The Crime of Poverty

The beautiful Hunter Valley NSW, Australia

The beautiful Hunter Valley NSW, Australia

We. my wife Uta and I, are members of the “Association for Good Government” and last Saturday they held a conference near Pokolbin in the Hunter Region  of NSW.

The association is propagating and teaching  the ideas and principles of the American economist and social philosopher Henry George.

The theme of the conference was  based on a speech Henry George gave on 1st of April 1885 at the  Opera House of Burlington. Iowa, USA.”The Crime of Poverty“.

Burlington Opera House in 1910

Burlington Opera House in 1910

If you read the speech you will find it was no April fool’s joke. We learnt, that about four hundred people attended who each paid  a 50 cents entrance fee.

George suggests, it is not a crime to be poor but poverty is a social crime of which we, the whole society, are all guilty of. It is a curse and in the end we will all suffer from it, even the rich. The rich can not live really  in peace with poor people all around them.

The present financial crisis in Greece and the refugee problem the rich states of Europe have to grapple with are good examples. The “rich” are coming under pressure from the poor.

People all over the world produce goods and food in abundance, but all is not distributed equally. Sure, the world has changed a lot since 1885 but in principle George’s theories are still correct. Still, people are being exploited by other people. And it was ever so.

According to Henry George all has to do with the control of the land by the few. By land, he doesn’t only means the land under our feet, that can be worked, but also all the resources that can be found in the earth.

When we are born we are already designated slaves. At least we a have to work like slaves to satisfy the greed of the rent seekers. All land is already taken by generations who came before us. Henry George was of the opinion that “Land” is a natural right for living beings to share.

If you see a herd of animals or a flock of birds you don’t see a percentage of them starving or living in poverty. Why then can’t we share, with other people, the fruits of the land?

We also learnt at the conference that early, white settlers pushed the Aborigines off their land and even refused them access to the Hunter River for water and fishing. It is always control of the land which controls the people.

Fighting poverty in this environment is much easier.

Fighting poverty in this environment is much easier.

The conference also touched on Tiberius Gracchus a popular Roman politician of the 2nd century BC. He was also a brave and popular military leader who found, that after he and his soldiers came back from the Third Punic War that many had lost their land in their absence. Their wives and children could not make a living from their land without the help of their men. They went bankrupt and the big landholders were buying the land cheaply. The increased holdings were then worked by slaves instead of by free men.  The now poverty stricken people streamed into Rome.

The Gracchus brothers, Tiberius and Gaius by Jean-Baptiste Claude Eugène Guillaume

The Gracchus brothers, Tiberius and Gaius by Jean-Baptiste Claude Eugène Guillaume

Plutarch reports Tiberius Gracchus saying, “Wild animals who live in Italy have for each of them a place to rest or hiding place. But the men who fought and died for Italy have nothing more than the air and light; unsettled, without home nor house, they roam the land with their wives and children. The generals lie to them during battle, when they call on them to  defend the graves and holy shrines against their enemies. None of those poor Romans owns a grave or altar of their  ancestors. They are fighting  and dying for the wellbeing and the wealth of others. They are called the rulers of the world – but in truth they own not even one crumb of this Earth.”

Tiberius Gracchus then had the idea, that the returned soldiers should be given   plots of 30 iugera confiscated from the rich landholders. The landholders did not like the idea at all and organised a massacre in which he and four hundred of his followers were beaten to death and thrown into the River Tiber. This, according to the Roman historian Plutarch, was the first outbreak of civil strife in Rome.Theodor Mommsen, the German historian, called the year of the massacre, 133 BC, a defining year in the history of Rome.

Settling the land question with a bloody massacre is a defining moment?  It shows that the elite of Rome was just a bunch of land-hungry parasites.

Capitalism teaches us that it is an advantage to have a pool of  poor and unemployed people. That is where the injustice and the crime of poverty originate from. People who have no access to land and its resources live in poverty.

According to a  UNICEF report, 1 billion children worldwide are living in poverty. and 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. This happens because the human race is not able to  share.

On the way to the conference, we stopped for a short tea break at  Mooney  Mooney, at the banks of the Hawkesbury River.  It is a nice spot alright and not only people are attracted to the picnic area but also the wildlife. Brush Turkeys are coming out  of  the bush and try to find something edible we humans drop accidentally or otherwise. And what did we see? Among them was a feral hen who lives happily thinking she is a turkey too.

One hen and two Brush Turkeys.

One hen and two Brush Turkeys.

What do I want to say here? That two species can live together and share the resources available to them and we humans, seemingly, can’t do the same.


Dawn of Justice?

Today, on my FaceBook page, I received a message from my favourite cinema in Sydney. They want me to  see,  “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” when it opens next year.

Well, I won’t. 

I’ll  give that movie a miss. It is absolutely childish to believe in a fantasy figure who can bring justice into this world. Why does Hollywood want us  to believe that a miracle is just around the corner? The dark forces in our societies are the ruling classes and the property owners who are just a bunch of rent seekers.  

As soon as you get rid of one group of those bloodsuckers, another group is taking over. Superman, or a revolution, is not the solution. Movies about it give us false hope and we are paying for it as well with our hard earned dollars. Even illusions cost money.  

I noticed the accompanying trailer has been viewed almost 8 million times!!!

Most of them, I assume, will be eager viewers of the movie and they can’t wait. So, they are having a foretaste.  A few, like me, are having a peek to get a grip on it and what it is all about.

Do we really think Superman or Batman could be our saviours? The Jewish people believe fervently in a Messiah. They are awaiting a king of the Jews, a kind of superhero; the promised and expected deliverer of the Jewish people and destroyer of their enemies.

There was one, Jesus of Nazareth, but he did not measure up and  he told them, to turn the other cheek. This is not justice as they understood it. Superman a pacifist? Not very likely!

They were more inclined like the modern cinema goer. They wanted someone who can destroy buildings, and indeed  (evil) empires with one punch with his fist. A King Hit or Sucker Punch is often seen  as a weapon of the protagonist to deal with an unfair situation. 

Drastic times ask for drastic action people think. That is why superheroes are so popular.

After WW 1 the German people felt humiliated and when a new hero appeared from another land (or planet) they thought he will restore their dignity. Of course, he only gave them false hope and a further humiliation awaited them.

Doesn’t the question arise why a cartoon character should be better in restoring justice than an imagined god? Further, we have to ask, what is justice; and justice for whom?

Justice for all is only a pipedream. Poetic justice to me seems only to be  possible in literature and  in Hollywood films; like the old Western. In real life, it remains a pipedream and lingers on in the darkened confines of the cinemas around the world.

But it was always like that. Cinema is “Illusion” and it was right from the beginning when the ever so smart Berliners coined the word “Kintopp” for it.

Why Australia?

Today, in a conversation, the question arose, why did we come to Australia? When was the seed planted in my mind?

Ostensibly we came to Australia to have a better future  for us and the children. We could have chosen Canada or the United States instead and could have tried our luck there.  But why Australia? It is the furthest away from Germany and the chances of ever coming back seemed remote at the time.

I have no idea when, in my childhood, I became aware of the continent  called Australia. But it struck me, that the whole continent was one country, that is, one nation where the people are having all this landmass to themselves. . It was almost as big as Europe which contained so many countries. Throughout history, Europe suffered  numerous wars among its nations.

Probably Australia entered my consciousness when I heard that our two pet budgerigars’ homeland was Australia. Then Christmas 1948 or 49 my mother gave me a book for a present. The story of the book was set in Australia at the  birthplace of  European settlement, Botany Bay. The events of the story happened in about 1946 when a group of boys living at  Ramsgate Beach tried to steal an old  cargo ship that was anchored in the middle of Botany Bay with only an old Polish migrant living on it.  He was supposed to keep it in good nick in case the owner wanted to use it again. It was always under steam.

Botany Bay 1788, Charles Gore. The image is from the collections of the State Library of NSW.

Botany Bay 1788, Charles Gore. The image is from the collections of the State Library of NSW.

The boys were roughly my age and I liked their freedom with which they pursued their adventure.

I don’t know the title of the book anymore,  nor do I know who the author was. I’m in contact with the library of the Municipality of Rockdale, but so far nobody knows anything about the book.

Around the same  time, two Australien films were shown in German cinemas. They were “The Overlanders” and “Bush Chrismas“. Both films were very popular in Germany and both were starring Chips Rafferty in the main roles. He was an iconic Australian actor. The big, wide country promised a freedom undreamed of for me living in a big city.

Chips Rafferty, picture from Wikipedia

Chips Rafferty, picture from Wikipedia

A few years later I decided to inquire about migrating to Australia. In Berlin, there was no embassy and all inquiries and applications were handled by a Military Comission at the Olympic stadium. When I arrived there with a friend, we found the Commission was closed due to a public holiday. It must have been their Labour Holiday in October. It was a Monday and I learned, that Australians like to have their public holidays on a Monday. This  gives them a long weekend every time. It was just another reason to migrate to this dream country.

A couple of months later I tried again and got as far as applying for an assisted passage. I could not have paid for the full passage at the time. I needed the permission of the government employment agency, and they knocked me back as I had a trade that was highly in demand after the war. I was a bricklayer and they wanted me to rebuild Berlin.

What that knockback did, was for me to change careers. Bricklaying was not for me. A few career changes later and living in Düsseldorf with a wife and a toddler, I saw by then an ad in the local paper. We thought it was directly speaking to us since it said  “Australia needs You!”. There was no need to convince Uta. We both wanted to go, especially since we still had no apartment of our own and a second child was on its way. We applied and  after going through all the procedures we were accepted and the Germans were happy for us to leave: It meant one family less on the waiting list for an apartment.

Today, when we drive along Grand Parade, on the Western side of Botany Bay, I look across Lady Robinsons Beach and think of the book and the story I read as a twelve-year-old and wonder whether my mother planted the seed of migrating to Australia in my mind.

"Montereybch" by J Bar - Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Monterey Beach” by J Bar – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia