1970s >> 1978 >> no-887-july-1978

It’s the Poor what gets the blame

Art Buchwald writes a column in the New York Herald Tribune. In the International issue of 20/21 May, under the heading ‘Poor image of the Poor’, he took the view that the big political issue in the autumn elections will be what is happening to the “middle class” (his punctuation) in America. The standard cliche of the moment apparently is that the rich and the poor are getting everything and the middle class is being left out in the cold.

While possibly agreeing about the rich, he had doubts about the poor. As he did not want to wait until the candidates’ mandatory walk through the ghetto the week before the election, he decided to carry out his own small investigation. He chose as his source an unemployed man, living in a slum and receiving food stamps to stop his family from starving. Asked by Buchwald whether he was aware of the hostility towards the poor, this man said:

    “Well . . . the middle class are mad at us because they feel that their taxes are supporting the poor. They’re not half as mad at the rich people because they all hope to be rich someday themselves and they dream of having everything the rich are entitled to. Now, despite the fact that they think we poor are having a ball, I haven’t met one person from the middle class who wants to change places with me, though God knows I’ve made the offer a thousand times”.

Buchwald and his interviewee show they understand some of the workings of capitalism. At one stage Buchwald says: “The ‘middle class’ never thinks it’s supporting the rich”. When he states that people get angry when they hear that the poor cheat government departments, he got the reply:

“Of course they do. But nobody gets uptight when doctors, military contractors and large corporations rip off the government. They figure that’s part of the game”.

To his last question about possible improvements to the image of the poor, Buchwald received an affirmative reply, ending with the words: “in spite of our numbers we’ve never gotten our story over to the people. The rich do that so much better”.

To a socialist the column was encouraging and frustrating at the same time. Buchwald apparently recognises that there is no such thing as a ‘middle class’, yet speaks of the taxes they pay supporting both rich and poor. By this he shows his lack of understanding of how the capitalist system operates. Workers are paid sufficient to maintain their living standards and educate their children to take over similar jobs when they grow up. The effect of taxes and rates on workers’ take-home pay is taken into account in the course of wage negotiations. Workers keep the rich in luxury not by taxes they pay, but by the profit the capitalist obtains from employing them. This is the basis on which capitalism works. It is known as Surplus Value.

Eva Goodman