PBS programming has featured Charles Dickens programming this month in honor of his 200th birthday, or some such hallmark of accomplishment, and they’ve proved to be very popular programs indeed. Maybe because there are parallels to today’s social and political system? From the early 1600’s, in merry olde England, destitute people were cared for with money raised by a tax on their neighbor parishioners. A parish was a unit of combined religious and political authority. The parish distributed money or food to the poor, who were allowed to remain in their homes and maintain some dignity. Parishes recognized that caring for their poor people was a public responsibility and that it was in the best interests of all to look after their poor neighbors.
Large estate owners always had the upper hand in things from Napoleonic times, passing laws that favored the rich, keeping peasant people in control enough to just let them get by. (Middle class). Even though wealth and avarice controlled the legal system and always had, during the Industrial Revolution the ranks of the poor grew steeply and the growing poor became an outrageous nuisance. Thus The Poor Law of 1834 was passed, and instituted debtors prisons, and being poor became a crime. (Not unlike our homeless today). Dickens’ father, who temporarily fell on hard times, was dropped out of the middle class and locked up in a debtors prison along with thousands of others. Oh, the wonder of government at work. It didn’t reduce the number of poor, of course, but the cost of caring for them was reduced by 36 per cent. A great accomplishment! Our prisons are full, too, but not from the ranks of “white collar” criminals. That designation of “white collar” is interesting. It is a division of class, where the rich and powerful are treated differently than the common man. Not much has changed. Our prisons are mostly filled with uneducated, poor black men.
The rich really didn’t care about the abject misery they had created, then. And our current political climate is determined to stomp the middle class into the ground and make laws to keep them there. I know many people who vote against their own best interests. The purveyors of wealth and avarice can make you believe we can run this country today, on the same amount of taxes we paid thirty years ago, while our infrastructure is falling apart, our educational institutions can’t find enough doctors, nurses and teachers to fill our needs, and immigration is blamed for our problems instead of the rich, congressional shareholders. Americans pay billions of dollars over cost for their health care, and our political system runs on a steady stream of corporate money. That money never trickles down to our pockets. The 99% are desperately trying to change that, but without a free press (you only think it is free), the battle they are waging is a drop of water in an ocean of contempt. Not much about government has changed since Dickens.
But, there was a time of honorable intentions, insisting that all men were created equal. Unfortunately, they aren’t, and they weren’t treated equally, either. Despite the fact the preamble to our constitution states in part that our government was organized for: “…the general welfare of the people.”