You say “poverty,” I say “po-TAH-to.”

income-inequality-gapLeftover sends this, a powerful, concise essay by Peter Marcuse on what language we should use to describe wealth/income inequality/poverty/war on. From the essay:

In fact, the way the rich obtain their wealth is what generates poverty. Here are a few specific mechanisms by which this happens:

  • Exploitation at the work place. Keeping the pay for workers as low as possible is an inherent part of running a business and making a profit: the lower wages are, the higher profits are. Employers are “job creators” only against their will; the fewer workers they need to produce a different product or service, the better off the employer is. High pay for business executives and dividends to shareholders are directly at the expense of the workers in their businesses.
  • Exploitation at the consumption end. Increasing the demand for ever more consumer goods—necessarily paid for out of wages—increases the profits of the producers of those goods and the wealth of the owners of the firms that produce them. Inducing demand artificially through advertising, making things disposable and requiring constant replacement, and through other means, supports the consumption exploitation of poor and middle-class consumers, to the benefit of the rich.
  • Exploitation at the financial end. Where, after all, do the extraordinary profits of hedge fund managers and bankers come from? Ultimately, from the prices paid by the purchasers of the goods and services they are financing. The interest and dividend incomes and high salaries of the rich are really based on the profits of those making their money from more direct exploitation of the poor.
  • Exploitation of the benefits of land

    ownership. Property owners and developers are among the richest of the rich (think Donald Trump), in large part because they are able to benefit from the speculative increases in the price of land which they own.  Ultimately, those benefits are paid for in the prices consumers pay and the rents that tenants pay—a regressively distributive system enriching land owners at the expense of all others.

  • All four of these forms of exploitation are among the major causes of poverty and, centrally, inequality.

Published by datingjesus

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  1. Clear and succinct. I’m tempted to declare this Marcuse guy an Old Testament prophet, but the OT canon is closed.

  2. Peter Marcuse is the son of that famous New Left Frankfurter…if you’re old enough to remember when there actually was a Leftist movement in America…
    The source isn’t Leftist. The Institute for Policy Studies most often features contributions from writers somewhere in a neoliberal apologist↔centrist Democrat range. I’m not sure how Marcuse managed to sneak in there. No evidence of any closet Marxism among the staff…that I’ve ever seen.

    Marcuse backs up his mastery of clear and concise with Inequality: A Matter of Conflict here, a companion piece to Poverty or Inequality. I think it’s the best definition of class warfare in America one can find. (That’s my characterization, not Marcuse’s.)

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