War on Poverty

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These days we are used to hearing the USA declare war on unbeatable opponents.  At this stage the USA has lost the War in Vietnam, lost the War on Drugs, lost the War on Terror etc etc etc.

There was a time, back in the 1960’s when the USA was motivated to declare a more positive kind of warfare.  In January 1964 President Lyndon. B. Johnson declared a war on poverty.

More properly it led to the passing of the Economic Opportunity Act.  This built on measures introduced in the “New Deal” by FDR and established many structures that remain in place even today.

Sadly the War on Poverty in the USA was lost.  The republicans got into power and steadily eroded the foundations of the US Welfare State.  Wealth has increasingly shifted into the hands of a smaller and smaller elite of the super-rich.

Happy societies are those that offer the greatest opportunities to the lowest of the low, to enable them and encourage them to rise and better themselves.  Capitalist societies are not designed to deliver widespread contentment.  They are focused on the exploitation of the masses for the gratification of the few.

Purely communist societies have largely failed because they are not able to compete economically with capitalist societies.

Managed economies, be they rooted in Fascism (eg Post War Spain), Socialism (eg Yugoslavia) or in tradition and religion (eg Saudi Arabia) are designed to protect a ruling elite at the expense of reform or progress.  While they can be initially decisive and dynamic they rapidly decline into stagnation.

The best societies are those with a centrist democratic political structure, representative government, rule of law and a market economy.  The very best societies are those with the most educated populations and the strongest female presence in senior industry and political roles.

 

To a Poor Old Woman; by William Carlos Williams

munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

Comforted
a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her

Farming and female disempowerment

Mart

Go to any cattle mart anywhere in the world and count the % of women.  Our media is great at challenging gender inequality in CEO’s of public companies or at senior levels in Politics and the Civil Service.  But does anyone ever ask why there are so few women in marts?

In pre-farming societies there was very little inequality.  Studies of bones in hunter gatherer communities show that the tribe shared resources and either all starved or nobody starved.  The role of women in “primitive” societies was defined differently to the role of men, but not in a way that deprived women.  Women tended to be the owners of the home, even if the home was simply a tepee on the American Great Plains.  She owned the equipment that made the home comfortable, the bedding, the cooking utensils etc.  A woman could divorce her husband simply by tossing him and his possessions out of her home.

So why did the arrival of farming change the status and the role of women so dramatically.  Why did farming result in societies where women live in purdah?  Why did women end up becoming chattels, basically another form of property or livestock owned by the man?

I propose the following theory as one major influence:  The power to trade.

In primitive hunter gatherer societies each tribe basically had fairly similar means of production and end outputs.  A hunter knapped flint, made a spear, killed a deer, ate the meat, wore the skin.  There were some products that could be traded such as metals, salt etc which some tribes were better at producing.  These trades tended to happen at large summer gatherings of tribes where everyone, man and woman alike could trade.

With the arrival of farming the nature of trade changed.  Regular trade became a vital component of successful farming.  A wheat farmer did not “live on bread alone”.  The farm produced a surplus in certain foods and traded this surplus for specialty goods produced by experts.  The basis of civilization is the ability to specialize.

With a constant demand for trading somebody had to adopt the role of the trader on the farm.  In primitive tribal societies if you sent a woman to another tribe there was a risk she would not return.   You could send an older woman, beyond child bearing age, but in primitive societies they were few and far between, and way too valuable to risk.  So you send a man.  Every move is a risk, he may be robbed, or killed, or both.  Tribes eventually settled for sending men to trade their goods.  The loss of a single man is a lesser problem for a tribe than the loss of a women who can produce children.  The future viability of a tribe derives from production of children.

So men became traders.  They developed the skills of going out into the wide world, negotiating prices, exchanging goods, learning new languages, developing accounting and recording systems etc etc.

Traders developed mathematics and writing systems.  These skills developed into formal religious institutions which observed the weather, climate, movements of animals, seasons and led to the development of calendars which dictated the correct times to plant and harvest.

When trading was defined as an activity for men it was given to them because of the danger of the job.  Nobody could have predicted the benefits trade would bring to the power of the individual.  Men rose in status at the expense of women.  Understanding the value of assets from a trade perspective they moved to take ownership of the assets of the tribe, the livestock, the land and eventually the home itself.

In some societies the home remains the property of the woman.  Greek families are an example of this, where the boys must work to provide their sisters with their own homes before they can marry.

If you want to see equality in society you need to see equality in the Cattle Mart, and we are a long way away from that day.