Apparently, I was not the only Narrator of the American Experience to honor Mr. Dickens yesterday. The hard copy of the Cream City Press picked up a hauntingly similar (not really, I just wanted to use the word “hauntingly”) an oddly similar opinion piece by a Member of the Newsday Editorial Board. The front end of the piece makes similar points to my own, then parts ways concluding that Middle Americans only have themselves to blame if they are broke and that stable societies benefit the wealthy the most.
This is another one that makes me wonder if the author is really playing Devil’s Advocate, trying to get people stirred up and be controversial. Hard to tell, it might be in earnest . . . .
Sooo, just in case it is, let’s deconstruct this one a bit. Among other points, the author asserts 1. Homelessness is mostly about mental illness and addiction (which is itself a form of mental illness); 2. That universities and community colleges are largely paid for by government; 3. Appears to bemoan the demise of debtors’ prison.
On One, I’ll grant you that a lot of homeless folks suffer from mental illness. A lot of folks with homes suffer from mental illness as well. Mental illness is a highly misdiagnosed and unacknowledged health problem in our country. So what? Homelessness is homelessness, a whole series of broad societal ills cascade from homelessness. We have the authors’ assertion of cause—perhaps contra to general public and professional opinion. Is he suggesting a change in programmatic and policy approaches to homelessness based on his theory of cause? More mental illness intervention in homeless communities and for people in danger of becoming homeless? We also have the statement that familial homelessness is “not widespread.” With the latter assertion, I think the definition of “widespread” familial homelessness is likely based on your baseline—historic U.S. or current in Haiti? I’ll choose historic U.S. I don’t have actual statistics at my fingertips—those numbers are hard to get right anyway, but I’m guessing familial homelessness is still up from where it was in 2005-06 before the Lehmann Brothers Recession.
Second—school is free and state higher education is mostly subsidized. OK, I’ll give the former. With regard to higher ed, mostly subsidized (which may or may not be the case depending on what state you live in) does not equal affordable. Trust me, kids would not be graduating with $90,000 in loans to get a bachelor’s degree if college were so cheap. (I have to say, I find this statement and its implications rather naive of the cost issues of higher education today–and higher education for the past thirty years.)
Third—bringing back debtors’ prison? Bemoaning its demise? Please to remember, the reason they got rid of it was simply that someone in jail can’t work to pay back the debt. And you wanna talk fraud? Why did the creditor extend the credit in the first place? Do creditors just stand around waiting for someone to take their money no questions asked? I’ve always had to splay forth my life and credit rating to get any kind of credit—May the Seller Beware.
I’ll be completely honest, I agree that the American Middle Class needs to take a Hard Look at some of the choices that have been made over the past 20-30 years. My personal favorite is Cable Television—who pays for TV? It’s free. Do you buy ice, too? Holy crap, no wonder some people don’t have any money. If you’re bored, take a walk after dinner. For F@*& Sake.
I cannot agree with the assertion that people get “a chance” in this World, and if they blow “it”, that’s that. Off to public housing and a subsidized living. That’s wasteful. People are one of the Natural Resources of a Country. You throw them away—before Kindergarten, after High School, Midlife, at Retirement—the whole country is going to suffer. I think we’ve got a lot of People Power in the U.S. and it is up to us to use it. A lot of companies want to cut salaries, cut benefits, cut people, and funnel the money to the Executive Suite—where state school tuition is cheap?
At the end of the day, if public policies supporting corporations over individuals drive the Middle Class into the Poor House or Debtors’ Prison, there is no one left to buy anything. And the Executive Suite collapses, too. See you on Double Coupon Day!
This doesn’t tell me, though, that the Well-Offs are the principal beneficiaries. I think we all are. I think the real gains are collective—better public health, better public services, better education opportunities for all. That’s the myth of the tax break. We gain more from a new wing on the Public Library than we do from a bit more money in our pocket.
At any rate, I think Mr. Dickens would be pleased and disappointed by modern society. Pleased to see the advances—both technological and social—and disappointed both in the individual and collective failure to make more progress. I think he would rail against the remaining injustice—because I think he’s that guy. People are not equal, I’ll grant you that, but that doesn’t stop all of us from working toward equity. 🙂
To the Best of Times . . . .