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Book Review: Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty, translated by Arthur Goldhammer

Capital in the Twenty-First CenturyCapital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The right-wingers have come out in force to denounce this book as Marxism, which could not be further from the truth. When Piketty mentions Marx, he almost invariably mentions the shortcomings of Marx’s research, such as Marx having drawn generalizations from the books of one factory (anecdotal evidence) rather than a dozen factories (229), and that he “missed entirely the work on national accounting that was developing around him” (230). His aim is hardly Marxist. It is simply demonstrating that since the eighteenth century, Edmund Phelps’s “golden rule” of r=g (r being the return on capital and g being growth of national income) is at all periods of history false, and that the ratio that reflects all of human history is r>g, which unchecked, causes a widening gap between rich and poor, which, at their greatest peaks, 1929 and 2007, caused the biggest global economic crashes in history (297). The fact that he acknowledges the time an investor spends on his investments as work (205) does not sound at all like a Marxist position to me. Indeed, he is not even a Keynesian leftist, calling Keynes’s claims of the stability of the capital-labor split “hasty to say the least, since Keynes was essentially relying on data from British manufacturing industry in the 1920s, which were insufficient to establish a universal regularity” (220).

His primary solution for democratizing the gap is an end to tax havens through a global progressive tax on wealth to replace property taxes. Seeing globalization, an enemy of true progressives, as inevitable, he sees this admittedly Utopian solution as the only one that will completely alleviate the problem, following his discussion with the shortcomings of such solutions as protectionism and inflation. He amusingly sums up the problem as Earth owing a debt to Mars, because global debt is higher than known global wealth as a result of these tax havens. He proposes that it be begun in Europe, and then expanded. This would tax the wealthy in a fairer manner, eliminate public debt, which is far exceeded by private wealth, and generally make the playing field better. He gives a wide range as to go about doing this, because it needs to be done in a democratic fashion, rather than the in the non-representative republican fashion we have in the United States. He notes that wealth taxes have previously failed historically as a direct result of excessive exemptions and tax havens. It all comes down to morals. “It is not right for individuals to grow wealth from free trade and economic integration only to rake off the profits at the expense of their neighbors. That is outright theft” (522).

The book is not at all arid (to use Goldhammer’s word, at least). He draws heavily on comparing literary and cinematic sources to history, in particular the works of Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac, but also Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Wolfgang Reitherman’s The Aristocats, to name a few cinematic examples of art reflecting life in a particular period of history. Père Goriot and Sense and Sensibility are his primary go-tos for artistic representations of economic issues.

One section of the book that is particularly impactful for me is his exploration of the delusion of meritocracy. As someone who was raised middle class, with my first four years of higher education paid for by a mutual fund that my grandmother started for me when I was small, to earning a bachelor’s degree with a double major in 1999, to earning a master’s degree in 2005, to becoming a resident of the New York City homeless shelter system in 2012 due primarily to lack of interviews for jobs at a livable wage. Piketty disagrees with the point of view that economic growth shows the true talents of individuals in society. “The plain fact is that this argument is often used to justify extreme inequalities and to defend the privileges of the winners without much consideration for the losers, much less for the facts, and without any real effort to verify whether this very convenient principle can actually explain the changes we observe” (85). Barbara Ehrenreich titled one of her chapters in Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream “Downward Mobility,” and this seems to be a universal truth for the majority in our time. Piketty goes into this reality on page 229-30. “[I]n the US case, government data allow us to measure the evolution of wage inequality with mobility taken into account: we can compute average wages at the individual level over long periods of time… And what we find is that the increase in wage inequality is identical in all cases, no matter what reference period we use. In other words, workers at McDonald’s in in Detroit’s auto plants do not spend a year of their lives as top managers in US firms, any more than professors at the University of Chicago or middle managers from California do. One may have felt this intuitively, but it is always better to measure systematically wherever possible.” He also goes into what I know from experience to be true: that education does not explain the wealth gap at all. The increase in the numbers of people with higher education has had “limited impact on the explosion of topmost incomes in the United States since 1980″ (315). He notes that Raghuram G. Rajan‘s Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy is incorrect in stating that college has increased income inequality more than the explosion of the 1%. “The reason for this is probably that the data normally used by labor and education economists do not give the full measure of the overperformance of the top centile (one needs tax data to see what is happening)” (609). Throughout, he notes that little empirical analysis has been done to analyze incomes above the 90th centile.

The fact that income inequality in the United States in 2000-2010 attained a level higher than that observed in the poor and emerging countries at various times in the past–for example, higher than India or South Africa in 1920-1930, 1960-1970, and 2000-2010–also casts doubt on any explanation based solely on objective inequalities of productivity. Is it really the case that inequality of individual skills and productivities is greater in the United States today than in the half-illiterate India of the recent past (or even today) or in apartheid (or postapartheid) South Africa? If that were the case, it would be bad news for US educational institutions, which surely need to be improved and made more accessible but probably do not deserve such extravagant blame (330).

On page 332, he correctly notes that the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith is a myth, as is “pure and perfect” competition, but identifies that top executives very often have their “hand in the till” by setting their own salaries or having it set by a committee of others with like pay. He considers this terminology excessive but closer to the truth than those other expressions. He goes on to note research by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullianathan, Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried (335), and by himself, Emmanuel Saez, and Stefanie Stantcheva indicating that top executives are paid primarily for luck (512): “In practice, the return on capital does not depend solely on the talent and effort supplied by the capitalist.” It’s both disheartening and reassuring to know that research backs up what we have intuitively known: that hard work and effort more often than not go unrewarded, while luck runs away with the bulk of the spoils, trouncing those with true talent.

That inequality is very unstable is denied by “Pareto’s law.” Vilfredo Pareto was a fascist who “hailed Mussolini’s accession to power…clearly had no evidence to support his theory of stability…above all wary of socialists and what he took to be their redistributive illusions,” and his information showed “a slight trend toward higher inequality, which Pareto intentionally sought to hide” (367). Any right-wing use of said “law” is clearly dishonest and full of fascist bias.

I’m not sure that this statement is true: “In North America, there is no nostalgia for the postwar period, quite simply because the Trente Glorieuses never existed there: per capita output grew at roughly the same rate of 1.5-2 percent per year throughout the period 1820-2012″ (97). Assuming the last part is true, it seems like there is heavy nostalgia for the 1950s and early 1960s, particularly on the right of the spectrum. He later notes liberal Paul Krugman‘s nostalgia for this period. In Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore noted that top marginal tax rates in the “good old days” were above 90%. Piketty notes that “[T]he reduction of top marginal income tax rates and the rise of top incomes do not seem to have stimulated productivity (contrary to supply-side theory) or at any rate did not stimulate productivity enough to statistically detectable at the macro level” because per capita GDP in the United States and Britain have not grown faster than in Germany, France, Japan, Denmark, or Sweden, where top executive salaries have not taken off at the rate they have in the US and UK (510).

Most people who are below the middle class pay rent (unless they can’t afford rent and end up in the shelter system). On pp. 422-4, he details the way the term “rent” acquired a pejorative meaning, and not in the way I expected, which would be to stigmatize those who pay rent rather than own their homes. He describes rent as “the enemy of modern rationality.” “There is something astonishing about the notion that capital yields rent, or income that the owner of capital obtains without working. There is something in this notion that is an affront to common sense and that has, in fact, perturbed any number of civilizations…” Linda Tirado in Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America excoriates those who oppose a tax on capital gains on the grounds that it has previously been taxed–so has payroll tax and unemployment insurance, but “fiscal conservatives” are never heard calling for a repeal of those taxes. As Piketty says, “Is it useful and just for the owners of capital to receive this marginal product as a payment for their ownership of property (whether their own past work or that of their ancestors) even if they contribute no new work? This is a crucial question, but not the one I am asking here” (215). Says Piketty, “I should also point out that these international positions are in substantial part the result of fictitious financial flows associated not with the needs of the real economy but rather with tax optimization strategies and regulatory arbitrage (using screen corporations set up with countries where the tax structure and/or regulatory environment is particularly attractive)” (194). Piketty describes life in the era of Jane Austen, who was herself a victim of primogeniture laws whose repeal eliminated some inequality, how the lack of refrigeration and heating and so forth made it such that only a small number of wealthy people (100,000 or so in Britain) could sustain the culture, and that this is the reason the inequalities were accepted, but the sense of entitlement among the wealthy that they externalize onto the educated poor he believes to have been largely absent and recognized for the arbitrariness and anti-meritocratic system that it was. It does seem laughable when he discusses “the latest tablet” as a “legitimate need” for wealthy people today (482). (I was given a tablet recently, and it’s so slow and hard to type on that it’s largely a toy, although I can see my e-mail if I’ve timed off the library computers for the day and am still in the building.) While inheritances were largely lost in the two world wars, he argued, inherited wealth is returning to the position it had in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The fact that the average Harvard student is in the richest 2% is one example he cites that reflects this. Private wealth causes public harm. “In all the rich countries, public dissaving and the consequent decrease in public wealth accounted for a significant portion of the increase in private wealth (between one-tenth and one-quarter, depending on the country). This was not the primary reason for the increase in private wealth, but should not be neglected” (185).

These meritocratic myths perpetuate in the health care crisis, which Piketty touches on: “[I]f a private health insurance system costs more than a public system but does not yield truly superior (as comparison of the United States with Europe suggests), then GDP will be artificially overvalued in companies that rely mainly on private insurance” (92). The reasoning seems to be that those with money have earned the right to better health care. Towards the end of the book, he also touches on climate change. He covers welfare briefly on 478-9, and comments on the ire its recipients also receive, in spite of it taking up less than 1% of national income (I myself get about $500 a year in government welfare (about $0.0000001 per taxpayer), Wal-Mart gets $9 billion a year in government subsidies (about $27 per taxpayer), but the right-wingers choose to complain about me and not Wal-Mart), preferring that I take a menial job that my doctors say I shouldn’t be doing and that cannot be lived on. It’s not as though the wealthy are, as Mitt Romney put it, “job creators.” “[I]f the number of workers is one too many for the available capital stock, the extra worker cannot be put to use in any productive way” (217). The Bureau of Labor Statistics is still showing that there are currently 2.5 job seekers for every available job, about 4 million job openings and 9 million job seekers. One right-wing friend said that private charity eliminates the need for public welfare. He needs to see Josiah Wedgwood‘s The Economics of Inheritance. “He showed that charitable giving was of little consequence. His analysis led him to the conclusion that only a tax could achieve the equilibrium desired” (638). “Real democracy and social justice,” Piketty states, “require specific institutions of their own, not just those of the market, and not just parliaments and other formal democratic institutions” (424).

“In terms of the theoretical model, as well as in the historical data, an increase in the tax on capital income from 0 to 30 percent (reducing the net return on capital from 5 to 35 percent) may well leave the total stock of capital unchanged over the log run for the simple reason that the decrease in the upper centile’s share of the wealth is compensated by the rise of the middle class. This is precisely what happened in the twentieth century–although the lesson is sometimes forgotten today” (374). This is why it angers me so much that the non-rich vote in conservative politicians that support legislation that has the effect of eroding the middle class, which The New York Times reports is steadily happening. The Republicans won the 2014 midterm elections because people enjoy being lied to by Fox News, and are coached to support policies that are to their detriment. When you don’t properly tax the rich, the middle class falls into poverty. In his conclusion, he says that ultimately all of the social sciences, not just the economists, need to deal with these issues because they revolve around concepts of good and evil (he puts it that bluntly) that all citizens understand. He also encourages people not to be intimidated when numbers, which were never my strong suit (and some say this is good reason for me to be homeless, while I know plenty of people who are not great with numbers who have good jobs), become involved. Piketty establishes in his introduction that he is striving for narrative, but it is mostly one of group characters and an occasional politician or economist, or characters from literary classics (hence I didn’t add a character list as I typically do on Goodreads), such that the concepts, and formulae when he includes them, are accessible to the general reader (and he goes over them enough that the concepts eventually get easy to follow).

As a professional proofreader (or former one, if you think the skill and identity goes when the position does), I did notice many typos of the sort a spell checker cannot possibly find, such as a then/than gaffe at the top of page 564, although I failed to make a written note of most of them. The book also uses “wealth countries” and “wealthy countries” seemingly interchangeably. The former seems to connote a definitive characteristic of said country, while the latter seems to be establishing the characteristic we are discussing, without implication of overall intrinsic importance of the characteristic versus that characteristic’s salience to the discussion.  Since the Paris School of Economics presumably has no history department, Piketty’s repeated references to a fictitious “year zero” can be forgiven… sort of.

“[T]he force for divergence at the top of the wealth hierarchy would win out over the global forces of catch-up and convergence, so that the shares of the top decile and centile would increase significantly with a large upward redistribution from the middle and upper-middle classes to the very rich. Such an impoverishment of the middle class would very likely trigger a violent political reaction… only a progressive tax on capital can effectively impede such a dynamic” (439). One can only hope one of these two possibilities comes soon, and preferably the non-violent one.

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Dead Cat Bounce PV Photo Round-Up

Originally posted on Alice Woods:

Photo by Karina Stevens (www.karinastevens.com)

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London City Nights / Dead Cat Bounce Review

Originally posted on Alice Woods:

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Light Eye Mind: Exhibition Photos / Dead Cat Bounce

Originally posted on Alice Woods:

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Dead Cat Bounce / PVC, Vinyl / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

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Keep Me Warm At Night / 3D Printed Parts / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

Private Deck / Playing Cards, 3D Printed Case / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

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The Euro: A Pocket Guide / Booklets, 3D Printed Case / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

Dead Cat Bounce / PVC, Vinyl / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

Dead Cat Bounce / PVC, Vinyl / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

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Dead Cat Bounce / PVC, Vinyl / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

Keep Me Warm At Night (Detail) / 3D Printed Parts / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

Dead Cat Bounce / PVC, Vinyl / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

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The Bowery Mission Blames DHS for Obnoxious New Policy

Thank You For Filling Out This Form

Shown below is your submission to NYC.gov on Sunday, November 16, 2014 at 20:01:06

This form resides at http://www.nyc.gov/html/mail/html/maildhs.html


 

NAME of FIELDS

DATA

Message Type: Complaint
Topic: Other
Contact Info: Yes
M/M: Mr.
First Name: Scott
Middle Name: A
Last Name: Hutchins
Company: The Bowery Mission
Street Address: 45-51 Avenue D
Address Number: 306
City: New York
State: NY
Postal Code: 10019
Country: United States
Work Phone #:
Email Address: scottandrewhutchins@yahoo.com
Message: This shelters previous policy was letting us sign for our beds at the front lobby. In the past few days, they instated a new policy of knocking on our doors after 10, and sometimes late at night knocking or opening our doors while we are sleeping. The catch is that they insist that DHS has ordered them to do this, and that DHS staffers are involved in this. This directly contradicts statements Lorraine Stephens made on her visit to Picture the Homeless on October 17. I was sitting right next to her, and HRA punished me for doing so. She stated that curfew issues were on the shelter and not on DHS, and that DHS enforces no 10 PM curfew. The shelter says the opposite. I would love to see Ms. Stephens or one of the staff come to the shelter at a time when the residents are there and tell the staff and residents just what DHS policy is.

This shelter’s previous policy was letting us sign for our beds at the front lobby. In the past few days, they instated a new policy of knocking on our doors after 10, and sometimes late at night knocking or opening our doors while we are sleeping. The catch is that they insist that DHS has ordered them to do this, and that DHS staffers are involved in this. This directly contradicts statements Lorraine Stephens made on her visit to Picture the Homeless on October 17. I was sitting right next to her, and HRA punished me for doing so. She stated that curfew issues were on the shelter and not on DHS, and that DHS enforces no 10 PM curfew. The shelter says the opposite. I would love to see Ms. Stephens or one of the staff come to the shelter at a time when the residents are there and tell the staff and residents just what DHS policy is.

Latest Acquisitions

Because nonessential spending improves the economy… (and Piven and Cloward mention psychological studies showing that people who can’t pay for their housing use the money they do get on trinkets…)

(Note that this goes all the way back to Free Comic Book Day, 1st Saturday in May, and since ComicBookDB.com shows only the most recent hundred, it cut off part-way through that.  I last posted an update in April.

 

1. Justice League of America (1960) #139 Remove from your collection
2. Hawkworld (1990) #21 Remove from your collection
3. The Demon (1990) #8 Remove from your collection
4. The Demon (1990) #5 Remove from your collection
5. The Demon (1990) #2 Remove from your collection
6. Detective Comics (1937) #603 Remove from your collection
7. Detective Comics (1937) #602 Remove from your collection
8. Detective Comics (1937) #601 Remove from your collection
9. Animal Man (1988) #73 Remove from your collection
10. All-Star Squadron (1981) #31 Remove from your collection
11. All-Star Squadron (1981) #8 Remove from your collection
12. Action Comics (1938) Annual 10 Remove from your collection
13. Brightest Day (2010) #24 Remove from your collection
14. Morbius: The Living Vampire (1992) #27 Remove from your collection
15. The Order (2002) #1 Remove from your collection
16. Hellblazer (1988) #115 Remove from your collection
17. Hawkworld (1990) #17 Remove from your collection
18. Deathstroke the Terminator (1991) #38 Remove from your collection
19. Legion of Super-Heroes (1984) #60 Remove from your collection
20. Animal Man (2011) #27 Remove from your collection
21. Klarion (2014) #1 Remove from your collection
22. Detective Comics (1937) #483 Remove from your collection
23. The Demon (1990) #4 Remove from your collection
24. Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe (1985) #12 Remove from your collection
25. Bloodbath (1993) #1 Remove from your collection
26. Excalibur (1988) #1 Remove from your collection
27. Justice League of America (1960) #141 Remove from your collection
28. All-Star Squadron (1981) #60 Remove from your collection
29. DC Challenge (1985) #7 Remove from your collection
30. DC Challenge (1985) #6 Remove from your collection
31. Action Comics (1938) #805 Remove from your collection
32. Action Comics (1938) #804 Remove from your collection
33. Action Comics (1938) #802 Remove from your collection
34. America vs. the Justice Society (1985) #1 Remove from your collection
35. The Clock (1994) nn Remove from your collection
36. Animal Man (1988) #57 Remove from your collection
37. Animal Man (1988) #56 Remove from your collection
38. Animal Man (1988) #55 Remove from your collection
39. Swamp Thing (1985) #157 Remove from your collection
40. The Phantom Stranger (1969) #14 Remove from your collection
41. House of Mystery (1951) #224 Remove from your collection
42. Double Edge (1995) Omega Remove from your collection
43. All-Star Squadron (1981) #9 Remove from your collection
44. Amethyst (1985) #11 Remove from your collection
45. Midnight Sons Unlimited (1993) #4 Remove from your collection
46. Asylum (1993) #1 Remove from your collection
47. Blade: The Vampire-Hunter (1994) #10 Remove from your collection
48. Blade: The Vampire-Hunter (1994) #8 Remove from your collection
49. Labor Force (1986) #2 Remove from your collection
50. Labor Force (1986) #1 Remove from your collection
51. Hawkworld (1990) Annual 03 Remove from your collection
52. Ghosts (1971) #70 Remove from your collection
53. House of Mystery (1951) #108 Remove from your collection
54. The Incredible Hulk (1968) #125 Remove from your collection
55. Straitjacket Studios Presents (1999) #2 Remove from your collection
56. Through the Wood, Beneath the Moon: a dark poem (1997) #1 Remove from your collection
57. The Books of Magic (1994) #51 Remove from your collection
58. Supergirl (1996) #66 Remove from your collection
59. Threshold of Reality (1987) #3 Remove from your collection
60. Threshold of Reality (1987) #2 Remove from your collection
61. The Dreaming (1996) #30 Remove from your collection
62. Fright (1975) #1 Remove from your collection
63. Daredevil (1964) #96 Remove from your collection
64. Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD (1983) #2 Remove from your collection
65. Supergirl (1996) #67 Remove from your collection
66. The Spectre (1992) #14 Remove from your collection
67. Hawkworld (1990) #23 Remove from your collection
68. Hawkworld (1990) #22 Remove from your collection
69. Ragman (1991) #1 Remove from your collection
70. The Demon (1990) #18 Remove from your collection
71. Impractical Jokers (2013) nn Remove from your collection
72. FCBD 2014 Valiant Universe Handbook (2014) #1 Remove from your collection
73. FCBD 2014 Valiant Universe Handbook (2014) #1 Remove from your collection
74. Ghostbusters (2013) #10 Remove from your collection
75. Errratum (2013) #2 Remove from your collection
76. Barrio Mothers (2014) nn Remove from your collection
77. BrooklyKnight (2012) #1 Remove from your collection
78. Free Comic Book Day 2014: All Ages (2014) nn Remove from your collection
79. Zombie Tramp (2013) nn Remove from your collection
80. Walt Disney Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: ”A Matter of Some Gravity” (2014) nn Remove from your collection
81. Walt Disney Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: ”A Matter of Some Gravity” (2014) nn Remove from your collection
82. Valiant FCBD 2014 Armor Hunters Special (2014) nn Remove from your collection
83. Top Shelf Kids Club (2011) nn [04] Remove from your collection
84. The Transformers vs. G.I. Joe Free Comic Book Day (2014) #0 Remove from your collection
85. The Transformers vs. G.I. Joe Free Comic Book Day (2014) #0 Remove from your collection
86. The Smurfs, a Free Comic Book Day comicbook (2013) nn [02] Remove from your collection
87. The New 52: Futures End FCBD Special Edition (2014) #0 Remove from your collection
88. Th3rd World Studios Presents (2014) nn Remove from your collection
89. Teen Titans Go! (2014) #1 Remove from your collection
90. Spongebob Freestyle Funnies (2013) nn Remove from your collection
91. Sonic Comic Origins and Mega Man X (2014) #1 Remove from your collection
92. Sonic Comic Origins and Mega Man X (2014) #1 Remove from your collection
93. Scratch 9: Free Comic Book Day 2014 Edition | Run & Amuk (2014) nn Remove from your collection
94. Rise of the Magi (2014) #0 Remove from your collection
95. Overstreet’s Comic Book Marketplace (2012) #4 Remove from your collection
96. Overstreet’s Comic Book Marketplace (2012) #4 Remove from your collection
97. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (2014) nn Remove from your collection
98. Les Misérables: The Fall of Fantine (2014) nn Remove from your collection
99. Kaboom! Summer Blast Free Comic Book Day Edition (2013) nn Remove from your collection
100. Hip-Hop Family Tree Two-In-One (2014) nn Remove from your collection

Book Review: Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward

Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public WelfareRegulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare by Frances Fox Piven

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As an intellectual homeless shelter resident with a master’s degree and physical challenges restricting me to a desk job that I have yet to be offered in spite of 2,891 applications in the past 30 months, I was recommended this book by John Sheehan, the social worker at the soup kitchen at the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York. He told me that Piven, who is still living and speaks at sociology conferences, was his inspiration to become a social worker. At the time, I was reading [author:Barbara Ehrenreich|1257]’s [book:Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream|24450]. Piven is in the acknowledgements of that book as one of the manuscript’s early readers (and Ehrenreich was the editor of some publications with Piven and Cloward cited in this book). Frances Goldin is in the acknowledgements of this book for being Piven and Cloward’s agent, and she was just presented an award last week by Picture the Homeless, an organization to which I belong. A useful idiot to conservatives among my cyberbullies said that citing “Cloward/Piven” in my blog undermines my credibility, which seems to peg her as an admirer of [author:Glenn Beck|188932], who has so little credibility that an entire book, [book:Who’s Afraid of Frances Fox Piven|12313398] has been published to reveal Beck’s claims about Piven for the lies that they are.

The main thesis of the book is that poor relief, which is known in the United States as welfare, is designed to stave off revolt until its recipients can be forced into the harshest, most demeaning work available. It is thus a strategic method of keeping the wealthy in power to abuse the poor. It chronicles efforts in the 1960s to expand welfare rolls by Mobilization for Youth (MFY) Legal Services, another organization that has served me, to get people legally entitled to welfare rolls on them in ways that were never done before. The argument is there has been no significant increase in eligibility for welfare, except in the South, where laws significantly restricted it, but the expanding rolls is primarily due to grassroots efforts through the influence of Johnson’s Great Society to make sure that those entitled got the tiny share of the wealth to which they were entitled (276), a position that they are generally kept in by capitalist need for free or nearly free labor (345). According to the White House’s website, the average taxpayer pays $36 a year toward food stamps and $6 per year towards welfare. The welfare I receive is $41 per month, plus $189 per month for food stamps, and I live in a homeless shelter. Even though when you divide that $42 figure that the average citizen contributes to welfare and food stamps on a yearly basis among all the taxpayers, the grand total is about $0.0000001, I have encountered admitted right-wingers online who are so greedy that they want me to do minimum wage physical labor (and I include fast food under physical labor because difficulty standing for long periods is one of my ailments) against my doctors’ orders rather than to receive it Some have even said that they want me to die for refusing. This anecdote is reflective of Piven and Cloward’s basic points. On page 16, they detail why welfare is needed by the so-called “free market” and touch briefly on the foolishness of not providing welfare, and why such extreme right-wing resolutions cannot possibly make it past intelligent lawmakers. That terrorism was used to enforce work in 1767 is documented on page 34–only seven out of 100 infants in the English workhouses we mostly know today through [book:Oliver Twist|18254] lived to reach the age of 2. This is to which right-wingers want to return us. They cite [author:Karl Polyani]’s [book:The Great Transformation|53982] stating that philanthropists of 1834 advocated and practiced “psychological torture,” something right-wingers poo-poo when I write entire blog entries about the psychological torture I’ve experienced via the welfare system. Conservatives seem to not know how to do anything but whitewash the truth, as they did, under the aegis of the Republican Party, during the era of the New Deal in 1936) (99).

On page 8, she describes a WEP (work experience program)-like system in the sixteenth century, and WEP is first mentioned by name on page 129. This is a failed system in which people on welfare are forced to do slave labor that is not calculated based on the federal minimum wage, and thus violates federal law. It is being phased out at the city level in New York, as announced by Human Resources Administration chair Steven Banks, although he admitted to a group of us from Picture the Homeless two Fridays ago that it would take two years to phase out fully), and I have heard rumors that the state is finally going to do the same. In a note on page 14, they invokes the rebellions of Wat Tyler and Jack Cade, so I’m in familiar territory, having reviewed [book:Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1450|4507199] two years ago. (For some reason it says that the Cade rebellion was in 1460.) While [author:William Shakespeare|947] made fun of Jack Cade and portrayed him as illiterate in [book:King Henry VI Part II|82378], Cade was a literate man with legitimate requests, just as I am.

“[T]he Southern case also reveals how relief policies can be used to support a labor caste system, one in which the subjugation of particular ethnic or racial groups (in this case blacks) serves to lower the price of labor generally,” Piven and Cloward tell us on page 131. If relief policies lower the price of labor, why would conservatives, who care most about the bottom line, want to eliminate them? They were used to push agricultural hourly wages down to 77¢ an hour in South Carolina as late as 1969. A recurring motif is the way blacks on welfare were forced to do farm labor, while whites never were. I think most people know that this has since switched to the Latino community, but it addresses the racist manor with which welfare was provided, particularly in the Jim Crow South. They also know that administrators of food programs would collude with employers to make sure that blacks were forced to work to get a meager ration of food, with examples from Polk County, Florida, and “a Mississippi rural county” (139).

Poverty is created by the wealthy. “The exigencies of their political environment force relief officials to design the procedures that serve the economic ends of groups outside the relief system” (147). This is why only bottom-feeder employers ever come to the shelters or Workforce 1, offering low wage jobs that do not pay enough for anyone to exit the shelter system. If working in retail or food service got people out of homeless shelters, able-bodied people (of which I am not one) would be far more inclined to do it. Of course, those in power choose to blame the poor rather than the capitalists and relief officials who create the problem, and they created myths that pit the poor against the poor, identifying an illusory caste of lazy people that even other welfare recipients don’t like, in spite of them being a straw man (172). They analyze the deep roots of hating the poor in market ideology (147-149)–most Americans believe that meritocracy is real. Thus, people come up with excuses of how I supposedly fell short, even if it involves outright lies about my history (insisting that my job applications are fake, insisting that I have substance abuse issues when there is no evidence, alleging that I could have prevented the problem by having been a STEM major, which is also false (see also http://issues.org/29-4/what-shortages-the-real-evidence-about-the-stem-workforce/). The conclusion reached by Piven and Cloward is “That the working poor are ready to forfeit such substantial sums is powerful testimony to the force with which the ideology of work and success, together with abhorrence of the dole, has been driven home by those who gain the least from their labor. It is especially powerful testimony considering that, while the poor shun ‘the dole,’ affluent groups profit greatly and regularly from public subsidies of many kinds” (175). When I have tried to point this out by showing my attackers this video, I usually get a lot of blubbering about worthiness that never addresses the substance of the arguments presented.

The book doesn’t directly address situations like mine. The case study focuses on Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), for which I do not qualify, although food stamps and other sorts of welfare (including men on welfare) are certainly touched upon, as are social security and unemployment insurance. Even so, terminology I have dealt with just keeps coming up, such as “failure to comply” on page 157. Anyone who has ever been on food stamps has probably been found in failure to comply at some point, usually because of a failure on the agency’s part to provide the recipient with specific instructions, such as letters announcing mandatory appointments getting conveniently lost in the mail. It also goes into late-night raids of the sort William Bratton was using in early 2012 on shelters to violate the homes of welfare recipients in direct violation of the fourth amendment to insure that no man was present, thus forcing family instability onto the recipients (166), a scandal that eventually led to AFDC-UP (unemployed parent).

Scandals are pervasive when dealing with those who work with the poor. Page 203 notes the story of Roy Flowers, who violated laws surrounding minimum wage, child labor, overtime pay, and record keeping, and who was renting shacks to black workers for $70 per month that should have been $5 per month. He was made an example, and forced to pay 200 employees $50,000. On the other hand, in another example of collusion, he was also paid by the U.S. Department of Agriculture $10,832 for not cultivating 4,000 of his 16,000 acres. This example shows that since the wealthy can restrict the amount of work that can be done by labor, we need to separate having necessities from availability of work.

Right-wing lies that are commonly heard in the press are debunked here. For example, in 1988, 64% of minimum wage workers were over the age of 20 (354), yet right-wingers still try to talk about the issue as though we want to give living wages to teenagers working for spending money. The situation today is worse than ever. A few years ago, Florida tried to institute begging licenses that cost $90 per person and were unavailable to those who needed them. This was tried and failed as early as 1531 in England (15), and again in New Jersey in 1936 (109), and was eventually ruled a first amendment violation in Florida.

At Occupy Wall Street Alternative Banking, we decry economists who present their mathematical models in a vacuum and pretend that they apply to real life. On page 355, Piven and Cloward demonstrate that the “Phillips Curve” is not reflected by real-life data. The curve shows that unemployment and wage levels vary inversely, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s, unemployment rose without falling wages, and in fact, wage increases accelerated (355-6). They also demonstrate the lie of the “free market”–“When people had an alternative means of subsistence, they were not as likely to sell their labor except under terms that improved their situation, and they were less likely to accept the most backbreaking or degrading forms of work.” This is what the right truly despises. They desire a market that is anything but free, in which people have no alternative but to accept torture for the barest means of subsistence (358-9), even going as far as to whine that food stamps are “unfair” (361) as though barely surviving on backbreaking labor is, and bemoaned how food stamps facilitate strikes. [author:Solomon Fabricant|1492204] even recommended letting unemployment rise in order to bring wages down (358). That’s about as unfair as it gets. The immorality of those on the top is nearly unfathomable, yet even a leftist like [author:Daniel P. Moynihan|268655] erroneously externalizes immorality onto the poor. The authors he is trying to make reinterpret correlation as causation (368).

Today’s buzzword, “income inequality” is invoked on page 361, with its enormous expansion under that most overrated president, Ronald Reagan, as is his policy of “ritualized degradation” (367), so-called “workfare.” [author:John E. Schwarz|412758] and [author:Thomas J. Volgy|666811]’s [book:Forgotten Americans|599850], quoted on page 389-90, is most succinct: “No matter how much we may wish it otherwise, workfare cannot be an effective solution. Among the most important reasons for this is the absence of enough steady, decent-paying, full-time jobs to go around” because “low-wage employment riddles the economy,” to which they add that in 1989, 1 in 7 year-round full-time jobs paid about $2,000 below the poverty line. They also state that Scwarz and Volgy found that people AT the poverty line were being forced to forego medical treatment and other necessities. They also cite right-wing nutjobs like [author:Mickey Kaus|500610] who whine about workfare increasing marriage rates while providing absolutely no data to that effect. “Marriage rates,” Piven and Cloward say, “might indeed have increased were jobs with adequate wages available to men, as well as to women on welfare who choose to work, but that would have required responses by business different from disinvestment, speculation, and declaration of war against labor” (392). They also discuss how stay at home mothers are often the anchors to impoverished communities, and that forcing them to work for negligible sums makes communities worse, not better. “No social analyst explained convincingly why these women would contribute more to their communitites by taking jobs flipping bhamburgers. Nor did anyone explain why it would not be the better part of public policy to shore up income and social supports for women who are struggling to care for children in the jungle-like conditions of urban poverty.” They note however, that many want to work, and if jobs were actually available, “coercion would be unnecessary” (394), which ought to be on a sign at every welfare rights protest until 100% of the populace understands and agrees.

The book demonstrates many systemic problems that resulting increased poverty: “The more professionally oriented the welfare staff, the lower the proportion of the poor who got relief: ‘High scores on the professional orientation scale were given to caseworkers who belonged to professional associations, read professional journals, and held or were working toward the master’s degree in social work. There was a strong inverse relation between the measure of professionalism and the AFDC poor rate. The lower the number of caseworkers with a professional orientation to the field of social work, the larger The number of poor persons using AFDC [Emphasis added.] (New York State Department of Social Services Nov. 1968-Feb 1969 report, 52)” (176) “[T]he institutional changes which weakened the occupational and life supports of the poor, and the role of the dominant classes in promoting those changes, were typically ignored. The result, as we said in the original introduction of this book, is that ‘much of the literature on relief–whether the arid moralisms and pieties of nineteenth century writers or the ostensible ‘value neutral’ analyses of twentieth-century professionals and technicians–merely serves to obscure the role of relief agencies in the regulation of marginal labor and in the maintenance of civil order” (370-71).

As mentioned in my comments, I was annoyed at their repeated pluralizing of years with apostrophes, which I do not believe any style manual says is correct. I found an instance on the first line of page 191 of a missing word “who.” A professor in whose book I found a similar missing word in time for a new printing suggested I look for work as a proofreader. that was before I became homeless. I have applied for 42 proofreader jobs in the time I have become homeless alone. One welfare agent told me that I need to apply for 42 proofreader positions a day, and I laughed at her openly for assuming that one could find 42 individual proofreader positions in one day, which would be tough even if one had the resources to relocate anywhere.

Recently, cyberbullies ganged up on me on Twitter talking about how it would be better to accept $9 an hour job with no medical benefits in Texas from one of said cyberbullies. I considered that offer extremely unreasonable, even though it included a bus ticket and a week in a hotel. That’s very similar to the proposal from a graduate school colleague that left me homeless in Jacksonville, where shelters are not free and there is no legal right to them, and in that case the promise was experience in my chosen field. This guy has even less to offer, but the mentality of enforcing low-wage work is strong even in those who get no benefit from it. According to the White House, SNAP costs the average taxpayer $36 a year, and welfare $6 a year, yet there is an insistence that even an educated, disabled man work at a low-age menial job, take a second job (security) at night, and not have anything to show for it but loss of the possessions I currently have in storage. It is this work-for-nothing mentality among the elites and their useful idiots who vote Republican that must be eradicated. A social worker saw me reading this ion the subway, assuming that I was a student, and when I told her about all about my situation and my cyberbully attacks, she said, “I hate Republicans.” Now you know why Republicans want this book suppressed, with lies if not outright censorship. Even so, they do think that purer capitalism might alleviate the need for welfare, so it’s also not fair to label their work with any dismissive “-isms,” either. They do cite Marx four times, most poignantly in a footnote on page 415: “Capital cares nothing for the length of life of labour-power. all that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour-power that can be rendered fluent in a working day.” Capitalism, we see, is inhumane. If outrage at inhumane treatment is “commie,” then so be it–it is unarguably right.  They go into the cowardice of Southerners relating to strong national government because of their attachment to the slave labor system, which Edward Baptist has shown has a fundamental basis in American capitalism.  They also go into capitalism’s tendency toward oligarchy long before that complaint became an Occupy buzz-phrase (454).  “Instead of liberalizing the means-tested programs, the rolls were driven down, payments were simply slashed, and the ritualized degradation of the wealthy was intensified.  To our minds, this contradiction can only be explained by the demise of protest from below, and by the mobilizing of the elites from above, in this case a politicized business community in league with Republican administrations, to force poorer people to take less even while richer people were taking more.”  This is why I Occupy. Did I mention the guy who wants me to move to Texas for $9 an hour with no benefits claims to play golf for a living?

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