Celebration of U.S. greed rings hollow
After reading Christine Niles's column entitled, "Poverty, American-Style," I got the impression that she was trying to offer a defense of the United States's distribution of wealth. I am not convinced.
Niles cites two main facts to suggest the poor in the United States are actually well off. In 1993, the poorest 20 percent of the population spent an average of $13,957 in one year, much of which came from social welfare policies. Secondly, she cites a number of household appliances that the poor in the United States are far more likely to own than the poor in other countries. Put these two facts together and the argument seems to be that the U.S. poor are better off because: one, on average they spend less than 50 percent of the GNP per capita (approximately $28,000 in 1992 according to the Higgins Labor Research Center)' and two, they are very likely to own a television with which to distract themselves from hunger pangs. I note that Niles failed to share any statistics on how many of the poor owning televisions are so fortunate that they have the additional luxury of cable.
Niles mentions the commonly cited growing gap between rich and poor. As if to refute that gap's significance, she asks, "Could someone please tell me precisely what the appropriate gap should be?" Admittedly, there is no definition of what that gap should be, but that is exactly the point: There is no definition because the gap should not be.
Despite the claims of our country's religion — capitalism — the gap should not even exist. In 1998, the distribution of net worth was such that the richest fifth of the population owned 83.4 percent while the poorest two-fifths owned 0.2 percent according to inequality.org. So even if I cannot define what the gap should be, it ought to be apparent that the current gap is far too wide for a country that considers its economic system the most successful ever and its political system the most just form of democracy.
I will agree with Niles that if I had to be poor, I would choose the United States as the location. But is this really an accomplishment that the poor here are better off than the poor elsewhere when conservative estimates place the United States as controlling 80 percent of the world's wealth while containing only 6 percent of its population? I think a better question to ask Niles is whether she would want to be poor here, even if she had a television with cable.
As Niles says, here in the good ol' United States, we are "free, free, free to be hogs." Hurray for greed and gluttony. Excuse my failure to sound excited about that freedom.
Feb. 28, 2002
All Viewpoint Stories for Monday, March 4, 2002