Barbara and everyone else
Thank you all for what has become an interesting, important and constructive conversation. Barbara in particular, thank you for these references. I will check them out. The argument regarding hunger in America, despite its importance, was tangential to the argument that I was trying to make, which I will spare you all. In terms of my argument, Anne’s comments were particularly helpful. And I am certainly trying to understand the nature of poverty in America, as I think we all are, and the use of the threat of hunger to motivate people, which serves as the basis for the mainstream explanation for why people work (they call it disutility—yes, I would say going hungry is dissatisfying, but it should be called what it is, attempting to starve people to induce them to work).
I was somewhat mystified by Jim’s comments. Your explanation Barbara helps, a fact that I was unaware. My wife teaches fifth grade at a Title one School. There underprivileged children are fed both breakfast and lunch. And a truck brings food to the school for the parents to take every weekend. Some parents may be too proud to partake; some, for whatever reason, may not have access; and I have no idea if native Americans on Reservations have access, although I would think they would. So even if they lack food stamps, other sources may exist.
Logically, food insecurity characterizes the bottom quintile of households in terms of income: 44% are comprised of single women with children, 20% are over 65, which helps explain the situation of 2/3 of the bottom quintile. Even so, 45% worked (part or full time). (Data compiled from Current Population Survey, 2013 Annual Social and Economic Supplement: FINC-06. http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/cpstables/032012/faminc/finc06_000.xls) . All of this suggests that it is difficult to get a good picture of poverty in America.
The really obscene point, mentioned again by Barbara and with which I whole heartily agree, is the largesse provided to the wealthy.
You might find The
Challenge of Affluence relevant to your topic. He has a chapter on obesity. He explains why weight loss can be tied to class privilege. There is another chapter on smoking that is also more prevalent among the poor. I think the cultural focus on obesity
is part of an effort to refocus us all on the overconsumption of the poor, so that we are distracted from the overconsumption of the rich. But, as someone pointed out, obesity cannot be reduced to “overconsumption.” It is also about nutrition. There is
some evidence that food has less nutrients per calorie than in the past. You point out the link between adequate food and health, but I’m pretty sure that It is also linked to time poverty, because access to fresh fruits and vegetables can be difficult
and eating a big mac is both quick and cheap. And, as
Zdravka and I wrote, the increase in women’s labor force participation means less time for household production among the working poor. Cooking beans and rice takes a long time. The other issue is whether one has the facilities. In high cost housing places
like San Francisco, one might not be able to afford more than a hot plate.
Your link between adequate food and health is important, but overstated. Poor health (of both mother and child) is one of the barriers to getting a job, or a decent job, for a lot of poor women with kids. For kids with food allergies the food bank doesn’t necessarily have food they can eat. The role of mental illness here might be particularly interesting, because it would affect the ability for some form of deprivation to effect social control.
Also, in response to the claim that hungry kids are the children of people who sell their food stamps – First, it is different to say this happens – anecdotal evidence is sufficient for that – and “this is typical”. It is incorrect to assume that everyone that needs assistance, gets it. After the financial collapse 62% of poor women did not receive food stamps. (67.5% of poor women in New Mexico, which, for those of you who were not at the session, represents the anecdotal evidence Jim used to challenge John’s premise.) Yes, most of those people are getting food somehow, leaving their kids alone so they don’t have to pay for childcare, not fixing stuff when it breaks, taking out payday loans. When I looked at the USDA data some years ago, children were entirely shielded from “hunger” or “disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake that characterize very low food security” (that means that mothers (we are mostly talking mothers) went hungry so they could feed their kids first). Today, (or rather two years ago and going back two years before that) that still happens, but for 1.1 percent of households with children, “both children and adults experienced instances of very low food security.” That means that at sometime during the year they skipped meals or ate less because they could not afford it. Does that mean children are more likely to be hungry or poisoned with lead? I’m not sure, but probably the lead thing. While I agree that this isn’t the means for motivating people (if I understood Anne’s comment, neither did Polanyi), I think that hunger is a bigger problem than most people realize and growing and deepening and NOT exclusively a problem of drug addicted homeless people (after all homeless people are not covered by the USDA survey, since it covers “households”).
I think it is intuitive that “the nature of poverty” has changed. I also think that poverty looks different in different places and among different groups (lone mothers, for example). Poverty in Northern New Mexico (or Southern
New Mexico) looks very different from poverty in Baltimore or Chicago or Detroit. But, I think that to focus on this point (the idea that poverty is different than we think it is) requires reading some ethnography, such as
In The Milagro Beanfield War, a fictional account of property rights vs. water rights and subsistence farming vs. wage labor in Northern New Mexico, one of the main characters says “Do you remember when we were not rich, but when our poverty was not a thing to be ashamed of?”
There have been shifts over time back and forth as to how much we blame people for their economic misfortune. Those enabling myths are an important part of the mechanisms for social control.
Barbara Hopkins, Ph.D.
Wright State University
3640 Col. Glenn Hwy
Dayton, OH 45435
office: 937 775-2080
Fax: 937 775-2441
[log in to unmask]
Sent from Mail for Windows 10
Assuming your response was to my request for "data, studies, or other information":
Gunnar Myrdal wrote the following in "Value in Social Theory" (1958 - originally 1944 as an appendix of "An American Dilemma"). (I'm not asserting that your use of "children in very run-down schools" is a reference to racial characteristics, but the correlation is high and so I thought referring to Myrdal was appropriate.)
There are in the Negro problem whole systems of popular beliefs concerning the Negro and his relations to the larger society which are crudely false and can only be understood in this light. These 'popular theories' or ideologies are themselves important data in our study, as they represent strategic social facts in the practical and political problems of race relations. A legitimate task of education is to attempt to correct popular beliefs by subjecting them to rigorous examination in the light of the factual evidence. This educational objective must be achieved in the face of the psychic resistance mobilized by the people who feel an urgent need to retain their biased beliefs in order to justify their way of life. (my emphasis)
In a more penetrating analysis all tendencies to bias will be found to have involved relations among themselves and with deeper ideological tendencies which have even shaped our main conceptional tools in social science ... These ideological tendencies are biased in a static and do-nothing (laissez-faire) conservative direction, which, in the main, works against a disfavored group like the American Negroes.
Myrdal comes to these insights as a result of leading an actual empirical research project on American race relations, the most in depth study even to this date, in which he collaborated with economists, political scientists, sociologists, historians, educators, philosophers, and psychologists among other disciplines. In fact, it was during this project that Myrdal states that he became an "Institutional Economist", from being a neoclassical economist, as he confronted his own ideological positions, and found them lacking because they did not conform to data, studies and other information.
In a section titled "BIASES IN THE RESEARCH ON THE AMERICAN NEGRO PROBLEM" Myrdal delineates categories of biases; among them:
On this last "Scale" Myrdal writes:
The degree to which a scientist is prepared to study unpopular subjects and to state plainly and clearly unpopular conclusions derived from his findings depends, naturally, on his own political inclinations, his personal courage, and the relative freedom awarded him by society. These factors, however, are not independent of each other. In communities where academic freedom is low, the scientist normally will, in adjustment to the environment in which he works, develop, on the one hand, a dislike for controversial matters and for clear and bluntly scientific statements concerning them, and, on the other hand, an unduly high valuation of agreement and conformity as such. Quite independent of the favorable or unfavorable judgment society passes upon such an attitude, it is, of course, detrimental to scientific clarity and objectivity and to scientific progress. (emphasis mine)
Certainly, what would distinguish the institutional approach from the neoclassical is the importance placed on producing "scientific" evidence from real world empirical research on which to base theory. To the extent that institutionalism, as a community, de-values research on "unpopular subjects", or unpopular conclusions from findings, it diminishes academic freedom. However, those conclusions, if not based on data, studies or other information are "mere" opinion, and everyone has theirs.
I use this reading in my Institutional Economic Theory class as a way of encouraging my students to come to the realization that we are all biased in our opinions, but we have an obligation, as social scientists, to work to get beyond our ideological "mere opinions" to Dewey's "warranted assertability".
On Fri, May 13, 2016 at 5:48 PM, Philip Pilkington <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
I'm open to it. Certainly. But it does happen. I know it because I've seen it up close. With some of my friends and some of their family's kids. And if liberal types want to deny it due to their own ideological predilections, that's on the.
Btw on the original question... Yes this is heavily ideological from what I can see. A picture painted by the middle class to avoid the truth of what is going on.
On Friday, 13 May 2016, Linwood Tauheed <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
"You also sometimes find children that are hungry in very run-down schools, for example. But this is typically because the parents are flogging food stamps for drugs or alcohol."
Philip, would you provide data, studies, or other information to substantiate you claim that there are children in very run-down schools who are hungry because their parents traded food stamps for drugs and alcohol?
On May 13, 2016 9:48 AM, "Philip Pilkington" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Seems to me perfectly coherent. Hunger -- as in, the need for food -- is not a problem in most Western countries. And yes, obesity and obesity-related interests (diabetes etc) now seem far more prevalent among poorer people.
Food banks and soup kitchens do still exist in the US. But these appear to be mainly for homeless people and drug addicts. I think it's the homelessness and drug addiction that are the main problems here, not lack of food per se.
You also sometimes find children that are hungry in very run-down schools, for example. But this is typically because the parents are flogging food stamps for drugs or alcohol.
In Greece you do seem to have old style soup kitchens reemerging:
But even there it's not really like the classic soup kitchen that would literally feed starving people. It seems more so that people who are hard up use the facilities to save money that they then spend on other things -- like clothes and books for their children.
I think you're right: poverty today increasingly looks like poisonous overconsumption; of bad quality food and of drugs and alcohol.
On Fri, May 13, 2016 at 3:11 PM, John Watkins <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Thank you for your comments. I agree: hunger is imprecise. And while most people maybe fed, they are not well fed. Even here, as you suggest, there is controversy regarding what it means to be well fed. Obviously, we have many people who are not going hungry (nutrition is another issue), but other needs are going without.
My point is that the nature of poverty has changed. And it is important to trace those changes. Amartya Sen had an interesting comment, which may seem obvious after said. Needs are a function of what is possible. His point is that living 200 years is not a need because it is not possible. Hence, poverty itself, loosely defined as the inability to satisfy needs, is a matter of what is possible.
Hunger is perhaps too imprecisely defined – and reducing everything to calories ignores the issue of nutrition. I attach two relatively recent FT reports that have some bearing on your topic. Especially the Fifield article is quite damning about the state of grocery retail in the US, and may be read in conjunction with Eric Schlosser’s classic “Fast Food Nation”. Not so long ago Europe had its own horse meat scandal, revealing just how little is known of the supply chains feeding us. “Soylent Green” also comes to mind!
At the recent AFIT meetings, I presented a paper that received considerable criticism. Criticism, of course, is fine, even desirable. I have to wonder, however, if the source of the criticism, in fact, lay in our own ideological blinders. The point that received the most criticism was my claim that hunger is not the problem it was once, at least in the West.
The response led me to wonder if I had attacked a sacred cow, if ideology had blinded my fellow institutionalists to changes in the American economy. I know of no way to go about research other than the use theory and facts. I try to confront ideology wherever I find it, which is usually among mainstream economists. This is not to say that we, too, wear occasionally ideological blinders.
Polanyi refers to the use of hunger as a means of motivating people in the19th century civilization. Polanyi uses hunger as a term for needs generally.
I asserted that the muted response to the financial crisis was, in part, that hunger was no longer the problem it was once. Although the popularity of both Trump and Sanders may reveal up to now a silent, growing response to the crisis and how it was handled. Its silence, however, is not motivated by hunger.
My point is despite the rise in inequality, most people suffer from too much food, not too little. The United States Department of Agriculture prefers the term food security to hunger, meaning that the people have sufficient calories (2100 calories per day for an adult) to perform their daily functions. The importance of food security cannot be underestimated. Good nutrition improves the ability to avoid and fight disease, improving longevity (See McKeown 1983). Data from the US Department of Agriculture indicates that food insecurity with hunger increased from 3.1 % in 2001 to 5.7% of households during 2008 and 2009. Overall, food insecurity comprised 19.2 percent of households. The USDA defines food insecurity as households “unable to acquire adequate food for one or more household members because they had insufficient money and other resources for food” (Coleman-Jensen, Rabbitt, Gregory and Singh 2015a, 8). Admittedly, there is a difference between the threat of hunger and hunger itself. In 2014, nineteen percent of households expressed concern that money until the next check would be insufficient (Coleman-Jensen, Rabbitt, Gregory and Singh 2015b, Table S-5, p. 10). Nevertheless, the report surmises that food insecurity in the United States is not chronic. Even so, food insecurity persists among more marginalized groups: minorities, single women with children, low-income groups, and so on.
All of this was resurrected for me by an article in The Wall Street Journal today titled “Obesity: The New Hunger.” The Journal, of course, is hardly a progressive paper. Nevertheless, we would be remiss to ignore analyses and the facts presented. I do not deny that hunger still exists in America. And the criticisms I received were anecdotal, which I do not deny. Nor do I deny the increase in inequality and the inability of many people to satisfy other needs. But is hunger the issue that it once was? Or as progressives, are we ignoring the facts? Are we ignoring changes in the nature of poverty itself?
John P. Watkins
Professor of Economics
1840 South 1300 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84105
Office: 801 832-2628
Cell: 801 550-5834
 “When households experience very low food security in the United States, the resulting instances of reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns are usually occasional or episodic but are not usually chronic” (Coleman-Jensen, Rabbitt, Gregory and Singh 2015a, 11).
Linwood F. Tauheed, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Economics
University of Missouri-Kansas City
5100 Rockhill Road, 202D Manheim Hall
Kansas City, Missouri 64110