The Economic Problem

Unemployment. Drug abuse. Lack of health care. Illiteracy and education decline. Street violence. Xenophobia. Prostitution. Malnourishment. The increasing income gap.

These are the industrial world’s perennial problems. The ones that have defied attempts both of both legislators and concerned citizens to squash them.  The ones that show us that America and Britain and Germany have their fair share of hardships as well.

But what if these aren’t isolated troubles, but symptoms of a single ailment? I believe that there is a thread connecting all these issues, one which is not a complete explanation but nevertheless important: the problem of poverty.

Now, I use poverty in a sense broader than the traditional — I think many “middle-class” families drawing salaries above the federal poverty guidelines should be considered poor, not necessarily even because of a quality of life deficiency, but due to a lack of economic safety. A family of four with a single wage-earner who draws $30,000 a year may have climbed into the administrative middle class, but if that lifeline is cut off even temporarily, government welfare is their only safety net. Millions of Americans above the federal guidelines or thresholds for poverty are still not economically secure. It is the extreme pervasiveness of economic insecurity — even in a country that theoretically has the resources to do away with it — that is the root of quite a few of America’s social, economic, and political problems.

The employment rate is obviously related to economic security, and while each factor affects the other, it is clear that promoting employment is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end, and that end is economic security. There are unemployed millionaires who are still economically secure.

Drug abuse has a worrying connection with poverty. Drugs (including alcohol) are often used because of depression or uneasiness about the future, easily caused by economic insecurity.

Economic security includes access to health car and other facilities that are needed for a healthy standard of living.

When children don’t know if they’ll have a place to sleep, their school performance drops dramatically.

Violence and vandalism are more symptoms of feelings of insecurity about the future, reflecting their prevalence in poorer neighborhoods.

“Immigrants will take our jobs” wouldn’t be scary if Americans knew they would be economically safe anyway.

Prostitution and sex trafficking are results of extreme poverty and unemployment forcing women and girls to sell themselves to survive.

Malnourishment is evidently related to poverty and economic insecurity and is a very important indicator of quality of life.

The fact that the rich make so much more than the poor wouldn’t matter if even the poorest were economically secure. At bottom, it’s not the unfairness but the absolute poverty of the poorest that is most important.

A livable level of economic security is a basic human right — deride welfare and entitlement programs all you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that foreigners deserve to live under a roof just like American-born citizens, the “lazy” deserve to eat every day just like the “hardworking”, and the poor deserve to sleep on a bed just as much as the rich. #


Fiction: Stranger than Truth

“Truth is stranger than fiction.” Yet another of those aphorisms somehow embedded deep inside the vernacular despite having no logical basis. It seems to have fallen to webcomics to debunk the nonsensical pseudo-statement – see Subnormality and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal for a dose of humor.

Taxes, part one

Many political figures, particularly conservatives and libertarians, have corrupted the American national debate on the governmental institution of taxes from one of specific scale, to a senseless referendum on their very moral and even legal right to existence.

Only a person ignorant of the United States Constitution would oppose taxes on legal grounds. To quote Article I, Section 8 (a section which should be memorized by all American defenders of a liberal philosophy):

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States… And To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

And Amendment XVI:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

To those conservatives questioning the existence of taxes on moral grounds, surely the specific presentation of these matters in the Constitution which you idolize is sufficient? If it isn’t, then you’re admitting that this document is not always just. You cannot both protest “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” and profess to agree fully with the Constitution.

If you do, in fact, oppose the institution of taxes on moral grounds, know this: taxes are the only way to guarantee the protection of rights for citizens. Protection of rights requires a government of some type. Not all governments protect rights, but rights cannot be protected without one. Only the sweeping power of law associated with a government, regardless of scale, can afford protection to citizens in such a way as to enthrone all human rights.

Governments, in turn, require taxes. Every government, conservative or liberal, democratic or monarchical, has a positive administration cost. In general, and specifically for a large-scale administration such as the United States Federal Government, this cost cannot be met by donations and contributions. Therefore, the administration revenue for the government must be generated by compulsory means, i.e. taxes.

The guarantee of rights for all humans is a primary moral imperative. Taxes may seem, and in fact be, morally unjust, but rights for all citizens of a particular government are a higher moral priority in any case. #



Quick, think of three communist countries.

Most likely among your responses were the former Soviet Union, (mainland) China, or Cuba. Maybe you thought of Vietnam or North Korea, or even Albania or Laos.

I am sorry to inform you that whatever your answers were, they were quite incorrect.

Understanding why necessitates a more thorough and nuanced understanding of ‘communism’ than is currently possessed by most citizens, regardless of their government. During the mid-to-late 19th century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote well-intentioned, philosophical as well as political treatises predicting the fall of capitalism. A simplification of their predictions follows:

  1. A capitalist economy eventually drives a wedge between two classes of society, the working-class proletariat and the wealthy bourgeoisie.
  2. The social turmoil stemming from this division leads to a revolution of the proletariat, instituting a government run by the working class, called socialism. Class distinctions are abolished.
  3. With no class distinctions, there is no need for a government. The state eventually “withers away”, and everyone works together, peacefully, without distinction, for the good of the whole. This is called communism.

From the original definition of communism given by Engels and Marx, we see that a ‘communist government’ or ‘communist state’ is simply an oxymoron. The very presence of a communist society implies a lack of government. Nations such as the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Cuba (which, you notice, do not contain the word ‘communist’ in their names) simply endorse the philosophy of Marx and Engels, and believe themselves to be on the second step. So-called ‘communist states’ are simply attempted socialist approximations at a true classless, stateless communist society.

Indeed, these ‘communist states’ are often even more repressive than the capitalist societies they replaced. In every “working man’s revolution” that we have seen to date, class distinctions have not been abolished – the outgoing bourgeoisie’s place is merely occupied by the leaders of the proletariat. This class swap, as it were, does nothing to aid the proletariat, that disgruntled working class we see today in almost every society. Instead, it simply placates them for a time, giving them the illusion of governmental control where instead it is removed. If religion “is the opiate of the masses,” as Marx famously alleged, then the idea of communism is a potent cannabinoid. #