In the opening of Chapter 11 of Class Matters, Hook makes one of those common, but also logically flawed uses of words. Poor and poverty are not the same thing. To go from “the poor will always be with us” as the words of Jesus, to talking about poverty is to cloud an issue that is in desperate need of clarity. Being poor and being in poverty are not the same thing. I say keep this in mind throughout this chapter, and wherever you hear the terms used. It is an important distinction.
Hook goes on to say “The poor suffer more intensely now than ever before in our nation’s history. They suffer both the pain caused by material lack and all the problems it produces and the pain caused by ongoing assault on their self-esteem by privileged classes.” I think Hook does harm to her case by trying to say the poor, who have more material affluence than at any time previously in our history (anyone remember something called the Great Depression?), are suffering more than ever. The assault on their sense of worth, now that might be something worth looking into.
Following a theme seen in previous chapters, Hook makes the point, once again, that the government could eliminate the drug culture through intentional enforcement, but doesn’t because it serves the interest of those in power to keep the poor involved in drugs and powerless. “Were the government interested in destroying drug cartels in the United States and creating stability in poor communities, it could easily do so.” To which I say, think about prohibition. It DID get rid of alcoholism among the poor, to the extent that most missions in large cities across the nation closed for lack of clientele. But it also enlarged government’s footprint and interference in everyday life. Does Hook really want the government reaching that deeply into these poor neighborhoods, a government whose commitment to all these class privileges she rails against being still intact?
Myself, I question whether the government could effectively curtail the drug trade – make it flow another way, yes, but curtail, I wonder. Legalization, with harsh penalties for behavior that endangers others (see alcohol and DWI, for example) seems something more likely to succeed.
She also is against the effects of legalized gambling, specifically the lottery, on the poor. To that I agree. It encourages a fatalism, and an idea that they cannot be happy while being poor. It denies the simple life. It breeds despair.
But other parts of her solution seem to be pipe dreams, examples of a toxic charity where the solution creates greater problems and dependence. She suggests: Imagine how many poor communities would be transformed if individuals from these communities, with help from outsiders, were given full-time jobs in the neighborhoods they lived in, employment created in the interest of making safe, drug-free environments.” Giving people jobs isn’t helpful to their self-esteem, which is part of what she complains about. People need to feel they have earned the jobs to increase self-esteem. And where do these jobs come from that are available to be passed around? Job creation is more complex than she realizes from her non-economic background.
As another example of a toxic charity, she proposes that people be allowed to sponsor a poor family for a year and write it off their taxes. What happens at the end of the year, I wonder. Is the family still poor? Are they now dependent on being sponsored, and how long will this continue? Again, this is no help to self-esteem.
But I do agree with her statement that, though the poor may always be with us, they certainly can find contentment and fulfillment. I just question her methods for getting there. Just as I question her continual use of shock-language in each chapter. See the following quote: “Without a fundamental core belief that we are always more than our material possessions, we doom the poor to a life of meaningless struggle. This is a form of psychic genocide.”
She can talk about psychic assault in the next sentence, which is fine but lay off the genocide rhetoric. It is too serious a word to be bandied about so casually.