Friday, February 26, 2010

Why Are The Poor Punished For Being Poor?

Some might disagree with the question I have posed. "The poor aren't punished! If the poor just do what they are supposed to do, then there's no reason for any punishment." While I agree that there is no good reason for them to be punished for the reason of being poor, it is certainly true that this is the case.

From the most ancient times, this has been true. If a peasant was unable to pay their taxes in ancient Egypt, they were whipped. If someone was unable to pay their debts, from ancient times to only a hundred years or so ago, they would be imprisoned. Today, interestingly enough, the poor are charged for their debt-- to make the debt go deeper.

For instance, in looking at my water bill that I was unable to pay until this week, I added up the charges they put on me for being unable to pay it-- 90 dollars total. This is all because I wasn't able to pay on time, not because I didn't pay my debt. Am I a bad person? No, I just run on donations and donations don't always arrive when we want them to. I can't call someone up and say, "Hey where's your check?"

I could just say that I would go without utilities until I can pay for them. Unfortunately, that isn't a possibility as well. It is illegal to have a house-- especially if you have children-- without running water or electricity. You can have your children taken away from you, in fact, if you live in such a condition. Because if you are poor, then the state considers you unworthy to care for children.

Then there's the banks. They offer "free" checking accounts. Well, they are free if you have an account that is well over the line of going under. But if your account is close to the edge-- you have a tendency to only have a few dollars in the account because you are poor-- then all it requires is an accounting error and you have a 35 dollar fee and five dollars a day. Then the banks keep changing the system every once in a while to make it easier to overdraw the account if you are close to the bottom. It's only for the poor to pay fees. And people wonder why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?

But back to my original question. Why is this? Why does society allow this? Why do people feel justified to insult homeless people or consider single women on welfare "unworthy"? Many reasons:

-It used to be that no one was truly considered "poor", because everyone is connected to a network. A debtor would be thrown in prison because even if they had no money, their family and friends did, and so they considered the family and friends responsible for the debt. We don't follow that line of thought today.

-Today, the main line of thought goes like this: If anyone is poor, it is their own fault. This is especially the thought in the U.S. I just had a conversation with someone who considers that if one lives in the U.S., then there is no reason why someone should be poor. Well, if that is the case, then why are so many people poor, even living in third world conditions? Well, it must be their own fault. Perhaps they are disabled in some way-- mentally ill, etc-- or they are addicts or have some other moral failure. So society punishing the poor is simply a way to give the poor their just due: punishing them for whatever moral lapses they have.

-Another reason for punishing the poor is because of their lack of contribution to society. If the poor are poor, it means that they consume far less than others. This also means that they do not contribute their share to the economic pool. Somehow, they must be forced to do so.

-Another reason is because the poor "steal" from others. If the poor are sick, they can go to the hospital and get free medical care (if they don't pay for it), which means that other people are paying for them, through insurance, or whatever. If a person isn't paying for enough electricity, it means that others are paying for the infrastructure that benefits everyone, including the poor. Everyone has to have a bank account to cash checks, but the poor aren't keeping a sufficient amount in the bank for the bank to use. The bank is giving the poor something that others are paying for. Thus, the poor are resting on the benefits others give them, thus they should be punished, or at least forced to pay their fair share.

I'll talk about the misconceptions of the poor later. I just want to remind people of God's words to societies that refuse to assist the poor:

God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers.
How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked?
Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute.
Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.
They do not know nor do they understand; They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I said, "You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High.
"Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes."
Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations.

Psalm 82