THE LAST TABOO: HOW JOBS CAUSE POVERTY
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By J.S. Larochelle, 2003
"Sooner or later, if we want a decent society-by which I don't mean a society glutted with commodities or one maintained in precarious equilibrium by overbuying and forced premature obsolescence-we are going to have to come face to face with the problem of work." -- Harvey Swados
WHILE OTHERS DON'T?
To have food and the other things that we need to stay alive, work must be done. This work would obviously include growing food, harvesting it, transporting it, shopping, cooking, cleaning, taking out the garbage and sitting down to plan the next day's meals. There are also many other 'jobs' done in the home involving food: everything from testing out recipes to reading about nutrition.
The task of feeding the world's people requires an enormous amount of collective time and effort, and many millions of people go to work every day in the food industries where they are paid for the work that they do.
But millions of others will do a vast amount of work that is essential to the continued existence of these 'paid' jobs but they will not receive any money for their efforts.
THE DIVISION OF PAID AND UNPAID LABOUR
Historically, men have done the 'paid' work outside the home while women do 'unpaid' work in the home. One reason given for this division of labour is that women need to feed children. But if mothers didn't provide this vital service to society, then children would either starve, or the people who have the paid jobs would have to take time away from their jobs to feed their children. Of course, another alternative would be to create 'paid' jobs feeding children in the home.
"Unpaid labour is a taboo subject because acknowledging it would undermine the ideological foundations of capitalism."
- C. L'Hirondelle
CHILDREN AS 'HOME' WORKERS
Children are also not paid for the work they do for society as children. And unless they have a 'paid' job outside the home, they are not even considered to be workers. But like everyone else, they too need guaranteed access to sufficient quantities of nutritious food to grow healthy strong bodies and resist disease. If children don't get the things they need to stay healthy during childhood, they can be hampered for the rest of their lives in doing the work of reproducing the next generation.
The problem of not paying women and children for their work is that if they can't find a source of income, then they end up living in ill health in abject poverty. Another problem with unpaid work is that it creates the illusion that only the 'paid' workers are creating societies' wealth.
This is entirely false for without 'shoppers' and 'consumers' storeowners would quickly go bankrupt. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith states the obvious: "Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer. The maxim is so perfectly self-evident, that it would be absurd to attempt to prove it."
HOUSEWORK UNDER CAPITALISM
The "self-evident" dependency of the 'paid' producers on the 'unpaid' shoppers and consumers is rarely discussed in economic debate. In a pamphlet entitled Housework under Capitalism,
C. L'Hirondelle writes: "Unpaid labour is a taboo subject because acknowledging it would undermine the ideological foundations of capitalism. They would have to admit that they can only prosper by not paying for 75% of the true work of the planet. Not speaking about unpaid labor allows capitalist industry to go on profiting without ever recognizing the true cost of doing business. Nobody likes taking about slavery."
CAPITALISM'S ECONOMIC IDEOLOGY
Capitalists justify the fact that some people are wealthy while others live in abject poverty by claiming that wealthy people are 'working hard' to be productive while poor people are not.
In the case of 'poor' children and mothers this is totally false. Furthermore, the vast majority of people who live in poverty are children and mothers, and they live in poverty because the work they do is not valued by the capitalist economic system.
Therefore, the actual basis for the capitalist's claim that people become rich because they are productive actually lies in the fact that capitalism's economists are free to rigidly define productivity in way that excludes the work being done by children and mothers in the home.
Not only have powerful people defined economic terms to their own advantage, they have also acted to simply steal wealth from others.
All over the world, natural resources are being 'privatized,' and thus average people have no choice but to find a job or starve.
SLAVERY AND POVERTY
Throughout history, slaves have lived in poverty because they don't get to keep the things they work to produce. Slaves do the work of harvesting food, but the slave owners 'take' the food and claim it as their own 'private' property.
Slavery as an economic tool would be impossible without the collusion of large numbers of slave owners and without the existence of 'organized' governments to force slaves to work.
No one willingly works for free, and slavery is clearly the legalization of theft, but it's one way in which the power elite who make up the laws can distort the process of government and use it to create the illusion of individualism, self-sufficiency, independence and freedom.
For example, in regards to the American Revolution, Samuel Johnson wrote: "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" The Americans actually waged a 'revolutionary' war against the British to gain 'their' freedom and independence while openly stealing the work done by slaves.
At the very same time, the Americans were stealing the lands of Indigenous peoples who had been living on the 'North American' continent for thousands of years before Christopher Columbus discovered a 'New World.'
SLAVERY AND IMPERIALISM: THE TERRIBLE TRUTH ABOUT THE ROOTS OF POVERTY
Throughout history the rich and powerful have colluded to use physical force and coercion to gain wealth by stealing it from others and then lying about how they did it. This process of stealing the land is now so widespread that in The Subsistence Perspective, Maria Mie and Veronica Bennholdt-Thomsen write about how people cannot get their food and shelter directly from nature as they once could.
Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen state: "The war against subsistence is the real war of capital...Only after people's capacity to subsist is destroyed, are they totally and unconditionally in the power of capital."
In Struggle for the Land, Ward Churchill states: "The history of 500 years of warfare directed against the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas is gradually coming to light..."
"The underlying motivation prompting the genocide of Native Americans, the lust for their territories and the resources within them is hidden behind a rhetoric extolling the 'settlement' of essentially vacant and 'undiscovered' lands."
All over the world, natural resources are being 'privatized,' and thus average people have no choice but to find a job or starve. And this process of fencing in all natural resources will kill many millions of people when the world's job market goes into the next depression.