by user Alarican
We live in a society that is fabulously wealthy by historical standards, and rather wealthy by global standards. To me, this begs the obvious question: What political traction is to be gained by calling attention to the "plight of the (American) poor"?
The single biggest health problem among those living in poverty is obesity. In a world where there are people living in subsistence economies, and therefore susceptible to famine and starvation, to call someone who has a problem with eating too much poor might just be in "bad taste."
One might suggest that much of the world's supposed anti-Americanism might just be envy.
But that's beside the point for now. So, in the US, you can be "poor" while at the same time living in a house, being obese, having cable on multiple televisions, and having multiple cars. So, then, what does it mean to be poor? Or has the word lost its meaning?
Ok. Someone is going to say "Well, it's less a function of absolute wealth, and more a function of relative wealth." I'm pretty sure that in a world where everyone is equal, yet everyone is just above starving and can barely get enough food, and a world where the poorest are well-fed but there are others who can afford every imaginable luxury, I know which place I'ld rather be. And I suspect, strongly, that any reasonably sane person would choose the same.
I suppose it could be granted that "well-being," when evaluated as a function both of absolute affluence (measured in terms of ability to provide necessities and luxuries), and something we'll call, for discussion's sake, "dignity" (measured in terms of the share of total resources any individual has), might call for some trade-off between the two. In that case, maximizing well-being would call, not just for raising absolute (total) wealth, but also for making sure each individual person got enough of it. The question becomes, how much is enough? The last paragraph suggests that it's better for some people to have a lot less than others, than for everyone to be roughly equal, but have even less, still.
As a practical, political, matter, it is America's policies of deregulation, low taxation, and minimal redistribution (at least relative to socialist economies or the otherwise highly-regulated economies of the EU) that have resulted in people living in poverty who have more to eat than is healthy for them. This is not to trivialize or minimize problems that the American "poor" have, but just to point out that lack of food and shelter aren't among them, and that puts them ahead of a sizable fraction of the rest of the world.
In other words, the system works; and a lot of the systems that don't work as well as ours does err on the side of more redistribution, not less. Which, again, begs the obvious question: is our aim to reduce poverty, or to reduce envy? Because if the aim is the former, I don't see high taxes on the rich as being the answer. On the other hand, if the aim is the latter, it makes sense to put higher taxes on the rich, even though experience has shown that doing so reduces the overall wealth of society.
So that's the real question: Is the politics of economic redistribution motivated primarily by envy?