Gerald Staack | Uncovering the Legacy of Poverty

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

Unfortunately, aristocracy has morphed our democracy from operating for the benefit of all into an autocracy benefiting the rich. The wealthy now dominate and exploit society for the sake of profits; the lower classes are exploitable and their quality of life is expendable. Since money is now “free speech,” one can legally bribe the government into passing legislation that creates exceptional profits for the wealthy. More often than not, living standards are reduced for everyone else. To keep profits up, one must keep the disadvantaged lower classes ignorant, hungry and poor, but feed them faux pride to lift their spirits. Tell them you are “helping them live in the greatest country in the world,” and they’ll fanatically follow you, wave the flag and storm the Capitol. Losing democracy is not such a disadvantage for aristocracy. It is more of a hindrance to becoming super-rich.

Throughout history, pharaohs, Caesars and kings have ruled slaves, until our forefathers devised a form of government for self-rule. It’s called democracy. It allowed all classes a voice in how they wished to live and be governed. But democracy has been constantly challenged. “Big Money,” being mostly conservative, abhors the idea of paying for any social public services that make life easier for everyone. “Privatization” is their answer. Privatize public schools, roads, bridges, parks, health care, public utilities, Social Security and Medicare. The rich do not feel obligated to support the well-being of those who made them wealthy in the first place.

America has great swaths of underprivileged poor, victims of generations of intrinsic poverty after the cotton and tobacco empires collapsed in the Deep South. Appalachia became disadvantaged after its coal economy started to collapse with the advent of global warming. Many lack the education to escape their poverty-stricken area. There is no mobility. It’s hard to break out of poverty when the community in which you live is depressed and lacks social connections to infrastructure like libraries, bowling alleys, bookstores, restaurants, movie theaters, churches, community rooms, etc. People live off of government checks. Public corruption in the South has kept these disadvantaged areas from recovering. According to the new book “The Injustice of Place” by Katherine Edin and Luke Shaefer, our nation’s top poverty scholars, “rampant public corruption cripples the community and perpetuates the class divide.” Grossly underfunded schools add to their misery. Corruption is a seldom recognized form of exploitation. Former Secretary of State John Kerry was quoted as saying, “Corruption is an opportunity destroyer because it discourages honest and accountable investment; it makes businesses more expensive to operate; it drives up the cost of public services for taxpayers.”

According to the authors, for America to move forward, these legacies of poverty must be addressed. They all occurred when economic conditions materialized that forced workers to lose their jobs. Both political parties in Washington looked the other way. Instead of regulating the transitions to new economies for U.S. labor, the government engaged itself in sending welfare checks. Today, there’s a sense of deja vu as new poverty locations are ready to form due to climate change. The oil-producing states are afraid of losing their livelihood. Thousands of oil workers, as oil is kept in the ground, will have no immediate prospects to make money. The government needs to nationalize the oil companies and monitor the smooth transition of jobs away from fossil fuels and into a sustainable electric power economy.

To move forward, we must:

1) End separate and unequal schooling. Desegregate, increase teachers’ pay, deprivatize schools. It’s illegal in Finland, where the elite pay to keep standards high.

2) Spark mobility. Cut violence by lifting social and economic barriers.

3) Invest in social infrastructure. Community hubs like bowling alleys, movie theaters, churches, libraries, book stores and restaurants.

4) Root out corruption. Resources should be given directly to the people without having to flow into an open pocket of local elites for disbursement.

5) Make structural racism visible and confront it. Audit policies, programs and regulations in our government to identify desperate racial outcomes, and devise concrete solutions to address disparities.

6) Bring the supply chain home. The elite benefited from free trade. NAFTA and China cost American jobs.

Even in the face of backlash from the economic and political elite, we must try to bring around change.

Gerald Staack 

Former Santa Clarita resident

Wilmington, North Carolina

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