Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The War Against the Poor

While it seems as if most of the liberal press has now become obsessed with reading the tea leaves of Karl Rove's resignation, Truthdig has run a report by Bill Boyarsky that sheds light on an issue whose important may be gauged by the extent to which it has been ignored by both mainstream media and most of the Presidential candidates who get any coverage, good or bad. The title of the report is "War in Iraq, Poverty in America." The basic thesis is as follows:

One of the most important, now forgotten, aspects of the tragic year of 1968 was the way Sen. [Robert F.] Kennedy and Dr. [Martin Luther] King saw the relationship between the Vietnam War and poverty at home. If the war continued, poverty would too.

However, while Boyarsky devotes the rest of his column to making the case for the existence of this causal link, he says little about why or how it came to be so. I would like to try to pick up that ball and run with it.

In the spirit of trying to tease out "the story behind the story," I would like to argue that the story behind Boyarsky's report is one of the shift that has taken place, over the last forty years, from the War on Poverty under the Great Society to a war against the poor as one of the long poles in the neoconservative tent. For at least half of that forty-year period, the distribution of wealth has become bimodal (affectionately known as the "dumbbell curve"), with the separation between the modal points growing ever larger. It is as if, under a zero-sum-game mentality, the rich, not satisfied with taking all of the marbles away from the middle class, now want to clean up on the few marbles left to the poor. In this light our whole Middle East policy is just an excuse to reallocate funds for the poor that both addressed immediate needs (such as health care) and supported opportunities to get out of poverty (such as education). These marbles eventually find their way into the piles of those who see war as a source of wealth and see a causa belli as relevant only in terms of its anticipated "return on investment." This is the country of Lewis Lapham's "American Ruling Class." Furthermore, while the robber barons of a hundred years ago eventually started relinquishing their marbles to philanthropy, there is little sign of such a mood swing among today's marble-holders.

So why is this "ruling class" so obsessed with holding all the marbles? It is just a matter of greed. I would argue that, beyond greed lies the real truth in Lapham's selection of sobriquet. It is all a matter of ruling for no other reason than that such absolute rule is possible. It is the ultimate objectification of the subject, which is to say, the reduction of anyone not in that ruling class to slavery (or, if you prefer Hayek's terminology, serfdom). Furthermore, by virtue of globalization, this new division into only two classes will not be a national phenomenon, but an international one that will probably reduce the threat of Communism as an "international brotherhood" to its last shards of insignificance.

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