Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
Americans routinely hail their country as the greatest nation on earth, a land of boundless opportunity providing everyone the chance to fulfill their dreams of freedom, prosperity, and success. Reality, however, does not quite live up to this rhetoric. Over the past three decades, U.S. poverty rates have actually increased and by 2010 over 46 million people in this country, approximately 1 person in 7, could be considered poor. In flat contradiction to its self-image, the U.S. now ranks lowest among industrialized nations on many critical indicators of economic and social well-being.
According to a briefing from the Institute of Policy Studies, among all economically advanced countries, the U.S. has the highest rates of relative poverty and child poverty. It also has one of the largest margins of income inequality and the smallest number of social services provided to its citizens. Contrary to the creed of neoliberal economic theory, those countries in which the government devotes more funds to social services are consistently more successful in reducing poverty and inequality than those that adopt a “Wild West” version of corporate capitalism.
Politicians have treated poverty as if it were a taboo topic not to be spoken about in polite company. While long hours in Congress are devoted to debating how to avoid a fiscal cliff, barely a glance is given to those who have fallen off the poverty cliff and face a daily struggle just to survive. Talk about reducing the economic burden on the middle class and protecting small businesses is considered respectable, but acknowledging the existence of an underclass can raise shrieks about “class warfare,” as if it were the poor that are attacking the rich.