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Nothing new under the sun

From Bring Up The Bodies, the second book about the life of Thomas Cromwell by author Hillary Mantel:

“In March [1536], Parliament knocks back his [Thomas Cromwell’s] new poor law.  It was too much for the Commons to digest that rich men might have some duty to the poor. If you get fat, as some men do who profit from the wool trade, you have some responsibility to the men turned off their land, the laborers without labor, the sowers without a field. England needs roads, forts, harbors, bridges.  Men need work.  It’s a shame seeing them begging their bread, when honest labor could keep the realm secure.  Can we not put them together, the hands and the tasks?

But Parliament cannot see how it is the State’s job to create work.  Are not these matters in God’s hands, and is not poverty and dereliction part of his eternal order?  To everything there is a season- a time to starve and a time to thieve.  If rain falls six months solid and rots the grain in the fields, there must be Providence in it.  God knows his trade. It is an outrage to the rich and enterprising to suggest that they should pay an income tax only to put bread in the mouths of the work shy. And if Secretary Cromwell argues that famine provokes criminality, well, are there not hangmen enough?

The King himself comes to the Commons to argue for the law.  He wants to be Henry the Beloved, a father to his people, a shepherd to his flock. But the Commons sit stoney faced on their benches and stare him out. The wreckage of the measure is comprehensive. “It is ended up as an Act for the Whipping of Beggars”, Richard Rich says.  “It is more against the poor than for them.”

And with the newest proposal by Republican Representative Steve Pearce to test the pee of the unemployed for illegal drugs, the whipping of beggars never goes out of style.

Paul Krugman argues that there is some kind of psychological need to impose austerity, a moral imperative of sorts.  More likely, the wealthy have found a convenient way to convince politicians to project the blame for spilling the milk onto the table itself.

But let’s not kid ourselves.  This is the way of the powerful.  They do not want to worry about the lives of others.  That’s what makes power so appealing.  So, knowing that, our problem is not how we convince the powerful to think beneficently and empathetically towards other people.  Power makes them immune from such supplications.  Our problem is to convince ordinary people that there is power in sheer numbers.  The media has been very good at promoting learned helplessness.  That’s where they excel.  What we need is a movement that counteracts that message.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Eleanor Roosevelt

14 Responses

  1. Gawd, can Ms. Mantel write. ” And if Secretary Cromwell argues that famine provokes criminality, well, are there not hangmen enough?”

    Let the Irish and poor starve, and hang those that prove Cromwell right. The motivations of psychopaths in power seem to never really change.

    Thanks for this, RD

  2. I haven’t cracked that one yet, but it’s loaded on to my nook and I can’t wait.
    Who would have thought that a novel about Thomas Cromwell would be a page turner?
    I loathe how this country treats its most vulnerable citizens; did you see “American Winter” on HBO? The doc followed four families as they lost their jobs and homes. Their children, those old enough to understand, were worried, fearful of the future and old before their time.

  3. That’s the problem in a nutshell; the elites don’t care about anyone but themselves. Adam Smith himself observed this and summed up the governing impulses of the powerful, ” everything for ourselves, nothing for anyone else; who ensure their interests are most peculiarly attended to, regardless of the grievous impact on others. ”

    It won’t change until the public gets fed up with it and will take risks to change it. It will have to be done OUTSIDE the current system. The Democratic Party is too corrupt now and too beholden to finance interests to care.

    • But of course, anyone who points out the truth about the Dinocrats which Greg T just stated [snark] is a dirty rotten r@c!$t! [/snark]. 😛

      The hired brains of the Malefactors Of Great Wealth knew what they were doing when they picked a (technically) black man as front man for the Dinocratic wing of the Property Party.

    • And Obama is their chosen handmaiden who supports everything they do. After all, he aspires to be one of them and welcomes their patronage if they will let him into the club.

  4. Lawn Jockey to the Rich.

  5. We are raising a generation of young people who are struggling, and often failing, to support themselves; can we honestly say that the American dream hasn’t turned into a nightmare for most of us?

    Here is an essay, based on a speech given by our greatest president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, urging Americans to fight for the four freedoms – the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear:

    Freedom from Want
    By Carlos Bulosan
    Published in the Saturday Evening Post Magazine, March 6, 1943
    as one of the commissioned essays on the Four Freedoms in America


  6. Thanks. Another book to add to my growing pile. Sounds great though. Ian Welsh says the only way to get anything from the rich is to hurt them.

    Been binge reading about places/times of big change. The Red Army days in China, Spanish Civil War according to Orwell, history of the Populist movement in the U.S., EP Thompson on the development of the working class in the UK, and Barbara Tuchman on anything/everything. The Cromwell books look like an engaging overlap with the UK working class history I’ve got.

    • I am still thinking in detail about Riverdaughter’s challenge of how ordinary people can “learn the power they have”. This comment offers
      an opportunity to subcomment on a tiny corner of that problem.

      If millions of ordinary people can see a visible effect from something millions of ordinary people do, then they will learn a real-world pragmatic lesson about their possession of collectively pooled and applied power-in-numbers to make something happen. Hurting the rich is a good battlefield on which to prctice and learn the pooling of collective power, the weaponization of that pooled collective power, and the deployment of that weaponised collective power toward a specific objective which can be seen if not precisely measured. You can’t inflict pain without a readiness to absorb pain. The probelm is, are you able to inflict more pain then you are able to absorb? If the Rich can absorb ten times more pain than we can absorb, we have to be able to inflict 11 times more pain on them then they can inflict on us if we hope to weaken them. Someone named Mike Brown once said
      ” I don’t mind getting my wrist cut if I can leave your intestines on the floor”. So . . . what could enough millions of non-rich people do to leave the OverClass’s and the UpperClass’s intestines on the floor?

      • And thinking more precisely and with focus, ” which rich” are the problem for our survival by virtue of what they do? As against “which rich” would be more helpful than harmful under a sort of “Eisenhower Restoration” with its attendant tax rates, estate taxes and so forth?
        For example, Bill Gates is not a threat and a menace in the same way that the Koch Brothers or Jamie Dimon or Lloyd Blankfein are. Microsoft is better than “no soft” at all. But JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs are worse than no Wall Street at all. So if some rich are simply permitted to be a problem by virtue of their excessively low tax rates which allows them to buy excess power against the rest of us whereas other rich are a threat and a menace to our jobs-and-survival industries by virtue of the financialist aggression they wage against all these industries, is there a way to focus on the financial predasite rich in particular for the greatest inflicted pain? Is this a distinction worth making?

        • This is brilliant, R U! Flesh it out some more.

          • Oh my . . . . . well I will surely try. But in the meantime, in case my good writing is masking a merely ordinary level of thinking; I hope you and others will also try fleshing this out. The more ideas we ALL have, the greater chance of some good ideas emerging.

            But I will order my thoughts on this, and then try to say something.

  7. God, this is some wonderful writing.

  8. “What we need is a movement that counteracts that message.”
    Keep on pounding on those drums, RD.

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