Continuing the discussion with BillSeitz from WhatsWrongWithInequality?

Bill said :

I think it's dismissive of the truly poor to equate starving with the threat to one's "self-worth, dignity, psychological wellbeing" that comes from only being able to buy 1 pair of Nike-s for each of your kids. –BillSeitz:PoverTy (or, to put it another way, it's hard to "design" to fit an overly-general context-space.)

BillSeitz

Bill. Who did?

  • well when you accused LibertarIan-s of being "blasé about the problems of poverty, suffering and inequality" I think you implied that they are of similar importance. –BillSeitz

I agree we need to make a difference between someone dying of malnutrition and merely not being able to afford the trainers they'd like. One is a case for an emergency humanitarian relief effort, the other allows time for a more leisurely investigation.

But, seriously, "not being able to afford trainers" is a piece of rhetoric designed to obscure the real issues here. Most poverty isn't of the "can't afford trainers" form. It's of the "need to take two jobs and not see your kids three nights a week in order to pay the rent" form. "Can't afford trainers" is just another symptom. )

  • I think a lot comes down to one's definition of PoverTy, which gets back to the FirstWorld/ThirdWorld standards. In the US a lot of people defined as impoverished own their own homes plus 2 color TVs and a VCR. See BillSeitz:PoverTy for links

But let's take the trainers seriously for a second. The point about them is that they're symptomatic of something else. For millions, brands symbolize having access to a whole network of other forms of wealth. They can, at least for a short while, win attention (envious, admiring) from your peers. They can make you feel a connection with an admired sports-hero. They can make you feel like you're a success; that things are starting to go OK.

Of course these are illusions. And it doesn't "really" matter if you don't have cool trainers. But does it matter if your friends think you're a loser because you don't have cool trianers? Or if your kids wish they had different parents because you can't afford to give them these things? I think those do matter because people's welfare depends on their social connections.

I'm not defending this system. The problem is that this is the society we've built; where such symbols are desperately important for too many people. Trying to do something about that is the bigger part of tackling inequality.

  • well, if you're saying that the problem is people measure their self-worth on the basis of consumption then I agree and think we need to help people build new foundations of identity. But if you're saying because people want trainers we have to either provide them or else not let anyone else buy them so at least we'll all be equal then I'm very not-on-board. –BillSeitz

: Well, certainly not "everyone should have brand-trainers" because I don't think brands work that way. I can see the problems with "not let people buy them". And if it was done particularly crassly, so that people were OUTRAGED at the attack on their freedom to waste their money on expensive trainers, then it would probably be counter-productive. But where would you stand on something like a package of :

** forbidding SwooshCorp et al to advertise in public schools,

** putting a limit on the amount of sponsorship any one company could make on one sports-hero,

** imposing generous minimum working-conditions for imported trainers and heavily penalizing SwooshCorp if it breaks them. (SweatShop, BillSeitz:SweatShop))

** etc.

: Which I think would have the effect of reducing the power of any particular brand of trainers, allowing a free-er market in attention, and generally help demystify and reduce the cult-of-the-trainer.

: – PhilJones

: I might agree with your first item, but probably not the others –BillSeitz

BillCosby said "Ladies and gentlemen, the lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal," he declared. "These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids – $500 sneakers for what? And won't spend $200 for 'Hooked on Phonics.'. –BillSeitz http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A37869-2004May18.html –BillSeitz

That's one of the problems I have with OliSharpe's SecondIndustrialRevolution party, which might suggest we need to identify the "must-have" stuff and make that available to everyone, very cheaply but doesn't tackle the cultural / psychological issues.

(See also NoLogo)

PhilJones

See also

  • OnPoverty which includes another attempt to define it.
  • MTVAndCycleOfPoverty

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