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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

An Evening with Barbara Ehrenreich: Inequality in the United States

Across the developed world, a debate that has been gathering momentum and seems to be on the verge of taking over public discourse, is the flagrant and growing inequality in these societies. Inequality is no longer merely economic, although it is the economic dimension that seems to be the most obvious. 

For instance, in the United States of America, a country that even now retains its sheen as the world’s beacon of hope, a mere one percent of the rich control 80 percent of its wealth.  

From a democracy, the US (and, for that matter, most of the developed world) seem to be veering away to plutocracy where the rich have become the occupying force that arm-twist the apparatuses of the state to suit their ever-increasing greed.

A growing band of activists have persistently raised awareness of the masses by asking inconvenient questions and telling truthful tales that are at once shocking and hair-raising. For instance, corporate America indulges in wage theft to the tune of $106billion, by making workers labour more hours but paying only for regulation hours.

And that while corporate America continues to resist the implementation of $15 an hour minimum wage, the minimum hourly wage required for bare minimum, subsistence existence as determined by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Barbara Ehrenreich is among those activists who have consistently spoken out loudly against the inherently unjust system that has been created in the last four decades in the United States.

Author of over 20 books, Ehrenreich was in Toronto to deliver a special lecture under the aegis of the F Ross Johnson-Connaught Speaker Series organized by the Munk School of Global Affair’s Centre for the Study of the United States. 

The program was titled An Evening with Barbara Ehrenreich: Inequality in the United States.

Unrelenting, scathing and sarcastic, Ehrenreich lambasted the present state of the United States where poverty is treated as a character failing. “Poverty is a shortage of money. It is not a character failing,” she declared.  

The author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001), and Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America (2010) castigated the overwhelming tendency of the police in the US to victimize the African American minority, including minor school girls.

Describing the police as an occupying force, she said that police harassment of the blacks and minorities has actually increased manifold after the economic downturn because it has become a major revenue earner for the law enforcement agencies.

An honourary co-chair of the Democratic Socialists of America, who also serves on the NORML Board of Directors, the Institute for Policy Studies Board of Trustees, Ehrenreich said it was time fundamental changes were introduced that would skew the balance in the favour of the poor, who at present seemingly have just two choices – destitution or incarceration, which is a direct result of the criminalization of poverty.

These changes include: 
  • Stoppage of upward distribution of wealth and distribute it down; 
  • Stoppage of wage theft by corporate America; stoppage of police assault on people of colour; 
  • Regulating the untrammeled flow of money into politics, which results in policy formulations that favour the rich.

Before becoming an activist, she studied cell biology and physics, graduating with a degree in physics from Reed College in 1963, and a Ph.D. in cell biology from Rockefeller University in 1968. Ehrenreich has taught at State University of NY, Old Westbury, University of Missouri at Columbia, New York University, and at Sangamon State University.

In 2006, Ehrenreich founded United Professionals, an organization described as a nonprofit, non-partisan membership organization for white-collar workers, regardless of profession or employment status. Her latest publication is entitled, Living with a Wild God (2014).

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