Blaming the victims, capitalist-style

As a society, we’re awfully fond of blaming the poor for their own misfortune. As Thomas Shapiro put it,

A core element of the American credo is that talent, skill, hard work, and achievement largely determine life chances. We believe that everyone has a fair shot at whatever is valued or prized and that no individual or group is unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged.[1]

The ‘credo’ Shapiro critiques overlooks all the ways that we, as a society, actively persecute and prosecute the poor,[2] not least through an economic system that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer with every transaction.[3] Instead, and as an excuse for not doing more for the poor, we righteously demand that the poor take “self-responsibility.”

That’s not seeming so impressive during the pandemic. I’m thinking about cry-baby Pittsburgh restaurant and bar owners demanding to open at full capacity,[4] cry-baby ridesharing companies demanding to preserve the “independent contractor” scam against drivers,[5] cry-baby landlords who are evicting workers who lost their jobs due to the lockdown,[6] and, oh yeah, cry-baby Elon Musk, who defied shutdown orders to open his factory in Fremont, California, during a lockdown.[7] And I’m thinking to myself, gee, what a swell bunch of world-beaters we have here.

None of these assholes, not a single one, is accepting the even the slightest shred of self-responsibility: Restaurant and bar workers and customers assume the risk of coronavirus exposure, but the business owners, who may pay those workers as little as $2.83 an hour,[8] have the audacity to whine about supporting their own families.[9] Uber and Lyft, whose business model “relies on short-changing workers in order to make it,”[10] still can’t make a profit.[11] Meanwhile, the landlords say nothing, except when they’re bullying their tenants, just conduct business as usual, only sometimes waiting for courts to, you know, actually issue eviction orders, and throw people out onto the streets.[12] And oh yes, how can we ever forget the brilliant Musk who, like one of the Pittsburgh restaurant owners,[13] thinks containing a pandemic is “fascist”[14] and, just to prove the point, actively went and spread the disease.[15] There is no excuse for any of these mother-fuckers.

It’s not like this is anything new. Barack Obama’s administration refused to prosecute the bank fraud that led to the financial crisis.[16] And I’ll never forget, as a San Francisco taxi driver, listening to a restaurant owner complain about how her workers made more than she did—as I drove her to her home in a nice neighborhood that none of her workers could even remotely afford. And let’s not even start with Donald Trump’s corruption. It’s impunity for the rich, as capitalists aren’t held responsible for their own failings, and how dare you even think that they should be.

But yeah, let’s go on blaming the poor and saying they should take responsibility for themselves.

  1. [1]Thomas M. Shapiro, “Introduction,” in Great Divides, ed. Thomas M. Shapiro, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2005), 3.
  2. [2]Herbert J. Gans, The War Against The Poor (New York: Basic, 1995); Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004); Dan Simon, In Doubt (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2012).
  3. [3]Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party,” in Social Theory, ed. Charles Lemert, 6th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2017), 94-101.
  4. [4]Dillon Carr, “Restaurants and bars banding together to give Gov. Wolf an ultimatum,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 4, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/restaurants-and-bars-banding-together-to-give-gov-wolf-an-ultimatum-thursday/; Dillon Carr, “Restaurants back down from ultimatum, request meeting with Gov. Wolf,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 6, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/restaurants-back-down-from-ultimatum-request-meeting-with-gov-wolf/; Dillon Carr, “As deadline approaches, restaurants vary on defying Wolf’s capacity order, other restrictions,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 13, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/as-deadline-approaches-restaurants-vary-on-defying-wolfs-capacity-order-other-restrictions/; Dillon Carr, “Some tavern owners make their own pandemic rules, call on governor to adjust state’s,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 14, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/south-hills/some-tavern-owners-make-their-own-pandemic-rules-call-on-governor-to-adjust-states/; Nick Matoney, “Restaurant revolution: Some owners in Pennsylvania plan to expand capacity despite mandate,” WTAE, August 14, 2020, https://www.wtae.com/article/restaurant-revolution-some-owners-in-pennsylvania-plan-to-expand-capacity-despite-mandate/33602662; Teghan Simonton, “Braddock restaurant owner apologizes for comparing Gov. Wolf, Levine to Nazis,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 14, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/braddock-restaurant-owner-apologizes-for-comparing-gov-wolf-levine-to-nazis/
  5. [5]Jessica Bursztynsky and Lauren Feiner, “Lyft may suspend service in California if court requires it to classify drivers as employees,” CNBC, August 12, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/12/lyft-president-says-it-may-have-to-suspend-service-in-california.html; Lauren Feiner, “Uber CEO says its service will probably shut down temporarily in California if it’s forced to classify drivers as employees,” CNBC, August 12, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/12/uber-may-shut-down-temporarily-in-california.html; Therese Poletti, “Uber and Lyft’s ‘day of reckoning’ is finally here,” MarketWatch, August 12, 2020, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/uber-and-lyfts-day-of-reckoning-is-finally-here-2020-08-11; Faiz Siddiqui, “Uber and Lyft must make their drivers in California full employees, judge rules,” Washington Post, August 10, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/08/10/uber-lyft-ab5/; Jonathan Stempel, “Judge rejects Uber, Lyft bids to delay California driver injunction,” Yahoo!, August 13, 2020, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/uber-lyft-lose-bid-delay-184959283.html
  6. [6]Associated Press, “Tenants Behind on Rent in Pandemic Face Harassment, Eviction,” U.S. News and World Report, June 14, 2020, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/virginia/articles/2020-06-13/tenants-behind-on-rent-in-pandemic-face-harassment-eviction; Regina Garcia Cano and Michael Casey, “Wave of evictions expected as moratoriums end in many states,” Associated Press, August 4, 2020, copy in possession of author; Kriston Capps, “What Happens When the Eviction Bans End?” CityLab, May 29, 2020, https://www.citylab.com/equity/2020/05/pay-rent-eviction-ban-coronavirus-housing-crisis-landlord/612277/; Sam Levin, “California landlords are locking out struggling tenants. A ‘tsunami of evictions’ may be next,” Guardian, July 30, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/30/california-covid-19-evictions-landlords-tenants; Eric Levitz, “This Recession Is a Bigger Housing Crisis Than 2008,” New York, July 13, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/07/coronavirus-recession-evictions-crisis-congress.html; Renae Merle, “Evictions are likely to skyrocket this summer as jobs remain scarce. Black renters will be hard hit,” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/07/06/eviction-moratoriums-starwood/; Emma Ockerman, “The Tenant Uprising Is Here, and It’s Fierce,” Vice, August 7, 2020, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/7kpdyq/the-tenant-uprising-is-here-and-its-fierce; Jenny Schuetz, “America’s inequitable housing system is completely unprepared for coronavirus,” Brookings, March 12, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/12/americas-inequitable-housing-system-is-completely-unprepared-for-coronavirus/
  7. [7]Tim Higgins, “Elon Musk’s Defiance in the Time of Coronavirus,” Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musks-defiance-in-the-time-of-coronavirus-11584733458; Kari Paul, “Elon Musk rails against ‘fascist’ shelter-in-place orders in Tesla earnings call,” Guardian, April 29, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/apr/29/tesla-quarterly-earnings-coronavirus-shares; Faiz Siddiqui, “Tesla’s Elon Musk reopens factory, defying county orders and daring officials to arrest him,” Washington Post, May 11, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/05/11/musk-tesla-factory/; Faiz Siddiqui, “Tesla defied county orders so it could restart production. Days later, workers tested positive for the coronavirus,” Washington Post, June 9, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/06/09/tesla-factory-coronavirus/
  8. [8]Ryan Deto, “Pittsburgh’s restaurant workers say they are bearing all the brunt of the region’s coronavirus spike, but are seeing little benefits,” Pittsburgh City Paper, July 29, 2020, https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/pittsburghs-restaurant-workers-say-they-are-bearing-all-the-brunt-of-the-regions-coronavirus-spike-but-are-seeing-little-benefits/Content?oid=17722779
  9. [9]Dillon Carr, “As deadline approaches, restaurants vary on defying Wolf’s capacity order, other restrictions,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 13, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/as-deadline-approaches-restaurants-vary-on-defying-wolfs-capacity-order-other-restrictions/
  10. [10]Xavier Becerra, quoted in Lauren Feiner, “Uber CEO says its service will probably shut down temporarily in California if it’s forced to classify drivers as employees,” CNBC, August 12, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/12/uber-may-shut-down-temporarily-in-california.html
  11. [11]Preetika Rana, “Uber Ridership Fails to Recover as Pandemic Drives Another Big Loss,” Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-ridership-fails-to-recover-as-pandemic-drives-another-big-loss-11596744389; Jonathan Stempel, “Judge rejects Uber, Lyft bids to delay California driver injunction,” Yahoo!, August 13, 2020, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/uber-lyft-lose-bid-delay-184959283.html
  12. [12]Associated Press, “Tenants Behind on Rent in Pandemic Face Harassment, Eviction,” U.S. News and World Report, June 14, 2020, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/virginia/articles/2020-06-13/tenants-behind-on-rent-in-pandemic-face-harassment-eviction; Regina Garcia Cano and Michael Casey, “Wave of evictions expected as moratoriums end in many states,” Associated Press, August 4, 2020, copy in possession of author; Kriston Capps, “What Happens When the Eviction Bans End?” CityLab, May 29, 2020, https://www.citylab.com/equity/2020/05/pay-rent-eviction-ban-coronavirus-housing-crisis-landlord/612277/; Sam Levin, “California landlords are locking out struggling tenants. A ‘tsunami of evictions’ may be next,” Guardian, July 30, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/30/california-covid-19-evictions-landlords-tenants; Eric Levitz, “This Recession Is a Bigger Housing Crisis Than 2008,” New York, July 13, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/07/coronavirus-recession-evictions-crisis-congress.html; Renae Merle, “Evictions are likely to skyrocket this summer as jobs remain scarce. Black renters will be hard hit,” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/07/06/eviction-moratoriums-starwood/; Emma Ockerman, “The Tenant Uprising Is Here, and It’s Fierce,” Vice, August 7, 2020, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/7kpdyq/the-tenant-uprising-is-here-and-its-fierce; Jenny Schuetz, “America’s inequitable housing system is completely unprepared for coronavirus,” Brookings, March 12, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/12/americas-inequitable-housing-system-is-completely-unprepared-for-coronavirus/
  13. [13]Teghan Simonton, “Braddock restaurant owner apologizes for comparing Gov. Wolf, Levine to Nazis,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 14, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/braddock-restaurant-owner-apologizes-for-comparing-gov-wolf-levine-to-nazis/
  14. [14]Kari Paul, “Elon Musk rails against ‘fascist’ shelter-in-place orders in Tesla earnings call,” Guardian, April 29, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/apr/29/tesla-quarterly-earnings-coronavirus-shares
  15. [15]Faiz Siddiqui, “Tesla defied county orders so it could restart production. Days later, workers tested positive for the coronavirus,” Washington Post, June 9, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/06/09/tesla-factory-coronavirus/
  16. [16]Jason M. Breslow, “As Deadlines Loom for Financial Crisis Cases, Prosecutors Weigh Their Options,” Public Broadcasting System, January 22, 2013, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/business-economy-financial-crisis/untouchables/as-deadlines-loom-for-financial-crisis-cases-prosecutors-weigh-their-options/; Jason M. Breslow, “Too Big To Jail? The Top 10 Civil Cases Against the Banks,” Frontline, January 22, 2013, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/business-economy-financial-crisis/untouchables/too-big-to-jail-the-top-10-civil-cases-against-the-banks/; Jason M. Breslow, “Were Bankers Jailed In Past Financial Crises?” Public Broadcasting System, January 22, 2013, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/business-economy-financial-crisis/untouchables/were-bankers-jailed-in-past-financial-crises/; David Dayen, “Wall Street wins again,” Salon, February 13, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/02/13/wall_street_wins_again/; Frontline, “Phil Angelides: Enforcement of Wall St. is ‘Woefully Broken’,” Public Broadcasting System, January 22, 2013, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/business-economy-financial-crisis/untouchables/phil-angelides-enforcement-of-wall-st-is-woefully-broken/; Frontline, “Ted Kaufman: Wall Street Prosecutions Never Made a Priority,” Public Broadcasting System, January 22, 2013, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/business-economy-financial-crisis/untouchables/ted-kaufman-wall-street-prosecutions-never-made-a-priority/; Office of the Inspector General Audit Division, “Audit of the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Address Mortgage Fraud,” U. S. Department of Justice, March 2014, http://www.justice.gov/oig/reports/2014/a1412.pdf; Barry Ritholz, “Why Prosecutors Whiffed on Subprime Crime,” Bloomberg View, March 14, 2014, http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-03-14/why-prosecutors-whiffed-on-subprime-crime; David Sirota, “Are banks too big to jail?” Salon, January 23, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/01/23/are_banks_too_big_to_jail/; David Sirota, “Barack Obama, Wall Street co-conspirator,” Salon, January 29, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/01/29/barack_obama_wall_street_co_conspirator/

3 thoughts on “Blaming the victims, capitalist-style

    • August 15, 2020 at 1:24 pm
      Permalink

      I would emphasize here that landlords, like any other capitalists, accepted a risk. The rewards they reap accompany that risk. Their situation is by no means comparable to that of their tenants, who simply seek the necessity of shelter.

      Reply
      • August 16, 2020 at 11:10 am
        Permalink

        That is precisely my point. What about the homeowners? The pandemic is universal; why should it be the loss of some in the short terms and others’ gain on the long one? Governments of the world should declare a moratorium on profit, foreclosures, and evictions. PS You should delete my comment on baboons.

        Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.