One of the oldest and most persistent problems faced by every civilization throughout history has been what do you do about the poor? In the grand scheme of history, there have been precious little that could be done about poverty. The monarchs of ages past simply accepted that “poverty was” and instead focused on doing little more than making it slightly less intolerable, at least for the poor closest to their seat of government. As the amount of resources in the economy became more available for more people, the perception of the poverty problem shifted from simply being a human problem that must simply be endured to a political one that must be solved.
That solution, however, has evaded humanity’s grasp for centuries now, but not for a lack of trying. The very same British Crown that the Founding Fathers rebelled against had a robust poverty welfare program in place, paid for by poor taxes levied upon both the upper classes and the wealthy, though the two were usually the same people. Despite these laws, poverty remained a fact of life for a great many Londoners and British across the Empire, and this goes without even mentioning the destitute poverty experienced by many in England’s foreign possessions, where few such poverty programs reached.
While no permanent solution to poverty has yet to present itself anywhere in the history of mankind, the political ramifications of these policies are still felt today. The idea that government, whatever form that government takes, should “do something” about poverty has become a natural assumption predating the utopian ideas of Karl Marx by at least a century. In the intervening years since the birth of the radical and often incoherent “worker’s revolution” theory, humanity has learned more about what causes poverty than how to end it.
So, what causes poverty?
“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time or war where every man is enemy to every man, the same is consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal…”
Historically, poverty comes in two forms: short-term and persistent. Both forms of poverty are the result of a shortage of resources reaching those of “perceived relative incompetence“, that is people living in poverty who are perceived to have few marketable skills relative to the market, regardless of whether they actually lack marketable skills or not. This means when a job opportunity becomes available, these individuals appear less employable than their cohorts, whether their perceived relative incompetence is due to youth, inexperience, or more troubling causes, such as drug habits, criminality, or mental health issues.
Second, at least in the last century, perceived relative incompetence tends to be a short-term problem solved naturally through learning new skills, career growth, education, or even just a good reference, but perceived relative incompetence can as often be a result of simple racism. Recent political events in the United States demonstrate there are millions of Americans that either tolerate or openly support the definitionally racist “Alt-Right” movement, and even if explicit racism isn’t culturally dominant in America, it is clearly pervasive enough to be a potent factor in American politics and, therefor, is necessarily as potent a factor in economics.
That leads us, at last, to the issue of the poverty culture in America, in many cases, now in its second consecutive century under the boot of racism in America or, in other cases, perpetuated by a century of misguided policies that have merely exacerbated the economic situations that make persistent poverty possible. By artificially removing the correcting apparatus of a normal market recovery, the heavy hand of government solutions has taken the poor out of the driver’s seat of their lives, trapping them on a never ending merry-go-round of welfare dependency and its resulting social alienation, all the while perpetuating the myth that the problem has been taken care of.
The racists see these people as leeches. The well meaning leftists see these people as captive constituents. And the people see themselves as ignored. They are right.
“In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth…”
Pushed to the edges of the nation’s attention, all connections to “normal society” have long since eroded. They’ve grown up living within a nation they do not feel fully a part of, because by most objective measures, they aren’t. In too many areas in the United States, where Black Americans account for more than 80% of the unemployed. Denied access to anything resembling normal economies, their communities have atrophied and deteriorated to social collapse. Starved of capital coming into their neighborhoods, a negative feedback loop of more social distancing and cultural segregation have led to the loss of a shared cultural identity.
The “archetypal American lives” depicted on television and the silver screen are utterly alien to their experience. Those problems aren’t their problems. Those struggles are not their struggles. They struggle with hunger, joblessness, and poverty on a scale that most of white America cannot even begin to comprehend. These neighborhoods have reached such a state of social decay that free cash, far too rare to act as a fungible medium of exchange, has been entirely replaced by another economic medium: “street credibility“. Beset by a scarcity of both employment options and capital resources, these individuals have been forced to regress into a system of neo-feudal warlords and vassals.
The warlords have the highest street credibility, thus the most access to the few available resources available. The lower status vassals have access to fewer resources, but there is always access to more resources as a vassal, which creates a basic economic incentive for loyalty. Unfortunately, the same problems that plagued the feudal systems of Middle Age Europe now plague the neo-feudalism of the street credibility economy. Since the only real way of acquiring more resources is control more resource generating territory, the only way to control more resource generating territory is violence.
Who’s to blame for free men and women condemned to a waking nightmare of fear and death, where kill or be killed are their two best economic choices in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet?
“[N]o account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Internally, there’s no realistic way of changing the social dynamic that’s been in place since the 1970’s. They are faced with the classic prisoner’s dilemma. Any group that disarms themselves immediately puts themselves at the mercy of any group that does not, thus demanding that these Black communities to fix themselves is meaningless, if not suicidal, especially if external factors, such as state policies that prevent necessary economic corrections to occur, remain unchanged. However, exactly like the feudal systems of Europe, the neo-feudalism of the street will only exist while resources are limited.
The cure for the neo-feudalism of the street is the same cure that made the feudal systems of Europe obsolete: capitalism. Free the economy from the shackles of delusional albeit well meaning policy, and stop trying to protect people from themselves, then walking away pretending their lives are better for our interference. End tax and housing and business districting limitations. Stop artificially controlling wages to some arbitrary amount that only works in largely white regions, where economic activity is already well established. Allow wages to drop enough that even perceived relative incompetence stops being a barrier to basic employment. Trust the market.
When a young Black man can work a normal and safe job earning an income that is economically competitive with or superior to what he could earn doing the dangerous work of being a vassal for a street warlord, then he’ll stop being a vassal and rejoin society. The solution to the violence of the streets is the same solution to the poverty of these isolated regions, both urban and rural. The market doesn’t provide the solution. It is the solution.
Liberty is For The Win!