I was fascinated by the interview with Harry Frankfurt on inequality (Life of the Mind, Nov. 11). As a 30-year researcher on the subject of homelessness, I certainly agree that extreme poverty and homelessness are a national disgrace. For example, a recent study indicated that among the bottom quintile of housing consumers nationally, i.e. those who own or rent their homes, the average annual income was $10,100, and they paid 87 percent of their income for housing, leaving just over $1,000 per year for everything else — food, clothing, health care, child care, transportation, etc. This is real poverty, and the figures do not even include those experiencing homelessness, because the latter are not actual consumers of housing.
Moreover, there is something wrong with an economic system in which high-income homeowners, who don’t need assistance, receive four times as much federal housing subsidy as do low-income renters, who do need the help. Furthermore, as Dr. Frankfurt implies, something has to be done to overhaul a political system in which 158 families contribute $78 million to political campaigns. To quote Dr. Frankfurt, “Anti-democratic tendencies — created by exceptional wealth — must be discouraged ... .” Although I have not read Dr. Frankfurt’s earlier book, On Bullshit, that title seems fitting for the way we as a nation treat those in extreme poverty and homelessness.