Poverty and exploitation
from David Ruccio
What would happen if the concept of exploitation became the entry point into our analyses of poverty?
According to Thomas B. Edsall, Matthew Desmond, an assistant professor of sociology at Harvard, asked exactly that question at a recent symposium on inequality at Yale:
If exploitation long has helped to create the slum and its inhabitants, if it long has been a clear, direct, and systematic, cause of poverty and social suffering, why, then, has this ugly word — exploitation — been erased from current theories of urban poverty?
who could argue that the urban poor today are not just as exploited as they were in generations past, what with the acceleration of rents throughout the housing crisis; the proliferation of pawn shops, the number of which doubled in the 1990s; the emergence of the payday lending industry, boasting of more stores across the U.S. than McDonald’s restaurants and netting upwards of $7 billion annually in fees; and the colossal expansion of the subprime lending industry, which was generating upwards of $100 billion in annual revenues at the peak of the housing bubble? And yet conventional accounts of inequality, structural and cultural approaches alike, continue to view urban poverty strictly as the result of some inanity. How different our theories would be — and with them our policy prescriptions — if we began viewing poverty as the result of a kind of robbery.
And Edsall himself poses a related, and perhaps even more significant, question:
How different would the nation’s politics be if either party, or at least the Democrats, added the concept of economic exploitation to its repertoire?