At one time, London was full of urchins. Not the wet, salty kind. The runny-nosed, dressed-in-rags kind that yells, “Oy, gov’na! Buy this stale crumpet from me or else!” The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and the haves had more than any time in history. Both wealth and poverty were spreading. Rapidly. Those struggling in the countryside to subsist by agriculture were moving to cities for opportunity, but many fell through the cracks.
Meanwhile, the riches of England were growing at a fever pace, and many members of London society were gaining wealth for the first time, and it was the sympathies of the small, burgeoning middle class, rather than that of the aristocrats, that called public attention to the needs of the disenfranchised masses by highlighting their suffering, rather than simply the inconvenience they were bringing on the public.
Thus, poor houses became the order of the day. A dwelling-and-vocation-in-one for those who had no other prospects. While they alleviated the problem of homelessness and starvation in London, poor houses were a little like the Hotel California: you can check-out anytime you like, but you can never leave. They were, in effect, prison for those of little means.
As the decades passed, the Industrial Revolution became modernity, and the wealth of the United Kingdom not only grew exponentially but spread more broadly in society. As there was less poverty, there was less need for poor houses. Gradually, they fell out of favor. Their more cruel aspects were decried in the press. A movement formed to get rid of them. Nowadays, they are a Dickensian memory of a cruel and unjust past. However, their origin had everything to do with the social reformers of the day, and, in their time, poor houses were viewed by English society as progressive and compassionate.
Now, take a moment to rethink Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers. The practice of solitary confinement. Even compulsory schooling. In another century, will they be the institutions of the past that we are looking at with the advantage of hindsight, shaking our heads at the injustice and cruelty of today? I think so, and, along with forced schooling, I think the very economy will be shaken to its root. Schooling trains kids to compete, to be uncooperative, to see their peers as enemies to be overcome in their pursuit of jobs. This is likewise the nature of our economy. I believe the more shadowy aspects of our meritocratic system will fall away, freeing individuals to let their inner light shine. To read more about luxocracy, click here
So, do you believe in progress or do you believe that history is circular?