Thursdays are the day when full issues of the Economist show up in my RSS feed, so it’s also when articles from that august publication are likely to show up here. This week’s issue dealt quite a bit with poverty — there’s a lot worth checking out — but my favorite piece was this, discussing how the rich apparently deserve their crappy, Scrooge-like reputations.
In total contradiction to the entire philosophical underpinnings of the Economist, I also quite enjoyed the latest RSAnimate, a talk by Slavoj Zizek detailing how so many forms of charitable giving, conscious consumerism, or other forms of poverty-alleviation-efforts function merely to further enable the system which produces those same conditions.
If Zizek is correct, and poverty is a systemic problem inherently produced by the mechanisms of capitalism, then no amount of regulation and reform will ever amount to much — which is too bad, given how much effort it takes just to enact even the smallest measure of reform. Fortunately, there are still people willing to try. The arguments in favor Elizabeth Warren as the head of the new CFPA continue over at Rortybomb, but I’ll reproduce the best part of it for you here:
“In case you can’t tell, I don’t think a strong and robust middle class is “overrated.” Politically, to the extent that our country is an experiment in liberalism it depends on a subject who exists in the public and participates in the language of liberty, autonomy and rights. Many have noted that liberalism is incomplete, and if you map what is on the outside of that experience – a subject who exists in private and participates in the language of necessity, dependency and needs/duties – you see how women and minorities are excluded. I think we can close that, but as inequality moves hand in hand with increased economic insecurity, when your job traps you for health care, when your home traps you for worthless debt, when your ability to look for a job is hampered through a dense web of observations of your private life, the collapse of the middle class threatens the liberal project. And that’s something a really bitchin’ cheap stereo can’t replace.”
Kevin Drum of Mother Jones also continues the discussion of credit card interchange rates, earning cheers from me for this paragraph in particular:
“Now, even if this is all true, it’s also true that on the list of ways in which the poor are screwed, this doesn’t make the top ten. It probably doesn’t even make the top 100. But I hate the idea of dismissing it anyway. The problem is that this is practically a paradigm example of how all this screwing works throughout the financial industry: most of it is small stuff. It’s a few dollars here and there, and banks have a huge incentive to keep it that way. That way nobody really thinks it’s worthwhile to bother addressing even though those dollars add up to billions if you screw enough poor and vulnerable people at a time. And Wall Street does. That’s why this kind of thing deserves attention even if it’s not, by itself, all that big a deal: because there’s a lot of it, and it basically all benefits the haves at the expense of have-nots. We lose our humanity when this becomes merely a shrug of the shoulders and a “to be sure.”“
Once more, I say: word, good sir.
Finally, for those who argue that we don’t need reform and regulation because the market is self-correcting and properly informed people can make perfectly rational decisions (etc etc more discredited neoliberal economic BS): this TEDTalk, by Laurie Santos, offers a fascinating and spot-on demonstration of the ways in which our economic irrationalities appear to be hard-wired through evolution. Turns out we’re no better than the monkeys, after all.