It seems that all economics of poverty in the market system, whether capitalism or communism there exists a stratification of money or privilege. And within economics, particularly the Western version, charity is considered an elective, though praiseworthy act since poverty appears as an intrinsic almost necessary feature of a system that requires invidious comparison to function. For the poor, the orthodoxy is that economic salvation is the only possible salvation for the poor of society.
Thorstein Veblen’s analysis of charitable institutions identified them as an obvious function of the leisure class. A kind of honorific good that reaffirmed social and economic distance and more designed as a peer to peer comparison than a true act of giving. The charitable institutions engaged in an economic and social function with the leisure class employing charitable activities as a marker of the higher standards of living, the peak of evolutionary theory. At the time, Veblen noted that a sign of affluence was the status of non-working wives. These women of the leisure class required volunteer activities that allowed society to witness the wealth and values of the family, especially through the media.
Veblen, did have a point that charitable activities towards the poor were bloated with a conspicuous waste of time and money. Maybe part of the collateral damage of the “creative destruction” of capitalism. It was a harsh view, scientific rationalism mixed with atheism, more of a caricature, a black humor, on the plasticity of people and money than the spiritual intent which often underlines the act of giving. Veblen argued that charity and help to the needy came in the form of “right” living, a teaching of manners and etiquette of the leisure class to the poor perhaps to pacify tendencies of insurrection on behalf of the great unwashed. To Veblen, charitable institutions had to be divested of any trace of the gritty vulgarity of poverty; something that wealthy women could only deal with at an abstract level. You could see his opinion of women was fairly limited and the relationship between religion and charity to be limited at best.
Slavoj Zizek ( see link at end) : In today’s capitalism more and more the tendency is to bring [making money and charity] together in one and the same cluster, so that when you buy something, your anti-consumerist duty to do something for others, for the environment and so on, is already included into it.
If you think I’m exaggerating, you have them around the corner. Walk into any Starbucks Coffee, and you will see how they explicitly tell you — I quote their campaign: “It’s not just what you are buying, it’s what you are buying into.” And then they describe it to you. Listen: “When you buy Starbucks, whether you realize it or not you are buying into something bigger than a cup of coffee. You are buying into a coffee ethics. Through our Starbucks ‘Shared Planet’ program, we purchase more fair-trade coffee than any company in the world, ensuring that the farmers who grow the beans receive a fair price for their hard work. And we invest in and improve coffee growing practices and communities around the globe. It’s a good coffee karma.” And a little bit of the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee helps furnish the place with comfortable chairs, and so on..
…This is what I call cultural capitalism at its purest. You don’t just buy a coffee, you buy your redemption from being only a consumerist. You know, you do something for the environment, you do something to help starving children in Guatemala, you do something to restore the sense of community here.
I could go on — like, the almost absurd example of this is so-called Tom’s Shoes, an American company whose formula is “one-for-one.” They claim for every pair of shoes you buy with them, they give a pair of shoes to some African nation. One act of consumerism, but included in it, you pay for doing something “[good].”
s a kind of — how should I put it? A semantic over-investment or burden. You know that it’s not just buying a cup of coffee. It’s at the same time you fulfill a whole series of ethical duties. This logic is today almost universalized. …
So my point is that this very interesting short-circuit where the very act of egotist consumption already includes the price for its opposite.
Based against all of this, I think that we should return good old Oscar Wilde, who still provided the best formulation against this logic of charity. Let me just quote a couple of lines from the beginning of his The Soul of Modern Men Under Socialism, where he points out that, a quote: “It is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought.” Read More:http://sacsis.org.za/site/article/271.19
The generation of income and wealth for the upper-income groups depended on this very inequitable arrangement. Charity in the Veblenian analysis was a natural outgrowth of the system. However, there was no altruistic motivation; the leisure class needed charitable institutions to demonstrate their own splendid status. This was particularly true for upper-class women, and the wealthiest families benefitted directly from female participation in charity work, because it highlighted their own success….
Veblen’s depiction of charitable institutions was deeper than Marshall’s: these organizations could never help the poor because they were guided and operated by the social values and manners of the leisure class. Etiquette, not improvement in the material status of the poor, was often at the forefront of charitable activities. The upper-class women involved with charities for the poor needed protection from the vulgarities found in the day-to-day lives of the poor. Charitable organizations were constructed and operated to provide this protection. Furthermore, these organizations internalized the values of the rich: conspicuous consumption (ornate, costly buildings), waste (operational inefficiencies), and decorum over substance (the poor should improve their manners, not their material well-being). In all, charity was a perfect outlet for the rich with no chance of upsetting the economic status of the poor. Read More:http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa5437/is_n2_v32/ai_n28707607/pg_3/?tag=content;col1