A year ago, everything was going right for a woman we’ll call Sandy. But then the world came crashing down around the 39-year-old. She lost her job. She lost her house. And she and her son moved into her truck. Police found her and DCFS threatened to take away her son if she didn’t find a safe place to stay.
She moved into a hotel with the help of a social worker who paid for a few nights stay with her own money. That’s when Sandy’s knight in shining armor showed up. And he’s kept showing up, every day, paying her hotel bill, so she and her son can stay off the streets.
But Sandy’s Good Samaritan isn’t a Chicago big shot. He isn’t living in a Loop highrise. He doesn’t even have a job.
Sandy’s Good Samaritan is Curtis Jackson, who’s been homeless since 2004. He pays for Sandy’s hotel room because she used to treat him with dignity and kindness when she did have a house — and he pays for it by panhandling and giving the money to her.
Where are the comfortable who live in those Loop highrises? Only the homeless and the social worker will aid those in need. The comfortable are content in their Calvinist beliefs.
Anargyros D. recounted how he had lost everything in the aftermath of the Greek economic collapse — the food-processing factory founded by his father 30 years ago, his house, his car, his Rolex, his pride and now, he said, his will to live.
Economists are predicting a 4 percent contraction in gross domestic product this year, and the data support the pessimism. Cement production is down 60 percent since 2006. Steel production has fallen, in some cases more than 80 percent in the last two years. Analysts say that close to 250,000 private sector jobs will have been lost by the end of the year, pushing the unemployment rate above 15 percent.
But Greece is to be punished, in the best Calvinist tradition:
On the table will be whether Greece, which is now projected to miss its deficit target by as much as two percentage points of G.D.P. this year, will be granted another round of loans totaling as much as 60 billion euros, and what further budget cuts would be required in return.
But there is serious debate about whether this kind of prescription — subjecting Greece to more cuts and sacrifice in order to justify a second installment of funds from a reluctant Europe — is the right one.
“Serious” debate? Only the comfortable find a serious debate in asking the destitute to sacrifice for the comfortable.
This form of remedy violates two basic economic principles, according to Yanis Varoufakis, an economics professor and blogger at the University of Athens. “You do not lend money at high interest rates to the insolvent and you do not introduce austerity into a recession,” he said. “It’s pretty simple: the debt is going up and G.D.P. is going down. Have we not learned the lesson of 1929?”
No. Apparently not. Hopefully another round of dictatorships does not arise.
Social workers and municipal officials in Athens report that there has been a 25 percent increase in homelessness. At the main food kitchen in Athens, 3,500 people a day come seeking food and clothing, up from about 100 people a day when it first opened 10 years ago.
And we discover the limits of private charity,
While aid workers refer to these people as a new generation of homeless, the Greek government does not officially recognize the homeless as a social category in need of assistance,… as a result there are no government-supported homeless shelters.
Apparently, private industry sees little profit in helping their fellow human beings.
“Everything was coming up roses,” Anargyros D said, mashing a cigarette into the ashtray before him. “And then the banks took it all away from us.”
One week ago, I put up a post on the plight of a family that was at the end of its rope financially due to a lack of savings prior to the firing of the main income provider at the start of 2009.
Two surprising things happened. First, one reader offered to send the family $1000 if other readers would contribute. I said I would and encouraged others who were interested to ping me.
Second, that act of generosity seemed to particularly incense those inclined to take a dim view of those in debt, and some responded with vitriol, their comments having no grounding in anything more than prejudice, on why this family was having trouble making ends meet.
Quite a few of the comments also reflected a considerable lack of understanding as to how the bottom half, income-wise, lives (for instance, saying that the couple “should” have several hundred thousand in savings plus that much in their home equity). A different theme was the couple should be on food stamps and the adult children and their kids should be on Medicare. One reader who rebutted that in comments, pointing out that the thresholds for assets and income were very low, was ignored.
Thanks for all you help and the offer, but there are folks who have already defaulted on their cards and loans and have lost their homes and jobs. At least my husband did finally get a job last week after 10 1/2 months of looking from Baltimore to Berkeley, but the damage has already been done. Someone, somewhere must listen to the people because we are all going down, friends, neighbors, relatives, you name ‘em, we know ‘em….
Yves Smith concludes in way better than I could:
I think quite a few readers owe her an apology. But I am also sure those readers are so locked into their Calvinist mindset that they will find some basis for criticizing this family. Some people seem constitutionally unable to admit that success and prosperity are not the result of hard work alone. I know plenty of people who are hardworking and talented. Some are making a fraction (and I mean less than 1/10) than people I know who strike me as less talented, often less natively intelligent, and certainly worked less hard. I know others who took considerable reversals through no fault of their own (including one in particular, a former high flier who has had to move back to his parent’s home, with the reasons including that he gave a lot of money to struggling relatives). Luck also plays a big role, what family you were born into, what breaks you got along the way, what landmines you avoided. It is part of the human condition that we lack foresight. Things that look like a logical choice can turn out badly for reasons beyond one’s control, and many people lack the luxury of choices to begin with.
So very true. How much of our success was dependent on those before us?
- Someone else paid for the hospital you were born in.
- Someone had to build the school and educate your teachers.
- Someone else had to decide to sacrifice to be the teacher of another’s child,
- Someone else decided to fight for rights, in wars, in court rooms, in hardship,
- Someone else fought for the 40-hour work week,
- Clean water for you to drink as a child
No one is self-made man ( or woman ). No man is an island. We all owe a debt to the dead, we can only repay to the unborn.
Yves concludes with a quote from a reader:
I am astonished at how many readers you have who have no idea whatever how the financial bottom fourth or fifth of America lives. When I was a kid in western Kentucky I had a few classmates who lived in unpainted old clapboard houses out in the country, in some cases former slave quarters and so a century old. I remember one such house that even had a dirt floor. When I was little my mom’s parents lived in a tiny mountainside house in Appalachia that had no indoor plumbing. They hand pumped water from a well and heated it on a coal stove, and for a toilet across the dirt road there was an outhouse that hung out over and dumped onto the weeds on the descending slope. Stunk to high heaven, of course, and there were lots of bugs. At eight years of age, having to go in the middle of the night armed only with a flashlight was a character-building experience.
Things are a little better in the rural south now, but they sure aren’t good, now that the small farms are gone. In my adult life I’ve seen one relative living in a broken-down trailer with a caved-in roof and a goat tied up in the yard. And I’ve seen my cousin, with a small-college degree in math no less, getting by for a good while in the middle of nowhere, south Carolina on $9,000 a year from intermittent and part-time jobs. We can be all snooty about the poor not working hard enough, but I’ve also seen a sister quit a job pulling visibly diseased tissue off of Tyson chickens on a production line rather than get campylobacter one more time. We demand they live and act all middle class, but as a society we honestly don’t give them half a chance.
These guys who talk about saving hundreds of $thousands in small-town rural America are particularly irritating. How do you do that on $9K/year or $12K/year exactly? The US Census Bureau says in 2007 the bottom 20% of US households earned less than $19,178, so these are not trivial numbers of people. We never won our war on poverty really. We just forgot about it when the conservatives become obsessed with the hordes of welfare queens (and drag queens) that they imagined were filling our cities.
One of my big shocks when I started traveling more was to discover that compared to a lot of places a large part of the central and southern US (including parts of the upper Midwest) was actually what used to be called a third-world country, with way more poverty, illness, and and borderline illiteracy than Europe et al. Re literacy I remember in Turkey seeing Chekov plays for sale at a truck stop in the middle of nowhere. My Turkish friends thought it odd that I’d find that odd. To them it was perfectly reasonable that a truck driver might want something interesting to read.
One of the big lies about the poor or the struggling lower middle class is “surely they could have made something of themselves.” If you local school is lousy, how are you going to do that? I hate to say it, but from the time I have spent in Alabama, the level of education among average people (and I don’t mean poor, I mean average) is not hot at all. Multiply that across quite a few lower-income states.
The Calvinists have forgotten, as they always do, what Jesus taught in Matthew 25:34-45 :
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did NOT do for one of the least of these, you did NOT do for me.’
Jesus also taught, Luke 12:48:
But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
For those who have been given much, much more will be asked. Yet people and corporations refuse to provide for society.
Does Jesus allow selective Christianity?
Jesus taught how we treat the least of our brothers defines our humanity. Now in the time of humanity’s greatest need when it matters the most is when we discover who sits at the right hand … and who sits on the left hand.
I work every day on improving myself as a human being wishing to be humane. But I know that I will be found wanting. I don’t think I am better than others but I grieve for humanity because people who can change society for the better do nothing. And those who would do evil are successful.