Lunch atop a Skyscraper, 1932

Does the World Need Poor People?

Before I get too far into this article, I want to be clear about something. By “poor,” I’m not talking about people who are starving in remote corners of the world (or just around the corner.) I mean the people who exist at the very bottom of our capitalist society. People who earn minimum wage or those who work in the American factories of Asia. The people who earn enough to pay the bills and put food on the table. People who are getting by, but just barely.

Does the world need these people?

I wonder if our lives might actually depend upon the poor remaining poor. It seems to me that poor people are paying the price for (or are absorbing the costs of) our consumer lifestyles and our demand for cheap merchandise. To keep the cost of the products we buy as low as possible, the wages of the people producing them must be equally low, whether it’s an iPad or a Big Mac.

We need poor people to subsidize our lifestyles.

Without them, we wouldn’t be able to afford to have the things we have. We’re able to own the things we do because of cheap labor (and poor people.) If it wasn’t for minimum wage workers, our sandwiches at lunch would cost much more than they do now. Without Asian factory workers earning a couple of dollars a day assembling iPads, most of us wouldn’t be able to afford to own one.

A lot has been made of America’s middle class being the “backbone” of America, but it’s the poor that allow the middle class to exist. Without their sacrifices, our lives wouldn’t be as comfortable as they are. It’s their toil that’s built our lifestyles.

We need poor people.

If you object to corporations exploiting cheap labor, consider that these jobs are providing an income to people who need it…poor people need work too. If you’re opposed to foreign workers earning a couple of dollars a day, consider that, while applying American standards to foreign situations might seem like a noble way of approaching the issue, living standards vary dramatically around the globe and such comparisons may not be valid.

“The wages these jobs provide are not enough to get workers into the middle class. But they are enough to provide for food, shelter and transportation. And they often allow people to pay for schooling for themselves and family members.” ~ Source

If you’re not comfortable supporting these things, you have options.

Become a conscious consumer and spend your money in a way that represents your values.

As a consumer, you have the power to affect change by choosing how and where your money is spent. Ask yourself how your lifestyle might demand cheap labor, outsourced jobs, and Asian sweat shops. When making purchases, consider fair trade products, items that are sustainably and locally sourced, and/or buy secondhand. Check out the FreeCycle Network.

“Each time we buy a product or a service, we place a vote of confidence in that producer or service provider – every source of raw material, every practice of environmental standards, every form of employee relations and every form of communication with the public. Everything that company or group does is something we support. Everything that company or service provider does and believes, we’ve said yes, go ahead and keep doing it.” ~ Source

Or opt out of consumerism entirely.

The money you spend on shit you don’t need doesn’t grow on trees. It has to be earned. The more you spend, the more money you need, and the more you have to work. Alternatively, the less you spend, the less money you need, and the less you have to work. The less you have to work, the more time you have to do things that are meaningful, like spending time with your family.

“To live fully, we must learn to use things and love people, and not love things and use people.”

The bottom line is that your choices have consequences. And things aren’t always as simple as they seem. It’s your responsibility as a consumer to educate yourself about the purchases you make and make decisions you’re comfortable with. If you’re okay with owning products that came from a factory where workers have committed suicide due to poor working conditions, that’s a choice you have to make (and live with.) It’s more than a product you’re buying…your purchase is a statement of your support for the entire process involved in getting that product into your hands (and what happens with it after you’re done.)

Educate yourself.

About these ads

17 thoughts on “Does the World Need Poor People?

  1. Yep yep yep! And realistically, controlling your habits as a consumer to reflect your beliefs may not be effective in itself, but on a grandiose scale it would be more effective than lobbying or activism. But the likelihood of people controlling their consumerism on a large scale are unlikely. I may not like outsourcing our labor, but honestly I’m not going to change my habits as a consumer to reflect that. With the middle class shrinking I’m barely holding on to that economic status, and the way I consume reflects that. And there you have another issue- Poor people can barely afford fresh produce for their family, never mind choosing how and where their clothes, dishes, etc. were purchased. It’s a self-fulfilling circle.

    Great article.

    • Widescale change is not going to happen. People like their stuff too much. But often they don’t consider the true cost of the things they purchase. They’ll bitch and complain about outsourcing, low wages, etc but then go to the mall and buy merchandise that couldn’t exist without exactly those things. There’s a disconnect between what we buy and how it got to us (and where it goes when we’re done.) It’s the same with food. Food comes from a grocery store, wrapped in neat little packages. We have no clue how it got there. Maybe on a very basic level we understand, but we don’t really know…if you know what I mean. We consume. We buy things. We use them and we dispose them. No consideration beyond our acquisition and disposal is given to the things we buy. I think that needs to change.

  2. Wholesale change can happen, and to a certain extent will happen due to the fact that our consumerist lifestyles are unsustainable as we are past the point of peak oil, as well pretty much every other resource on the planet. There are simply not enough resources to maintain the status quo, let alone allow for the ever expanding consumer demands of China and the other BRIC countries. So change will happen, but what form that change takes is another question altogether.

    I wrote a post on this topic recently, and explored how this can be a positive change. If you’re interested, check it out here:

    Want to live the American dream? Move to Costa Rica!
    http://jonmaiden.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=631&action=edit

    • I agree that we can be forced into change, but once’we’ve reached that point, I think cheap labor is the least of our concerns. It’ll be a struggle for survival. We are past Peak Oil but no one with political power wants to admit that fact. The same can be said for Climate Change. So long as there is a public debate (not a scientific one) policymakers will drag their feet so they can avoid making tough decisions that might cost them their jobs.

      The media hasn’t helped create an informed public. This idea that “both sides” need to be represented despite overwhelming scientific consensus is insane. If 99% of scientists agree that something is happening, (and the other 1% are corporate sponsored hacks operating for the purpose of creating confusion) why is the media giving the 1% equal coverage? It doesn’t make sense.

      We need to be informed about the science (what REAL scientists are saying) so that we can make informed decisions. So long as our media continues to give equal treatment to the corporate hacks, the ones who serve no purpose but to further the confusion and create doubt, the public is incapable of demanding legislation to solve the problems.

      It’s insane, and it’s all motivated by money. The longer corporations are able to create confusion, the longer they can maintain the status quo and reap the rewards of their operations. They’ll do so at the expense of anything, including the future of the human species. It’s disgusting.

  3. A very thought-provoking piece, Steven. Nice job.

    Okay, now to your question … ”Does the world need poor people?” Well … That’s a loaded question!

    After all, there will always be poor people, rich people, and those in between. It’s an imperfect system, to be sure, but are you trying to suggest there is a better alternative to capitalism?

    If so, I’d love to hear it! History has proven that capitalism is clearly the best system we have, by far.

    An aside on peak oil: Although we\’ve been told it was going to get here in the 1970s, then the 80s, then the 90s, then (on and on)… we haven’t reached ”peak oil” yet. The market will signal its arrival (assuming it EVER gets here) with unabated price increases (because supply will no longer be able to satisfy demand).

    Aside #2: There is no credible scientific evidence to support anthropomorphic global warming, or climate change, or whatever the left is calling it nowadays. None. I stress the word “credible.” Even if there were, the world has thrived in the past under much warmer periods. In fact, food production would dramatically.

    Aside #3. When I was in high school, I remember a history teacher of mine asking our class this question: ”What makes the world go around?” Most kids students answered ”love.” The remainder said ”God.” Then he told us we were all wrong. The correct answer: money. He’s absolutely correct.

    Aside No. 4: ”…the public is incapable of demanding legislation to solve the problems.\”
    You can’t legislate away poverty, and ”climate change.”

    Aside #5. Although I am a scientist, and work for a large corporation, I am by no means a ”corporate sponsored hack”.

    Aside #6. Corporations are not the enemy; it’s big government. Corporations can’t jail you at the point of a gun, or rob you of your liberty, or confiscate your personal property and redistribute it to others. But your government can.

    • Hubbart predicted the United States would reach Peak Oil in the 70s. He was right. Global oil production has been stagnant for a while now. I’m not convinced it’s a sham.

      Regarding your claim there’s no credible scientific evidence to support anthropomorphic climate change, I refer you to the IPCC (but then, that depends on how you define “credible.” And you’re obviously aware of their existence and you clearly disagree with their conclusions.)

      What makes the world go ’round? Physics.

      Aside #4) Without the support of our lawmakers and policies to promote solutions to the problems, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to solve the problems we face. I’m not saying you can legislate the problems away, just that you need the support of your government.

      Aside #5) Not all scientists who work for corporations are hacks. But there are some who are.

      Aside #6) I don’t believe corporations are the enemy, and I’m no fan of Big Brother. I believe government has too much power as it is, and I’d like to see more liberty for We, The People. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe government has its place in our lives.

      I appreciate your comments, Len. Even though we may never agree on certain issues, at least we can be civil. That seems like an oddity these days. :)

    • And to answer your question of whether there’s a better system than capitalism? None that I’m aware of. I’m not anti-capitalism (I am anti-consumerism, though.) And yes, there will always be rich and poor (whether the middle class survives is questionable. It’s growing smaller…) While it’s unfortunate that people have to struggle to make ends meet, they play a role in our society and are an important, even crucial, part of the puzzle. That said, I wish no child (or person) would have to be hungry or not know where they were going to sleep tonight.

      • The better system than capitalism…. social democracy. It already exists, it’s been very successfully tried and tested in Scandinavia and is undoubtedly one way forward in raising (or at least maintaining) standards of welfare in a world with ever decreasing amounts of resources. We have a lot to learn from the Scandinavians who have chosen to value welfare more than just money.

        Len – I’m sorry but I’m forced to sincerely doubt that you are any sort of credible scientist if you can so wilfully ignore 99% of the scientific community and a wealth of irrefutable evidence regarding climate change. Plus your belief, as a so-called scientist, that money makes the world go round is alarming to say the least.

      • Please define “social democracy,” Jon. Is that “majority rules as long as it applies to your point of view?” What if the majority believes in a theological dictatorship a la Iran or Saudi Arabia? I bet a lot of women out there would argue with that.

        As for you doubting my credibility, I’m not going to try and convince you otherwise. It sounds to me like your mind is closed already and unwilling to even consider other points of view. I suspect you’ve never even seriously considered other points of view. Your assertion that “99 percent of the scientific community” believes the anthropomorphic climate change theory is so far off base that it doesn’t even justify a counterclaim. Even if I were to stipulate for argument’s sake you were correct, what does that prove? At one time 99 percent of the scientific community thought our world was flat and the universe revolved around the earth.

        Next: Why is it alarming to you that, as a scientist/engineer, I believe money makes the world go round?

        Finally, if money *doesn’t* make the world go around, I’d love to hear your theory on what does.

        Best,

        Len

      • Alas no, you appear to have social democracy confused with dictatorship. You certainly wouldn’t see many signs of social democracy in Iran or Saudi Arabia as you suggest – look instead more towards Denmark, Norway, Sweden or even Costa Rica, countries boasting the highest living standards in the world presently. Anyway, here’s one definition:

        “Social democracy is a political ideology that considers itself to be a form of reformist democratic socialism. Social democracy rejects the “either/or” polarization interpretation of capitalism versus socialism. It claims that fostering a progressive evolution of capitalism will gradually result in the evolution of capitalist economy into socialist economy. Social democracy argues that all citizens should be legally entitled to certain social rights. These are made up of universal access to public services such as: education, health care, workers’ compensation, and other services including child care and care for the elderly.”

        As to what makes the world go round, I’m with Steven on this one. Physics. I believe at least 99% of the scientific community will agree with us on this one too.

        With regards to whether my mind is closed on the topic of climate change, it really is inconsequential. I’ll leave you with a link to this cartoon for you to consider…

        http://www.cartoonistgroup.com/store/add.php?iid=41786

      • Iran has elections, not unlike the ones the old Soviet Union used to have. So does North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba. Are those dictatorships or “social democracies”?

        After reading your description of “social democracy” I realize it has a more deceptive, but common name: utopia.

        It all sounds absolutely wonderful but, sadly, human nature is ultimately based upon our self-interests. And that’s a good thing — because without that competitive drive to get ahead, we’d still be living in the stone age.

        We’re told not to feed the animals at National Parks because the animals eventually become dependent on the handouts. Humans are no different. Once they get used to government handouts (which depends on forcibly stealing wealth from the private sector), it’s hard for them to provide for themselves. Deny it all you want, but its true.

        And enough with the “99 percent of the scientific community agrees with my POV” stuff. Making incredulous claims and/or suppositions like that strongly suggests you’ve never really taken the time to investigate both sides of these issues. If you have, you’d know how ludicrous that claim is.

      • Iran has elections, not unlike the ones the old Soviet Union used to have. So does North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba. Are those dictatorships or ”social democracies”?

        After reading your description of ”social democracy” I realize it has a more deceptive, but common name: utopia.

        It all sounds absolutely wonderful but, sadly, human nature is ultimately based upon our self-interests. And that’s a good thing — because without that competitive drive to get ahead, we’d still be living in the stone age.

        We’re told not to feed the animals at National Parks because the animals eventually become dependent on the handouts. Humans are no different. Once they get used to government handouts (which depends on forcibly stealing wealth from the private sector), it’s hard for them to provide for themselves. Deny it all you want, but its true.

        Finally, you keep spouting that 99 percent of the scientific community agrees with your POV. Making incredulous claims and/or suppositions like that strongly suggests you’ve never really taken the time to investigate both sides of these issues. If you have, you’d know how ludicrous that claim is.

      • You clearly have a warped view of reality if you consider countries such as Iran or North Korea to be social democracies – or that these could be considered a form of ‘utopia’. This goes a long way to explain your climate change skepticism however.

        It’s a shame to hear that you have such a negative view of human nature too. You may be unable to act in anything but your own self-interests, but I can assure you I know a great number of people who are very much able to.

        Equally, it is a shame to hear that you consider social security to be nothing more than ‘stealing from the private sector’. I would suggest a diet of a little less Fox News but then I’m sure you’ll already know best.

        Finally, I can assure you that my so-called ‘claims’ are certainly not incredulous when supported by the vast majority of the respected scientific community – especially when you have not offered any evidence whatsoever to support your counter claim.

        Signing out from this futile discussion, Jon

      • Realistically, sex makes the world go round, Len. If women were just giving it away, men would have no incentive whatsoever to buy fancy sportscars, big houses, diamond rings, yachts, or learn to play guitar. We’d just have tons of sex and then sit around drinking beer all day and nothing would ever get built. Sex is the foundation of the male’s psychological role in society and the primary reason we need/want money in the first place. Make sense?

        Aside #6. You have to wonder when an Apple rep leaves a prototype iPhone in a pub which some poor slob finds, takes home, and then his house is raided by military stormtroopers, who is working for who. I lost a phone once. They didn’t call in the national guard. (As far as I know, they didn’t do anything.) Why would Apple get better treatment from the authorities for a lost item than a private citizen? And… Umm.. Ever heard of Halliburton? Halliburton might actually *be* the government. (I’m not sure yet.) Corporations and big government are the same thing–this is one of the problems.

  4. Pingback: Black Coffee: Vacation Withdrawals, Early Retirement & Dubious Large Packages « Len Penzo dot Com

  5. Pingback: Black Coffee: Vacation Withdrawals, Early Retirement & Dubious Large Packages | BizNax

What's on Your Mind?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s