Friday, August 12, 2011

Visible Poverty, Invisible Wealth

Somewhere on the Internet I read a description of flying into New York from Europe: how shabby, rundown and beat up Kennedy Airport looks compared to European airports. The same can be said about most -- maybe all -- of our public structures. Compare decaying American bridges to the amazing new bridges in China. Compare Amtrak to the bullet trains in Europe and Asia. Look at photos of skyscrapers in Shanghai, which are truly space age. Per one article I just glanced at, architects are coming from all over the world to work in Shanghai.

When I was a kid, the US was the bright and shiny modern country with new, state-of-the-art schools and new, state-of-the-art highways, a whole new way of life based on cars and suburbs and created by government spending. (You think the government didn't pay for all this? What about government built highways and water systems, which made the new suburbs possible? What about the government mortgages, that enabled people to buy homes? What about the GI loans that put a generation through college?)

Since then, over the last 30+ years, we have developed a culture of visible poverty. This can be seen in our public spaces and in the lives of most Americans.

(There was always poverty. That was the reason for the War on Poverty. But there wasn't a sense that the entire country was poor, at least after the Great Depression ended.)

Clinton got rid of traditional welfare, AFDC, which was an attempt to make sure families with children had a minimal income. Public housing projects have been written off as failures, and nothing has replaced them. (Public housing has actually worked quite well in the Twin Cities, which never built gigantic projects. But there isn't enough of it.) We have gotten used to homeless shelters and food shelves, to people begging and sleeping in the streets.

And we have gotten used to the stagnant income and eroding wealth of the middle classes. Now, we see boarded up houses in middle class neighborhoods and middle class families using food shelves or ending in shelter.

Obama is now getting ready to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which will increase poverty, especially among older Americans. We can look forward to seeing elderly Americans sleeping -- and dying -- in the streets.

As a result of all this -- the increasingly impoverishment of the poor and the middle classes, and a country that looks increasingly rundown -- we tend to think that the US has no money. This is not true. It's the richest country in the world. But its wealth is -- to a considerable extent -- invisible. We get glimpses on Fifth Avenue or Chicago's Golden Mile, but most of us don't go where the rich go to shop. We don't visit seriously wealthy suburbs and gated communities. We don't eat in seriously expensive restaurants. We don't fly on the same planes. They have private jets. We have Delta.

We know that movie stars and sports stars are rich, but we don't know how rich; and they are figures in People magazine, not entirely real to us. Mostly what we see is the upper middle classes, who look rich to us, but are merely more comfortable than we will ever be.

So, we have a country that is deteriorating at most levels, while a tiny sector of the population has vast wealth. And we are told this is real poverty, inherent poverty, the country does not have the resources to rebuild itself. BS.


Blogger Tallgeese said...

Even the Nicollet Avenue bridge in Tangletown is deteriorating. There are skull-sized shards of concrete that have fallen into the public park just to the west of the bridge, and some kind of concrete buttress has fallen and is lying just under the bridge's South end.

8:53 AM  

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