Poverty in the West
This is a great letter written about capitalism’s failure to fix poverty in the west. Surely something we all think about from time to time.
Terry Eagleton writes that “There is a sense in which the whole of Marx’s writing boils down to several embarrassing questions: Why is it that the capitalist West has accumulated more resources than human history has ever witnessed, yet appears powerless to overcome poverty, starvation, exploitation, and inequality?” (“In Praise of Marx,” April 11).
Where is this “capitalist West” of which Prof. Eagleton speaks? In the U.S. – surely one of history’s premier capitalist western nations – poverty, starvation, exploitation, and inequality as these were suffered for millennia upon millennia until the 18th century, are today nearly totally eliminated. The poverty that does exist in the U.S. in 2011 is relative – in the sense that I, on my college-professor’s salary, am poverty-stricken relative, say, to Alec Baldwin or Barbra Streisand.
Only the tiniest fraction of Americans today lives without solid roofs over their heads and solid floors beneath their feet, and even they don’t starve to death. The poorest Americans have life expectancies at least double those of crested and landed nobles before the industrial revolution. These same poor Americans are immensely better fed, clothed, housed, entertained, medicated, educated, and hygienated than were the vast majority of their (or anyone’s) ancestors. These facts – along with the additional one that capitalists must continually innovate (typically for mass markets!) in order to continue earning their riches – make claims of widespread “exploitation” in capitalist countries ludicrous.
Prof. Eagleton is like the lawyer who, upon seeing a gifted physician restore to complete health a patient who had been machine gunned, beaten, burned, and thrown from the roof of a skyscraper, accuses the physician of malpractice because the patient has a mild case of acne.
Donald J. Boudreaux