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choicelady On January - 23 - 2012

I came across an essay on the conditions of poverty. It asserts several principles well worth repeating:

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”.

Written by choicelady

I am the public policy director for a large, very progressive faith organization. We believe in science, democracy, full equality for all people (NO exceptions), peace, and justice. We respect other people, but it doesn't mean we share their views. Nice to have a world of progressive thought. Rather like finally getting fresh air after a very smoggy day!

8 Responses so far.

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  1. Chernynkaya says:

    This is awesome. Repubs are a disease, a plague on society. I know this is terse, and not up to my usual verbosity, but I’ve had a couple and want to cut to the chase. Choice, you rock. That is all.

  2. Well done CL. I keep on saying the GOP wants to go back before the 1860’s and this piece enforces that argument much better than I could.

    • choicelady says:

      I have a bunch of very old documents floating around. I’d bought this years ago at a rare book dealer, and I’d not looked much at it. When I read it a couple of days before I worte the post, I about passed out -- it’s almost word for word what the GOP are dishing today!

      I could NOT resist sharing it. I’d give you the title of the monograph, but as with all things Victorian, it’s about a full page long. They were also verbose. It’s not worth bothering about, but it WAS too good not to share the content.

  3. kesmarn says:

    Thanks so much, c’lady, for your wonderful thoughts and a summation of where we’ve come from and where we just might be going (if we’re not careful).

    So many thoughts come to mind, it’s hard to put them in any kind of order, so I’ll just start in the middle! 😉

    On of the things that worries me is something you’ve mentioned before too, I believe: the tendency of blue collar workers in 2012 to be attracted to the Republican party, when they had for so long been the back bone of the Democratic one.

    This baffles me. What have the Republicans ever done for blue collar workers? And yet, I see it all around me. The less education a voter has (in this area) and the more blue collar his job is, the more inclined he is to sympathize with the Repub/Tea Party point of view.

    I suspect there are several reasons for this:

    1. A lack of knowledge of/interest in the history of labor and unions. Many of them think that as long as there have been factories there have been 8 hour days, coffee breaks, vacations, overtime pay, etc. That no one ever fought for any of those things. They were just in the nature of the way the world is. They don’t connect the Dem Party with labor’s accomplishments.

    2. A perception that Democrats are intellectual elites, Hollywood phonies, tree-huggers, pacifists, and/or hippies.

    3. Plain garden variety racism.

    4. A visceral response to the anger they see in people like Newt. They’re not sure what they’re mad about, but they know they’re mad and they know he is.

    Now I’d better leave off blithering and focus on this scintillating FL debate!

    • choicelady says:

      kes -- I think you’ve identified most of the reasons people vote against their own best interest.

      All of the things, save #3, are changing. The Dems woke up to the fact they’d screwed up, become elitist, and the drumbeat of Obama’s economic revitalization is around those very people we did leave behind. I don’t remember a particular moment that happened; it did in the Labour Party at their 1996 Blackpool Convention (I happened to see it on BBC) when Blair said, snottily, that they may be the Labour Party but it no longer meant they were tied to labour. Huh? That, following Maggie, was an even bigger kick in the teeth than she’d given. Here is the US of A, we were never that brazen -- we just made sure we paid no attention to blue collar white people.

      JoAnn Wypijewski, former editor of The Nation, filmed part of a British Channel 4 documentary on the decline of the steel industry in western NY. I was one of her interviewees, but she was not so much interested in my views as determined to “prove” that steel had collapsed because of war profiteering, She was outraged when I explained the plant in question never HAD been engaged in war production. She also thought the union complicit in that warmongering. Nope.

      And then she dissed a book about a Polish section of the city, Klinkenborg’s “The Last Fine Time”, because it celebrated the author’s Polish in-laws but did not deal with the later racism and clashes between Poles and Blacks. The book ended chronologically before that occurred. In her opinion nothing about white people was interesting, nothing about blue collar people was worthy, and they were all racist and horrible and so on.

      She did not know ANY of these people or the bonds of solidarity the union folks had, definitely cutting across racial lines, or the struggles in the Polish community to find ways to be integrated. Stereotypes, stereotypes, stereotypes -- and utter dismissal.

      The reason I bring all that up is that I saw this sneering disregard from 30 years ago, and I see a massive difference now. I think many more people can hear Obama’s promise and see Obama’s results and can believe him because of the auto industry support and the plan to expand manufacturing (which IS growing with the tax credits after years of neglect in favor of financial insitutions.)

      The party has stopped being so overwhelmingly snobbish and started to remember its roots. No longer are the Dems simply using unions to get out the vote. Today they are doing things FOR working families, and it freaking MATTERS. So I am hopeful that if we can get past #3 -- always hard -- people will remember who was on their side when times were hard.

      Cross your fingers, work like a fiend, and hope for the best!

  4. SueInCa says:

    “The specific term “American exceptionalism” was first used in 1929 by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin chastising members of the American Communist Party for believing that America was independent of the Marxist laws of history “thanks to its natural resources, industrial capacity, and absence of rigid class distinctions.”

    Although the term does not necessarily imply superiority, many neoconservative and American conservative writers have promoted its use in that sense. To them, the United States is like the biblical “shining city on a hill,” and exempt from historical forces that have affected other countries.”

    Wonder how Republicans would react to the notion they are proferring a term first used by Joseph Stalin. It is no wonder the people of the world feel Americans are idiots.

    • choicelady says:

      LOL!!! Now that’s a new one for me, too! Who knew? This is a great find, Sue, and it deserves to be spread far and wide!!!

      I LOVE it! Stalin as the precursor to Bachmann!!! Oh my -- ROTFLMAO!!!!

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