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Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Forgotten Ones

Capitalism rewards the smart, the savvy, the lucky, the great athlete, the hard-working entrepreneur, the astute financier, the hypocritical politician, and rewards very well, in the millions of dollars. But aren't we forgetting the rest of the people, the ones at the bottom of the pile, the almost untouchable ones, those who have no special skills, those who'll never have a pension plan, those who sometimes seek refuge in the bottle, or in drugs?

As a high school teacher, I meet all kinds of students and I usually can tell whether they are destined for high level jobs or menial poorly paid positions in life; they will always belong to the bottom of the totem pole. We can all admit that if you are reading this blog, you most likely navigate the waters of  the middle or high class, and are therefore blessed with a better than average intelligence. Human beings with low levels of intelligence must be treated with all due respect and consideration; they were born that way and until science comes up with some magical gene therapy to correct the mistake, they will remain that way until they die. Can they be happy? Of course, I have met many such individuals who seem to enjoy life much more than I did.

Political systems, however, within capitalistic societies, offer very little protection to people who cannot fend for themselves sufficiently to enjoy a carefree old age. Oh, we have Medicaid, a bonafide mana from heaven for those who find themselves below the poverty line! But many end up on the street, depending on the generosity of passers-by. They starve, freeze to death, and die of unnamed diseases. Even worse: When they have children, these end up sometimes as preys for crazy sick predators. Every year, 50,000 kids are sexually abused in the United States. If they survive the rigors of poverty, these children will do very poorly in classrooms across the country. What they learn might help them get a job flipping burgers or burning their hands picking up lettuces.

Yet, we cannot have a happy society in which nobody wants to do the dirty jobs. There is even a TV show on the subject where the star gets his hands dirty for a couple of hours. But the real workers suffer day in and day out for the rest of their lives. We seldom reflect on those hardy souls who make our lives more comfortable; we very rarely thank them for their efforts. And we never think of those Chinese "slaves" forced to work for 30c a day for 10 to 12 hours without a break and without the possibility of escaping; they make our precious cell phones.

A purely capitalistic society is synonym with inequality and injustice. Do we treat very poor people the same in court as we do with the rich ones?  Ha, ha! What a stupid question! "They are too lazy, too stupid, to enjoy the American Dream," said a prominent businessman to his buddy in a moment of rare candor.

But how can we call ourselves a successful nation if we don't protect the less fortunate with every means at our disposal? Private charities do a lot, certainly, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the immense needs of millions of American citizens. Remember the War On Poverty of 1964 launched by President Lyndon Johnson? Well, 40 years later, we are still fighting it and we still have a long way to go.

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