How America's hatred of poor people ties back to Puritan work ethic

Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowship-winning philosopher Elizabeth Anderson recently spoke with Joe Humphreys at the Irish Times about America's toxic obsession with by-your-bootstraps individualism, and specifically how it relates to poverty.

There are plenty of impactful quotes throughout the interview, but the parts that stuck out the most to me—as an agnostic born into an Irish Catholic family, whose mother worked for the church for a long time—were her observations about America's puritanical roots, and, later, the impacts of World War II. Anderson essentially proposes the idea that early America Puritans like the Pilgrims were determined to distance themselves from the institutional power of the Catholic church—which, for all its faults, has at least had a longstanding commitment to helping and empathizing with those suffering from poverty. In addition to Manifest Destiny, these Puritans believed that hard work was the only promise of salvation, which eventually evolved into the whole "rugged individualism" idea that consumes so many American conservatives and Evangelicals. While Anderson acknowledges that this ethic is rooted in a very pro-worker mindset, it's clearly been secularized over time into a highly partisan hatred of the poor, with a nod towards its religious roots:

There is a profound suspicion of anyone who is poor, and a consequent raising to the highest priority imposing incredibly humiliating, harsh conditions on access to welfare benefits on the assumption you’re some kind of grifter, or you’re trying to cheat the system. There is no appreciation for the existence of structural poverty, poverty that is not the fault of your own but because the economy maybe is in recession or, in a notorious Irish case, the potato crop fails.

Read the rest

Pangea raised $180m to buy up low-rent Chicago properties "to help poor people," and then created the most brutally efficient eviction mill in Chicago history

Pangea was founded by Al Goldstein, a Deutsche Bank investment banker who quit to found a massive, intercontinental payday lending outfit; he tapped the investors that he enriched with his payday lending business to stake him $180 million and bought up thousands of low-rent buildings in Chicago's poorest neighborhoods (which are also Chicago's blackest neighborhoods). Read the rest

Algorithmic guilt: using secret algorithms to kick people off welfare

A wrenching and beautifully argued essay by Virginia Eubanks describes the inevitable consequences of letting secret, unaccountable algorithms decide who is eligible for welfare. Read the rest

Drug field tests used by cops are so bad they react positively to air, soap, candy

Crappy drug detecting kits used by police yield too many false positives. They result in wrongful arrest and imprisonment of innocent people.

Sage has been mistaken for marijuana; motor oil for heroin; jolly ranchers for meth; and breath mints for crack. In February, a Minnesota man spent months in jail after his vitamin powder tested positive for amphetamines. Soon after the arrest in Tampa, a Hillsborough police lieutenant conducted his own experiment on the NARK II tests, which cost between $15 and $20 for a box of ten. He found that just opening the test bag to the air produced the same shade of purple as exposure to methamphetamine, according to an internal memo. In February, the Hillsborough sheriff’s department announced it had switched to a different field test, made by the same company, which tests for a wider variety of illegal drugs. A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department declined interview requests.

Read the rest