The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Growing poverty in a land of plenty

Oct 6, 2003

The number of people living below the poverty line increased by almost two million people last year. There are now 35 million people, equal to the population of California, living below the poverty line.

When a spokesman for the Bush administration was asked about this increase, he explained that it was only temporary, due to the after-effects of the last recession.

This explanation, of course, is sheer nonsense. Why should the poor have to pay for the workings of the economic cycle and the recessions in the first place? The poor don't decide how to run the economy. The capitalists do. The capitalists decide how much to invest and what to produce. And they base these decisions on their own profits, that is the narrow class interests of a tiny minority of the population. To protect those profits, the capitalists often disrupt the workings of their own economy. They cause enormous crises and ruin. But it is not the capitalist minority who pay the consequences. On the contrary, they make the majority pay for them. Or at least they try to do it– if the working class lets them get away with it.

But what is scandalous beyond debate is the fact that poverty exists in the first place. No person should be poor. The working class produces more than enough to have done away with poverty a long time ago. And its ability to produce is increasing all the time. Just look at how much more productive workers are than they were just a few decades ago. Today, for example, each production worker on average produces three times as much than just 30 years ago.

This means that each worker produces more than three times more food, clothing, autos, everything one can need. Just think about what we could do with that wealth if it was up to the working class. We could wipe out the scourge of poverty for everyone. We could use it to make sure that everyone could have more, and not just money, but time and leisure. Just think about what life could be like if we worked only half the number of hours– and still made substantially more than what we are making today. We wouldn't have to kill ourselves to make ends meet. We would have more vacations and holidays, more time to pursue the things that make life worth living, more time for our families, more time to educate ourselves, more time to pursue our interests, more time to relax.

All that would be possible – even if the benefits of the increasing wealth that workers produced were simply divided up evenly among all the members of society.

Today, that may seem like a pipe dream. But only because the capitalist class controls the wealth that the working class creates. And the capitalists don't share equally. They try to keep as much as they can for themselves. So the gap between rich and poor continuously increases.

While workers labor longer and harder for less, the capitalist class builds itself ever more fabulous and spectacular mansions. While workers are constantly threatened with job cuts and unemployment, the bosses buy themselves private ranches and hunting grounds, private jets of every make and model, more luxury skyscrapers.

And there is more. For no excess is ever enough for the capitalists. The biggest capitalists accumulate more wealth than anyone could possibly spend in several lifetimes. So they take the left-over wealth and use it to speculate. They try to take over other companies. They try to corner the market. They gamble on the stock market, in real estate, in hedge funds. In other words, they spend their time simply wasting incredible, unheard of amounts wealth, wealth that was originally created with the sweat and blood of the working class.

This serves no social purpose. It is sheer waste that mounts day by day.

The working class has every right to say, "Enough!" That wealth belongs to those who created it. The working class has every right to take that wealth back.