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In Search of a Better System Homelessness, Wealth Gap Not Acceptable As Byproducts of Free Market System

Michael Borucke

“Why is it that if you give food to a homeless person you are a saint, but if you ask why the homeless person has no food you are considered a communist?”

It’s an interesting question with answers that speak volumes about our capitalist culture. In the public arena, interest in homelessness has waxed and waned now for decades. The last peak in interest in Massachusetts was in the early-80s when several outreach programs were initiated to solve the problem of homelessness. Of course, these programs did not solve anything. Today, homelessness is no longer in the public spotlight, though the men living under the bridge in Kenmore Square remind us that homelessness hasn’t gone away.

I would like to offer my opinion as to the causes of homelessness and some possible solutions. First I think it is necessary to differentiate the types of homeless people.

In the political realm, homelessness is a fairly partisan issue. The right sees the homeless as lazy bums looking for a handout. The left sees the homeless as people down on their luck who just need some help to get back on their feet. There is even another point of view that says homes are a right and not a privilege.

As I see it, there are those who choose to be homeless and those who are forced to become homeless. The former is a curiosity to those of us with a roof overhead. Why would someone choose to be homeless? What could possibly attract people to a life of destitution? Although I do not claim to have any understanding of their motivations, I can hazard a guess. They do not have a home tying them down, they don’t have a job they have to work at their whole lives; in a way, these homeless are more free than those of us who have a home, a job, and a car.

Whether you want to look at it as a refusal of responsibility or a tremendous amount of freedom, these people prefer to exist outside of a system the rest of us participate/are trapped in. They are content being scavengers, surviving off the trash we throw away, and the spare change we put in their cups. Any program created to bring these homeless back into the system is doomed to failure simply because they do not want to be in the system. The politicians who keep funding the failing programs for the homeless are certain that all that is needed is more money.

The reasons the second group of people is forced to become homeless are less unusual, yet still unsettling. I have to believe the main reason people lose their homes is because they’re either unemployed or underemployed. If this is true, then the implication of last year’s Tech column by Eric J. Plosky [“The Real Thanksgiving”, November 23, 1999] is correct when it hints that the free-market system causes poverty.

It’s pretty clear that this should happen given a system in which the worker is little more than an expendable wage slave. The continual downsizing of companies and movement of giant corporations overseas, all in the name of capitalism and higher profits, will have no other effect on the worker but to take away his job and eventually his house.

As an example of how small a consideration the worker has become, consider an article published a few weeks ago in The Boston Globe on the multi-billion dollar merger between Exxon and Mobil. The entire article was devoted to the corporate merger. Only at the last sentence, and then only in passing, was it mentioned that 10,000 to 12,000 workers would be laid off as a result of the merger.

Will other work be found for them? Will they be able to pay their mortgage? Who knows? You’re not supposed to care, anyway. All you should care about is how this will affect gas prices. For all the touting of capitalism as the greatest economic structure ever created, every American must admit that it cannot provide a minimal standard of living for a not insignificant percentage of the population. And we come to the question of whether there is any system better than capitalism; whether there is a system in which every able-bodied person could find work if she so desired.

I think such a system would put the worker before the boss or the corporation. After all, it is the worker who produces, and it is the worker upon which the boss is dependent. Call it socialism or communism, it seems much more democratic to take the power from the corporations and give it to the masses.

So what can be done about the problem of homelessness? Well, if you believe that capitalism is the pinnacle of human existence, then your only course of action is to throw your hands up in the air, whine about welfare, and buy some khakis with your parents’ credit card. If nothing can be better than capitalism, your options are to accept it, or revert back to some antiquated, less civilized way of life. If you’re middle class, you can accept this choice easily enough. If you’re upper class, you tenaciously cling to it since that is the structure in which you are elite. If you’re in the lower class, however, you might find it interesting that in the greatest possible human society, you are subjected to poverty.

However established it is, the notion that the current structure should simply be accepted as the best alternative is laughable. That concerned people should believe downsizing and layoffs to be inalienable truths of mankind is ridiculous. An expanding lower class and shrinking middle class is not a consequence of our being an advanced civilization, it is a consequence of our being a society driven by money. As far as the amount of guilt those of us should feel in having nice holiday dinners, I can’t say. I know that our participation in this corporate culture is an approval of the present structure and therefore makes us all at least somewhat responsible for the current state of things.