Until the 6th century BC, Athens was ruled by Archons, aristocratic magistrates, and by a council of ex-Archons called the Areopagus. Then, in 594 BC, an Archon named Solon succumbed to the demands of the plebeian class and instituted sweeping political changes. Every adult male citizen of Attica, about 40,000 out of a population of 250,000, was granted a franchise, and a Boule, a plebeian council of 400 elected representatives was established to counter the power of the Areopagus.
Thus was born Greek Democracy, the empowerment of every adult male non-slave through the granting of a vote in the composition of a legislature of his peers.
The Roman Republic was a more top-down political arrangement, with the aristocrats in power and the plebeian class placated with pageantry and exhibitions of cruelty in the coliseum. Then, in 494 BC, the plebes revolted, and as a result, the Plebeian Tribune was established. The Tribune of the Plebes was a council of five, later ten, plebeians elected solely by plebeians who represented a plebeian counterweight to the aristocratic Roman Senate. Thus, in both Greece and Rome, the problem of the disparity between rich and poor was solved – or at last addressed – by involving the poor in the political process.
In his treatise Politics, written around 350 BC, Aristotle posits that the greatest tension in a state is the mutual tension between rich and poor, and he proposes a polis (city-state) in which there is neither rich nor poor. Such a state could be achieved, Aristotle admits, only by an unrealistic rejection of power by the rich and an unrealistic assertion of power by the poor. His solution was universal involvement in the affairs of the state.
America started out with universal suffrage, but what really solved the problem of the poor was an event that occurred 26 years before the founding of the American Republic. In 1765 an Englishman named James Watt demonstrated his first working model of a steam engine, and gave to mankind the means of eliminating poverty forever – the industrial revolution.
Poverty was persistent throughout the first century of the nascent industrial revolution, but by the last half of the 19th century, it was foundering before the assault of the wealth distribution machine of capitalism. Great personal wealth was amassed by such entrepreneurs as Andrew Carnegie and Meyer Guggenheim, but a great deal of it was reinvested into the society through such philanthropies as Carnegie libraries and Guggenheim foundations and the Guggenheim art museum. Furthermore, such prescient entrepreneurs as Henry Ford, who in 1914 raised pay for his workers to $5.00 per day, realized that the customers for their products were their workers, and that they could increase their business by paying workers more.
During the last half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, America's "poor" were among the richest people in the world. From 1865 to 1965, there were no "poor" in America. There were only some who were less rich than others. Then Johnson invented the welfare class – and reinvented "poverty."