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How Neo-Liberals Profit off of Poverty

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Republished from The Real News Network

TAYA GRAHAM Hello, my name is Taya Graham and welcome to the Inequality Watch on The Real News Network. As we said before, the show is about the most acute existential threat to humanity, our country's growing income inequality. But our mission is not just to expose how billionaire codling exacerbates inequality, but to hold the worst actors accountable. And to do this, we'd like to delve into the details of stories that might seem on the surface to be far removed from this topic, but in fact show just how the super rich not just bend the system but dominate it. And I want those of you watching to know that if you have evidence of the abuse of people at the hands of the wealthy, please share it with us. Tell us in the comments or message us at The Real News on Facebook or Twitter or of course you can message me directly at Taya's Baltimore on Facebook and Twitter. I do read your comments and appreciate them.

So today we're going to talk about two things. A story about impoverished kids trying to survive and the millionaire CEO who decided it was time for them to go. But we're also going to look at how a political ideology known as neo-liberalism can use an issue like this to not only perpetuate wealth inequality, but make it worse. But first we're going to continue a tradition, we started opening our last segment. Invoking the specter of past purveyors of unbridled wealth to characterize the behavior of the present. Last time we called this the Marie Antoinette effect for the 18th century French aristocrat who impart provoked the French revolution by suggesting the poor eat cake rather than addressing poverty. But this time we're going to go a bit further and dole out our very first Marie Antoinette award, and that honor goes to none other than T. Rowe Price CEO William J. Stromberg. Stromberg heads one of the preeminent pillars of capitalism, the investment bank.

In his role as lead executive, he implements a system that has led to global warming, worldwide poverty, colonialism, and some of the metaphysical angst has affected people who suffer the consequences of unfettered capitalism. But even with that busy schedule, Mr. Stromberg took time to take aim at these young people, squeegee kids. Now, for those of you don't know, the squeegee kids are mostly teens in cities like Baltimore who offered to wash windows in exchange for cash. The presence has been controversial with mayor Jack Young threatening to arrest them.

MAYOR JACK YOUNG They in the middle of the street and it's illegal and we must address it.

TAYA GRAHAM But the teens we spoke to argue that the money they make helps pay the rent and helps keep their families afloat and keeps them from other illegal, more lucrative forms of employment.

ZION We are in a projects, we have no other choice, but you feel me? It's so many people out here selling drugs. You got so many killing out here like is this so much going on? And it's as much as we can bear. We're trying to get our mom out this environment.

TAYA GRAHAM But Stromberg was having none of it. In fact, the CEO that made $13 million in a single year found the youths annoying. A fact he made clear to the mayor in his email. So Stephen, what did Stromberg say to the mayor?

STEPHEN JANIS Basically, Stromberg said, in his email to the mayor, that it was very dismissive of these kids, who were trying to survive, and basically said they become an annoyance to him. And he was speaking on behalf of a myriad of businesses downtown. If the mayor didn't do something about it, that it was going to harm the quality of life in this city. And that, I guess his symbol of poverty made him uncomfortable.

TAYA GRAHAM But the story doesn't end there because there's more to understanding what makes the system work. And it has to do with the set of policies and ideologies called neo-liberalism. As we've said before in this show, esteemed scholar, Dr. Cornell West, describe neo-liberalism best. It's a philosophy that takes a complex social problem, criminalizes it, militarizes it and monetizes it. And in this case, the solution profit by the mayor shows how neo-liberalism is the great ideological engine for wealth inequality. So Stephen, can you explain a little bit how Neo liberalism and its policies work?

STEPHEN JANIS Well basically, let's look at this squeegee cause it's a perfect example. So the squeegee kids are a representative of poverty. And the problem that kids can't get jobs and that we created such an economically isolated areas in the city that people really can't find a way to survive. Okay. So they go and they squeeze you and the wealthier people who drive by feel offended by it. So what do you do? Do you go out and start an antipoverty program? Do you give direct assistance? Do you try to curb some of the issues with affordable housing? Some of the tax system that's unfair? No, what you do is you create a bureaucracy and a system around it that it wealth in enriches the people who problematize, right?

So you basically come up with some bureaucratic solutions that actually fuel the income inequality by paying high paid bureaucrats to monitor the situation. You hire police to arrest them, that they go into the criminal justice system, and you basically create this bureaucracy of poverty and wealth violence around them where people are getting rich, but the underlying issue is completely ignored. And the inequality that created it is absolutely off the table. There's no discussion with the mayor about what about the conditions is created. It's PR. It's actually let's set up a system that will actually give people jobs who are already well off and let's ignore the kids who need direct money now.

TAYA GRAHAM Right. Aren't they just bringing in people from our nonprofit industrial complex, giving them more money to handle a problem that they should have been addressing already, right?

STEPHEN JANIS Just shows you how profitable poverty is for people who have the social and political capital to benefit from it. And this is a perfect example.

TAYA GRAHAM So here is the destructive philosophy of neo-liberalism in a nutshell, abject poverty and economic isolation exacerbated by racism, prompts teens to improvise a means to survive. But rather than address the underlying political structure that creates the conditions that make washing windows and necessity. Politicians first turn to police and then found a way to turn it into a profit center. All of this set in motion by an executive rich beyond imagination. Stephen, I've got to ask, what do you think? I mean, what's your opinion here?

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