Anarchy 84/From articles on poverty

From Anarchy
Jump to navigation Jump to search

There are eight million people living in condi­tions of poverty in Britain today. Four­teen per cent of the popu­lation are living below the na­tion­al assist­ance minimum. Two million of these are chil­dren. Poverty is on the in­crease in a society where in 1960 the richest 5% of the popu­la­tion owned 75% of the total per­sonal wealth. This has risen by 4% since 1954. For the first time in the twen­tieth century a Euro­pean nation is showing an in­crease in per­sonal wealth among the top 5%. The latest na­tion­al income statis­tics reveal how the number of incomes over £2,000 has risen from 300,000 in 1959 to 640,000 in 1960; the number of incomes over £4,000 has in­creased from 30,000 in 1959 to 100,000 in 1966.
  The rich and the poor are inex­orably pulling away from each other on the income scale. Thus another popular myth of the fifties hits the dust. The fashion­able wisdom of the Economist and its supporters is seen to be phony. They predic­ted that social growth would inevit­ably accom­pany econo­mic growth; that a radical redis­tribu­tion of wealth would be brought about by pro­gres­sive taxa­tion and the effects of the social services.

Writing on poverty in the Chris­tian Science Monitor for October 13, Joseph C. Harsch starts out with the unde­ni­able fact that the United States is the weal­thi­est country in the world. Then, after dis­cus­sing the coun­tries where extreme poverty exists—India and other Asian countries, Africa, and Latin America—he says:

  “But if my own per­sonal obser­va­tions as a repor­ter over some 38 years of roaming around the world are valid then the United States is unique in having serious massive poverty in the midst of afflu­ence. Not in the whole of Western Europe together would it be pos­sible to find 30 million persons who live in the pros­pect of wasted lives.
  “It would be fasci­nating to know whether there is in the Soviet Union a segment of the whole which could be said to live in rela­tive poverty. Poverty is, after all, rela­tive. A person could have a wasted life in the United States at 10 times the annual wage of a suc­cess­ful person in India.”

  While Mr. Harsch found “pockets of under­privi­leged” in Britain, France, and Italy, a slum in Poland, and un­pleas­ant areas in Denmark and Germany, the numbers so af­flic­ted are not numer­ous, by com­pari­son with those in the United States. He adds this impor­tant dis­tinc­tion:

  “Nor does the squalor of even a Sicilian slum debase the self-

respect of its dwellers as does the rotting centre of many an indus­trial city in the United States. And the divi­ding line, surely, is drawn not by money income but by whether one is needed, or un­wanted.”

  During his eight years in London Mr. Harsch was often asked by Ameri­can visi­tors to see some slums. He would take them to “the poorest, shab­biest, most neglec­ted, most race-tension-ridden parts of London,” and the reac­tion was always the same: “But this isn’t a real slum!” The person who has seen Detroit or Harlem, Chicago’s skid row, or the poor of Washington, D.C., can’t find what he thinks of as “poverty” in London, Paris, Rome, Naples“or Moscow (?),” Mr. Harsch adds. Every European city has its sordid spots, every country its neglec­ted poor—

  “But the cold fact is that the United States has toler­ated within its midst a degree and quan­tity of poverty which other ad­vanced soci­eties do not toler­ate. On this scale of values the United States is the most back­ward of modern Western coun­tries.”

manas (Los Angeles) 15/11/1967