“We have always lived in the world we built for the poor”

We created a society that has no use for the disabled or the elderly, and therefore are cast aside when we are hurt or grow old. We measure human worth by the ability to earn a wage, then suffer in a world that undervalues care, community, and mutual aid. We base our economy on exploiting the labor of racial and ethnic minorities and watch lasting inequalities snuff out human potential. We see the world as inevitably riven by bloody competition and are left unable to recognize the many ways in which we cooperate and lift one another up.

When a very efficient technology is deployed against a scorned out-group in the absence of strong human rights protections, there is enormous potential for atrocity. Currently, the digital poorhouse concentrates administrative power in the hands of a small elite. Its integrated data systems and digital surveillance infrastructure offer a degree of control unrivaled in history. Automated tools for classifying the poor, left on their own, will produce towering inequalities unless we make an explicit commitment to forge another path. And yet we act as if justice will take care of itself.

From Virginia Eubanks’ book “Automated Equality,” excerpted in the January issue of Harpers magazine.

More:

[Programs] that serve the poor are as unpopular as they have ever been. This is not a coincidence: technologies of poverty management are not neutral. They are shaped by our nation’s fear of economic insecurity and hatred of the poor. [boldface mine]

The new tools of poverty management hide economic inequality from the professional middle-class public and give the nation the ethical distance it needs to make inhuman choices about who gets food and who starves, who has housing and who remains homeless, whose family stays together and whose is broken up by the state. This is part of a long American tradition. We manage the poor so that we do not have to eradicate poverty.

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