Rethinking Community: Jobs, Poverty, and Solidarity

Milton Fisk, Department of Philosophy, Indiana University, USA


Poverty is viewed here as arising out of increasing productivity that is motivated by competition. What happens is that rising productivity eliminates jobs rather than assuring more leisure for those with jobs. This leads to the poverty we know, which is different from that in both pre- and post-capitalist societies.

Poverty has been globalized along with other aspects of the economy. In developing nations, high productivity enterprises are replacing more traditional occupations, without being able to absorb those whose occupations are being replaced.

It is these unabsorbed workers making the transition to wage work who make up the bulk of the world’s poor. Enterprises in the more prosperous nations then export jobs to developing nations in order to take advantage of the low wages resulting from this large supply of labor. They also import poverty as they export jobs.

Recently the notion of capability deprivation has been used to understand poverty. This notion, though, leads to suggestions for how to reduce poverty that have been tried and seen to be only marginally helpful. It does not emphasize that the root of poverty lies in the way competition through productivity churns out frequently or permanently jobless workers.

Structural change through reviving or creating areas of public goods would reduce the scope of competition, and hence of competitively motivated increases in productivity. This would attack the basis of poverty in capitalism by concentrating on satisfying basic needs through public goods.

Implementing such a structural change would call for active engagement of the poor in alliance with other vulnerable sectors. The voices of the poor have already been raised in their taking initiatives against neoliberal attacks on them. This serves as evidence that their destiny is not captured in the stereotype of passive acceptance.