Originally Written November 4, 2008, and, I believe, remains true today. MLK was right when he said that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” I believe the slope of that arc continues upward but too slowly for me.
Blaming the Poor
Today is Election Day here in the United States and it’s quite possible that we’ll elect an African American to the office of President. It’s amazing to me and it feels very emotional not only because Barack Obama is black but because I get a sense that the economically and educationally disadvantaged in our society will finally have enough hope to storm the polls and do whatever it takes and wait as long as it takes to cast a vote.
I have spent the last few years in a constant state of outrage over the way our society has discounted the less fortunate among us. I think it was about two years ago that I heard someone say, “Something new in the world, fat poor people”. I was livid because the statement was factually accurate. Obesity is on a very steep rise here among the economically poor in our country. As I recall, the person who said it, did so with an evil looking smirk and I was dumbfounded; confused by my lack of a quick response. I spent some time thinking about people working two or more minimum wage jobs, trying to raise a family in cramped quarters, and worrying constantly about making ends meet. These people are barraged constantly with ads for “dollar meals” where each penny of that dollar represents about 7 calories. They frequently have neither the time nor the energy to cook a decent meal even if they could afford the ingredients. They are also often uninformed about the negative health consequences of poor nutrition. Their only source of entertainment is television where they are pummeled day after day with misleading advertising bought by major corporations who are absolutely aware of the ignorance of their audiences. Yes, we have fat poor people and the fast-food industry is hell-bent on keeping them that way.
Now we have a financial crisis and I’m beginning to hear that being pinned on the same class of people. I’m hearing that they should never have entered into mortgages that they couldn’t afford and again, I agree. I’ve had a few mortgages in my day and I had to jump through hoops and fill out endless questionnaires to get every one of them. Apparently, that hasn’t been the case for the last few years of the housing bubble. We’ve had sharks dressed up as “mortgage brokers” prowling the country seeking out the uneducated so they could collect a fee for placing a mortgage they knew could never be repaid. Above the sharks were the bankers and dealers creating securities out of bundled portions of these and other mortgages and peddling them to institutional investors like pension funds and other fools while some of the bankers were selling the same securities short. Meanwhile, there arose yet another new market for something called “credit default swaps” where you, as the holder of one of these securities, could buy insurance against default. Along comes another thief who says why should you have to own the security in order to buy insurance against its default? Buy the insurance with no ownership and collect when the security fails; and they knew that some would fail. After all, they created them. That’s sort of like me and some number of others buying fire insurance on your house. If the house burns we all collect the replacement value unless, of course, the insurers don’t have the money. In that case, the insurer goes out of business unless of course, the insurer is “too big to fail”. Then we have to bail them out.
So, help me here, how did poor people cause this?