Blog post on What do we do with Inequality and what does that mean to You?This is the first of an ongoing series, with some dialogue and comment, we hope. It is are that we will take an extended passage from a journal and launch a discussion series based on this. But I encountered a rare passage from an author in MONTHLY REVIEW (not always the most vivid of progressive publications) that I found so compelling that I want the first “cut” to speak for itself.
Imagine at a very practical level, what it is like to “grow up with advantages” in modern America—and without them. See how this passage captures that, and drawing implications should follow.Our source is from Michael Yates in the March 12, 2012 issue of MR, pp. 9-10 in an Article entitled “The Great Inequality,” … he quotes at length from his own book, Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012) pp.58-59… (Yates is co-editor of Monthly Review and an economist, formerly of the U. of Pennsylvania):In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I lived for many years, there is an extraordinarily wealthy family, the Hillman’s, with a net worth of several billion dollars.
One of their homes, along once fashionable Fifth Avenue, is a gorgeous mansion on a magnificent piece of property. About three miles east of this residence is the Homewood section of the city, whose mean streets have been made famous by the writer John Edgar Wideman. On North Lang Street there is a row of three connected apartments. One of the end apartments has been abandoned to the elements to the rodents and drug users. This is gang territory, and if you are African-American, you do not go there wearing the wrong colors. Poverty, deep and grinding, in rampant on this street and in this neighborhood, which has one of the nation’s highest infant mortality rates.Consider two children, one born in the Hillman house and another in the North Lang Street apartment. In the former there are two rich and influential parents. In the latter there is a single mother working nights with three small children.
Let us ask some basic questions. Which mother will have the best health care, with regular visits to the doctor, medicine if needed and a healthy diet? Which child is more likely to have a normal birth weight? Which child is likely to get adequate health care and have good healthcare in early childhood? If the poor child does not have these things, who will return to this child the brain cells lost as a consequence? Which child is more likely to suffer the ill effects of lead poisoning? Which child is more likely to have an older sibling, just 12 years old, be responsible for him when the mother is working at night? Who will be fed cookies for supper and be entertained by an old television set? If the two children get ill in the middle of the night, which one will be more likely to make it to the emergency room in time? Which child will start school speaking standard English, wearing new clothes, and having someone at home to make sure the homework gets done? Which child will travel, and which will barely make it out of the neighborhood?
As the two children grow up, what sort of people will they meet? Which will be more likely to meet persons who could be useful to them when seeking admission to college or looking for a job or trying to find funding for a business venture? Which will be more likely to be hit by a stray bullet fired in a war over drug turf? Which will go to the better school? Which will have access to books, magazines, newspapers, and computers in the home? Which one will wear worn-out clothes?
Which will be embarrassed because his clothes smell? Which will be more likely to have caring teachers who work in well equipped and safe schools? Which will be afraid to tell the teacher that he does not have crayons and colored paper at home? Which will learn the grammar and the syntax of the rich? Which child will join a gang? Abuse drugs? Commit a crime? Be harassed by the police because he is black? When these two children face the labor market, which will be more productive?
To ask these questions is to answer them. And when we considered that the poor child in the United States is better off than two thirds of the world’s population, we must consider that most of the world’s people live in a condition of deprivation so extreme that they must be considered to have almost no opportunities at all. They are almost as condemned as a person on death row in a Texas prison.
Strong words? Yes. Mr. Yates would not back down from a single one of them, nor would we. Please let us know what You think.