Decent Poverty Report: our depression

I don't know why so few people utter the word "depression" to describe the economic conditions in America over the past year or two. I suppose some people believe on principle that as long as things don't get as bad as they got at the nadir of the thirties—and they haven't—we're not entitled to the word. Certainly the corporate news media and those who take their cue from them, patrolling the public discourse like vigilantes, wouldn't think of using it. But I mean, when you think about it, isn't it depressing?

For more than thirty years now, the screws have slowly been tightening on middle-class life in the United States. The gains this country made in building a middle class in the mid-20th century have been receding for some time. Real wages at the median level have stagnated while the richest have taken gluttonous portions of the pie. Health costs. Longer hours. Regressive taxes. Bursting bubbles. Drowning in underwater mortgages. Government assiduously transferring wealth to the rich. Now, under the guise of confronting the deficit, will come "Shock Doctrine" proposals for even more cuts to the bone. Cutting Social Security benefits and cost-of-living adjustments. Eliminating the home mortgage interest tax deduction. Increasing the retirement age. Taxing workers for their health benefits. How tight can your belt get?

As I've been studying the writings of Paul Goodman, one little phrase he liked to use has been sticking in my mind: "decent poverty." He mentioned this idea fairly frequently—he had no problem repeating himself in different contexts. To me this little phrase packs a big wallop. It contains a great deal of what Goodman stood for, as a "community anarchist," a "practical utopian," a "neolithic conservative," a Jeffersonian democrat, a social critic whose greatest dream was not an ideal society, not Lyndon Johnson's great society, but a "tolerable" society. I'm going to try to open up this subject in future blogs, exploring how Goodman conceived it and how the idea of decent poverty, and the relative possibility of its achievement, relates both to my own life and the current state of the nation.

Start by chewing on this paragraph, from a 1970 essay called "Anarchism and Revolution." [available in Drawing the Line Once Again, PM Press, 2010] I'll give Paul Goodman the last word for now—let's listen:
If young Americans really consulted their economic interests, instead of their power propaganda or their generous sentiments, I think they would opt for the so-called Scandinavian or mixed economy, of big and small capitalism, producers' and consumers' co-operatives, independent farming, and State and municipal socialism, each with a strong influence. To this I would add a sector of pure communism, free appropriation adequate for decent poverty for those who do not want to make money or are too busy with nonpaying pursuits to make money (until society gets around to overwhelming them with the coin of the realm). Such a sector of pure communism would cost about 1 percent of our Gross National Product and would make our world both more livable and more productive. The advantage of a mixed system of this kind for the young is that it increases the opportunities for each one to find the milieu and style that suits him, whereas both the present American cash nexus and socialism necessarily process them and channel them.
Giving happy thanks, everyone!