The war against the poor in America Rampant poverty and further welfare cuts have created a need to move towards a moral economy of the many, not few.

Last Modified: 14 Nov 2011 12:32

Frances Fox Piven is on the faculty of the Graduate School of the City University of New York.

Poverty rates for single mothers in the US was 49 per cent higher than in 15 other weatlhy countries [GALLO/GETTY]
We’ve been at war for decades now – not just in Afghanistan or Iraq, but right here at home. Domestically, it’s been a war against the poor, but if you hadn’t noticed, that’s not surprising. You wouldn’t often have found the casualty figures from this particular conflict in your local newspaper or on the nightly TV news. Devastating as it’s been, the war against the poor has gone largely unnoticed – until now.

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has already made the concentration of wealth at the top of this society a central issue in US politics. Now, it promises to do something similar when it comes to the realities of poverty in this country.

By making Wall Street its symbolic target and branding itself as a movement of the 99 per cent, OWS has redirected public attention to the issue of extreme inequality, which it has recast as, essentially, a moral problem. Only a short time ago, the “morals” issue in politics meant the propriety of sexual preferences, reproductive behaviour or the personal behaviour of presidents. Economic policy, including tax cuts for the rich, subsidies and government protection for insurance and pharmaceutical companies and financial deregulation, was shrouded in clouds of propaganda or simply considered too complex for ordinary Americans to grasp.

Now, in what seems like no time at all, the fog has lifted and the topic on the table everywhere seems to be the morality of contemporary financial capitalism. The protesters have accomplished this mainly through the symbolic power of their actions: by naming Wall Street, the heartland of financial capitalism, as the enemy, and by welcoming the homeless and the down-and-out to their occupation sites. And of course, the slogan “We are the 99 per cent” reiterated the message that almost all of us are suffering from the reckless profiteering of a tiny handful. (In fact, they aren’t far off: the increase in income of the top one per cent over the past three decades about equals the losses of the bottom 80 per cent)

The movement’s moral call is reminiscent of earlier historical moments when popular uprisings invoked ideas of a “moral economy” to justify demands for bread or grain or wages – for, that is, a measure of economic justice. Historians usually attribute popular ideas of a moral economy to custom and tradition, as when the British historian EP Thompson traced the idea of a “just price” for basic foodstuffs invoked by 18th century English food rioters to then already centuries-old Elizabethan statutes. But the rebellious poor have never simply been traditionalists. In the face of violations of what they considered to be their customary rights, they did not wait for the magistrates to act, but often took it upon themselves to enforce what they considered to be the foundation of a just, moral economy.

Being poor by the numbers

A moral economy for our own time would certainly take on the unbridled accumulation of wealth at the expense of the majority (and the planet). It would also single out for special condemnation the creation of an ever-larger stratum of people we call “the poor” who struggle to survive in the shadow of the overconsumption and waste of that top one per cent.

Some facts: early in 2011, the US Census Bureau reported that 14.3 per cent of the population, or 47m people – one in six Americans – were living below the official poverty threshold, currently set at $22,400 annually for a family of four. Some 19m people are living in what is called extreme poverty, which means that their household income falls in the bottom half of those considered to be below the poverty line. More than a third of those extremely poor people are children. Indeed, more than half of all children younger than six living with a single mother are poor. Extrapolating from this data, Emily Monea and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution estimate that further sharp increases in both poverty and child poverty rates lie in our American future.

Some experts dispute these numbers on the grounds that they neither take account of the assistance that the poor still receive, mainly through the food stamp programme, nor of regional variations in the cost of living. In fact, bad as they are, the official numbers don’t tell the full story. The situation of the poor is actually considerably worse. The official poverty line is calculated as simply three times the minimal food budget first introduced in 1959 and then adjusted for inflation in food costs. In other words, the US poverty threshold takes no account of the cost of housing or fuel or transportation or healthcare costs, all of which are rising more rapidly than the cost of basic foods. So the poverty measure grossly understates the real cost of subsistence.

Moreover, in 2006, interest payments on consumer debt had already put more than four million people, not officially in poverty, below the line, making them “debt poor”. Similarly, if childcare costs, estimated at $5,750 a year in 2006, were deducted from gross income, many more people would be counted as officially poor.

Nor are these catastrophic levels of poverty merely a temporary response to rising unemployment rates or reductions in take-home pay resulting from the great economic meltdown of 2008. The numbers tell the story and it’s clear enough: poverty was on the rise before the Great Recession hit. Between 2001 and 2007, poverty actually increased for the first time on record during an economic recovery. It rose from 11.7 per cent in 2001 to 12.5 per cent in 2007. Poverty rates for single mothers in 2007 were 49 per cent higher in the US than in 15 other high-income countries. Similarly, black employment rates and income were declining before the recession struck.

“Indeed, in US politics, ‘poverty’, along with ‘welfare’, ‘unwed mothers’ and ‘crime’, became code words for blacks.”

– Frances Fox Piven

In part, all of this was the inevitable fallout from a decades-long business mobilisation to reduce labour costs by weakening unions and changing public policies that protected workers and those same unions. As a result, National Labour Board decisions became far less favourable to both workers and unions, workplace regulations were not enforced and the minimum wage lagged far behind inflation.

Inevitably, the overall impact of the campaign to reduce labour’s share of national earnings meant that a growing number of Americans couldn’t earn even a poverty-level livelihood – and even that’s not the whole of it. The poor and the programmes that assisted them were the objects of a full-bore campaign directed specifically at them.

Campaigning against the poor

This attack began even while the Black Freedom Movement of the 1960s was in full throttle. It was already evident in the failed 1964 presidential campaign of Republican Barry Goldwater, as well as in the recurrent campaigns of sometime Democrat and segregationist governor of Alabama George Wallace. Richard Nixon’s presidential bid in 1968 picked up on the theme.

As many commentators have pointed out, his triumphant campaign strategy tapped into the rising racial animosities not only of white southerners, but of a white working class in the north that suddenly found itself locked in competition with newly urbanised African-Americans for jobs, public services and housing, as well as in campaigns for school desegregation. The racial theme quickly melded into political propaganda targeting the poor and contemporary poor-relief programs. Indeed, in US politics “poverty”, along with “welfare”, “unwed mothers” and “crime”, became code words for blacks.

In the process, resurgent Republicans tried to defeat Democrats at the polls by associating them with blacks and with liberal policies meant to alleviate poverty. One result was the infamous “war on drugs” that largely ignored major traffickers in favour of the lowest level offenders in inner-city communities. Along with that came a massive programme of prison building and incarceration, as well as the wholesale “reform” of the main means-tested cash assistance programme, Aid to Families of Dependent Children. This politically driven attack on the poor proved just the opening drama in a decades-long campaign launched by business and the organised right against workers.

This was not only war against the poor, but the very “class war” that Republicans now use to brand just about any action they don’t like. In fact, class war was the overarching goal of the campaign, something that would soon enough become apparent in policies that led to a massive redistribution of the burden of taxation, the cannibalisation of government services through privatisation, wage cuts and enfeebled unions, and the deregulation of business, banks and financial institutions.

The poor – and blacks – were an endlessly useful rhetorical foil, a propagandistic distraction used to win elections and make bigger gains. Still, the rhetoric was important. A host of new think tanks, political organisations and lobbyists in Washington DC promoted the message that the country’s problems were caused by the poor whose shiftlessness, criminal inclinations and sexual promiscuity were being indulged by a too-generous welfare system.

Genuine suffering followed quickly enough, along with big cuts in the means-tested programmes that helped the poor. The staging of the cuts was itself enwreathed in clouds of propaganda, but cumulatively they frayed the safety net that protected both the poor and workers, especially low-wage ones, which meant women and minorities. When Ronald Reagan entered the Oval Office in 1980, the path had been smoothed for huge cuts in programs for poor people, and, by the 1990s, the Democrats, looking for electoral strategies that would raise campaign dollars from big business and put them back in power, took up the banner. It was Bill Clinton, after all, who campaigned on the slogan “end welfare as we know it”.

A movement for a moral economy

The war against the poor at the federal level was soon matched in state capitols where organisations such as the American Federation for Children, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Institute for Liberty and the State Policy Network went to work. Their lobbying agenda was ambitious, including the large-scale privatisation of public services, business tax cuts, the rollback of environmental regulations and consumer protections, crippling public sector unions, and measures (such as requiring photo identification) that would restrict the access students and the poor had to the ballot. But the poor were their main public target and again, there were real life consequences – welfare cutbacks, particularly in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children programme and a law-and-order campaign that resulted in the massive incarceration of black men.

“The willful ignorance and cruelty of it all can leave you gasping – and gasp was all we did for decades.”

– Frances Fox Piven

The Great Recession sharply worsened these trends. The Economic Policy Institute reports that the typical working-age household, which had already seen a decline of roughly $2,300 in income between 2000 and 2006, lost another $2,700 between 2007 and 2009. And when “recovery” arrived, however uncertainly, it was mainly in low-wage industries, which accounted for nearly half of what growth there was. Manufacturing continued to contract, while the labour market lost 6.1 per cent of payroll employment. New investment, when it occurred at all, was more likely to be in machinery than in new workers, so unemployment levels remain alarmingly high. In other words, the recession accelerated ongoing market trends toward lower-wage and ever more insecure employment.

The recession also prompted further cutbacks in welfare programmes. Because cash assistance has become so hard to get, thanks to so-called welfare reform, and fallback state-assistance programmes have been crippled, the federal food stamp programme has come to carry much of the weight in providing assistance to the poor. Renamed the “Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program”, it was boosted by funds provided in the Recovery Act, and benefits temporarily rose, as did participation. But Congress has repeatedly attempted to slash the programme’s funds, and even to divert some of them into farm subsidies, while efforts, not yet successful, have been made to deny food stamps to any family that includes a worker on strike.

The organised right justifies its draconian policies toward the poor with moral arguments. Right-wing think tanks and blogs, for instance, ponder the damaging effect on disabled poor children of becoming “dependent” on government assistance, or they scrutinise government nutritional assistance for poor pregnant women and children in an effort to explain away positive outcomes for infants.

The willful ignorance and cruelty of it all can leave you gasping – and gasp was all we did for decades. This is why we so desperately needed a movement for a new kind of moral economy. Occupy Wall Street, which has already changed the national conversation, may well be its beginning.

Frances Fox Piven is on the faculty of the Graduate School of the City University of New York. She is the author, along with Richard Cloward, of Regulating the Poor and Poor People’s Movements. Her latest book, just published, is Who’s Afraid of Frances Fox Piven? The Essential Writings of the Professor Glenn Beck Loves to Hate (The New Press).

A version of this article was first published on TomDispatch.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy


RT: First trucks with Russian aid reach Lugansk, E. Ukraine

2012: What's the 'real' truth?

Published time: August 22, 2014 07:49
Edited time: August 22, 2014 14:43

Trucks of a Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid for Ukraine, August, 22, 2014 (RIA Novosti / Maksim Blinov)

Trucks of a Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid for Ukraine, August, 22, 2014 (RIA Novosti / Maksim Blinov)

The first Russian trucks carrying humanitarian aid have reportedly reached the east Ukrainian city of Lugansk. Moscow ordered the convoy to proceed, without waiting for further permission from Kiev.

Russian Red Cross volunteers ready to escort aid convoy to Lugansk, E. Ukraine

The first trucks in the Russian humanitarian convoy have arrived in Lugansk, leaders of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Lugansk confirmed to RIA Novosti.

Earlier, the LifeNews TV channel and Interfax agency also reported that several Russian vehicles carrying aid to the conflict zone made it to their final destination.

On Friday morning, several dozen Russian trucks crossed the Ukrainian border and started moving towards Lugansk, after Moscow ordered the convoy to proceed, without waiting for further permission…

View original post 759 woorden meer

RT: Solace for the struggling: E. Ukrainians without water, food crave Russian aid

2012: What's the 'real' truth?

Published time: August 22, 2014 12:49
Edited time: August 22, 2014 14:40

As the first 30 trucks in the humanitarian convoy headed for war-torn eastern Ukraine, the residents of Lugansk – struggling daily without regular food supplies, water, electricity and under constant shelling – are looking forward to the aid relief.

First trucks with Russian aid reach Lugansk, E. Ukraine

On Friday, the Russian convoy crossed the Ukrainian border and started moving in the direction of Lugansk, after Moscow had ordered it to proceed, without waiting for further instructions or permission from Kiev.

Due to the electricity black-out and the lack of water, many local enterprises have to a halt in Lugansk. RT traveled to what used to be the area’s biggest bread-baking facilities and spoke with one of the employees, Vasily, who said that he doesn’t know how the locals get by.

“I don’t know why they are doing…

View original post 335 woorden meer

PressTV: Ferguson — No justice in American police state, by Paul Craig Roberts

2012: What's the 'real' truth?

Police officers charge into a group of demonstrators to make an arrest in Ferguson, Missouri, August 19, 2014.Police officers charge into a group of demonstrators to make an arrest in Ferguson, Missouri, August 19, 2014.

Fri Aug 22, 2014 4:46AM GMT

Paul Craig Roberts

Related Interviews:

There are reports that American police kill 500 or more Americans every year. Few of these murdered Americans posed a threat to police. Police murder Americans for totally implausible reasons. For example, a few days before Michael Brown was gunned down in Ferguson, John Crawford picked up a toy gun from a WalMart shelf in the toy department and was shot and killed on the spot by police goons.

It appears that the murder of Michael Brown did not satisfy the blood lust of the goon thug cop murderers. Less than four miles from Ferguson, goon thugs murdered another black man on August 19. The police claims of “threat” are disproved…

View original post 1.601 woorden meer

Neil Keenan Update 8-22-14… “Sticks & Stones”

Kauilapele's Blog

neil_keenan_group_k_header3_480_crop_9I align with much of what is written and videoed in this update, with the exception of the parts about losing all of our money, etc. I still do not see all of that coming to pass.

There is a mention of the Kingdom of Hawai`i in the Part 2 video. Here are links to the videos themselves, should you just want to listen to those. Part 1 video, Part 2 video.

Also, the photos of the gold bills are quite amazing (at the end of the post).


Sticks &Stones

By The Keenan Team

We are winning this global war to defeat those who are bent on exterminating the vast majority of humankind and enslaving the remainder.

Our adversary is mortally wounded and its days are numbered. In this brief NFK update however,  Neil begins by reminding us of the clear and present danger we all still…

View original post 780 woorden meer

Neil Keenan Update 8-24-14… “Hail Hail The Gang’s All Here”

Kauilapele's Blog

neil_keenan_group_k_header3_480_crop_10This is a very important update, as I sense it. Neil addresses several things going on right now. Suggest you view with Higher Discernment turned “On”.

Video is at the bottom of the post.


Hail Hail The Gang’s All Here
By The Keenan Team

At this very moment we are sitting here contemplating what to do with the actions that have been reported to us.

The Clinton Gang has ridden in on their private jets, the Japanese Emperor’s sister has also flown in on her jet, and money transfers have taken place through Bill Clinton’s Arkansas Foundation.  Said funds are illegal, confiscated Colombian drug funds which somehow found their way from Clinton’s Foundation to Indonesia , with the main objective being to steal what does not belong to either the Indonesians, Clintons or the Japanese Emperor’s sister.

We told you long ago that this was the plan, and of…

View original post 309 woorden meer

John Perkins-Oil Companies Will Use Middle East Crisis to Jack Up Prices

Published on 22 Jun 2014… Financial expert John Perkins has a unique perspective about the unfolding crisis in Iraq. Perkins, a former chief economist who advised the U.S. Treasury Department and the IMF, to name a few, says, “Another force has now stepped up to the stage and that’s the militant Islamic force, and it’s a very strong force. It is a very anti-capitalistic force. So, it is the force going up against the corporatocracy. Even though Russia, China and the United States compete on many levels as they are doing in Ukraine and other places, they have a common enemy, which is this Islamic regime that wants to overthrow the corporatocracy. I am not talking about all Islamic people by any means; I am talking about the radical Islamic militant groups like ISIS that is coming into strength in the Middle East right now.” Perkins goes on to say, “Now, what’s happening suddenly in Iraq, Syria, Iran and the whole Middle East is exploding once again. I think Middle East oil is not nearly as important as a few years ago. There are other alternatives now. Having said that, the oil companies will use what’s going on in the Middle East to jack up prices as high as they think they can.”

Join Greg Hunter as he goes One-on-One with John Perkins, best-selling author of “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.”

CDC Covered Up MMR Vaccine Link to Autism in African American Boys


boyle cdc autism CDC Whistleblower: CDC Covered Up MMR Vaccine Link to Autism in African American Boys


Whistleblower Says CDC Knew in 2003 of Higher Autism Rate Among African-American Boys Receiving MMR Shot Earlier Than 36 Months

by Focus Autism


A top research scientist working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) played a key role in helping Dr. Brian Hooker of the Focus Autism Foundation uncover data manipulation by the CDC that obscured a higher incidence of autism in African-American boys. The whistleblower came to the attention of Hooker, a PhD in biochemical engineering, after he had made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for original data on the DeStefano et al MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and autism study.

Dr. Hooker’s study, published August 8 in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Translational Neurodegeneration, shows that African-American boys receiving their first MMR vaccine before 36 months of age are 3.4 times more likely to develop autism vs. after 36 months.

According to Dr. Hooker, the CDC whistleblower informant — who wishes to remain anonymous — guided him to evidence that a statistically significant relationship between the age the MMR vaccine was first given and autism incidence in African-American boys was hidden by CDC researchers. 

Dr. Hooker has worked closely with the CDC whistleblower, and he viewed highly sensitive documents related to the study via Congressional request from U.S. Representative Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The CDC documents from Congress and discussions that Hooker had with the whistleblower reveal widespread manipulation of scientific data and top-down pressure on CDC scientists to support fraudulent application of government policies on vaccine safety. Based on raw data used in the 2004 DeStefano et al study obtained under FOIA, Dr. Hooker found that the link between MMR vaccination and autism in African-American boys was obscured by the introduction of irrelevant and unnecessary birth certificate criteria – ostensibly to reduce the size of the study.

The results of the original study first appeared in the journal Pediatrics which receives financial support from vaccine makers via advertising and direct donations, according to a CBS News report. The DeStefano et al study is widely used by the CDC and other public health organizations to dismiss any link between vaccines and autism — a neurological disorder on the rise. Dr. Hooker stated “The CDC knew about the relationship between the age of first MMR vaccine and autism incidence in African-American boys as early as 2003, but chose to cover it up.”

The whistleblower confirmed this.

“We’ve missed ten years of research because the CDC is so paralyzed right now by anything related to autism. They’re not doing what they should be doing because they’re afraid to look for things that might be associated.” The whistleblower alleges criminal wrongdoing of his supervisors, and he expressed deep regret about his role in helping the CDC hide data.

Read the Full Press Release here.

CDC Whistleblower Confesses to Vaccine-Autism Fraud: Tuskegee Revisited


Measles-mumps-rubella vaccination timing and autism among young african american boys: a reanalysis of CDC data. Brian S Hooker, Translational Neurodegeneration 2014, 3:16  Published: 8 August 2014

Vaccine Epidemic
by Louise Kuo Habakus and Mary Holland J.D.

Vaccine Epidemic bookcover CDC Whistleblower: CDC Covered Up MMR Vaccine Link to Autism in African American Boys