Me, Thee and Poverty

How would a textbook chapter section broach the question of poverty | causes | denial of complicity? —

The responsibility for poverty and destitution has two aspects. The first includes individuals whose actions directly cause perverse flows of resources and capital to the detriment of others. The second aspect includes the large number of individuals whose direct and unrelated benign actions create an environment that enables (perhaps even makes inevitable) those perverse direct actions. The later group can be expected to deny complicity, for lack of knowledge as much as evasion of responsibility. It is this group we will examine.

The average reader might lament the aggregious abuses of economic power that result in poverty and destitution around the world. But they don’t think it’s their own fault. I want to present the case that it is — your fault and my fault.

It may well be that the culprits are thieves and despots elsewhere — illegal and perfectly legal alike — who are sucking the world’s poor dry. Not me. But they couldn’t do it without us.

Poverty and destitution are all your fault — and mine too. Of course you’ll object. You’ll rightly point to all the thieves and despots who — legally and illegally — are sucking the world’s poor dry. They’re the ones doing it. But — they couldn’t do it without us.

How is it that you’re to blame? You’re not doing anything. Ah, but you’re doing a thousand little things that give the bad guys a green light. Let me explain.

It’s starts with an ideology. What, you don’t do ideology? Everybody does. The ideology you buy into, big time, is called the Invisible Hand.

I’ll come to me shortly — but you — you’re buying into a nasty ideology that very conveniently allows you to live comfortably with little thought to the invisible people you’ve pushed into the gutter.

That nasty ideology has a cute title, “The Invisible Hand”. It comes from a respectable Scottish pastor named Adam Smith a few centuries ago. It says that a competitive market will effectively keep everyone in check. If any seller overcharges a customer, or takes more than he deserves from someone else in any manner — competitors will rush in and take away his grateful customers. The market kills off any and all abuse, “like an invisible hand”. The hand of God perhaps?

What’s so nary about that?

the me part …