1.That every man, woman, and grown child, able and willing to work, may find employment.
2. That the poor, by industry, prudence, and economy, may at all times support themselves comfortably, without depending on (charity) and, as a corollary from these positions,
3 That their sufferings and distresses chiefly, if not wholly, come from their idleness, their dissipation, and their extravagance.
4.That taxes for the support of the poor, and aid offered them by charitable individuals, or benevolent societies, are pernicious, as, by encouraging the poor to depend on them, they foster their idleness and improvidence, and thus produce, or at least increase, the poverty and distress they are intended to relieve.
Sound familiar? It’s all possibly the stuff of Ayn Rand but surely of all the existing GOP candidates?
The source is not those people.
It is taken from an essay by M. Carey – and was written in 1833.
Appeal to the Wealthy of the Land focused on one and only one cause of poverty and want – low wages below the minimum necessary to provide a sufficiency of plain food and of clothes to protect against the elements.
The pamphlet raged against the poverty and immiseration that this Dickensian disdain for working people caused, the exploitation of human beings for the amassing of wealth for the few. Clearly and distinctly M. Carey notes: LOW RATE OF WAGES IS THE ROOT OF THE MISCHIEF.
Mind you, the pamphlet, while also documenting the failure of “poor laws” here and in England, did not take the logical step of demanding better pay for hours and piece work – it merely advocated opening better jobs for women so they could move up into higher wage work. While the analysis is very clear, the solution avoided tackling the very problem stated.
The beginning of capitalism in America occurred only after the Revolution, particularly after the Constitution provided a vehicle for interstate commerce. Trying to build a national economy that had, since 1620, been regulated by the towns and cities, there also had to be massive legal changes to end the regulation of production standards and prices for all commodities. These laws existed to protect both the self sufficiency of the average colonial person and family and to protect those in need from exploitation and greater want. It took approximately 50 years to move from a “moral economy” to an “instrumental economy” but by the time of M. Carey’s diatribe against the exploitation of working people, especially women, the laws favoring the rich and permitting gross exploitation of working people were well in hand in all the states.
What is extremely worrisome is the retreat in the 21st century to an 1833 mentality. Add in a later belief in Social Darwinism, Herbert Spencer’s justification for post Civil War class warfare, and we can see within the GOP a kind of 19th century appeal to the idea that some are worthy – the rich – and others deserve only what they worthy desire to hand out, no more.
If what the GOP desire is a retreat not just to the days of the Robber Barons but to an even earlier period of utterly unfettered and indifferent class divisions and exploitation, then we have an obligation to make this clear. From the beginning of the Republic there has been a forward march to increase, not decrease, the value of the ordinary person from extending full voting rights to all white males, not just the landed, to assuring rights for women and minorities, from pressing for the full inclusion of all people – and their immesurable talents – in our economy and polity, we strengthened the promises of democracy and what is the root of “American Exceptionalism” -being a nation where everyone matters.
To see not just candidates but entire segments of America want to restore massive inequality is shocking. Seeing calls for closing the wealth gap labeled “class warfare” recalls the dismissive refusal of Scrooge to donate even to charity for those working but still in need.
Is this the best they want for America? If that is unacceptable, then it must be called out – a retreat to a Dickensian world of massive exploitation and demonizing of working people. That’s not a vision I think most people have of our “future”.