"and yes, freedom entails the freedom to starve if you don't *earn* your living."
What do you mean by "earn"? It's easy to take this kind of thinking to an extreme, as demonstrated by you saying people have the "freedom" to starve to death.
The fact of the matter is, with unrestricted capitalism, there will always be starving poor. That doesn't make it right, fair, or (most importantly), acceptable.
Human history is marked by periods of focus on certain areas which are thought to lead to enlightenment, but other things often fall into neglect.
We're going through a fairly lengthy phase (with no sign of an end in the predictable future) of economy-centered thinking, without giving much regard to why economies exist -- and let me give you a hint, there's a lot more to it than just making money.
""Further into poverty," that is a slap in the face to the Russians who have known some of the greatest levels of poverty in history; there isn't much "further" to it."
That's true, Russia has suffered tremendous poverty, and it isn't likely to get better any time soon. Russians are intelligent people, but even that isn't going to help them out of a web which has been getting progressively more entangled throughout history. I think they demonstrate that there is something we can call "fate" which determines who comes out on top. You can probably find the reasons behind this "fate" if you look hard enough, but I'm sure the solution won't be nearly as easy as it was for America in the 19th century. This is a different situation. Just because someone can make it, doesn't mean other equally or better capable individuals can... circumstances and environment play a huge role. America came to industrial power through brutal abuse of labor... I think if anything, the 19th century and early 20th century demonstrate WHY unrestricted capitalism doesn't work. Companies will squeeze the life out of their employees to make a profit, and few will offer a better alternative, because they don't HAVE to and can still generate profit. That's brutal.