Problems and solutions in the fight against urban poverty
Introduction – the advent of capitalism and the resultant economic inequality
There can be no talk of modern poverty without talking first of capitalism, and as such, the capitalist model of production and the exploitation of labor is where I will begin my paper. Capitalism evolved from the feudal system, which was incorporated into western European societies hundreds of years ago. Under the feudal system, serfs worked the land and handed the surplus of their production over to the nobles, who owned the land and accumulated the surplus. This surplus was visible, occurring literally in the form of produced goods, and the feudal system was linked to the control of the state, which is how it was sustained - through the threat of force from the armies at the disposal of the nobles.
The economic system later evolved into pure capitalism similar to the modern form that we are now familiar with, which involves the ownership of private property. That is, there is no longer any semblance of a communal institution and the state has been shut out from any influence on the development of this property. What this means is that the state now exists for the sake of private property, and the result is that self-interest (the interest of the individual property holder) takes precedence over communal interest. The bottom line is that those who own the most capital then have the largest amount of influence over the state, and since the state is dependent on the commercial economy, economic and institutional power now go hand in hand.
The effects of this system on the worker (as opposed to the capitalist) are overwhelmingly negative. Since most workers will never accumulate the amount of property or wealth that would catapult them into the capitalist class, they will, in fact, spend their entire lives literally working to perpetuate a system that keeps other people wealthy off their labor while they themselves are unable to reap even a fraction of the benefit that their work produces. Under capitalism, workers become commodified, and their labor power, which is the potential to do work, is exploited. Nowadays, all human needs are acquired as a condition of exchange, therefore, since we have to consume in order to live, we are forced to produce, in order to have access to money - the currency of exchange. Thus, the capitalist makes a profit by paying the worker much less than the value of what the worker produces (think of Nike sweatshops), and he is able to do this because he knows that the worker needs to work in order to survive. Whereas under feudalism, surplus was visible, and the serfs could see how much of their work was going directly toward the nobles relative to that which they were allowed to keep, under capitalism, surplus is invisible and ubiquitous, and workers are literally unaware of how much value they are producing relative to the amount that they are being...