The Rich and the Rest of Us

In the back of my mind I wondered "Is this book going to make me feel guilty about having a job and existing while others are suffering considerably?" However, I wanted to understand what the argument was and am glad to say it's far from any guilt propaganda, but rather educational and humane reading. I won't break down details because anyone who is inclined to read this ought to, for themselves. But here were some things that surprised me:

1. The idea that "poverty" does not look the same as it

In the back of my mind I wondered "Is this book going to make me feel guilty about having a job and existing while others are suffering considerably?" However, I wanted to understand what the argument was and am glad to say it's far from any guilt propaganda, but rather educational and humane reading. I won't break down details because anyone who is inclined to read this ought to, for themselves. But here were some things that surprised me:1. The idea that "poverty" does not look the same as it did during the Great Depression, or as we envision in our minds and from the images we have. The book also made reference to late night commercials of third-world poverty and poor people surrounded by flies, etc. We've all seen those and have an image of what "poor" looks like and therefore think we ourselves are far from it; but the authors make it clear that in the 21st century and post-manufacturing economy, poor people do indeed have luxury items (such things being cars, microwave ovens, flat-screen TVs, etc.) and can appear to be doing fine. The challenge in dealing with or facing this new kind of poverty is in how deceptive it is to both individuals faced with it and society as a whole. So, the book talks about "new poor," "near poor" and the "perennially poor" and breaks down differences and history of attitudes over time. This highlights another point which is that working class people who once thought they were solidly middle class and secure really maybe are NOT in this economy. It's a slippery slope, according to this book and it illustrates cases from people they've met that went from one grand situation to precipitously fall into another where they've exhausted all means and are living in tent cities or homeless shelters. And how could it be that extreme so quickly? How so easy??? The book talks about values, misplaced values and false impressions of comfort. 2. Also, surprising was the reminder that the current condition is a threat to democracy. Having 1 out of every 2 Americans being "poor", living paycheck to paycheck, disenfranchised, jobless, homeless- or near that, without any opportunity while a slim 1% enjoys an average of 1.3

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million/year is problematic esp. because of the length of time the imbalance has remained. According to the book, this is the longest in 5 decades that the imbalance has remained. Alarmist? Maybe but historically, it points out that the greatest civilizations crumbled when they failed to look after the majority of its citizens, and the weakest of those. This was the frightening revelation for me, personally. Data, tables and charts support claims made in the book and were all pretty straight forward. One of the notable quotes in the book was from Aristotle: "In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme." But in this country, the poor have no political power. Add to that, they are looked down on, thought of as lazy and morally deficient and ignored by people and politicians. It doesn't exonerate individuals from personal responsibility but points out that greed is also built into the system that runs this country and has disenfranchised so many. So the question lingers: where are we headed as a country.3. Book also discusses the most vulnerable people being historically women, children and minorities but that the current situation really crossed every section of race, gender, social position based on their case studies. I liked that, at the heart of the book, it wasn't about finger-pointing or pitting the rich against the poor vice versa, but rather about values and challenging people to change the way they look at the misfortunes of others so that ultimately there is a readiness to do something about it.One does not need to read this book to see in the news everyday that there is a problem on a larger scale. I appreciated the fact that it talks about individual accountability for misplaced priorities but the larger problem in dealing with people struggling is lack of compassion for others. It reviews some of the past efforts by presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Obama and FDR and also where they failed and succeeded; it didn't point fingers but it did call people out on failed policies that were mostly political. 4. Lastly, the twelve ideas proposed ranging from inflation fairness to universal food delivery system, to tax codes, the authors laid out some general ideas for alleviating the current poverty situation that is dire and being ignored. They were not in depth ideas but proposals to get the conversation started. Also included was a form letter to write to the President about demanding a White House conference on the eradication of poverty.Complete eradication of poverty is obviously not realistic right now. But I do agree that the situation can be changed, starting first with a change in attitude. A very worthwhile read. ...more


Category: Review

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