Category Archives: Poverty

At the Heart of Most of Our Problems



This is not merely an interesting stat. This is the cause of many of our most serious economic and social problems. This is the answer to the questions “Why is there poverty?” “Why do millions of children go to bed hungry?” Why are 2 million people homeless in America?” Why do families break up?” “Why do governments serve the few at the disadvantage of the many?” “Why do low income children have a higher mortality rate than rich people over the age of 60?”. . . . 


Great Is Our Sin


Charles Darwin

Poverty Doesn’t Just Happen

Economic inequality is the cause of poverty. We will never overcome poverty until we take on its root cause in inequality. Peter Marcuse discusses structural issues in the economy which tend to institutionalize poverty:

Exploitation at the work place. Keeping the pay for workers as low as possible is an inherent part of running a business and making a profit: the lower wages are, the higher profits are. Employers are “job creators” only against their will; the fewer workers they need use to produce a different product or service, the better off the employer is. The high pay for business executives and dividends to shareholders are directly at the expense of the workers in their businesses. .

Exploitation at the consumption end. Increasing the demand for ever more consumers goods, of course necessarily paid for out of wages, increases the profits of the producers of those goods and the wealth of the owners of the firms that produce them. Inducing demand artificially, through advertising and the wide array of cultural patterns of the kinds long documented by sociologists and economists, supports the consumption exploitation of poor (as well as middle class) consumers, to the benefit of the rich.

Exploitation at the financial end. Where, after all, do extraordinary profits of hedge fund managers and bankers come from? Ultimately, of course, from the prices paid by the purchasers of the goods and services they are financing. Their interest and dividend incomes and high salaries are really based on the profits of those making their money from more direct exploitation of the poor.

Exploitation of the benefits of land ownership, an obvious and pervasive monopoly, paid, as economists put it, by rent not for anything that the recipient of rent payments has produced or done, but solely extracted by him through the possession of something in limited supply for which there is demand. Property owners and developers are among the richest of the rich (think Donald Trump), in large part because they are able to benefit from the speculative increases in the pries of land which they own.  Ultimately, those benefits are paid for in the prices consumers pay and the rents that tenants pay, a regressively distributive system enriching land owners at the expense of all others.

All four of these forms of exploitation are among the primary causes of poverty and, centrally, inequality.

Digging deeper into what a war on poverty ought to be about would lead to examining, not only how the poor might be directly helped, but also how the rich might be constrained in those actions that keep the poor in poverty. Digging deeper into how inequality might be reduced would lead not only to measuring the extent to which it is reflected in income inequality and be ameliorated by boosting the incomes at the bottom rungs of the ladder of opportunity but would lead also to the same concern for limiting the way the rich get to the top of the ladder to begin with.

The dispute between Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio over the financing of pre-kindergarten for poor children is a vivid example of the difference, Cuomo’s insistence on paying out of general funds, does help to alleviate poverty, but it also avoids de Blasio’s proposal for  paying through a dedicated tax on incomes over %$500,000 addresses inequality directly. Thus Cuomo may alleviate poverty but de Blasio aims further directly to reduce inequality, looking both at the top and the bottom of the ladder. Reducing poverty is much less controversial than reducing inequality, which confronts more basic vested interests.

Readers can take a look at Marcuse’s analysis at

A Modest Proposal


I’ve heard some Tea Partisans say that they shouldn’t have to pay taxes to help poor people. If we really declared War on Poverty we could treat poor Americans as prisoners of that war. We currently spend MORE per capita on prisoners of war than poor Americans.

ONE PERCENTERS SAY: Who has little, let them have less

The hatred of the poor, is it guilt

gone rancid? That the rich have

so much and still conspire to steal

a baby’s medicine, a woman’s

life, a man’s heart and kidney.

When those Congressmen talk

of people who are counting

their last change for gas or eggs

choosing between cold and hunger

they snarl. How dare we exist?

If they could push a button,

if they could war on the poor

here at home as they do abroad

directly with bombs instead of

legislation, think they’d hesitate?

The righteous anger fermenting

in them boils over in cuts to what-

ever keeps people alive. They punish

those who have little with less:

a vast legal bus to run us over.


Madge Percy is a published poet and novelist. The poem above is republished from PORTSIDE news service

Honoring Martin Luther King

In 1968, Martin Luther King asked, ““What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”

If King were alive today, he’d be on the picket lines with the fast-food workers seeking a fair wage.

Every year, politicians line up to express their admiration for Dr. King, and to be seen as supportive of King’s goal of equality for all. It is likely past time that those who declare their support evidence it by actually supporting policies promoted by King and the movement for equal justice.

Let’s adopt a national “Just and Livable Wage” sometime before the very next day honoring Martin Luther King.

Francis: “The culture of prosperity deadens us . . .”

Pope Francis I has restored the Church’s historical commitment to the poor. In the United States we are conditioned by our Corporate media to avoid structural questions about our economy and society. We assume, because we are told to assume, that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Injustice, oppression and abject poverty are dismissed as things that “just happen”, the result of the normal functioning of a value-free natural market. Francis reminds us that such things are not value-free, that we choose to tolerate poverty and can choose to alleviate it.

In the most recent papal encyclical, Francis counters the ideology of the Republican Right in this country:

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

Viva Papa!