Matthew Desmond (2016) Evicted. Poverty and Profit in the American City.

The blurb on the cover by Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks reads: ‘A masterpiece. Beautiful, harrowing and deeply human’. You may remember that Rebecca Skloot immersed herself in the story of how a poor black woman, daughter of tobacco farmer, contracted a virulent cancer that killed her, but her cells were taken without her or her family’s knowledge and literally spawned a billion-dollar industry while those left behind, her ancestors, remained in poverty. Rebecca Skloot is therefore qualified to speak about injustice, poverty and how poor black women’s lives, and that of their children, are routinely ripped apart in the US housing debacle, another billion dollar industry. Rebecca Skloot could not, however, step inside the life of Henrietta Lacks and narrate in the first person.  Although certain situation are contrived as the author has reconstructed what happened, the prose are Sontag-like and the drama equal to Dominique Lapierre’s (1985) novel City of Joy. But fiction can never shock in the way that factual does. This is Milwaukee, a typical American city,  and Matthew Desmond follows the lives of the poor black community trying to make rent and live another day between May 2008 and December 2009. But let’s not kid ourselves things have got better since then.

Two registers in which public discussion of housing poverty take place i) indifference ii) fear  it will become contagious. This feeds into anger and the blame game orchestrated by conservative politicians. We see it this side of the Atlantic with every programme that shows how real people supposedly live and have in their title ‘Benefit’.  Who benefits is never asked.

Rent payments typically take up 60%-70% of Belinda client’s income. Belinda also take a cut, $37 a month for her services, and she has 230 clients, as she helps manage the poorest of the poor’s money. The majority of the poor spend over 50% of their income on rent. Millions are evicted every year. In Milwaukee, with just over 100 000 rental units, landlords annually evict 16 000 adults and children. Many of Belinda’s clients have little left over for utilities and food. ‘Rent eats first,’ is the way Desmond phrases it and the way those on streets live it. In 2010 The New York Times reported 1 in 50 Americans lived in a household whose income consisted only of Food Stamps.    Arleen is not on Belinda’s list. She can manage her own money, but she can’t manage rent. She has three children and her daughter has two children. Arleen is one of the lucky ones, because of her chronic depression she gets government help. $20.65 a day. $7536 a year. The welfare cheque is not enough to live own. The US government’s own statistics show that time and time again. Welfare payments, frozen since 1997. Rent and utilities soar.  The problem doesn’t lie with the system, the problem lies with the person. That’s what they’re told.  Arleen, her daughter and her grandchildren all choose to be poor, choose to live in poverty. They do stupid things, like buy face cream, instead of putting the money aside and saving for a new and better future.  Arleen has given up hope of applying for housing assistance. Landlords, like Shareen, love housing assistance, because it can be paid directly to them, and her clients would only have to pay around 30% of their income to her. And not the 60% -70% that most pay. Or in Arleen’s case she has promised the whole of her next cheque. $675 in the hope that Shareen will not evict her. Shareen is astute. She takes the cheque for back rent and still evicts Arleen. There’s millions of reasons of evicting a family. Toss a coin.  Heads, landlords like Shareen or Tobin, who runs a trailer park, win. Tails, tenants lose. That’s the way the system works. Seventy-five percent of families do not live in public housing and do not qualify for housing vouchers. In places like Washington DC the waiting list for public housing is closed and those on the list can expect to wait several decades to get a house.

There’s more money in misery that in affluence. Renters pay for the property. They act as caretakers and when a sink gets blocked or a bath blocked or report bugs running along the walls they can report it to their landlord, to be told it’s their fault and receive an eviction notice, or they can live with it. They might even, for example, get a plumber out and fix it, but that costs money and adds to the landlord’s assets. Even if they do nothing, property prices keep rising and they pay for the landlord’s future. For a price, Shareen, for example, offers to tutor her tenants in money matters and help them buy their rented units off her. The money she makes from the sale means she can afford two more units. It’s win-win for her. Even when she has to leave the casino where she’s gambling with $50 chips because one of her units is burning down, and one of her client’s children dies, the insurance payment allows her to buy more units. Make more money from another’s misery. Shareen and her partner Quentin are black, like their client pool. They know how the world works. When there is money in the house, their units, they are there with hand out, first in line to be paid. No second chances. That’s for mugs. Don’t let anyone screw you. Screw everyone for as much as you can get. That’s only fair. The comparison with drug dealers getting their money makes them smile. That’s the way the booming housing market works. Landlords lord it over everyone. There’s an eviction epidemic.  A lucrative business more likely to be passed from father to son than most.

Children don’t protect mothers from eviction. They are far more likely to lead to eviction. And having children makes it far more difficult to rent.  And if one of the unwritten rules of rent kingdom is you don’t call your landlord to complain about anything in your unit breaking down –such as a toilet- then the other is don’t call the police. Arleen was asked to leave a unit because her son had an asthma attack and she phoned for an ambulance, which came with the fire brigade. No police presence. That’s a big no-no. Police bring trouble to landlords. They can call in social services. They can and will call for units to be inspected for violations of the housing code.

In Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch 22, Yossarian tried to get himself grounded because only a crazy man would fly any more missions that would kill him, but only those sane enough to know that could not claim they were insane and had to continue flying sorties. Desmond cites a case of Catch 22, when poor black women living in rental units have the option of being murdered by their boyfriend or ex-boyfriend, or phoning the police and being evicted. Policing in Milwaukee also means policing landlords. Those that fail to comply with dealing with nuisance tenants that contact the police are likely to be fined or face criminal prosecution. Again and again Desmond shows the police bureaucracy default position is the tenant should be evicted. That is the only ‘approved’ option. So when the Milwaukee Chief of Police when trying to explain a spike in the number of young black females killed and says he can’t explain it as they’re only a phone call away, he’s playing the part of Doc Daneeka in Catch 22. Only this isn’t fiction. Real life kills you.  No one cares. It’s only poor black people that are dying.

Evicted would be familiar to many living in London and the suburbs. To those living in Scotland, with one in four children living in poverty, poverty and profit, is something someone else worries about. Matthew Desmond complicates things too much when he’s looking for solutions. Simplify. Build more houses. Stop taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. Take money from the rich and give it to the poor. But we all know how difficult that is. No mainstream political party dares. The American tragedy has a face and it’s that of Donald Trump. And on this side of the Atlantic we have a Trumptian clone, Boris Johnson, and the Prime Minister in waiting, George Osborne. Their solutions are our problems. We have hawked all our public assets and our future to shysters and there seem nothing we can do about it.

 

 

Iain Duncan Smith’s big gamble.

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As a story teller, with Leicester City at the top of the Premier League it’s been the year of the underdog, and I’ve been following the Iain Duncan Smith, or the IDS narrative, with interest. He resigned from the Cabinet because ‘I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national interest…[I] wonder at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure “we are all in it together”’.

I wonder too if we are really in it together. I wonder too at the surprise and talk of salami slicing of the welfare budget. I thought as the former head of a think tank, IDS might have noticed that money was moving from the poor to the rich at increasing rate, and Osborne’s budget was following a familiar pattern. We can go back to Robin Hood stealing from the poor and keeping his loot because he worked damned hard for it. Or the debates in the House of Commons in the 1830s. The surprise and outrage some MPs gave themselves over to that children were being used in the workforce and forced, for example, to sweep chimneys and go down coal mines as a health cure for sloth. Up until then they thought it was simply small deformed adults of which there were too many for even Charles Dickens to enumerate, or black men kept in chains, which didn’t really count as human exploitation, because other people were doing it and fairs fair. In no time at all, with hymn singing and weeping and wailing and gnashing of pearly-white teeth children were provided for. By Parliamentary decree they should have at least two hours of education a day until they were thirteen. We were all in it together, now as then.

I do wonder what is going to happen to IDS’s flagship policy of universal credit. Cynical commentators would suggest that re-packing all benefits together such as housing, working tax credit, or jobseeker’s allowance et al, at a reduced rate, could be construed as a cost-saving device. Pulling a government lever and the poor are diminished and as we know they have no backbench peers. But IDS is not alone. Martin Ford (2015) in Rise of the Robots also suggested that as robots will be doing most of the jobs we do now, citizen should be given, as of right, a fixed income. As any Think-tank leader knows this idea does not come from Marx, but from the darling of Thatcherism, Friedrich Hayek. A basic fixed income was something we used to naively believe in. A social safety net. Remember that? When Pete Townsend’s Poverty in the UK  in the 1970s had politicians rushing to the barrier demanding that something should be done to help poor people. Poor people with an income of £40 000 per year. Of if you are a refugee around £35 000. Yes, us poor are all in it together.

Cynics might imaging that when IDS recovers from the shock that Conservative policies are ideologically and not economically driven then he might take stock and someone –quite soon- might propose him as leader of the Conservative Party. Certainly good old Boris Johnson is IDS’s rival. When David Cameron steps down, who has the Trump-card? Then, of course, there has to be the right market conditions. Britain must be out of Europe. The alternative, when there are no alternatives, is Osborne, or so he keeps telling us, which was a successful enough narrative to get the party re-elected with an increased majority. If he keeps salami slicing the poor, he would seem like a safe pair of hands – and favourite as the next Conservative Prime minister. With boundary changes and the continuing dissolution of the Labour Party he could be in power as long as Chairman Mao. I’m sure in ten or fifteen years we’ll still have a Conservative government, but it’s interesting watching the starters mocking for position.  IDS might turn out to be a Leicester City and take the big prize. The only losers will be poor people and we don’t count. It’s relegation for us and literally fighting for scraps.

Martin Ford (2015) Rise of the Robots

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Robots are pattern-recognition machines who have grown arms, legs and visual awareness. Each time we take a step, for example, we are continually falling. Robots face the same problem, but they have not had tens of millions of years of evolution to solve it. Moore’s Law comes into effect here. Computing power which provides the software for computer hardware; robot’s arms and legs and eyes (these are anthropomorphic attributes) doubles every eighteen to twenty-four months. Software engineers are coming up fast against the physical limitation of the materials used to encode machines. With the development of quantum computing that problem seems –temporarily- to have been solved, but few people can explain the mechanics. Martin Ford’s analogy of driving speeds highlights where we’ve come from and where we’re going. Imagine you’re in a car he says, driving at five-miles-per hour (mph). Drive for a minute. 10mph. fifth minute, 80mph. Imagine you’re on the twenty-seventh minute. We’re approaching the speed of sound. Then the speed of light. That’s Moore’s law. That’s where we are.

Another way of looking at it is to think of the brain power at Los Alamos around 1944 when plans were being developed to develop the first atomic bomb. Most of the great Western minds of maths and physics were working on the probability of different scenarios and outcomes. Unless you were a future Nobel winner, you were probably working in the canteen. Now that kind of mathematical grunt work could be done by a ten-year old boy or girl with an iPad. What direction are we going in? Think in terms of a continuum.

Where we are now, I’d guess is similar to the place where the Crow Indians were in Jonathan Lear (2006) Radical Hope: Ethics in The Face of Cultural Devastation; a place and time before the white man came, before around sixty million migrating buffalo were indiscriminately killed,  and with the mass cull went their food source and way of life. Lear writes of the Crows, but he might as well be writing of the Greek, the Roman, the Holy Roman, our own sense of the possible and the impossible: ‘The inability to conceive of its own devastation will tend to be the blind spot of any culture’.  Martin Ford suggests we are at endgame and the chess analogy is appropriate.

Graphic evidence comes from games. It was no great surprise when IBM’s software Deep Blue beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov over a six-game match. While the possibilities in chess are quantitatively enormous, we tend to think of it being on rails. Daniel Kahnerman (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow uses the example of a chess master looking at a chess board, and intuition will suggest the best move for him or her to make. That’s thinking fast, but it takes years of training. Software such as Deep Blue travels all the lines of the board at speeds faster than human thought. Speeds that we think of as simultaneous.  And if it makes a mistake it learns from it. Software does not forget. Given such enormous computing power it seemed inevitable that the machine would beat the man.

IBM’s success on Jeopardy! was a different level of success. Deep Blue had been taken off the rails. The brute force of computing power was competing in a general knowledge quiz with idiosyncratic questions and an idiosyncratic format. Computers don’t do spontaneity or intuitive thought over a wide range of subjects. Yet Watson, IBM’s software, triumphed in two televised matches over Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in February 2011.

At one end of the continuum humans become grey gloop. Nothing is wasted. Eric Drexler one of the leading proponents of this theory suggests the combined effect of nanotechnology and increasing computer power to develop their own heuristic, and innate ability to shape the world in their own image, human will be little more than feedstock. If this sounds a bit corny (pun intended) then the co-founder of SunMicrosystems, Bill Joy, article in 2000, ‘Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us’ runs through the existential dangers of cross fertilisation in the fields of genetics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. Nobel winner Stephen Hawkins has also signalled his belief that this is a real danger. And Nick Bostrom (2014) in his New York Times Bestseller, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, argues the future is already here. We’re nurturing artificial intelligence and like a cuckoo’s egg it will outgrow the nest, feed on the hominoid family, and colonise space in its search for perfection.  These Jeremiah voices seem more science fiction than science fact. But look around you. Self-driving cars, drones and rocket back packs. Not in the pages of comic books, but on our roads and buzzing in the air.

Ford identifies other trends that any moderately sophisticated pattern-recognition software would immediately identify. One of them is climate change. He talks about the declining price of solar panels, technological innovation and government innovation. Or what the British Prime Minister called ‘all that green crap’ while withdrawing funding in the areas we really need to invest in.

Money flows unevenly from the rich to the poor. The only place it sticks is with those with money or capital. That’s another trend or pattern. Ford suggests the evidence points to a longer-term trend in which  the five percent who claim ownership of the world’s wealth, and in particular the moneyed-class in the richer nation, those who have cannibalised the wealth of the other ninety-five percent, then the one percent will cannibalise the wealth of the other four percent. Winners take all. Losers take the fall.

“The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.”
― Karl Marx

Marx was wrong of course. Let us look at the data.  Losers are not sold the rope, only leased it and have to pay economic rent for their funeral. The triumph of capitalism is it is the only game in town. Communist China and Russia, for example, mirror the inequalities of the West. Martin Ford offers sobering statistics. An Oxford University report published in 2013 suggests 50% of US jobs will be automated. And a parliamentary report in the House of Lords in 2015 estimate 35% job losses in the UK. The flight to higher education with the promissory note of a well-paid job at the end of it is the same sort of myth building as, from a different era, Tony Benn’s ‘white hot heat of technology’ changing and modernising society. Thirty percent of employees are currently overqualified for the job they are in and while wages have declined in the last thirty years, the cost of education has more than doubled from £22 billion 2007/8 to £46 billion 2012/13 and that trend looks to continue.  This is one form of credit poorer members of society have access to and they are signing up in record numbers, both in the UK and the US. But not only is their grade deflation, but those printing presses we call universities, some of which  are more equal than others, can demand a premium for their gilt-edged qualification, in a race which our leading universities largely exclude the poor from entering. It would be interesting, for example, to look at what Oxford University defines as those in need of such a leg up. But this is hardly surprising when social housing is defined as costing up to £450 000. And our public-school educated Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, boasts of conducting ‘the most sustained squeeze on public spending for one-hundred years’. Back in 1918 the upper classes contact with the working class was likely to be a master and servant relationship, and as an employer. Those that owned the land owned the people on the land.  But in a contemporary global market as Ford notes, if cognitive ability follows the usual bell-shaped distribution curve, and India and China’s top five percent of intelligentsias adds up to around 130 million, almost double the population of the UK. Technology, based on deep neural learning models makes the universal translator inevitable. See, for example, Megaphoneyaku digital megaphone developed by Panasonic in 2014, which translates whatever language is bellowed into it according to the setting required.   If the offshoring of university graduates and teaching programmes move online, as they are likely to do, then the current crop of graduates will find it even more difficult to find paid work commensurate with their education. Software such as Geekie, launched in Brazil in 2011 because of a shortage of teachers, delivers the whole high-school syllabus, monitors pupils and designs courses based on individual responses and aggregate scores. A movement into higher education and universities with their expensive living costs seems inevitable.  It also seems to me likely that health care assistants will be the add on element of general health care practices with all the heavy lifting done by machines designed like Geekie to have the knowledge element built in and modified and upgraded with each interaction.

A trumpet it a wind instrument. It has the highest register in the brass family, which brings us nicely to Donald Trump and Trumpetism. We’ve had the bit player and actor whom Betty Davis called little Ronnie Reagan getting to play the role of US President. Then we had George Bush senior and then junior getting on the same horse. Anything is possible in the good old US of A. It’s dressed up in frontier ideology and the analogy of a rising tide of wealth lifting all boats. But as Chrystia Freeland says in Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich, ‘the super-rich don’t like to talk about rising income inequality’. The rising tide lifting super yachts that leave the rest stranded in their wake. They like to talk about the Kuznet’s inverted U-curve, how as societies become more complex and productive, high inequality peaks at the top of the U and falls. Wealth generated by a nation’s better-educated workforce is able to get a bigger slice of the national pie in terms of wages is proven to be a short-lived myth. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, using historical data going back to the eighteen century from twenty countries showed that the thirty years following the Second World War was a golden age in which wealth re-distribution did take place, but it took two catastrophic world wars for that to happen. Piketty and Ford both suggest the fallout from the golden age is toxic for all but the gilded few, and aligned with climate change and the rise of the robots it’s a good time to be rich. For the rest of us…man the lifeboats.

call me Dave.

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Beveridge’s giants to slay: ignorance.

I’ve shown quite a lot about discriminatory bias in the past. (It’s the economy stupid!) And I’ve written quite a bit, perhaps too much, about how those nice Conservative gentlemen in government, who won an election victory fair and square (well, kinda and not even kinda in Scotland) are simple folk who want to make the world better by handing increasingly large sums of money to rich folk to help poor folk get richer. But it’s Pantomime season and I like this story. I’m sometimes not sure who is the back end of Dobbin, David Cameron or George Osborne. The latter pickpocketed money from poor folk, but perhaps he hoped they wouldn’t notice his weasley scheme, and if they did, he’d be Prime Minister himself by them and could blame someone else. Now, even I’m flabbergasted.

John Niven, in the Sunday Mail, shows David Cameron really must believe that when we pull back the curtain and he’s peddling furiously, moving the scenery and shouting, telling us where we went wrong and how we can make it right – that he actually believed it. The Conservative Prime Minister writes to a Conservative council leader Ian Huspeth in Oxford and asks him why he’d made such dreadful cuts to ‘frontline services’ such as care of the elderly. Couldn’t the councillor made savings by sacking some dreadful working-class people that weren’t needed, not hired people that were needed, and sold off some surplus land and council properties. But Dave says Councillor Huspeth I’ve already sacked 2 800 staff, sold off all our ‘surplus property’ to try and make up our £72 million deficit because we get 37% less from central government than we got last year. Surely you can see that? And we’ve not even made inroads to the cuts needed for this year.

‘Sure,’ said Dave. ‘Don’t tell your mum and I’ll slip you the odd £100 million.’

[Hint: I made Dave’s reply up]

A budget holiday for the rich

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Thornwood (Steve) in AbcTales posts I hope the Tories have a change of heart about the planned cuts. 38 Degrees send me an email suggesting I contribute money so they can take out advertisements extorting George Osborne to think again. Dream on.

Notes on poverty (in no particular order).

Orwell suggest we need to state the obvious. Richard Hoggart wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier. ‘Each decade we shiftily declare that we have buried class; each decade the coffin stays empty’. Orwell, like Huxley, saw no way forward for the common working man in the 1930s. Mechanization would make him surplus to requirements.  There are parallels with the contemporary  turmoil in Greece. Then as  now, for example, with around  twenty-five percent of the population unemployed and fear for their future. John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath caught a country’s angst. It described the  pre-war United States experience before and after Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Second World War parodied in Orwell’s 1984, in which each warring state blows up most of the products it produces, did save capitalism. The fall of the Berlin wall left it the only game in town.

Richard Titmus dictum: ‘service for the poor would become poor services’ have never seemed more apt.

Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack in Breadline Britain point out the obvious: Britain spends below the average on benefits as a proportion of GDP.

The poorest fifth in Britain, for example, are poorer than Scandinavian countries, which you’d expect. But look at our close neighbours. Forty percent poorer than those in Germany or Austria and a third poorer than those in France.

Levels of statutory sick pay, short-term incapacity benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance have been described as ‘manifestly inadequate’ by the Council of Europe which is hardly a hotbed of socialist revolution.

Jimmy Reid dead but still red.

To the students I address this appeal. Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit.

Robert Burns address To A Mouse ends in a field in Dumfries, a bleak December wind and a looking backwards and forwards and the realisation that the poor wee beastie, for all its troubles, is untouched by the past or future

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!

The present only touches thee:

But Ouch! I backward cast my e’e,

On prospects drear!

An’ forward, tho I cannae see,

I guess an’ fear

Robert Tressel Noonan’s classic The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist fills many a void.

“Poverty is not caused by men and women getting married; it’s not caused by machinery; it’s not caused by “over-production”; it’s not caused by drink or laziness; and it’s not caused by “over-population”. It’s caused by Private Monopoly. That is the present system. They have monopolized everything that it is possible to monopolize; they have got the whole earth, the minerals in the earth and the streams that water the earth. The only reason they have not monopolized the daylight and the air is that it is not possible to do it. If it were possible to construct huge gasometers and to draw together and compress within them the whole of the atmosphere, it would have been done long ago, and we should have been compelled to work for them in order to get money to buy air to breathe. And if that seemingly impossible thing were accomplished tomorrow, you would see thousands of people dying for want of air – or of the money to buy it – even as now thousands are dying for want of the other necessities of life. You would see people going about gasping for breath, and telling each other that the likes of them could not expect to have air to breathe unless the had the money to pay for it. Most of you here, for instance, would think and say so. Even as you think at present that it’s right for so few people to own the Earth, the Minerals and the Water, which are all just as necessary as is the air. In exactly the same spirit as you now say: “It’s Their Land,” “It’s Their Water,” “It’s Their Coal,” “It’s Their Iron,” so you would say “It’s Their Air,” “These are their gasometers, and what right have the likes of us to expect them to allow us to breathe for nothing?” And even while he is doing this the air monopolist will be preaching sermons on the Brotherhood of Man; he will be dispensing advice on “Christian Duty” in the Sunday magazines; he will give utterance to numerous more or less moral maxims for the guidance of the young. And meantime, all around, people will be dying for want of some of the air that he will have bottled up in his gasometers. And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of th gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order, and after doing your best to tear him limb from limb, you’ll drag him, covered with blood, in triumph to the nearest Police Station and deliver him up to “justice” in the hope of being given a few half-pounds of air for your trouble.”

Owen’s fictional harangue seems rather dated and overblown. Let’s put it into modern parlance. George Ritzer’s attack on the fast-food industry and McDonaldisation as the ‘irrationality of rationality’. Let’s talk about leverage. In 2014 the UK’s GDP was £1.8 trillion. The financial sector was £20 trillion. Companies like Apple are listed on the stock exchange and worth nearly £1 trillion.

Jan Zalasiewicz’s research shows the earth is on the brink of the sixth mass extinction. The fault lies with us. Humans and the land vertebrates that we keep as a cash crop and to eat –pigs, cows, sheep, poultry etc—have pushed what we think of as wild animals such as elephants, giraffes and tigers to the fringe. We take ninety-five percent of resources and this is increasing and they take up five percent.

Pork, for example, is mass produced from cradle to grave. Ted Genoways shows how worker’s wages are driven increasingly downwards, their workload increased year on year by increasing line speed. Profits are increased, allowing vertical integration the takeover of more land, the growing of more corn crops to feed the pigs they produce and the use of their excrement as fertiliser to feed the land. One of the problems he identifies is the runoff of fertiliser (pig shit) from the land results in water pollution and leaving water undrinkable.  Half a million people in Des Moines, for example, could no longer safely drink their water because of an increased level of nitrates and E coli. Enforcement of the Clean Water Act was hampered by sacking workers who monitored the rivers. The kind of light-touch regulation we are familiar with. A saving and win-win situation. Only poor people drink water.

Catch 22. Major Major (senior) is a farmer in Mid-West. He hates Medicare. He hates social services. He hates the unemployed getting a hand out. He liked getting paid for not growing alfalfa in his fields. The more money he gets for not growing alfalfa the more fields he buys not to grow alfalfa. He knew how to make money and how not to make money. The poor were poor because they were lazy and didn’t work hard enough. Something needed to be done about them.

Corporate Ag gag laws where a triumph of corporate practice that even Joseph Heller would have chocked on. Cruelty to humans results in cruelty to animals as sure as pig follows shit. Animal abuse isn’t animal abuse if we don’t see it. Whistle blowers such as PETA who film or record such events are reclassified and prosecuted by the state as terrorists indulging in terrorist activity.

We are what we eat. Closer to home we eat the poor.

Rohan Silva: It’s no surprise that between 2010 and 2014 workers in London saw their wages fall in real terms by more than £3000 per year, even with (perhaps because of) global capital pouring into the city. Karel Williams of the Manchester Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change suggests the size of Britain’s bank fundamentally distorts its economic model. Let’s look at it sideways. Fifteen- percent of the population take seventy percent of all flights. Ninety-five percent of public expenditure on public works is spent on London, with this likely to increase with  Heathrow likely to add another runway. Daniel Boffey reports in The Observer the UK government has increasingly hampered progress in tax avoidance. To paraphrase R.H. Tawney the problem of poverty is the problem of riches.

They have fostered a climate of fear and mistrust. Al Alvarez in  The Writer’s Voice, discusses Edmund Wilson’s critique of New Criticism, but it works equally well with the politics of our Tory leaders and masters.

How, you may ask, can we identify this elite who know what they are talking about? Well, it can be said of them that they are self-appointed and self-perpetuating and that they will compel you to accept their authority. Imposters…demagogues [preaching] varieties of no nothingism.

Tory’s plan to redefine child poverty out of existence. One in five children live in a home that is cold or damp. Two-and-a half million children in poverty is not a true reflection our Tory masters claim. The Fabian society claim cuts to tax credits will hit the lowest paid, the working poor, and the largest group in society. Look back to the 1960s and 1970s and seismic influence of Peter Townsend’s The Poor and the Poorest, which became Poverty in the UK. Something had to be done. National soul searching. Debate. An increase in benefit levels.  Needs change over time but we all need to eat and have a roof over our head. With rising housing costs and reduced benefits, more people chasing fewer jobs, more people chasing fewer homes and almost a third of the population locked into wage and benefit free-fall something had to be done now. We’re budgeting for it.

Take for example the Mail on Sunday’s exposure that almost anyone could walk into a Foodbank and claim to be hungry and be given a free packet of pasta. No check on credentials. They could have been reporters that drove away in a car worth £30 000 and nobody stopped them. I must admit I’d like to have broken a wing mirror or two. But I’m not a pasta thief taking food out of the mouths of the hungry.

When I think of how our Tory leaders murder language and define poverty I think of my school days and the catch 22 before we were in a modern comprehensive secondary. The worst crime at school wasn’t burning down the school, it was refusing the belt for burning down the school. You could plead innocence. Become a grass and name the culprits. Tell the teacher you didn’t have any matches and were scared of fire and flames. The truth is you’d refused the belt and that was worse than burning down the school. Poverty is no excuse for poverty, it’s personal.

The Tory government focus on problem families. In a jointly funded church report The Lies We Tell Ourselves troubled families were estimated at around 120 000, and with typical Tory inflation this went up to 500 000. The flip side of that is these troubled families become the cause of the nation’s ills. Fecklessness became the common currency of what they were talking about and whom. They were infecting society. Benefit Street or any other documentary on Channel 4 or 5 will show the truth is out there. In the thirties this would have been called propaganda. Now its mass entertainment.

Owen in Tressel’s classic addressed it in this way. ‘What is the cause of the lifelong poverty of those who are not drunkards and DO work? Why, if all the drunkards and wont-works and unskilled or inefficient workers could be by some miracle transformed into sober, industrious and skilled workers tomorrow, it would under the present conditions be so much the worse for us, because there isn’t enough work for ALL now and those people by increasing the competition for what work there is, would inevitably lead to a reduction in wages and a greater scarcity of employment. The theories that drunkenness, laziness or inefficiency are the causes of poverty are so many devices invented and fostered by those who are selfishly interested in maintaining the present state of affairs…

Why is it…we are not only deprived of nearly all the benefits of civilisation, but we and our children are also unable to obtain even the bare necessities of existence.

If a man is only able to provide himself and his family with the bare necessities of existence, that’s man’s family is living in poverty. Since he cannot enjoy the advantages of civilisation, he might just as well be a savage, better, in fact, for a savage knows nothing of what he is deprived.’

How wealth is generated matters. As Henry J Ford, hardly a revolutionary figure says ‘if an employed does not share prosperity with those who make him prosperous, then pretty soon there will be no prosperity to share. Joe Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winning economist who predicted the 2008 crash and forecasts another, says much the same thing

Roman Abromavich docked his yacht Eclipse and took a cycle round the Isle of Arran this week. Let’s look at Bill Browder’s take on corruption. He spotted there was a killing to be made in the old Soviet Union of the 1980s and made hundreds of millions of dollars. The average gap between rich  and poor proletariat Russians was a factor of six. The richest Soviet citizen were worth six times the poorest paid. Poor old Roman. He cashed in his chips and jumped ship. Now according to Forbes he’s worth $9 billion. He did in one generation what it took the aristocracy far longer. The new rich meet the old rich in cities like London were wealth can be laundered.  His Eclipse eclipses the newly revamped Southern General Hospital which cost almost £200 million. But the Southern General Hospital is an asset that employs tens of thousands and generates disposable income that is spread in and around that area. The engine of the economy is disposable income. When people have nothing they spend nothing. But it doesn’t work in reverse gear. When the rich money has something he doesn’t spend.

Pope Francis who knows a thing or two about miracles describes ‘trickle down economics’. I’ll paraphrase in terms of Pinocchio, just when the snot of trickle is about to happen the needs of the rich man grows. His nose grows commensurately and he tells you he has not enough to meet his needs. Somebody else pays. The common man. The poor pay for the roads and docks and infrastructure and they educate rich and poor, but not alike. But in the current egalitarian tax system there is a  reversal of who pays more. In the 1960s and 1970s the top fifth paid more tax than the bottom fifth. That has been reversed. The rich man orders a tax avoidance scheme from an accountant in the same way that a bespoke suit used to be made by a skilled tailor.

Piketty shows that in mature economies such as Britain money grows at increasing speed and rate to the one percent that have money and own the land and assets that go with it. The answer is to tax the rich. Simple.  It would be a start. I wish some political party would start thinking in that way and not the hot air of no nothingism that we’ve come to expect so we no longer listen.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole