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