The idea of Social Darwinism fits this—survival of the fittest. The economy does best when people are left to their own devices, and the cream will rise to the top, so to speak. Such theories are called functionalist, and place a high value on order.
The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All. Some twenty years ago Robert K. Merton applied the notion of functional analysis to explain thecontinuing though maligned existence of the urban political machine: Mertonpointed out how the political machine provided central authority to get things done when adecentralized local government could not act, humanized the services of the impersonalbureaucracy for fearful citizens, offered concrete help rather than abstract law or justice to thepoor, and otherwise performed services needed or demanded by many people but consideredunconventional or even illegal by formal public agencies.
Today, poverty is more maligned than the political machine ever was; yet it, too, is a persistentsocial phenomenon.
Consequently, there may be some merit in applying functional analysis topoverty, in asking whether it also has positive functions that explain its persistence. I suspect that in a modern heterogeneous society, few phenomena are functionalor dysfunctional for the society as a whole, and that most result in benefits to some groups andcosts to others.
Associating poverty with positive functions seems at first glance to be unimaginable. Of course, theslumlord and the loan shark are commonly known to profit from the existence of poverty, but theyare viewed as evil men, so their activities are classified among the dysfunctions of poverty.
However, what is less often recognized, at least by the conventional wisdom, is that poverty alsomakes possible the existence or expansion of respectable professions and occupations, forexample, penology, criminology, social work, and public health.
Clearly, then, poverty and the poor may well satisfy a number of positive functions for manynonpoor groups in American society. I shall describe thirteen such functions - economic, social andpolitical - that seem to me most significant.
Every society hassuch work: In America, povertyfunctions to provide a low-wage labor pool that is willing - or rather, unable to be unwilling - toperform dirty work at low cost. Indeed, this function of the poor is so important that in someSouthern states, welfare payments have been cut off during the summer months when the poorare needed to work in the fields.
Moreover, much of the debate about the Negative Income Taxand the Family Assistance Plan [welfare programs] has concerned their impact on the workincentive, by which is actually meant the incentive of the poor to do the needed dirty work if thewages therefrom are no larger than the income grant.
Many economic activities that involve dirtywork depend on the poor for their existence: Second, because the poor are required to work at low wages, they subsidize a variety of economicactivities that benefit the affluent.
For example, domestics subsidize the upper middle and upperclasses, making life easier for their employers and freeing affluent women for a variety ofprofessional, cultural, civic and partying activities.
Similarly, because the poor pay a higherproportion of their income in property and sales taxes, among others, they subsidize many stateand local governmental services that benefit more affluent groups.
In addition, the poor supportinnovation in medical practice as patients in teaching and research hospitals and as guinea pigs inmedical experiments. As already noted, penology would be minusculewithout the poor, as would the police. Other activities and groups that flourish because of theexistence of poverty are the numbers game, the sale of heroin and cheap wines and liquors,Pentecostal ministers, faith healers, prostitutes, pawn shops, and the peacetime army, whichrecruits its enlisted men mainly from among the poor.
Fourth, the poor buy goods others do not want and thus prolong the economic usefulness of suchgoods - day-old bread, fruit and vegetables that otherwise would have to be thrown out,secondhand clothes, and deteriorating automobiles and buildings.
They also provide incomes fordoctors, lawyers, teachers, and others who are too old, poorly trained or incompetent to attractmore affluent clients.
In addition to economic functions, the poor perform a number of social functions: Fifth, the poor can be identified and punished as alleged or real deviants in order to uphold thelegitimacy of conventional norms.
To justify the desirability of hard work, thrift, honesty, andmonogamy, for example, the defenders of these norms must be able to find people who can beaccused of being lazy, spendthrift, dishonest, and promiscuous.
Although there is some evidencethat the poor are about as moral and law-abiding as anyone else, they are more likely than middle-class transgressors to be caught and punished when they participate in deviant acts.
Moreover,they lack the political and cultural power to correct the stereotypes that other people hold of themand thus continue to be thought of as lazy, spendthrift, etc.
Sixth, and conversely, the poor offer vicarious participation to the rest of the population in theuninhibited sexual, alcoholic, and narcotic behavior in which they are alleged to participate andwhich, being freed from the constraints of affluence, they are often thought to enjoy more than themiddle classes.
Thus many people, some social scientists included, believe that the poor not onlyare more given to uninhibited behavior which may be true, although it is often motivated bydespair more than by lack of inhibition but derive more pleasure from it than affluent people whichresearch by Lee Rainwater, Walter Miller and others shows to be patently untrue.In the article entitled "The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All," sociologist Herbert J.
Gans discusses the strange alliance between the poor and the wealthy in American society. He states that the underprivileged in essence have kept several vocations in existence such as social work, criminology, and journalism.5/5(2).
The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All Essay Sample In the article entitled “The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All,” sociologist Herbert J. Gans discusses the strange alliance between the poor and the wealthy in American society.
“The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay for All” * Herbert J.
Gans Poverty is a persistent social phenomenon. In the article entitled "The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All," sociologist Herbert J. Gans discusses the strange alliance between the poor and the wealthy in American society. He states that the underprivileged in essence have kept several vocations 5/5(2).
The point of this article is to understand the poor and their role in America, besides taking up space in homeless shelters and coming to cars asking for change.
Gans talks on how we benefit from the poor and what American society would be without poverty. If poverty was eliminated it would cause.
The poor also THE USES OF POVERTY: THE POOR PAY ALL 47 serve as culture heroes, particularly, of course, to the left; but the hobo, the cowboy, the hipster, and the mythical prostitute with a heart of gold have performed this function for a variety of groups.