And Jesus said: “Blessed are the hungry, the poor and the destitute of life…for provideth they the cheapest of labour.” One of the basic tenets of classical liberalism (from which modern free-market libertarianism is derived) is that some degree of starvation and desperation in society is a good thing. People who are starving and desperate enough will work for practically nothing, which drives down the cost of labor and keeps the cat cats fat. Jesus would approve.
Or so sayeth Tampa Bay’s Pastor Tom Atchison, CEO of New Beginnings. New Beginnings is one of the city’s largest homeless programs, and its CEO has a unique view on how to fund it. With Florida having officially declared war on the homeless, Atchinson has conscripted some of its casualties and contracted them out to work as corvais labor at everything from local football games to the Daytona 500 on the other side of the state. When those special events aren’t on, he contracts his force out for construction, telemarketing, moving, painting and even grant writing for students.
But even that degree of administrative and therapeutic experience trumps Atchison’s own. He claims to have a doctorate in theology…which he got from an online school that seems to be out of business now.
But therapy trappings aside, it’s how residents pay for their lodgings and food. Without working as a member of NB’s homeless conscript army, they’d have to pay $150 a week — $600 a month — to stay there. And that’s after Atchinson takes every dime of any Social Security money and food stamp benefits they get. Even if those benefits amount to more than the $600 a month he charges. Yes indeed. According to former employee Victoria Denton:
“If a check comes in, it doesn’t matter if it’s in your name, my name or Tumbuktu’s name. It’s going in [Atchison’s] name.”
So, what happens to all of the money and benefits Atchison so kindly safeguards? They have to beg him if they want any of it. Former New Beginnings resident and minister Lee Hoffman:
“[Atchison] would say, ‘They’re drug addicts, they’re alcoholics, they’re just going to spend it on cigarettes and booze. The only way they get any of it is if they complain hard enough.”
And residents aren’t the only people begging for their money back; Atchison overbilled for and received at least $80,000 of state grants that went right into the program’s bank account, never to be repaid or seen again.
Of course, there are those who would say that such chicanery is a necessary evil to keep an organization like New Beginnings running. There’s even a kind of communistic beauty to the whole affair, which Jesus probably really would approve of. At least, according to Atchison; he says his underhanded dealings and corvais labor force are necessary to offset the cost of housing people who can’t pay. He defends the program in the video below.
“Because of what we do at those [football] games, we can afford to take guys off the street who have nothing and give them the opportunity to work and get their lives back together. We take the guys no one else does.”
And that is pretty understandable. Laudably creative even, in a state where “mercy to the poor” consists of allowing them access to food and not stealing their stuff while they sleep. And the state for its part doesn’t have much problem with the notion of people working for a landlord to keep a roof over their heads. State law does permit it, and it’s common practice.
But the law also requires that employers keep track of hours worked, and pay at least the federally mandated minimum wage. In short, it has to be a legitimate employer-employee relationship, with tax forms and all. State law does not permit creditors like landlords to simply exploit their debtors at will, and for as many hours as they desire, without compensation.
The reason: Because forcing employers in a relationship like this to pay at least minimum wage keeps the cost of labor from dropping indefinitely down to practically nothing. An event which would be very good for extremely wealthy people, and very bad for everyone else.
Call it a commune, call it corvais labor, call it indentured servitude…but either way, neo-conservatives in Florida for their part simply adore the practice.
Classical liberalism: The poor and destitute drive down the price of labor, which makes rich people richer. Not just in the industries where the destitute work, but in all industries across the board. Starvation, poverty, drug addiction and destitution are very good for employers’ bottom line profits. The rich exploit outfits like New Beginnings, which facilitate exploitation of the poor, which facilitates exploitation of everyone else.
It may be understandable why Atchison would do something like this; he’s no millionaire, and it’s clear he’s not planning on being one. Maybe he is being completely sincere. But in spot-treating a problem for a few poor and destitute people, he’s helping to create far more. Exploitation can’t be solved with more exploitation.
Welcome to Libertarianism, Koch-style.