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Essay Samples > Book Review > The Rich and the Rest of Us
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The Rich and the Rest of Us

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The new form of politically instigated poverty which is eating into the working middle class Americans is the main topic covered in the book. Causes of the poverty such as the pre-war economic depression of 1929 and malpractices of the American profit-oriented corporations as well as complacency of the American political representatives to defend the rights of their electorate with regard to the improved working conditions and better pay also form a topic of discussion by the authors Tavis Smiley and Cornel West.

In my own summary of the book, the rising level of chronic poverty amongst well over 150 million Americans is caused by the long lasting effects of the 1929 economic depression and destitution brought about by the unregulated and unethical malpractices of the larger profit-minded American corporations. Given the increasingly gnawing effects of poverty and economic destitutions on the larger segment of the American populations, poverty eradication should ideally form America’s top agenda in the 21st century like no other. The argument follows the observation that the United States of America, formerly known as the land of opportunities and freedom for all, are increasingly becoming a new home for the masses of the middle class working poor. The rate of unemployment and level of economic destitution increase year by year right under the watch of the U.S. government.

The authors conclude that the 21st century America is characterized by unemployment, intolerable numbers of the homeless families, frequent corporate avarice, and dwindling opportunities. Secondly, poverty has taken grip of the paralyzed nation, and the growing percentages of the middle class sink into the abyss of destitution as the high profile elected representatives. The corporations continue to unjustly amass wealth from the vast national resources. The authors estimate that well over 150 million Americans languish in abject poverty, and the population of American nears poor status slipping into chronic poverty has been on the increase for the last five decades. Poverty eradication has emerged at America’s top agenda on the social transformation of the 21st century just like abolition of women suffrage and slavery, and civil rights and labor movements. The book singles out poverty eradication as the 21st century civil rights struggle in the American society.

There is a number of scholarly works that independently support arguments presented by the authors in the book. The monumental fact that poverty is a true social and economic menace on the larger segment of the American population is not disputable. Just like Ginny Garcia’s “Mexican American and Immigrant Poverty in the United States”, the two authors agree that well over 150 million poor and many other members of the middle class near poor suffer from the gnawing effects of poverty due to the dwindling employment opportunities. The aftermath of the increasing poverty levels is far reaching; it cascades in the housing and health care sectors as well in the American civil society. Incidences of homelessness among the poor masses, as presented in both “The Rich and the Rest of Us” and 2004 Mark Robert Rank’s “One Nation, Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All”, are on the rise, because they cannot simply afford decent housing and maintain ordinary living standards for their family members.

As portrayed by Rice et al. in “Confronting Poverty: Weak States and U.S. National Security”, it was exclusively the elected politicians and the corporate paymasters that are sole to blame for the strings of economic depression in the U.S. Tavis Smiley and Cornel West lament that it is the poor population and the Wall Street Americans that bear the brunt of the depressions. As a result, the poor are deprived of decent housing facilities, access to quality education, availability adequate healthcare services, and other social amenities. At the bottom line, the authors conclude that the levels of economic destitutions in the United States are heading for the worse.

“The Persistence of Poverty in the United States” separately projects that the scores of other working class Americans will definitely succumb to poverty if the trend is not curtailed. Chances are that the nations will be paralyzed if the frequent corporate avarice and the unwillingness of politicians to bring poverty to an end is not addressed with speed. It is on this basis that the authors conclude that poverty eradication should take a central stage in America’s social transformation agenda. In a quick rejoinder, “Poverty and Inequality in the Latin American- U.S. Borderlands: Implications” makes clear that poverty eradication strategies should be accorded much importance just like abolitionist movements and other civil rights movements ever experienced in the American history.

Analysis of the Book

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West make a persuasive case for the central point in the book ‘The Rich and the Rest of Us’ stating that poverty is the leading problem in the U.S. and that the elected whores from the political class and their corporate masters are solely responsible for the problem. By the use of numerical figures and reputable statistics from the government agencies, the authors leave no reader in doubt that multitude of Americans are languishing in abject poverty more than ever before and that the fast encroaching poverty is claiming fair share of the Main Street Americans and larger percentages of the working class citizens.  The resultant economic destitution brought about by the wave of economic depression in the United States has escalated due to high unemployment rates.

The sheer use of adequate evidence by the authors to support several claims in the book is highly remarkable. Every single claim made by the authors in the book concerning the severity, causes, and patterns of poverty in the United States of America is supported by government records, statistics, economic, or historical publications. Various evidences are further supported by other independent reputable sources such as the United States Bureau of Statistics and Population Studies. This confirms that the book is exclusively grounded on substantial facts without any speculative evidence. In areas that require historical information, the book has incorporated information from reputable historical journals, publications, and the official government records.

At the end of the book, all readers are strongly persuaded that poverty, an economic creation of the corporate world and political class in the pre-World War I era, is the biggest problem America is facing in the 21st century. Thus, here is a dire need for the poverty eradication movement so as to get the masses of Wall Street Americans out of chronic poverty circles. Having made a systematic presentation that social and economic destitutions are brought about by higher rates of unemployment and dwindling opportunities in the United States, virtually everyone understands that poverty is a true problem beleaguering America in the 21st century.

The authors not only uses evidence in their book but also treat other authors in a fair way; in few cases, they hold conflicting positions on the causes and extent of poverty in the U.S. Tavis Smiley and Cornel West do not make direct attacks on other authors but use evidence to dispel their claims. For instance, the authors gently rule out Professor Gary Nash’s claim that laziness among the poor, over-reliance on the state funded programs, and low drive to create employment are the main causes of poverty by citing rising numbers of hard working middle class who are falling to poverty. In this manner, the duo is fair but assertive to authors who held a conflicting view and opinion about subject matter of their interest.

The most effective argument made by authors in the book: the prevailing poverty eating among the large percentage of the American middle class does not bear any relation with the lack of educational or vocational training, debt traps, making bad choice, excessive alcoholism, and laziness or willingness to work. The new poverty, which is also seen to be claiming a third of the working poor who are also full-time employees,  results from poor pay and exploitation by the profit-oriented corporations. Pathetic working conditions for the American contract workers such as working for longer hours at minimal wages, having no medical cover, no unions to champion for the workers’ rights, no retirement package and job insecurity predispose the “working poor” to chronic poverty.

“Value hedge fund speculation, outsourcing and privatization of every function of the American corporations”, as argued by the authors, further add to the miseries of the American workers. The authors make clear that the elected American representatives are squarely to blame for the ongoing “new version 2.0 of the poor” because of their failure and false promise to protect the interests of workers. In the same perspective, I fully agree with the author that the chronic poverty amidst the American working poor is a result of politically motivated economic depressions.

The implication of understanding the authors’ argument for understanding politics and economic: even though some scholars would make frantic attempts to distance politicians and corporate bodies from being the root cause of poverty in the U.S., the authors have done a commendable job in tracing the genesis of the ongoing poverty circles to the American politics. It is therefore clear that the American political characters and democratically elected representatives have a direct influence on the U.S. economy. Therefore, any effort to reduce or eradicate poverty in the wider American society must be politically instigated.

Conclusion

Poverty is an evident problem in the American civil society, and systemic poverty infiltrates the entire society notwithstanding one’s race, creed, color, and political affiliation. It is on this basis that the authors call the U.S. government to prioritize poverty eradication among the citizens with the urgency it deserves. According to the authors, poverty eradication has become  issue number one in the social transformation list in the 21st century just like abolition of women suffrage and slavery, civil rights, and labor movements. In essence, the book singles out poverty eradication as the 21st century civil rights struggle in the American society.

“The Rich and the Rest of Us” is a must-read for everyone who wants to understand the root cause, magnitude, and consequences of poverty in the wider American civil society. The authors not only organize the book into systematic chapters but also use simple and clear language for general readership. Furthermore, there is an elaborate use of footnotes to explain terminologies employed throughout the book to provide clarity and easy understanding. I, therefore, recommend the book for general readership. 

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