


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