Some Costs, Though, Are Totally Avoidable…

Barbara Ehrenreich on the ‘unfair costs’ faced by the poor:

… as Businessweek helpfully pointed out in 2007, the poor in aggregate provide a juicy target for anyone depraved enough to make a business of stealing from them.

Boooo! Eeeeeevil corporations, targeting the people who, errr, can’t pay for their goods!

Wait. What?

It’s not just the private sector that’s preying on the poor.

It isn’t?

Oh. OK. Just how are the public sector ‘preying on the poor’, then?

Local governments are discovering that they can partially make up for declining tax revenues through fines, fees, and other costs imposed on indigent defendants, often for crimes no more dastardly than driving with a suspended license.

Well, Barbara, it might seem trivial to you, but there’s a reason the state licenses us to pilot a tonne of machinery around the roads, and a reason why they might, on occasion, decide to suspend that privilege…

And if that seems like an inefficient way to make money, given the high cost of locking people up, a growing number of jurisdictions have taken to charging defendants for their court costs and even the price of occupying a jail cell.

The poster case for government persecution of the down-and-out would have to be Edwina Nowlin, a homeless Michigan woman who was jailed in 2009 for failing to pay $104 a month to cover the room-and-board charges for her 16-year-old son’s incarceration.

‘Woman jailed for not paying her debts! Hold the front page!’

It’s called ‘consequences’, Barbara…

And the number of possible criminal offenses leading to jail and/or fines has been multiplying recklessly. All across the country – from California and Texas to Pennsylvania – counties and municipalities have been toughening laws against truancy and ratcheting up enforcement, sometimes going so far as to handcuff children found on the streets during school hours. In New York City, it’s now a crime to put your feet up on a subway seat, even if the rest of the car is empty, and a South Carolina woman spent six days in jail when she was unable to pay a $480 fine for the crime of having a “messy yard”.

Perhaps, Barbara, you’d care to enlighten me as to the (good, solid, I’m sure!) reasons why ‘being poor’ means you can’t be expected to display the social graces and obedience to the law that everyone else has to show?

I was always taught ‘manners cost nothing’, so they shouldn’t be off-limits to the poor, should they?

Katherine Beckett, a sociologist at the University of Washington, estimates that “deadbeat dads” (and moms) owe (pdf) $105bn in back child-support payments, about half of which is owed to state governments as reimbursement for prior welfare payments made to the children. Yes, parents have a moral obligation to their children, but the great majority of child-support debtors are indigent.

Then perhaps they should keep it in their pants? And not breed recklessly, leaving the ordinary taxpayer to foot the bill?

The predatory activities of local governments give new meaning to that tired phrase “the cycle of poverty”. Poor people are far more likely than the affluent to get into trouble with the law, either by failing to pay parking fines or by incurring the wrath of a private sector creditor like a landlord or a hospital.

In other words, while I’d make sure I had money to pay a parking fee, these ‘poor’ you are talking about simply say ‘To hell with it! Can’t get blood out of a stone…’ and refuse?

You really aren’t engaging my sympathy much…

I could propose all kinds of policies to curb the ongoing predation on the poor. Limits on usury should be reinstated. Theft should be taken seriously even when it’s committed by millionaire employers. No one should be incarcerated for debt or squeezed for money they have no chance of getting their hands on. These are no-brainers, and should take precedence over any long term talk about generating jobs or strengthening the safety net.

Before we can “do something” for the poor, there are some things we need to stop doing to them.

You know, the more I read of this article, the less I’m able to visualise ‘the poor’ she keeps referring to.

In fact, the more I seem to think their problem isn’t lack of money at all, but lack of something else.

10 comments for “Some Costs, Though, Are Totally Avoidable…

  1. May 24, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Perhaps, Barbara, you’d care to enlighten me as to the (good, solid, I’m sure!) reasons why ‘being poor’ means you can’t be expected to display the social graces and obedience to the law that everyone else has to show?

    There is a disconnect by those in this position, a recklessness which can spiral out of control. Though you’re of course right in principle, Julia, consequences don’t always follow right and wrong. An underclass of indigent arises and this reduces the overall safety of the people, coupled with the old transportation to Australia situation raising its head again, prison hulks on the Thames.

    The only longterm way is clearing away social policy legislation, quangos, all manner of ideological wastage, accepting that this debt to the IMF etc. is a fiction in that they ripped it off from our taxpayers in the first place, that goes on hold, slash taxes, starting with VAT, rein in councils and the way they treat potential businesses, naturally ditch the EU and that will start the turnaround.

    The maths is the current problem. No jobs are on offer which cover the bills once the person goes off benefits. Most work available for that level of society is now part time and minimum wage. Therefore there is increasing debt and default on that debt, people lose houses, councils are herding them into shared accommodation, this is creating ghettoes and no-go areas all over, the underclass is truly created.

    The country’s not producing anything the world wants, there are few jobs, no one seems competent at running a business, let alone a country. There is no protection for start-ups, which is fine in a normal economy but this is a piranha economy we have and the chances, which should be 50-50, are about 10% or less that the business will survive the ruinous taxing and the council for three years.

    The entrepeneurial spirit is all but snuffed out.

    • May 24, 2012 at 9:05 am

      I think prison hulks at the bottom of the Thames might be a better solution…

    • Johnnydub
      May 24, 2012 at 9:23 am

      So what you’re saying is that benefits are too generous and taxes too high… Well that’s two sides of the same coin and they can both be addressed simply by a government with the integrity to face down the wailing of the “final solution” lefties pricks who think money grows on trees…

      Government with integrity… Ah that’s where it all went wrong..

  2. Den
    May 24, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Both sides of this argument are ridiculous …

    • May 24, 2012 at 9:00 am

      Care to provide specifics?

  3. Tattyfalarr
    May 24, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Means-testing on Law Abidence ? How novel.

    “Officer, I am too poor to abide by this Law….”

    Yeahhhh…that’ll go down well. 😐

  4. May 24, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    “”You really aren’t engaging my sympathy much…””

    Nor mine, but I am forced to agree with her on one point. There certainly are far too many laws these days and the situation is not getting any better.

  5. Dave K
    May 24, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    There is another side to this argument as commented on by Dr North on EURef, that UK councils are raising huge amounts of cash using fines and charges which appear excessive, wheelie bin lids and distance from kerb and paperwork charges for planning permission or perceived late payment of council tax are some I remember. These are not directed at the “poor” but everyone.

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