Marvin Harris (With apologies to Thornton Wilder)
Imagine a bridge that spans a deep gorge. Thousands walk across the bridge every day and cross over safely. But the bridge has been constructed with a special device that prevents it from becoming overloaded. Every so often trap doors in the roadway drop open, and a number of people fall through and are dashed to pieces on the rocks below. Then the doors automatically swing up, and traffic resumes. Although everyone knows that the bridge has this defect, they do nothing to correct its design but continue to use it. They have been told that the doors drop open only when stepped on by people who have just never learned to walk right. Indeed, whenever someone falls through, the crowd shouts insults as the miscreants hurtle downward: "Don't ever try to use this bridge again!" In reality, however, the doors drop open at random intervals, regardless of who steps on them.
I contend that there is a great deal of resemblance between this nightmarish bridge and the circumstances that create and perpetuate homelessness and poverty in the USA. Our social engineers have in fact built an economy that depends on dumping millions of people through the trap door of unemployment onto the rocks of homelessness and poverty. The standard explanation for this punitive system is that if there is no unemployment, the labor market becomes too tight, the prices of goods and services rise without corresponding increments in productivity, and inflation rates soar to dangerous, runaway levels. Crucial to an etic analysis of the causes of poverty and homelessness is the fact that the government regularly manipulates the unemployment rate to prevent inflation. It does this through the authority vested in the Federal Reserve System to raise or lower interest rates (high interest rates, less investment, more unemployment).
At the end of World War II, the achievement of "full employment" was accorded the highest priority among the goals of democratic societies. It was written into the United Nations Charter and was implicit in Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms," as "Freedom from Want." But during the 1970s and 1980s the goal of