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Impoverishment, Downsourcing and Buying Your Way Out: Action Research in Context by Alex Dunedin

In this essay I will be trying to drill down to the fine detail some of the what’s, how’s and why’s of ‘poverty’ are recreated in day to day behaviours and actions in the UK today.  For such an affluent nation brimming with endless numbers of charities, for me, significant questions are not being asked and significant acknowledgments are being avoided. This is part of an extended project focusing on how impoverished circumstances are created and recreated. This essay touches on the following points…

  • A typical sight in the kind of urban planning schemes where I have lived
    A typical sight in the kind of urban planning schemes where I have lived

    Lack of access to education in Scotland

  • How structural aspects of poverty are not discussed
  • Checking Reality: Rethinking Poverty
  • The Development Of The Precariat Class
  • How the most impoverished are framed in language
  • Structural and magnitudinal contributing factors to creating an impoverished class
  • How life becomes more complicated with less money
  • Opportunity costs and a culture of buying your way out of trouble
  • How fighting your corner is an imperative rather than a choice on low income
  • How justice costs money, how corporations act on cost-benefit principles focused on profit margins
  • How people of financial means downsource their problems to those who do not have that choice
  • The ethical dilemma of acting or evading

 

I hope that this raises some interesting points which are worth discussion. Learning has become an activity which has, for me, come to represent a means of development which enriches my world through understanding ultimately increasing my capabilities so that I can take part in the society I live in. As well as this it acts therapeutically by setting up the circumstances which enables me to be a part of a community of peers who can offer me insights which I may have otherwise missed.

It is in this spirit that I offer all the work I do, inviting critique and conversation.


 

Action Research

Lack of Access to Education in Scotland

I have been writing reflections on problematic issues I encounter in my life as a means of learning and development for a few years now. Today I am posting some thoughts on how life is complicated for those with the least money (MD20 – ‘Most Deprived 20%’ – in jargon). I am studying the sociology of the things I encounter day by day to try and build a meaningful understanding of the world I live in.

I am focusing on poverty as this is proximal – it is my doorstep – and presents issues which I grapple with on a week to week basis. I feel I am afforded a good position to study in this area because I must contend with the reality as manifest in my life.

This is in part inspired by thinking about the work of people like Paulo Freire who spent a lot of time trying to frame education in a way which has qualities of emancipation independent of some larger structure or institution. Through this appreciative perspective of critical thinking I have found a means of development which accords with my life circumstances.

This carving out of my own curriculum has presented itself as an imperative because twice in my adult life – as a citizen and resident of Scotland – I have been blocked from taking a place in part time education with the Open University through the Department of Work and Pensions bureaucratic processes, despite being entitled to do so.

Education is lauded as free and accessible in Scotland, but there are profound problems such as this which remain unspoken about on the whole. I have spoken with people within the Open University, fairly senior ones, but they were at a loss on how to even acknowledge this. I wonder how common this is and left them with a suggestion that it would be a helpful assay to perform as it might lend insight into why so many people from financially deprived backgrounds are missing in the ranks of the higher education context.

Sir Peter Lampl , Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, writes the foreword of the report ‘Access in Scotland; Access to higher education for people from less advantaged backgrounds in Scotland’ written by Lucy Hunter Blackburn, Gitit Kadar-Satat, Sheila Riddell and Elisabet Weedon May 2016:

“This report lays bare the extent of the challenge. Scotland has a different approach to higher education. It no longer charges tuition fees, and as a result it retains a cap on student places that has been removed in England. But not only is the access gap still wider in Scotland, what progress there has been has largely been through sub-degree places in colleges.”

 

Access in Scotland
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Access in Scotland: www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Access-in-Scotland_May2016.pdf

 

If we pay attention to the gaps in attainment identified by the Scottish Government, we find: “In 2016, the percentage of school leavers entering higher education from the most deprived areas had risen to 24%, with the percentage entering from the least deprived up to 60.5%. “

For those who have encountered the educational system in its best and most effective terms it is hard for them to imagine that it might be made hard or impossible for others to gain access to formal education. This I see as analogous to the notion that for those who come from a happy, supportive family, it is hard to imagine a family which acts to the detriment of the individual; however, the truth necessitates that we acknowledge not all is well in paradise…


 

rethinking-poverty
Rethinking Poverty by Barry Knight

Checking Reality: Rethinking Poverty

In his book ‘Rethinking Poverty’, Barry Knight opens with a discussion on how “The narrative on poverty has failed”. An excerpt from this book follows (from page 5):

“In January 2016, the Webb Memorial Trust, together with Shelter and Oxfam, convened 25 leading charities to discuss the language of poverty.  A consistent refrain was that campaigns to reduce poverty are increasingly falling on deaf ears. Structural explanations of poverty have little resonance because people blame the poor themselves for their plight.

Fact-based campaigns to explode the ‘myths of poverty’ reinforce, rather than challenge, stereotypes of people on benefits. The result is that the public argument is being lost. Writing in the New Statesman in October 2016, Justin Watson from Oxfam admitted that charities are getting it wrong:

‘There is a growing consensus that the narratives used by the third sector, however well-meaning and ‘right’, have been rejected. Take ‘poverty’, a term that is politically divisive, laced with stigma and highly contested, to the point of still having to persuade people that it exists at all in the UK.’ [Watson, J. (2016) ‘Is the third sector failing?’, Webb Memorial Trust Supplement, New Statesman, 21 October – see below]

 

The New Statesman A Good Society Without Poverty
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New Statesman Webb Memorial Trust poverty supplement: www.newstatesman.com/sites/default/files/ns_webb_trust_supplement_oct_2016.pdf

 

A common strategy for charities and poverty campaigners is to express outrage at injustice. Such a tactic yields little result. For example, in a Trust-supported study (Side by Side report below), Olivia Bailey, research director at the Fabian Society, found that inequality is a ‘defining feature of our age’, but ‘talking about inequality describes a problem, it doesn’t generate enthusiasm for a solution’.

 

Side by Side Olivia Bailey Fabian Society Report
Click to Download

 

Side by Side report Olivia Bailey Fabian Society: www.fabians.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/FABJ4251_Fabian_Review_Spring_2016_03-16_WEB.pdf

 

An earlier Trust publication, The Society We Want, discussed how a constant stream of publications on poverty from respected academics and think tanks did little to solve the problem.”

 

The society we want Barry Knight
Click to Download
The society we want document: www.webbmemorialtrust.org.uk/download/publications_&_reports/The%20Society%20We%20Want%202.pdf

 

This maps with my experiences of the third sector and people’s perception of poverty. I have been shocked and surprised at meeting people who truly believe that there is no poverty in the UK; I have also encountered attitudes that people create their own poverty and that the less people earn the more lazy they are.

There are people who feel angered by individuals who come out of the social justice system, having ‘spent their convictions’ and seek work – in fact, there are companies which actively discriminate against employing people with any kind of spent conviction. Equally, these individuals express anger at the same individuals who are disqualified from working precisely because ‘they are not working, earning money and contributing to taxes’.

The use of poverty as a concept demands an expanded lexicon to account for all the varying forms of impoverishment which arise in settings where people are structured out of participation in normal cultural life. We need to think in terms of gender, race, class, mental health, criminal justice, education – in any area which shows itself transparently as underprivileged.


 

The Development Of The Precariat Class

Understanding where we are on the index of privilege is important as to what reality checks we need to do. Using the BBC Great British Class Calculator I fell into the label of the ‘Precariat’. The meaning attributed to this on the website is as follows: “…the poorest and most deprived class group”.

According to Professor Guy Standing the Precariat is “A new mass class is emerging – the precariat – characterised by chronic uncertainty and insecurity.”

 

The Precariat and Class Struggle by Guy Standing
Click to Download
The Precariat and Class Struggle: www.guystanding.com/files/documents/Precariat_and_Class_Struggle_final_English.pdf

 

In his book ‘The Precariat The New Dangerous Class’, Standing talks about how ‘the precariat’ is an emerging class which is rapidly growing in numbers comprising individuals who live the realities of insecurity, moving in and out of jobs which give little meaning to their lives. He argues that this class is producing instabilities in society and that around this there is a need for a Universal Basic Income.

 

 

I attended the above lecture at the RSA and had a number of reservations around how the realities of the instabilities were/are being framed. To describe the most deprived people in society as ‘a dangerous class’ is upsetting when it is the people with stock portfolios, great privilege, meaty pension funds invested in ethically dodgy markets like arms manufacture and exploitative multinational companies such as Nestle who are deeply culpable in creating an unstable world.

It is a gross omission for work such as this to sidestep those who are embedded in the worlds of finance and rent collecting, who are producing very little of value whilst manifesting a type of neo-feudal economic system which is asset stripping the fundamental societal infrastructure on which large populations depend.

Maybe I am reacting to a sexed up title of a book which they wanted to make sure sells; it is obvious in his book that he knows that everyone can find themselves in the category of ‘precarious’ if the circumstances befall us. In chapter 3 he begins: ‘Who Enters the Precariat? One answer is ‘everybody, actually’. Falling into the precariat could happen to most of us, if accidents occurred or a shock wiped out the trappings of security many have come to rely on.”

Still, in an age of sound bites I worry that the great depth of research and study into the Universal Basic Income gets flattened due to the kind of language of ‘the new dangerous class’… Especially when positions which challenge the dominant financial forces are tacitly placed into the background of the discussion. I would argue we need multi- and interdisciplinary syntheses to approach the big picture, first order thinking we need to develop the answers we collectively seek.

Precarious jobs and life circumstances are being created by ethically devoid investment, managerial systems/classes and morally absentee owners/rent collectors. We are now in a period of history more akin to the mercantilist times of the corn laws which went prior to what is referred to as capitalism. It seems to be skipped over in soundbite culture that political economy was developed by moral philosophers such as Adam Smith as an attempt to discuss the need for everyone to have a chance to participate in an economy.

Smith’s efforts get framed in the modern day in abstract. He gets touted as the arch neoliberal who advocated the ideology of a purely free market – one without regulation, checks and balances. What I read in his work was a discussion of how healthy economies enabled people to be involved and how monopolies result in an impoverishment – as was discovered through the specious practices of self protective mercantilism.

With the decimation of jobs by companies entrenched in secrescy jurisdictions (formerly known as tax havens; see Richard Murphy and the Tax Justice Network below) such as ASDA/WalmartTescoSainsbury’s… In fact, walk along your high street and investigate which of the shops are sunk up to their necks in avoiding paying tax by researching online.

 

Secrescy jurisdiction
Click to Download

 

Secrecy Jurisdictions by Tax Justice Network: www.taxresearch.org.uk/Documents/Secrecyjurisdiction.pdf

 

We find that increasingly these pest companies are providing precarious jobs insufficient to feed families which lack any significant contractzero hours exploitation, sub-sufficiency pay grades and no provisions of pension, outside of top rung executives

Not only this but we find that through such companies and holdings in people’s investment portfolios (including pension schemes) are greatly involved in the destruction of the natural environment, be it the devastating effects of monocultures of palm oil , soy and beef farming (etc) destroying rainforests or the destabilisation of countries for conflict minerals like we find in the use of coltan used in manufacturing of mobile phones.

By looking through the high street stores and supermarkets we can quickly get an appraisal of the modus operandi of these juggernaut economic entities that are dominating the landscape. Walk through the shops and count on your fingers how many products are made within a 50 /100/200 mile radius; look at how many people are in the employ on the shop floor and how many self check outs have replaced living beings; go online and investigate whether the head quarters are doing a “Double Irish With A Dutch Sandwich” (a tax avoidance technique employed by certain large corporations) or some such tax avoidance behaviour.

All this makes me think that the scholarly work of the likes of Guy Standing and Annie Miller needs to be integrated with understandings of how life is being made precarious by major financial forces. Why would you scoop water out of a boat with a cup and not bother identify where it is poaring in ? Maybe this integrated approach is still in development ??

Either way, if I place myself next to some of the culprits mentioned above I should like the expression ‘dangerous class’ re-assigned to the entities and individuals who are bringing about the instabilities in peoples lives by wrecking the environment and means of livelihood.


 

Paulo Freire
Paulo Freire

It’s Complicated: Exploring Why Those At The Bottom Seem To Remain There

Thinking about the sociology of my circumstances and learning the skills of communication/reportage has been both a good way to derive something meaningful in the madness and to exercise capabilities which I have like muscles. As I mentioned earlier, Paulo Freire is one in a long list of names which I am very glad to have found out about.

His name is often mentioned in context with Action Research and Participatory Action Research, which I only came to find out about by taking my development into my own hands after feeling that the industrial-educational complex had radically failed me (along with many others, both student and teacher alike).

These approaches are often described as ‘Problem Based Learning’, and have power for me precisely because they force me to relate to the world surrounding me. Through the critical analyses of what I encounter, my consciousness is raised through exercising skills which carry forward in my life forming a type of wealth which cannot be expropriated by abstract financial instruments – only ignored by them. It feels like a route for personal wealth which I can share with other people without becoming diminished.

 


 

Class by Two Ronnies and Cleese
Class by Two Ronnies and Cleese

What Class Has Come To Describe

So I am going to talk about what I know well; how complicated life is being skint and try and articulate ways in which poverty seems to recreate itself or become perpetuated. In this narrative I must try and reconcile myself with the term of ‘class’. As a word ‘class’ comes with so much baggage which has the danger of potentially diluting its meaningfulness when it is used to articulate something evident in experience.

My use of class is to articulate the socio-economic groupings which are apparent and evident in everyday life. The word class derives from the French classe (14th century), from the Latin root classis meaning “a class, a division; army, fleet”. So I use the word in the sense of division and in these divisions we should be able to clearly see apparent groupings which I can understand as social groups or strata.

In example, I forward that people with an income of under £100 a week form a different class to those who have over £1000 a week at their disposal. On this basis I feel that it is reasonable to make inferences such as – largely, those who live on under £100 a week will tend not to go on holidays, eat out or go to the theatre often, if at all.

There seem obvious extrapolations which can be investigated because the culture in the UK requires people have given amounts of money to exchange for goods and services – money (or finance) is the authorized currency. Without money, an individual cannot do certain things, and individuals need specific amounts of finance to engage in different activities or buy goods with differing values.

George Orwell expresses best my experience of being without finance in a world where finance is the predominant means of involvement in social and cultural activities. Everything becomes complicated – so much more complicated in my experience…. What follows is a quote from his book ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’:

“This put an end to my plans of looking for work. I had now got to live at the rate of about six francs a day, and from the start it was too difficult to leave much thought for anything else. It was now that my experiences of poverty began—for six francs a day, if not actual poverty, is on the fringe of it. Six francs is a shilling, and you can live on a shilling a day in Paris if you know how. But it is a complicated business.

It is altogether curious, your first contact with poverty. You have thought so much about poverty—it is the thing you have feared all your life, the thing you knew would happen to you sooner or later; and it, is all so utterly and prosaically different. You thought it would be quite simple; it is extraordinarily complicated. You thought it would be terrible; it is merely squalid and boring.

It is the peculiar LOWNESS of poverty that you discover first; the shifts that it puts you to, the complicated meanness, the crust-wiping. You discover, for instance, the secrecy attaching to poverty. At a sudden stroke you have been reduced to an income of six francs a day. But of course you dare not admit it—you have got to pretend that you are living quite as usual. From the start it tangles you in a net of lies, and even with the lies you can hardly manage it.

You stop sending clothes to the laundry, and the laundress catches you in the street and asks you why; you mumble something, and she, thinking you are sending the clothes elsewhere, is your enemy for life. The tobacconist keeps asking why you have cut down your smoking. There are letters you want to answer, and cannot, because stamps are too expensive. And then there are your meals— meals are the worst difficulty of all. Every day at meal-times you go out, ostensibly to a restaurant, and loaf an hour in the Luxembourg Gardens, watching the pigeons.”

(Page 17, George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933)


 

Opportunity Costs: Buying Your Way Out of Trouble

So life is increasingly complicated at the bottom because you do not have options. Corporate companies and organisations (such as a banking, electricity or phone provider) can act like bully’s and stiff you because:

  • it acts incompetently
  • it is structured to externalise responsibilities
  • it has created situations which involve so much attrition to get a basic service
  • it has acted in an unscrupulous way to steal your small money

 

corporate malfeasance
How much are our societal rhetorics discounting everyday malfeasance perpetrated by big companies ?

 

For those without finance there is not the opportunity to buy yourself out of the situation of being bullied; as an individual there is no choice but to live out the circumstance. Let me paint a scenario in example:

Someone who has been over charged by their phone provider is directed to a call centre which systematically fails to resolve the issues. This is called failure demand ((vanguard-method.net/library/systems-principles/failure-demand), an expression describing situations where you end up having to make multiple calls to multiple people who will not, or cannot, help you resolve the issue.

The parent company who you have the grievance with has outsourced the dealing of your grievances/support to third party companies which run call centres which could be located in India or Milton Keynes (for example) – in any case the people you are liaising with are distant from the site of manufacture or service.

These call centres are staffed with people who are on low wages, precarious zero hour contracts which involve little or no technical training, and are dislocated from any agencial position to resolve the situations. They often lack union representation and cannot afford legal representation themselves so, like factory hens, take what they are given because they need food more than they can afford to fight for socially just outcomes on behalf of customers.

 

Why call centres suck NESTA
Click to Download
Why call centres suck NESTA: www.nesta.org.uk/sites/default/files/call_centres_report.pdf

 

The person with enough money can simply write off the dispute/product/grievance – maybe it is £50 or £100 or £250 – maybe it is a working phone or a correct contract which provides a service at the right cost. Many people with enough money to allow them options weigh the cost between ‘taking the hit’ and retaining the time, energy and mental peace of mind – and – ‘fighting for the principle of the matter’ and investing the time, energy and stress/anguish to get what is a just outcome.

The company looks at its spread sheets, and it does a cost-benefit analysis as to what makes it’s profit margins larger. The company is in the dominant position to the individual customer on a number of counts and uses its means to invest in the perverse incentive, profit before principal. The customer with sufficient money (but insufficient time) does their cost-benefit analysis and realises that fighting the principal would cost them significantly in terms of time, effort and mental/emotional wellbeing.

The individual who has not the financial resources to abandon the situation and move to another company is locked into an abusive relationship. They cannot afford to get a new phone or lose £50 (which represents a means of eating for many) thus are bound into trying to get a just settlement to the issues raised.

The individual without money then discovers that the ombudsman has little or no regulatory power (often they simply produce opt-in voluntary codes of conduct for big industry to give a casual nod to in there annual general reports or website). If the ombudsman does take a look at the case it involves long, drawn out processes which require a very significant investment of energy on behalf of the individual with the complaint. Even after this, the ombudsman lacks the power to enforce its judgement.

Alongside this, the legal process is often precluded from the start because the evidence required have all happened via communicating on the telephone to call centres who do not make their data (telephone call recordings – mentioned as recorded for ‘training purposes’) available. Thus the verbal contracts and informations relayed are not witnessed/documented on the customer side leaving them bereft of legal agency. Commonly large companies will not work via email, which could have acted as a legal document to the information transactions.

Effectively the company in the dominant position wears people out knowing that most will abandon what represents ‘small change’ in their pay cheques. For those who cannot afford to cut their losses and run they lack the financial or legal resources they need to enforce a complaint. This is ever more so as we witness the chainsaw being taken to legal aid in the UK.

This is all compounded by the way that the legal system in the UK is retained as an opaque institution to those outside of the profession, lacking the use of plain English and clear routes to effective self representation.

In a number of ways a whole section of the population acts in a manner which is complicit with the dominant company in what I have come to understand as ‘downsourcing‘ of responsibility. Every time someone abandons the fight for a principal it reinforces the cost benefit analysis which drives forward the position that it is more cost effective to pay out on the limited number of legal cases which make it to trial versus the number which fall away through attrition.

Those left carrying the greatest burden are those who have the least finance; they are left with the externalised inconvenience, malfeasance, and incompetence that others have bought themselves out of. Unfortunately, in the legal system as it stands, justice overwhelmingly costs money, wonga, filthy lucra, which the poor simply don’t have.


 

A Case Study of Corporate Cost-Benefit Malfeasance

We can see this kind of cost benefit malfeasance (sneaky skullduggeryness) dynamic portrayed in the 1991 film ‘Class Action’ directed by Michael Apted. The plot follows a lawsuit focusing on injuries caused by a defective car which ignites the petrol tank when struck from a specific angle under specific conditions.

 

 

In the film the car manufacturer takes the cost-benefit approach I have described above – which is common place in people’s lives in context with banks, energy providers and phone companies. In their ‘risk management strategies’ the car company looks at the projections of actuaries for the number of probable deaths and injured car owners and weighs it off against how much it will cast to withdraw the car model, re-tool their factories and re-manufacture the car so that it is safe in all circumstances.

The decision the company makes is to not withdraw the car and see the number of deaths/injuries as more acceptable than losing on profit.

Now you may say that this is a fiction, and indeed, it is a fictionalised account of such risk management strategies, but, the film closely maps to the famous Ford Pinto Case. Gilbert Geis, Professor Emeritus of Criminology, Law and Society at UC Irvine wrote a book called ‘White Collar and Corporate Crime; A Documentary and Reference Guide’ which reviews unethical behaviours exhibited by corporate companies. One of the studies he has written about is the Ford Pinto Case…

An investigative reporter called Mark Dowie raised awareness of the defects of the Ford Pinto and how the mis-designed petrol tank ignited from collisions occurring from the rear. This was reported in September 1977 and the legal case ensued which would contribute considerably towards the development of corporate manslaughter and murder as a finding.

 

What follows is an excerpt from Professor Geis’s book (Page 28):

Los Angeles safety expert Byron Bloch has made an in-depth study of the Pinto fuel system. “It’s a catastrophic blunder,” he says. “Ford made an extremely irresponsible decision when they placed such a weak tank in such a ridiculous location in such a soft rear end. It’s simply designed to blow up—premeditated.”

A Ford engineer, who doesn’t want his name used, comments: “The company is run by salesmen, not engineers, so the priority is styling, not safety.”… So when J. C. Echold, Director of Automotive Safety (chief anti-safety lobbyist for Ford) wrote to the Department of Transportation… he felt secure attaching a memorandum that in effect says it is acceptable to kill 180 people and burn another 180 every year, even though we have the technology that could save their lives for $11 a year….

When the Pinto liability suits began, Ford strategy was to go to a jury. Confident it could hide the Pinto auto tests, Ford thought jurors of solid American registered voters would buy into the industry doctrine that drivers, not cars, cause accidents. It didn’t work. It seems that citizens are much quicker to see the truth than bureaucrats. Juries began ruling against the company, granting million-dollar awards to plaintiffs.

The only government penalty meted out to auto companies for noncompliance to standards has been a miniscule fine, usually $5,000 to $10,000. One wonders how long the Ford Motor Company would continue to market lethal cars were Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca [the company president] serving 20-year prison terms in Leavenworth for consumer homicide.”


 

Coda: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing

So to sum up, those with the least money and agency are left with all the problems which have become externalised (sidestepped) by all those who have enough money and agency to have chosen to buy their way out of situations which would otherwise take up their of time and energy.

Corporate companies and often in corporate structures (used here in terms of coordinated group behaviours) externalise responsibility and cost wherever they can. Professor Joel Bakan in his book and multi-award winning film ‘The Corporation; The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power’ examines how the legal entity of a business corporation came about and how it has come to behave in society. He identifies that the problem with corporations is that they are legally instituted to act as “externalising machines” that inevitably disregard their social impacts on society.

 

 

What has come of collective behaviour’s of financial investors (including hedge and common garden pension funds) and workers/management who do the work of corporations is the predatory behaviour of unchecked financial agency. Those most preyed upon are those least equipped to engage the machinery of law in defence and pursuit of justice – the financially poor.

What we are seeing now is the asset stripping of public goods by corporate entities and generations of people who live and work within those corporate structures. As an example, the Financial Times reported on how ‘Virgin Care sues NHS after losing Surrey child services deal‘:

The Telegraph reported on this story too stating “A finance paper published by NHS Surrey Downs, one of the six CCGs involved – state its liability for the case was £328,000. The report was removed from its website after Health Service Journal made enquiries about the settlement.”

With all this private company asset stripping of public goods in mind, I want to draw your attention to the small change – all the millions of small sums which have been in dispute with large companies which people just don’t have the resources to challenge.

Class Actions are notoriously hard to organise and pay for; legal representation is infamously expensive to engage; this leaves clear openings which are exploited by unethical and/or badly run companies to fill their profit sheet at the expense of the general public.

I am suggesting that what I have described here is a significant part of why people who are most financially bereft are held at the bottom of the pyramid – often by people, policies, behaviours and structures which simply are not conscious about the reach of their actions; but also by those who see other people as ‘fair game in a competitive world’ to exploit.

I am suggesting that in this age ‘the poor’ are an artifact of various modes of exploitation equivalent to what we see in terms of environmental destruction


 

Child in a pond

A Thought Experiment: The Ethical Dilemma of Acting or Evading

What I am interested in doing is examining the minutiae in these contexts, as there is a common awareness of the wreckless, dullard and unethical ways which large corporations can and do behave. How do these types of behaviour factor down into the interpersonal, into our lives.

Well, if we think about it in terms of our walking along a path. On that path there is some obstacle which could trip you up and you have the power to move it, but you don’t because you want to get somewhere quicker. You know that there are elderly, the young, those with mobility problems and visual problems who use this path regularly.

There are two options. One is to take a diversion thus avoiding the obstacle and carry on to where you are getting a little bit later but quicker than you would by addressing the issue, knowing that it will have to be dealt with by someone else; and another course is that you spend time moving it out of your way and changing your plans because it might cause someone to damage themselves.

Contextualising this, a corporate company might say we will remove the obstacle at a cost, or if it benefits their business they might leave it there and externalise the responsibility. Externalisation of responsibilities is often a course of action because the private interests are happy to unload such duties onto the state (whilst basing their headquarters in a secrecy jurisdiction [tax haven] to avoid paying tax which will contribute towards such public services).

Peter Singer is a well known moral philosopher who has written about ‘The Drowning Child and the Expanding Circle’ which more eloquently deals with the ethics of acting to help others.

I paint the scenario to illustrate how by sidestepping the problem, it does not disappear, it simply makes it other people’s issues – it is ‘externalised’. When the more able people side step the issue it becomes the imperative of those who are less able as they have no other option of taking the diversion.

There is a cascading effect of the externalisation of those responsible for the issue in the first place; a downsourcing of the problem by the most able and resourced; and an imperative engagement with the issue by those with no other options.

This is a kind of cascading poverty which illustrates how in a large set of human circumstances the term poverty must be understood directly in relation with privilege. Maybe a more powerful word than poverty to explore the recurring inequities of people is the word impoverishment, which means ‘to make poor’.

I am keen to hear your thoughts on poverty and the ideas I have laid out here.

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