Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why Inequality Really is That Bad

Focusing on Chris Tilly's "Why Inequality is Bad for the Economy" and OXFAM's "The Cost of Inequality"

Tilly's piece is a short online article which guides the audience - presumed to be the average person of working status (working class, middle class, poor) - a quick and dirty glance at what economic inequality actually affects in society. He offers reasons behind who desires inequality, what socioeconomic inequality does for the non-rich, and why this is a good thing for "conservative politicians and economics". He explores the ways in which equality is not only shut down in conversation, but also how it is shaped as being counter-intuitive and counter productive to the masses as a whole. He supports these claims with evidence from studies done, statistics gathered, historical and international events, and through examining the effects of certain governmental programs and where they were aimed.

What he finds is that what we refer to as trickle down economics doesn't work. What does work to improve socioeconomic inequalities, and thus the sociocultural structures of said society, is the aid of governmental forces which help to distribute wealth more evenly. Tilly proposes a sort of separation between folks along ethnic, class, education, and racial lines, as these separations support a statistical sense of unity. He claims this as the "match effect" stating that "more ethnically homogeneous countries and regions grow faster [economically] - presumably because there are fewer ethnically based inequalities". I took this as meaning that when we put a group of folks that have job ore lived experience together in an area, there will be more in common between them than if we were to put mixed classes and experiences together in the same space. More growth will come from the former than the latter. In order to create a truly growth-oriented pattern of development, we must take an active step towards maintenance of the socioeconomic structure in terms of who receives what tax cuts, which government policies, etc. Instead, he have inequality because there is a focus on maintaining the status quo - very much related to individualism - by the upper classes.

Oxfam throws some stats around which displays not the poorest of situations, but the richest. This article covers briefly the extreme wealth which has led to a widening gap between the very poor and the extremely rich. This gap has already begun to create civil unrest, the very thing that the IMF was afraid of, according to Oxfam. This progression of the gap and the rise in extreme wealth - because it is still growing as of January 2013 - only serves to damage the economic environment even more and create a threat to true democracy - which is what we see when we understand the adage "money is power" (Oxfam). The investment in private enterprises by the wealthy also adds to this concept of public economy not being worth the time - as Tilly inferred in his article. Actually a lot of points that are brought up in Tilly's piece are also brought up in Oxfam's paper as well. Together, these pieces create a fuller image of wealth in America and the problems that expose the inequality based on economic.

Monday, April 21, 2014

American Self-Reliance and the Futile War on Drugs

According to Coontz, there is a myth that has been perpetuated through culture that the American people have always been self-sufficient and individualistic. Coontz examines what it is that American culture looks at as "hand-outs" - land, trading and bartering, government services, and more. She starts with a glance at the collective nature of the European settlers and how the helping hands of Native Americans as well as other neighbors helped to establish a living space that is so often viewed as an individualistic realm of self-sufficiency. Her argument is thus that this has never been the case, but rather there has always been a system of help for all people. These sources have been within the family and external to the family, meanwhile marginalized folks have often formed solidarity in helping each other out in terms of socio-economic help. This is why "acts of benevolence" as Coontz puts it, acts of giving money or other goods from person to person was securely seen as normal (216).

Later in her argument, she debunks the myths associated with the images of the frontier family and the suburban household as financially sufficient. Not only are the ideas modified to make these livings more noble and self-sacrificing, but government assistant in these areas was literally the only way to survive in the rural, uncivilized West (219). Where there was nothing established, community thus needed to be relied upon for tools, food, water, building and other tasks, while the government provided the land on which people lived, water for crops and drinking, and protection from outside forces.  Coontz then goes on to make claims about the 1950's suburban household's false reputation at being completely individualist. While there did happen to be an economic boom in the years after the second World War, much of home-owning and educational progress that is noted was the effect of laws like the those that aided returned GIs. New ownership rights were enhanced to encourage more investments in housing (221-2), while the entire structure of towns and cities were being remade by the government with the introduction of highways, suburbs, and newly changed housing governance. Thus it appears that the average American family had more individualistic tendencies than what we see now, when, really, there has only been a change in the face of what the money and government assistance looks like.

In another piece of work called "The Futile War on Drugs", Elliott Currie, the myth of individualism is flipped on its head by the exploration of how social structures like the economy effect people in the working class at the everyday level. With the industrial, blue collar jobs shrinking, there is a more displaced work force. Currie claims that "the maldistribution of job opportunities between suburbs and inner city was exacerbated by the deliberate restriction of housing opportunities for low-income people in the job-rich suburbs - and even deliberate resistance to extending public transportation from the inner city to suburban worksites, which meant that the new jobs were often as unreachable for poorer inner-city residents as if they had been on another planet," (353). Not only are jobs disappearing, as we see with outsourcing, the jobs which are available are moving away from the access of the poor. Currie cites a growth in low-wage, part-time jobs, "fierce oppositions to raises in the federal minimum wage" (355), and underemployment as sources of this economic downturn that effects the working class and poor at the base. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Finding Tools: Changing the Perception of Class

The most important step towards changing a classist society is to understand the exact ways classism exists and shapes the perceptions which we have. Thus far, I've been attempting to find tools with which to discuss this important issue which guides the understanding of what Classism looks like in America. 

There was a large focus on media, and how mass media portrays people of different class positions and why these ideas are persistent and difficult to see through. Both Class Dismissed and Mantsios' article "Media Matters" offer answers to the reason of depictions of certain folks. While Mantsios claims in a more general voice that mass media guides us about what to (and what not to) think about in terms of class, Class Dismissed's analysis of the working class depiction on television reaches for a bit more specificity as to why the working class, when it is depicted or discussed, is done so in demeaning, stereotypical ways. Barbara Jensen offers a more "real-life" based view of the interactions of classism in her book Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America. She approaches the topic from a personalized point of view, citing life experiences as her interest in the issue while delving into a sort of language which helps the reader understand the oppressions felt by the upper classes and society as a whole. In this entry, I will discuss how each of the texts so far has aided in the development of an understanding of class as a structural oppressor.

Media Matters is a brief but critical argument that breaks down very generally the reasons why class in America is largely invisible. It cites issues with proper representations as well as willful exclusions of the working class and poor as due mainly by mass media, which is run by the capitalist class whose goal is to maintain the current hierarchy. 

Similarly, Class Dismissed offers its audiences a more specific view of classist oppressions, what they look like, how pervasive they are, and why these stereotypes continue to influence us. More specifically, this documentary tries to answer why it is working class/poor folk are pictured this way and what effect it has upon our own understanding of our socioeconomic positions. What these producers have found is that film, just as Mantsios claims, helps all of us understand what working class is. Television shapes our beliefs in how working class folk should be viewed, and how they should be. Television depicting working class folks, with few exceptions, often views working class life in a negative context as a way to maintain the status quo. Through this light, we learn how to hate ourselves as working class and others as working poor who are lazy, indulgent, stupid, or just getting in their own ways. Depictions of working class/poor folk keeps the lower classes separated and despising each other, making it nearly impossible to form a collective, as one talking head argues in Class Dismissed

Jensen, in the second chapter of her book, lays down a similar explanation of class and calls it the "Invisible Ism" (28). Very much like the previous sources, Jensen discusses what classism has come to mean in life experiences that people go through. She compares a working class celebration to a middle class celebration in her book to try to separate out the differences. And while she understands that there isn't a black or a white to this entire class consciousness thing, she does make it clear that there are certain types of classisms that offer unique experiences of the world. These types - cultural, moral, socioeconomic - are echoed in similar words to every piece that I have read so far. From Bordieu to Mantsios, to Jensen, to Class Dismissed, these categories of analysis play an interesting and intersectional part of understanding class.

These texts are important to the understanding of how classism becomes incorporated into a capitalist culture, sure, but these concepts are also important to understanding how the system can be dismantled, or at the very least, explained. These readings offer us a plan and a language with which to approach a topic that is often not examined for fear of dismantlement of the social structure altogether. This language, supplied thus far in these blog entries, is a tool which may help to destroy the Master's House, in the words of Audre Lorde. Without this critical development of language, the identification of classism become difficult, thus the problem becomes harder. However, with words that allow us to understand exact functions of media and beliefs, words like "individualism", "solopsism", and "capital" become important in our examination of the systems in place. 

Edited Schedule of tasks

Schedule For Completion of Work:
Jan 22:
• http://www.offthechartsblog.org/exploring-income-inequality-part-3-widening-inequality-since-the-1970s/
Aug 5 2013: Class Perspective: The importance and invisibility of class.
• Chang – “Streets of Gold: Model minority”(ER)
• “Why serving in combat doesn’t serve women”
• Mantsios—“Rewards and Opportunities”
• Zweig—Ch 2
Unit 1: Theory, Concepts and Vocabulary
April 7: Tool #1 Norms and Values
• Johnson, ch 2 “Culture: Symbols, Ideas, and the Stuff of Life”
April 8: Tool #2 Individualism
• Johnson ch 1 “Forest and Trees
• Tammy PLU (video)
April 9: Tool #3 Social Structures
• Kozol “Amazing Grace” (BLOG)
• Pierre Bourdieu, (ER) (BLOG)
• Johnson 1 page doc on privilege
April 10: Tool #5 Classism
• Mantsios, “Media Magic” (BLOG)
• Jensen, ch 2, The Invisible Ism
• Film - Class Dismissed
• Evaluation of these tools. How have they changed our thinking about class and why are they critical in thinking about class?
Unit 2: Case Studies
April 12: Case Study: Historical Perspective on Individualism vs. Socioeconomic Structures
• Coontz – “Self-reliance and the American Family” (ER)
• Curry, “Futile War on drugs” (ER)
April 13: Case Study: Consequences of Inequality in America
• Tilly, ‘Why Inequality is Bad” (ER)
• Oxfam, “Cost of Inequality” – (BLOG)
o (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/19/inequality-is-holding-back-the-recovery/)
April 14: First Assignment due Roger and Me
• How do you see the issues we have discussed class in the story of Flint? Think about our tools as you watch the film – dominant ideologies about social classes, classism, myth of individualism, social systems and structures, social and cultural capital, privilege. Take notes on the film for a 6-8 page written analysis
• Film analysis due via email or in my mailbox
April 15
• Jensen, Reading Classes, chapters 2, 3, 4, [pp. 28-116]
• Smith, Values (http://members.aol.com/lsmithdog/bottomdog/WCValuespost.htm)
April 16 Case Study: Race and Class
• Film: Waging a Living
o (BLOG on the film drawing connections to at least 2 texts we have read)
• Mike Rose – Intro, 1, 2
April 17: Case Study: Work and Intelligence
• Rose: ch 3, 4, 5, 7, concl
• Brief 1 page essay on one of your own work experiences in relation to Rose’s arguments.
• Prepare questions for the oral history assignment.
April 18th: Case Study: Reproduction of Class
Anyon (http://web.gc.cuny.edu/urbaneducation/Anyon/Papers/SocialClass&theHiddenCurr.pdf )
Laureau, “Watching, waiting and deciding when to intervene: race, class and the transmission of advantage” (ER)
Apr 19: Women and Class
Luce & Brenner, “Women & Class: what has happened in forty years?” (ER)
Unit 3: Crossing Class
Apr 20 : Case Study: Crossing Class
• Jensen ch 6
bell hooks--“don’t get above your raisin’’ (video)
April 21: What is to be done?
Collins, 7 govt actions
Greider, Moral Economy,
April 22-24: Comparative paper
April 25-27: Interview Paper

Media Magic - Mantsios

This piece takes a look at how class in America is determined by the media. This piece is based on the understanding that media - especially mass media - has a major influence over the things that we perceive and believe in. Mantsios explains that this is why we don't see class issues - because the powers that are don't want to expose themselves. By showing the middle and working classes images of the evils of the upper class, they are plotting their own demise. Instead, to keep social order and maintain the status quo, the capitalists in charge of the majority of media decide to depict things that will not only keep themselves in power and command, but also to maintain structural oppression by denying the existence of systemic oppression. This is acomplished by the depictions which are present in media today. These tasks include rendering the poor invisible, "faceless", "undeserving" of help or services, unpleasant to behold, and unfortunate individuals who are "down on their luck" (100-2). This serves not only to disenfranchise the poor, but to make them seem undesirable as a whole - something ugly, unknown, lazy, worthless. And this is the common message that is not only portrayed, but consumed and accepted by media consumers.

On the other hand, the problems of the wealthy are painted as the problems of the whole. Media paints the image that wealth is good and that there are no problems with this. Everyone has the ability to be rich because the American Dream is alive and well. Wealthy people are kind and generous, except for a few folks who must serve as token examples which show that the wealthy can fix themselves too. As for those folks who are in the middle class, it is expected and accepted that everyone is middle class and that the middle class should view the poor as a social problem. Therefore there is a separation between the middle and working classes - but this is expressed in an "us" vs. "them" mentality instead.

Friday, April 11, 2014

On Bordieu's The Forms of Capitalism

This article is extraordinarily packed with information about class and social systems. The language used, however, seems radically unapproachable for many non-academics. With that being said, and to help with my own understanding of this article excerpt, I have rewritten Bordieu's work to be not only more accessable to all folk, but also to examine what is really being said by this author.

Capital is something that is grown in businesses and groups of for-profit industries. This is because of the organized labor practices which involve the socially acceptable - and socially encouraged - prospect of working for someone else, of having a job. In a capitalistic society, having a job is celebrated, where not having one is not. With this being said, Capital is not grown or developed by a chance occurence that everyone has. Capital is not unbiased or based on a system of random equality - capital and it's development, is rigged. The odds of developing capital are against those who do not already have it. A capitalistic society will commonly have us, the people looking for capital, believe that capital is something that happens to everyone randomly at different times - like a game of Roulette, where everything is chance. We think of it as something that either happens or doesn't, without looking critically at how capital is actually analogous with investments and/or heredity. To have capital is to have an invested, continuing process of growth based on previous growth experiences, rather than random luck. This explains why many times the rich keep getting richer - because of this continual nature of capital growth.

Capital guides our understanding of the world and other social institutional structures. Bordieu argues that we can't begin to see social structures clearly without first looking at capital in all of its forms. This is because economic exchanges in capitalism become most important in a capitalist society. In this way, cultural and all other kinds of exchanges exist in a hierarchical position to economy, with economic exchanges being of the top-most importance. Economic capital is therefore a facilitator for cultural capital.

There are several different ways in which one's capital can be expressed, however. These ways are economic capital (the access to money and wealth), cultural capital (the use of institutions like education to benefit oneself and one's kin), and social capital (knowing and making connections which lead to the two previous forms of capital). While some kinds of capital are lost when a person dies (embodied cultural capital), others exist on for one's own kin and legacy.

This complex understanding of capital can be related to why there is an intelligence difference between children of different classes, as well, or why capital is not widely shared by the masses. Types of social capital help to keep the group of elites in their positions, though these positions are maintained by every person in the group. While we as a culture tend to view economic capital as the only things worth talking about, it is extraordinarily important to talk about how capital is distributed and used to create a kind of culture of capital. Without this discussion, we return to a discussion of individualistic tendencies, where the individual is blamed for their own position in society without a critical glance at the social structures which maintain the hierarchy.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Amazing Grace - Gut Reactions

So this was, in my opinion, the easiest article to read because of the speed at which I read. I found myself flying through this article to see what happened with Cliffie and Jonathan in this piece. It rendered me horrified and a bit confused, but not because I didn't understand anything, but rather because I don't understand who would actually permit that kind of cruelty that these people had to endure.

Throughout the reading, there were deplorable conditions in New York City where death, depression, and filth were too rampant. I think what really effected me was the waste incinerator that was placed in this neighborhood. I couldn't even imagine how I would feel if this sort of facility was in my neighborhood. And then I realized that there would be no way of this being in my neighborhood, because I don't live in such a situation as bad as this. It is almost as though no one even cares about the lives of poor. The things that Kozol was listing was just horrorfying.

To think that humans could be treated this badly in a post-civil rights era simply astounds me. At my job, I make about $5000 a year, working about 20hr a week for about 6 months. When I read that the median income of this area of the South Bronx is $7600 per year, I was really blown away and actually surprised that people could live on that little money in a year. I know how much I struggle with the amount of money that I make - and my partner makes slightly more than I do; our combined incomes keep us alive, though not thriving.

In this piece, Jonathan Kozol shows the audience only a glimpse of the social structures that are in play to keep the poor oppressed. Without too many words, we see the dilapitation of the housing, the lack of sanitation, the lack of true health care, and other rampant problems like crowding and illegal dumping. He paints a picture about how the poor are essentially forgotten about and left to rot. His story covers several cuts in welfare, destruction of property, violation of social norms, and unconventional, conventionalized deaths. This is utterly shocking and disturbing to read because the voices of these people have been nearly invisible and hardly ever heard - after all, they couldn't even be heard while they were protesting the installment of a waste incenerator which disposes of human waste products like needles, fat, and fetuses. I simply can't get over why anyone would let this happen to any community, let alone continue it.