• The UN’s Philip Alston is an expert on deprivation – and he wants to know why 41m Americans are living in poverty. The Guardian joined him on a special two-week mission into the dark heart of the world’s richest nation.
By Ed Pilkington
“You got a choice to make, man. You could go straight on to heaven. Or you could turn right, into that.”
We are in Los Angeles, in the heart of one of America’s wealthiest cities, and General Dogon, dressed in black, is our tour guide. Alongside him strolls another tall man, grey-haired and sprucely decked out in jeans and suit jacket. Professor Philip Alston is an Australian academic with a formal title: UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
His fact-finding mission into the richest nation the world has ever known has led him to investigate the tragedy at its core: the 41 million people who officially live in poverty.
Of those, nine million have zero cash income – they do not receive a cent in sustenance.
Alston’s epic journey has taken him from coast to coast, deprivation to deprivation. Starting in LA and San Francisco, sweeping through the Deep South, traveling on to the colonial stain of Puerto Rico then back to the stricken coal country of West Virginia, he has explored the collateral damage of America’s reliance on private enterprise to the exclusion of public help.
The Guardian had unprecedented access to the UN envoy, following him as he crossed the country, attending all his main stops and witnessing the extreme poverty he is investigating firsthand.
Jan Oberg comments:
Why do 41 million Americans live in poverty? And why are unlimited funds always available for weapons and war? Is the Empire consuming the Republic – and are both going to fall soon?
This is 41 million human rights violations. But violations economic rights are not as interesting to the US as – other countries’ – violations of political rights.