Via Naked Capitalism

Yves here. I’m sure most of you are gobsmacked that anyone would ask the question in the headline, and even worse, perceive or actually find that enough people were puzzling this deep matter over to merit an agony aunt answer. Steel yourselves because this wee discussion of where aspiring upper class anthropologists need to go to look at poverty…as if looking at poor people or maybe even getting among them a bit gives any appreciation of their lives…says way way too much about class stratification and why squillionaires like Deval Patrick and Mike Bloomberg labor under the delusion that Americans would want them to be President.

And of course, as the author does address, the tacit assumption is that true poverty isn’t all over the place in rich economies, you need to travel to find authentic (because poverty must be exotic) poor people. Mind you, not to diminish the fact that populations outside the US face hardships that we don’t, like the risk of river blindness, malaria, and cholera, and the ravages of war. But poverty tourists are unlikely to get that close to acute distress. Too risky and upsetting.

And Westerners tend to mix up all sort of myths, like the Noble Savage with the nobility of poverty (the Christian renunciation sort) which combined with facts like Nigeria, one of the poorest countries in the world, also consistently scores as one of the happiest.

But as the author points out way too gently, it’s not as if poverty is hard to find. New York City’s Gini coefficient is as high as China’s. We have Hep A in Los Angeles, human feces in open air in the city center in San Francisco, and plenty of horrors like the one Sanders highlighted in a recent video: of already desperately poor people, imprisoned by debt on trailers (!!!) having open air sewage fields set up next to where they live.

But the affluent in the US find it easy to shield themselves from encountering poverty. Service staff, even in not-terribly-flashy places like Starbucks are trained to be chipper, which amounts to doing emotional labor on top of dispensing coffee. The new servant class of nannies and yard men know their place and even more important, know that minimizing friction and unpleasantness with their employers is key to what little job security they have. These wanna-be rich are comfortably insulated from the sweatshop labor cost (in third world countries and Amazon warehouses) of their cheap goods, or the exploitative wages and work conditions across the gig economy, from TaskRabbit and MechanicalTurk to Uber and Lyft to Deliveroo and Instacart. The coddled well off not only don’t go to WalMart, where it is too easy to see the fatigue and even despair in the faces of checkout clerks (it’s pervasive in the WalMart hard by the Greenbriar resort, for instance), or of underpaid, overworked nursing home employees, they are somehow not able to see the wear on the faces and bodies of construction workers rounded up to work on a casual basis for cash by contractors they’ve hired.

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But on some level, the very rich do know, as attested by their investments in panic rooms and bunkers in New Zealand. But those investments won’t protect them from a revolution or collapse.

By Eve Andrews, who writes Ask Umbra, Grist’s civic advice vertical. Follow her on Twitter. Originally published at Grist