Poverty in America

The 2019 video below features Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs in a discussion of why there is so much poverty in America and what can be done about it.

While the discussion was before the 2020 elections, it’s still worth a watch because it’s quite rare to see such big names on the A-level sociology global development syllabus discussing something so specific.

The video is very watchable – split into two sections focussing on two questions:

  1. Why is there so much poverty in America?
  2. What can we do to reduce poverty in America?

Why is there so much poverty in America?

Key points:

  • Approximately 38 million Americans, or 1 in 8 people live in poverty today.
  • Inequality is the highest it has been since the Great Depression in 1926.
  • America hasn’t always been so unequal – since the New Deal and up to the mid 1970s government policies worked effectively to reduce inequality in America
  • Inequality started to get worse under Reagan when he introduced neoliberal reforms. This initially meant tax cuts for the very rich.
  • More recently under Donald Trump there have been even more tax cuts for corporations and proposed cuts to benefits (for example restricting the number of people who are allowed food stamps). (NB I’m not sure whether these policies went through since Trump got voted out of power!)
  • The United States political system is now owned by Corporate interests who bankroll elections.
  • Tax havens are also mentioned as a problem – the often illegal means by which Corporations extract wealth from poorer countries.
  • We need to get rid of Trump and his pandering to ‘divide and rule’ racist attitudes in America.

What can we do about poverty in America?

  • Krugman and Sachs point to the fact that Capitalism isn’t the problem – Northern European countries can be socially just and capitalist.
  • What we need is ‘social democracy’ where the State regulates capitalism, rather (presumably) than neoliberalism).
  • They seem to think Denmark offers hope – it used to be very unequal in the 19th century and now is very equal.
  • We need to get rid of plutocracy in America – i.e. get rid of the amount of control Corporations have over the political system.
  • Young people are mentioned as the solution – they are more tolerant of diversity and less likely to vote for Trump.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a very useful video for any student studying the Global Development option for A-level sociology.

It focuses on a specific issue relevant to the specification, that of inequality and development and you get to hear the views of two major economists on the issue.

TBH I was surprised at how similar their views are and how critical Sach’s was of Corporations and too little regulation, I had expected him to be a little less radical!

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