Our society has coined expressions like “philanthropist” and “season of giving” to encourage and hail people’s charitable spirit.
Look on the flip side of those shiny coins of generosity, however, and you’ll find that they’re made of a base substance of societal selfishness. After all, the need for charity only exists because we’re tolerating intentional injustices and widespread inequality created by power elites.
A supremely wealthy society (which so loudly salutes its historic commitment to the deeply moral values of fairness, justice and equal opportunity) ought not be relegating needy families and essential components of the common good to the vicissitudes of a season and the whims of a few rich philanthropists. Yes, corporate and individual donations can help at the margins, but they don’t fix anything. Thus, food banks, health clinics, etc. must constantly scrounge for more charity, while big donors have their “charitable spirit” subsidized with tax breaks that siphon money from our public treasury.
Especially offensive is the common grandiose assertion by fat-cat donors that charity is their way of “giving back” to society. Hello — if they can give so much, it’s probably because they’ve been taking too much! As business columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin points out, “All too often, charitable gifts are used … to make up for the failure of companies to pay people a living wage and treat their workers with dignity.”
Sorkin notes that it’s not just the unemployed who rely on food banks but janitors, nannies, Uber drivers, checkout clerks and others who work full time but are so poorly paid they can’t make ends meet. That’s not a sad charity case but a matter of criminal exploitation by wealthy elites — and the charitable thing to do is to outlaw it and require a living wage for all.
We must shift from charity to fundamental structural change. “The aim,” says Sorkin, “should be to create a society where we don’t need places like food banks in the first place. … we should be trying to put the food banks out of business.”
In the absence of structural change, our society relies on charity and government programs to address issues regarding poverty and hunger. While it’s fashionable in many enclaves of the rich to bemoan government programs that use tax dollars to aid the poor, guess who receives by far the fattest benefits from the public treasury. Bingo — if you said the rich!
Consider recent actions by President Donald Trump’s secretary of agriculture, Sonny Perdue. He’s been dubbed the “Georgia Goober” for his ignorant insults and preposterous policies, and he issued a harsh new regulation in December that’s both. It slaps poor people living in depressed areas with a sneering work requirement in order to be eligible for meager food stamp benefits, which amount to only about $127 a month. Yes, Perdue is literally taking food from poor people, piously claiming it’ll help them become self-sufficient. “(G)overnment dependency has never been the American dream,” preached Purdue, who has personally been dependent on a government check for more than two decades.
Crass hypocrisy, however, is integral to the Donnie & Sonny policy approach. Last year, they pushed out a $28 billion tax bailout for farmers impacted by Trump’s inept tariff tiff with China. Many U.S. farm families have been wrecked by Trump’s failed ag policies, but they’re not the ones who got the Trump government’s helping hand. The bulk of the billions went to the biggest, richest agribusiness interests that neither needed nor deserved a public handout — about 75 percent of the total was taken by the largest 10 percent of farm corporations (including foreign-owned operations). And, unlike a food stamp recipient getting a pittance to buy a little bit of food, some ag-biz outfits pocketed more than $2 million each from us.
But wait. Trump and Perdue have more meanness in store for the poor. They’re pushing another federal regulation that’d cut off food stamps if a low-income family has barely $2,000 in “assets.” Hello — that means a family that has an old used car to get to their poverty-wage jobs would be denied food assistance.
What’s wrong with these shameful public officials who perversely pamper the rich while taking pleasure in punishing the poor? It’s immoral.
Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.