Blog 122c -Non-Causes of Poverty, Jobs, Welfare Responses


Blog #122c – Non-Causes of Poverty, Jobs, Welfare Responses

Why is there poverty in the United States today?[1] Most anti-poverty policies rely on one or more of four theories about the causes of poverty: the lack of jobs, the shiftlessness of the poor, the changing technological composition of production, or the scarcity of resources to provide for all. None of the four holds up.

We don’t have enough jobs. Not so. “Unless we create more jobs, there will be unemployed and thus poverty,” many believe. But unemployment is low, whatever the weaknesses of its measure, and most poor people are already employed. They already have “jobs,” or at least work, and very often hard work, often part- time, insecure, without benefits, almost always devalued. It is the substandard quality of the jobs we have that undergirds poverty.[2]  Killer jobs, not job killers, are the real problem.

And that so many jobs are substandard is not by accident. Simple economics dictates that employers will always push wages as low as they can: wages to workers are income to employees, but expenses for employers.  Matthew Desmond’s trenchant article[3] provides the figures, and lays out the consequences, in well reasoned and human terms. What’s needed are good jobs, paying living wages, secure over time, organized so as to be manageable along with meeting all the other obligations of complicated lives

They are poor because they are lazy. Not so. “They don’t want to work, or they drink, or are addicted, or mentally ill,” some argue. But, as noted above, most poor are in fact working, but at jobs with less than living wages or unsustainable working conditions Blaming the victims for their poverty will not work

Technological change requires workers with skills the poor don’t have. Yes but. A high school education may be increasingly needed to get a good job, but lack of a high school education is not voluntary for most without it. Getting a good education is not so simple for many, and especially for those that begin poor. Lack of good schools, of health care, of transportation, of housing, of physical security, of social encouragement, all play large roles. There is no evidence that, given the opportunity, poor people are not able to handle work that requires a post-high-school education. The poor may indeed have less education than those better off, but not because they are stupid.

Technological advances should in fact increasingly be able to provide enough for all, so that there would be no such thing as poverty, if they were appropriately socially organized.

There will always be winners and losers. The poor are simply the losers. No longer so. “The poor will always be with us is an old argument. It is increasingly wrong. Our societies are able to produce enough so that no one needs to live without adequate housing, food, clothing, rest, security, or the other things a decent standard of living in a technologically advanced society can produce. The statistics on inequality are clear. Even a modest redistribution from the top 1% would mean that all of the other 99% could live well above poverty levels.

 If none of these four explanations accounts for the widespread existence of poverty today, what does?

Two factors basically explain the existence of poverty today.

First, major real conflicts of material interest underlie poverty.  As pointed out above, simple economics dictates that for-profit businesses will always push wages as low as they can: wages to workers are income to workers, but expenses for for-profit businesses. Thus, poverty benefits powerful economic and political interests, powerful both in establishing economic relations, and in politically establishing governmental policies that further business interests opposing the steps necessary to eliminate poverty.  And,

Second, the necessity of dealing with immediate and critical human problems detracts from confronting these real conflicts, creating an incentive to downplay the existence of these conflicts politically as well as ideologically, even among well-meaning advocates of policies challenging the underlying causes of the conditions whose consequences they seek to ameliorate, so-called anti-poverty and social welfare programs.

So what is to be done to reduce and ultimately eliminate poverty from rich societies such as ours?

 Immediate actions. We have some limited but moderately effective social-mobility programs: minimum wage laws, restrictions on hours of labor and unhealthy working conditions, subsidized health care, unemployment benefits, public financing of elementary education. They need to be adequately and securely funded.[4] They should be championed, expanded, and stripped of any draconian and counterproductive work requirements. But more is needed.

Ultimate goals must be kept on the agenda as ultimately needed, goals such as a real right to housing, to free medical care, to free public education through college, an adequate income should be considered, and seen as obvious governmental functions, just as are police or fire services or streets and highways or sanitation or environmental controls or providing for holding democratic elections or public parks or clean water. So one might consider adopting as ultimate asocial goals for social action the elimination of poverty entirely and the provision of a right to a comfortable standard of living commensurate with what society is already in a position to provide, given a commitment to use it so that its wealth is distributed equitably among all individuals and groups in the society, commensurate with individual and group needs and desires. The even broader goal might be expressed as the just and democratic control of the economy as a whole and in its parts.

Transformational Measures. But to achieve such goals, shorter-term steps also need to be pursued, measures that move in these directions but that do not promise more than are immediately political feasible yet can contribute to meeting long-term goals.. [5] We should not neglect the importance of the poverty fixes we already have. Safety-net programs that help families confront food insecurity, housing unaffordability and unemployment spells lift tens of millions of people above the poverty line each year. By itself, SNAP annually pulls over eight million people out of poverty. According to a 2015 study, without federal tax benefits and transfers, the number of Americans living in deep poverty (half below the poverty threshold) would jump from 5 percent to almost 19 percent.[6]

  1. Improving minimum wage laws. Moving towards the ultimate goal of stablishing a standard of living for all that guarantees not only the necessities of life but at a level consistent with a comfortable and secure standard of living and a level commensurate with the productive capacity of society, appropriately organized to fullfill social needs and enforced well enough to prevent destructive competition- among businesses based on how little they pay their workers.
  2. Strengthening workers’ rights, moving in the direction of fair wages for all, including strengthening requirements for fair labor standards in the work place. Encouraging self- organization workers and poor households along diverse lines needing publii representation..
  3. Expanding the public and non-profits sectors, in the direction of recognizing the benefits of using social contribution as the motivation of provision of goods and services, rather than profit to be made by furnishing them, e.g. in housing, health care, education, recreation, transportation, environmental amenities, creative arts.
  4. Terminating public expenditures whose motivation is economic development and growth for their own sake, and focusing them on their contribution to meeting social goals, including provision of socially desired levels of goods and services. Publicly subsidized job creation as part of and motivated by economic development interests will simply benefit employers unless coupled with living wage and decent working condition requirements. Adding a work requirement to the receipt of social benefits is likewise a painfully ironic was of reducing such benefits to their recipients in a system in which if they do not produce profits for an employer, over and above their wages they will not be hired.[7]
  5. Making the tax system strongly progressive, lower at the bottom, higher at the top, moving towards the broad reduction of inequality and targeting them to the encouragement of socially desirable activities.
  6. Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of imaginatively recasting budget priorities, specifically reducing the military budget, funding anew climate -change-centered civilian conservation corps, increasing foreign aid aimed at alleviating conditions that lead to emigration etc.
  7. Recasting the public thinking about the meaning and values of work, the causes of poverty, the values implicit in alternative approaches to inequality and injustice. [8]

In Matthew Desmond’s eloquent words, “We need a new language for talking about poverty. ‘Nobody who works should be poor,’ we say. That’s not good enough. Nobody in America should be poor, period.”  He’s right.[9]

[1] The official poverty rate is 12.7 percent, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 estimates. That year, an estimated 43.1 million Americans lived in poverty

 [3] Matthew Desmond, “Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty. They’re Not,” concludes simply: “the able-bodied, poor and idle adult remains a rare creature “Why Work Doesn’t Work Any More,” The New York Times  Magazine, p. 36ff. Available at                             https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/magazine/americans-jobs-poverty-homeless.html

[4]

[5] For a further discussion of the concept of transformative measures, see pmarcuse .wordpress.com, blogs 81a-81e, 97, and 99, Towards Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.

[6] Mathew Desmond, op. cit., p. 49.

[7] Mathew Desmond in a factual, tightly argued, and very persuasive article effectively demonstrates the futility of work requirements attached to the receipt of social benefits. Today, 41.7 million laborers — nearly a third of the American work force — earn less than $12 an hour. the New York Times Magazine of September 11, 2018,

[8] Matthew Desmond, op. cit., writes ”No single mother struggling to raise children on her own; no formerly incarcerated man who has served his time; no young heroin user struggling with addiction and pain; no retired bus driver whose pension was squandered; nobody. And if we respect hard work, then we should reward it, instead of deploying this value to shame the poor and justify our unconscionable and growing inequality.”  And Joanna Scuffs, in a rich and provocative article , writes of ”the slipperiness of the term ”work”, from work  as a daily grind into work as “life’s work “oeuvre, art,  the reason you’re here on earth.” The’Linguistic Chamelion” of Work,In These Times, April  2018, [[. 65ff.

[9] Op. cit., p. 9.

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Blog #90b – Trump the Businessman in the New Post-Industrial Economy: The Commodification of Luxury


Blog #90b – Trump the Businessman in the New Post-Industrial Economy:  The Commodification of Luxury

[Last pre-election blog — voting now is critical! More afterwards…]

Major economic and social developments in the Deep Real Economy have underlain Trump’s success as a Businessman. In these developments profit is derived not primarily from within industrial production, as in the classic capitalist pattern, but also in the process of its realization in user consumption.[1] The new commodification of luxury consumption in which Trump specializes, and the financialization which he is adept at manipulating, is then justified by a New Deep Story purveying am account justifying his activities

Paul Krugman, in his column in the New York Times, has written that Donald Trump as businessman symbolizes this new class in its most crass form today.

[Donald Trump] is a pure distillation of his party’s modern essence. He had solid [Republican] establishment support until very late in the game. And his views are …very much in his party’s recent tradition.[2]

True, but over-simplified (never mind that distilling today’s Republican establishment into one essence is a task that party’s establishment itself has not succeeded in doing to date). Rather, I would argue, there is a clear difference between the Party establishment‘s  older base in the older industrially-oriented economy and those in the modern economy that Trump  as businessman reflects, the purported billionaire, real estate mogul, restless entrepreneur, competitor and winner in the world of big business. And there is a pretty clear distinction between what moves those in older establishment positions—political party leadership and candidates for office and their divisions – and those affected by that new economy in which Trump the Businessman flourishes.

And it is further necessary to examine what Donald Trump the Campaigner says and does in campaigning for office, which often seems to reflect a nostalgia for the campaign.[1]

 

Paul Krugman, in his column in the New York Times, has written that Donald Trump as businessman symbolizes this new class in its most crass form today.

[Donald Trump] is a pure distillation of his party’s modern essence. He had solid [Republican] establishment support until very late in the game. And his views are …very much in his party’s recent tradition.[2]

True, but over-simplified (never mind that distilling today’s Republican establishment into one essence is a task that party’s establishment itself has not succeeded in doing to date). Rather, I would argue, there is a clear difference between the Party establishment‘s  older base in the older industrially-oriented economy and those in the modern economy that Trump  as businessman reflects, the purported billionaire, real estate mogul, restless entrepreneur, competitor and winner in the world of big business. And there is a pretty clear distinction between what moves those in older establishment positions—political party leadership and candidates for office and their divisions – and those affected by that new economy in which Trump the Businessman flourishes.

And it is further necessary to examine what Donald Trump the Campaigner says and does in campaigning for office, which often seems to reflect a nostalgia for the good old days, when “America was  Great,” before the insecurities of the modern essence. And the three Trumps are fundamentally out of sync.

So the hypothesis here is that Trump the Businessman does indeed reflect the distilled essence of the modern businessperson in a post-industrial more market-based economy and neo-liberal political society, but that Trump the Campaigner appeals to an audience suffering from the transition from the preceding industrially-based society to its present new form, producing an intrusion of populist rhetoric in a presentation that fundamentally serves his business purposes. Therefore the paradoxical contradiction between Trump the Campaigner and Trump the Businessman, a billionaire leading the downtrodden, the ignored, and the insecure.

****

So what does a modern businessperson like Donald Trump do in a post-industrial economy?

In one word: he commodifies everything in sight, focusing on the desire for luxury among the newly rich, profiting handsomely from the process, seeing the wealthy as the market to be targeted, ignoring the consequences to those of lower income.

What did Trump do before he entered the contest for President? He got his start in real estate, doing some building, but less and less himself, rather buying or financing or marketing or reselling or harvesting governmental  subsidies in the development process. He did not himself “produce” anything much material, in the old sense of industrial production; he rather profited from the production of others, often with a global reach, e.g. steel from China. What he added to the work of others was often simply the use of his Brand, the name Trump, sold as denoting luxury, as a separate item in the development process, an item of value in itself.

There is one word which neatly describes the common underlying approach to all Trump’s activities, including real estate development: commodification.

Commodification is a term generally over-loaded with a pejorative meaning, as intended here, but becoming close to jargon in usage. The sense in which it is used here should be clear and critically important. It is a shifting in the value of a product, a resource, or an activity, from its consideration for the direct benefits of its use to its owner to a consideration of what it could be bought and sold for – the treatment of use values solely as exchange values.

Look at Trump’s activities, successful and unsuccessful[3]. The point is not that there aren’t already real commodities involved, e.g. steaks or villas office chairs or golf courses or buildings, (see the listing below). Nor is the argument that Trump has pioneered a business that is centered on exchange values; all commercial activities do that and always have. Nor is it that there are not use values at the beginnings of the chain of transactions in which he is involved: an apartment in Trump Tower or a golf game in Florida are of real use to their possessors. . It is rather that he has involved himself in these activities solely for their exchange value. In his hands they are transformed into commodities valued for their possibilities of exchange, reflected in prices determined by what buyers would be willing to pay for the thing at any given moment.

Dealing in commodities is of course nothing new; it is the life-blood of all commercial transactions. Treating commodities as commodities is what defines them. What is new, in Trump’s activities as a businessman, is turning things into commodities that historically have not been seen as separable commodities—e.g. marketing a brand as such, permitting it use in exchange for money, instead of as an attribute of a particular object or service to which it is attached. . A steak or a perfume or a chair an airplane ride or a golf course is of no greater use because it carries the label “Trump” than if it did not, but its exchange  value is increased by the brand; the brand itself is a commodity. Some goods or services should not be bought and sold for profit: natural spring water, the ability to walk in a natural landscape, the view of a city out a window. Trump has converted things into commodities, goods, products, services, that were not treated as commodities before, things like education, safety, natural resources, human beauty, human worth — things that should be distributed to those in need of them or where they will do the most good, with distribution socially determined, rather than by ability to pay, in a system still with gross inequalities of income and wealth and power.

Trump is not involved in the production of their underlying   use values. What he has added to them, with his name branding, is a valuable certification of its arcane exchange value in the market for luxury in which that item is bought and sold.  Such items may be treated simply as an investment, in which an owner has no interest in putting to use the item itself, to living in the apartment or playing golf on its greens. . A conspicuous personal use of a branded luxury good may also provide the value of social status, with the possibility of top level business contacts for the buyer before its resale – a “use” of the item, indeed, but stretching the meaning of the word rather far.

What Donald Trump essentially commodifies is luxury, luxury buttressing social status and the representation of power, wealth able to produce further wealth . The New York Times summarized his secret: “Strategy: Sell the Name.”[4] And make the name synonymous with luxury, appealing  to those with wealth and power  and happy to impress others with their possession.

Look at the list of Trump’s “assets,” the term used for things treated as commodities:

According to Forbes, the “Definitive Net Worth of Donald Trump” is $3,700,000,0000 (#3.7 billion) [5]  His assets include (hardly a definitive list, not all successful): [6]

The commodification of recreation:

10 golf clubs in the United States alone worth $206,000,000, including:[7]

Trump International Villas and Golf Club in the Grenadines, membership starting at $1,000,000[8]

Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland,

Trump Tower, Tampa, FL

Trump Atlanta

Trump Ocean Resort, Baja

Trump at Cap Cana, Dominican Republic

Trump National golf club, Washington, DC

Trump National golf club, Philadelphia

ALM/Lawyer Invitational golf tournament

Trump Golf Links, Ferry Point

Trump National Golf Club Philadelphia

Trump National golf club, Jupiter, Florida

Trump National golf club, Colts Neck, New Jersey

Trump National golf club, Charlotte

The commodification of luxury in housing

Trump Towers Pune, India

Trump International Realty

Trump Dubai Tower, United Arab Emirates

Trump on the Ocean

Trump Tower Philadelphia

Trump Tower, Batumi, Georgia

The commodification of education

Trump Institute

Trump University

The commodification of luxury in eating

Trump Steaks

Trump Vodka

DJT restaurant

The commodification of beauty.

Miss Universe

The commodification of excess:

New tower at Trump Taj Mahal

The commodification of communication:

The Trump Network

Trump Magazine

Trump Tycoon

Trump Securities, Llc

The commodification of luxury consumer goods

Trump Home

Trump Office Chairs

The commodification of luxury air travel

Trump Airlines.

And, of course, the pure commodification of ambition, hope, yearning. dreaming

The casinos

Mississippi Casino

Trump Taj Mahal Casino Hotel

Trump Plaza Casino

And commodification of exchange value pure and simple, in the commodification of the Brand Trump itself for use independently of what the use of the object to which it is attached may be:

Brand licensing in Brazil

Brand licensing in India

Trump the businessman has become Trump the billionaire through a process of relentless commodification of a luxury level of goods and services that contribute nothing to advance the social welfare of society. Trump the Political Campaigner completely ignores what Trump the Businessman actually does. And Donald Trump  has been surprisingly little challenged on this in the course of the campaign.[9]

And he has been surprisingly little challenged on this in the course of the campaign.campaign.[1]

[9]A recent story in the New York Times by David Barstow on November 5, 2016, is well worth reading. It is headlined “Thin Line Splits Donald Trump’s Politics and Businesses,” and questions whether Trump is using  “his business  prowess in service of the American people,” and focusses on some of the most egregious examples of self-profiting from his “public” endeavors.
Available at  “http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/06/us/politics/donald-trump-business-tax-records.html

—–

Blog90c    will examine Trump the Campaigner pursuant to the outline of blog90

[1] David Harvey has recently explicated this argument in these terms.

[2] New York Times , October 10, 2016, p. A21.

[3] Taken largely from the listing at http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-businesses-failures-successes-2016-10/#24-projects-the-times-concluded-didnt-work-out-1

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/07/us/politics/donald-trump-business-deals.html?smid=tw-nytpolitics&smtyp=cur&_r=0

[5] http://www.forbes.com/donald-trump/#1cf7d77e790b. Other estimates put it at $4.5. There is little suppot to his oft repeated claims of being worth over $10 billion. http://time.com/money/4443573/donald-trump-is-worth-4-5-billion/  But what difference does $1 or $2 billion make among  friends? http://time.com/money/4443573/donald-trump-is-worth-4-5-billion/

[6] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferwang/2016/09/28/the-definitive-look-at-donald-trumps-wealth-new/#1a1ce98a7e2d, and    http://www.forbes.com/pictures/glil45ikg/from-manhattan-skyscrape/ contains a suggested  itemization of wht is assets are worth.

[7] http://www.forbes.com/donald-trump/#120c581d790b

[8] http://www.itravelmag.com/travel-articles/donald-trump-real-estate-canouan-island-caribbean-2-06/

 —–

Blog90c    will examine Trump the Campaigner pursuant to the outline of blog #90

 

Blog # 83 – Housing Approaches in New York City: 5 Points in a Long View.


Housing Approaches in New York City: 5 Points in a Long View:[1]

The five points, in brief:

  1. Democratic government has to be big government

Because of the size and hostility of big business

  1. Privacy has two meanings. One meaning is “personal,” private as opposed to “open.”

It should be respected both by government and business.

  1. The other meaning is “private” as opposed to “public.”

Private in that usage means profit-motivated on behalf of individual beneficiaries.

It should give way to the public   sector in housing policy.

  1. “Public –private partnerships” are a hoax.

They are a partnership like that between a gladiator and a tiger in a Roma circus,           or between a hungry lion and a lamb in the wild.

  1. The current housing system is deeply flawed.

It distributes housing based on wealth, not on need, and requires strategic  change, perhaps sectorally focused, but with a vision for the whole.

The five points, in detail:

  1. Democratic government has to be big government[2]

Because of the size and hostility of big business

In the election campaign, there’s a fear of saying that on both sides. Even Sanders seems to accept the idea that government sold be as limited as possible, only where necessary to remedy failures of the private sector.

But the economy is by nature private, private is more efficient, private is the default way of providing goods and services, socially necessary good and services and luxury goods and services.

In the case of housing, private means the real estate industry, the complex  of land and building  ownership; public means public housing, which can include housing owned publicly by decentralized in management to its occupants.

  1. Privacy has two meanings. One meaning is “personal,” private as opposed to open.

It should be respected both by government and by business.

Privacy is a requirement for human dignity and individual freedom: areas of life in which each individual may decide for him or herself what kind of life to lead, what kind of relationships to have, what kind of priorities to pursue.

In the case of housing, a person home, in that sense, is his or her castle, personal, inviolate, private in the sense that most people understand home ownership [3]. In multi-family housing, coops, etc., it means full resident participation and decision-making in building matters.

  1. The other meaning is “private” as opposed to “public.”

“Private” in that usage means profit-motivated on behalf of individual or  non-resident corporate beneficiaries.

In the case of housing, that means it should give way to the public sector in housing policy. If the goal of public policy in a democracy is the general welfare distributing essential goods and services should be on the basis of need, not on the basis of ability to pay.

There should be a right to housing, as a human right.

  1. “Public –private partnerships” are a hoax.

They are a partnership like one between a gladiator and a tiger in a circus, or between a gladiator and a tiger in a Roman circus, or between a hungry lion and a lamb in the wild.

In such a partnership, it is in the private interest to reduce the number and quality of any benefits to workers (to residents, in the case of housing) to the minimum, and increase the costs that government will pay to the maximum. The interest of government is to increase the benefits to the occupants to a reasonable maximum, and to do it by lowering the costs it must cover to provide profits to the private partner to the minimum.

It is a permanent conflict of interest between the partners, where most benefits to one is a cost to the other. (Pure efficiency savings are an exception but are rare; each side will be striving for efficiency in what it does regardless of partnership or not.)

Legally, in a partner, each partner is personally liable for all the debts of the partnership. Hardly the case with public-private “partnerships.” Public-private partnerships are functionally essentially a cowardly way of not raising taxes for a necessary and publicly desired approved purpose.

  1. The current housing system is deeply flawed.

It distributes housing based on wealth, not on need, and requires strategic change, perhaps sectorally focused, but with a vision for the whole.

The housing system as a whole is today distributed on the basis of wealth, not of need, based on its exchange value as a commodity, not as a use value and necessity of life. It benefits the rich much more than the poor, the 1% more than the 99%.

It requires  radical change, including change in the capitalist system of which it is apart,  but only incremental change is politically possible today politically in New York City or on the necessary national level; the power of the real estate industry and the profitability of land speculation are too great. Incremental change needs to be pursued, perhaps best on a sectoral level.[4]

Brad Lander’s efforts on the City Council of New York may be close to the outer limits of what is politically feasible today. Such change should be part of a broader vision of what is fundamentally necessary desired.

If this leads to a pretty basic criticism of the capitalist   system under which we are working today, so be it. Listen to the pronouncement of one hardly vulnerable to being accused of being a socialist. Might it, or an equivalent statement of a general principle, serve as the preamble to any serous proposals even for modest reform?

“”the machinery of the current globalized economy [constitutes] …a system of commercial relations and ownership which is structurally perverse. [where] the limited interests of businesses [and] a questionable economic mindset [take precedence,] an instrumental logic that holds the maximization of profits as its only objective….the principle of the maximization of profits…. reflects a misunderstanding of the concept of the economy.” It results from a “global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effect on human dignity and the natural environment. [5]

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[1] Expanded from and influenced by a panel discussion on “privatize!” atthe exhibit If You Can’t Afford to Live Here, Mo-o-ve!, in New York City on June  23, 2016.

[2] An expansion of this point will be found at pmarcuse.wordpress.com, Blog #84: Big Business Requires Big Government, Contra Republicans and..

[3] For a discussion of legal aspects, see Peter Marcuse, “Homeownership for Low Income Families,” Land Economics, May 1972.

[4] Blog #60, Towards a Housing Strategy for New York, at pmarcuse.wordpress.com, although from 2014, might also be of interest.

[5] Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis, May 24, 2015.

From the Just City to the Ideal City: Theory and Practice – Blog #73


[

[This is the text prepared for the concluding plenary session of  the conference: “The Ideal City: Myth and Reality” of RC21 of the International Sociological Association in Urbano, Italy, in August 2015.  Please take as a draft.]

The name of the conference is The Ideal City, and our concluding panel asks, Is the Ideal City a Just City?

That raises two questions:

  1. What actually is the ideal city to begin with, and is it the same as the Just City, or how different?.
  2. And what is the purpose of talking about it? Why are we all here, anyway?

On the first, What is the Ideal city, and is it just a Just City?

The Ideal City should certainly be a just city but I don’t think that is enough. I think achieving justice is a step on the road to the Ideal City, but not the ultimate destination of that road. Justice is essentially a distributive concept, one that calls for the distribution of goods and services according to principles of justice, however justice is defined: as fairness, as equitable, as serving a;; its residents all its resident equally. Justice means, , in the expanded version that I think you , Susan, use it, also means a just distribution of power. So the call for a Just City is a call for a fair redistribution of power, and that is a necessity for any further change in the direction of what we might consider the ideal city. The call for the Just city is necessarily a critique of the city as it now exists, a confession – or an accusation – tha it is unjust, and needs o be changed. But to what? Is a fair distribution of goods and services really all we want of urban life? Or do we also want a city that expands the capabilities of its residents, that promotes their development, which encourages peaceful and supportive interactions among them, which handles the processes of production as well as of distribution and makes work a desirable and fulfilling part of life? Might not the definition of the ideal City be something like a caring city, a city of solidarity, a city of peace and of beauty?

So one advantage of the Just City concept is that it calls attention to the injustice of the existing city, and proposes a redistribution of power that would improve the situation. Implicitly it raises the question of whether the ideal city requires not just an improvement of the conditions of life of the poor, but also a reduction in the hierarchically-gained advantages of the rich. Perhaps unjustly to the rich? Do we really want a city that is just to all, the perps as well as the victims of the existing system?

But – and this is my second question – how can power be redistributed without struggle , and in that struggle, what role does the idea of an Ideal City, or of a Just City, or of a Caring City, play? Indeed, what role do ideas play in struggles for power anyway? I assume that all of us here would acknowledge the desirability of justice, caring, equity, beauty, in cities, and feel some obligation to bring such a city closer to realization. We haven’t come all this way to Urbino (although it a pleasure indeed to be here, and worth coming just for that sake), but we want to do something more, I think, than solve the problem of imagining the Ideal City as if it were a problem like a crossword puzzle or an exercise in logic.

But we also know that ideas are usually weak weapons in struggles over the distribution of goods and services, and certainly in struggles over the distribution of power. Will developing the idea, or even the image, of the ideal city help in that struggle , will it excite urbanites to action, perhaps to revolt, and produce serious change? Are we here simply to enjoy each other’s company, play with ideas, get t meeting different people worth knowing, to publish something we hone here, perhaps, and then go home satisfied that we have done what a good citizen morally ought to be doing? Or is it even possible that developing the Ideal City, as something necessarily remote, hard even to imagine, hardly realistically possible in the real world, is a chimera, and may get in the way of really accomplishing something tangible, something that on the ground will make a difference, something that will produce nothing but papers at conferences and the smiles on the faces of the holders of those who, unlike we academics and thinkers, have the real power?

So the two questions:

  1. Beyond Justice, what do we really want an Ideal City to be? Do we just want a Just City?

And

  1. If we want Justice and even more, how does developing the idea of the Just City and beyond it the Ideal City, help in the struggle to actualize what we have talked about; how, if at all, does it help in the struggles for a better world, of which it must be a part?

I think the answer might lie hidden right in front of us, in an imaginary conversation between David Harvey, Susan Fainstein, and Herbert Marcuse, which I would be happy to conduct. It would be based entirely on passages from recently published works, starting with Susan Fainstein’s Introduction to Just City:

Harvey (as quoted in her intro to the Just City, p. 6: [Susan, your] conception of the Just City falters. From the start, it delimits its scope to acting within the existing capitalist régime of rights and freedoms and is thus constrained to mitigating the worst outcomes at the margins of an unjust system. [1]

Fainstein: (from Intro, p. 6): This critique is accurate in accusing me of accepting that urban policy making will continue within the “capitalist régime of rights and freedoms,”[but] my analysis is limited to what appears feasible within the present context of capitalist urbanization in wealthy, formally democratic, Western countries.

To which I would reply: But Susan, why limit your analysis this way. If you were to always start with what is feasible , but then extend it to a more theoretical discussion of what further would be necessary to bring about the ideal, to move from your feasible just City to the even more desirable but less immediately feasible Ideal City, would you not convert immediate demands into transformative demands, using each one of your recommendations both to achieve immediate improvements but also show the way to what more is necessary, what the next steps would be to transform what is feasible to day to hat is necessary the day after.

To which my father would add (In recently published lectures a Vincennes outside Paris in 1976.): and that is exactly the role of theory is in the Marxist dialectic .Theory is part of practice, not independent of it, not wishful thinking about it, but based on practice theory is avant-guard, educating and leading, showing the alternative lying underneath the immediately visible and feasible.

His discussion came about in response to the slogan of the militant students of Paris, who took to the streets in May 1968 in protest against what David Harvey has summarized as the discontent with capitalism –perhaps the last time in recent memory that there was actually thought of a radical seven revolutionary success in the struggle against capitalism and for socialism, and heir slogan, on picket signs carried through the streets of Paris blocking traffic and causing disruption generally, was : ALL POWER TO THE IMAGINATION.” The meant specifically, the imagination of what a better world might be like, what today we mean, I hope, when we talk, in somewhat more subdued tones, of the Ideal City.

So I would conclude, in memory of those students but in today’s world, but with a raised fist:

ALL POWER TO THE IMAGINATION, IN BOTH THEORY AND PRACTICE,

FOR A DIFFERENT AND MORE IDEAL WORLD TODAY.

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[1] (Harvey with Potter 2009, 46)

#68 – Evaluation of Fair Housing: HUD AFFHR and Supreme Court Decision


#68 – Fair Housing: Evaluation of Recent Developments.

[The 5 blogs in this set take up the Supreme Court’s decision in Texas vs. Inclusive Communities and HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Regulation (AFFHR) (Blogs #68 and #69), posting today) and the broader questions they raise about some elusive general principles dealing with the meaning of social change and the efforts to accomplish it(Blogs #70, 71, 72) posting in the next few days..

This Blog #68 – Evaluation of Recent Developments, examines the reception the Court’s decision and the AFFHR have received and their respective roles in dealing with housing discrimination.

Blog #69 – Fair Housing: Limitations of Supreme Court decision and AFFHR, takes up the limited scope of the AFFHR, the weaknesses in the Court’s decision and the problems of implementation for both.

Then:

Blog #70 – The Causes of Discrimination, opens an analysis of the current causes of discrimination, and the attribution of causes to the legacy of slavery and to present actors—the thoughtless, the perpetrators, the collaborators, and the victims, the structural context in which they operate.

Blog #71 – Fair Housing – Remedies and Solutions, then proposes some immediate remedies and some principles for real solutions.

Blog #72 – Social Change: Some Elusive Principles for Societal Change, goes beyond Fair Housing to take up some elusive issues raised by the preceding four blogs.]

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#68 – Fair Housing: Evaluation of Recent Developments.

There is an element of unrestrained welcome in the responses to two recent major Federal actions on fair housing, one the Supreme Court’s Decision in Texas vs. Integrated Community Policies, the other is the Regulation Concerning Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.   The New York Times, for instance, editorially says “The new rule …provides a clear, forceful definition of the law… which means replacing segregated Living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patters.”[1] The National Resources Defense Council Staff blog speaks of it as an historic and overdue final rule. [2]

The reaction on the other side has been more than just the opposite: The conservative National Review, for instance, went so far as to call the new Regulation “easily one of President Obama’s most radical initiatives.” [3] And “AFFH could spell the end of the local democracy that Alexis de Tocqueville rightly saw as the foundation of America’s liberty and distinctiveness.[4]

But both reactions are overdone. And this aspect, fulsome praise of the AFFH, can seriously detract from efforts to remedy the very serious problems of discrimination that we still face in this country.
Seen in perspective, the advance since Ferguson, Charlestown,, the flag lowering and the AFFH Regulation is limited,[5] and in the AFFH case has within it possible seeds of serious steps backwards in the route to full justice for minorities (an increasingly dubious term) and for racial justice (likewise a term still to be used with caution (African-American justice doesn’t quite cut it either).

To begin with, the existence of a serious problem is indisputable. About 25% of African—Americans live in poor census tracts (where more than 30% have incomes under the poverty level), only about 16% of white households do. A non-poor African-American is more likely to live in a poverty census tract than a poor white household. For the first time in 2014 non-white students are a majority of students in public schools in the United States, and “black students are just as segregated today as they were in the late 1960s, when serious enforcement of desegregation plans first began.”[6] Infant mortality rates are almost two and a half times higher for African-Americans in the U.S than they are for whites, and not just because of poverty in the southern states. In Massachusetts, the rate of infant deaths per thousand for white is the lowest the country, 3.8 per 1,000, but for African-Americans it is 9.2 per thousand, almost 3 times higher. [7]

But there are several limitations to the progress represented by these most recent two actions, the Supreme Court decision and the HUD regulation.

The two events, a Supreme Court decision in a Texas case, and the issuance of a Final Rule by HUD dealing with Affirmative Action to Further Fair Housing, are closely linked, and treated essentially as one in much of the discussion, and in the blogs that follow. Taken together, they have impact in two ways: first on the on-the-ground ability to enforce the established negative goals of the Fair Housing Act, specifically the prevention and remediation of discriminatory acts in housing, acts defined in general terms unchanged since its adoption in 1968, and second, on the impact of such positive provision of housing as there now is on racial patterns of segregation, thus provoking re-examination of the goals of that law, and the public policies relating to race and space of which it is a part.

The first of these impacts, on the negative prevention of acts of discrimination by others, e.g. realtors may not show some houses just to whites, not to blacks. The second is providing that the government does not itself discriminate in such positive provision of housing as it undertakes, e.g. it may not locate subsidized affordable housing only in areas segregated by race. The language of “affirmative” action could be more broadly interpreted to require government to in fact provide housing, in a manner aimed at integration, but neither the Supreme Court decision nor the AFFH program confront that possibility. There is a brief interchange in the Federal Register[8] on the final rule that goes as follows:

Commenters stated that even if the [zoning] ordinance does not violate the nondiscrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Act the jurisdiction may need to adopt an inclusionary zoning ordinance because such a policy would be the most effective means of addressing the identified contributing factors under the circumstances…

HUD Response: The proposed rule provided that program participants would take meaningful actions to further the goals identified in an AFH conducted in accordance with the requirements of this rule and would take no action materially inconsistent with their obligation to affirmatively further fair

They would “take meaningful actions” and “take no actions.” Prohibiting exclusionary zoning is “a meaningful action,” but it falls short of being “the most effective means,” which might be mandating[9] inclusionary zoning. Zoning is never elsewhere mentioned by HUD. There is little in the history of HUD’s use of the Act to suggest it holds to such a broader use of “affirmative.” So there is really nothing new in either the Supreme Court’s decision or HUD’s AFFH rule to suggest that HUD would go beyond “take no actions” to enforce anything as meaningful” as inclusionary zoning.[10]

So the real contribution of the AFFH is its facilitation of the application of the disparate impact standard that the Supreme Court’s decision has legitimized.

The contribution that the decision and the rule make in fact lies in the implementation of the negative prohibitions of the Fair Housing Act, not expanding the meaning of “affirmative.” On the negative side the issue has been what proof is necessary to invoke the Act’s prohibition of housing discrimination. The Act has two definitions of prohibited conduct: acts of “intentional” discrimination, and acts having an “adverse disparate effect” on minorities.

That proof on an “intent” to discriminate” is hard to come by. That is universally recognized, including by the courts, but defendants charged with violation of the FHA have long stoutly maintained it is necessary under the law. The Supreme Court has now validated the use of the disparate impact standard instead, and HUD, through the AFFH Rule, had made it easier for local governments to come up with evidence that there has in fact been an adverse disparate impact.

On the reach of affirmative action neither the Supreme Court’s opinion nor HUD’s AFFH rule provide anything that is really new. What they do do is raise in the minds of many what the ultimate goal of broad and effective affirmative action should be, and specifically what the desirable nature of integration of minorities is and how it is best accomplished. The blogs that follow argue that both the Court’s opinion and the impact of the AFFH will make resolving that issue even harder.

And both the Court’s holding and the AFFH rule have severe limits. Blog #69 now turns to a detailed examination of the specific weaknesses in the Court’s decision and the AFFHR. Blog #70 explores the causes of those weaknesses, suggested to lie in their avoidance of the underlying causes of discrimination in housing and planning.

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[1] It goes on: “[the Regulation means] transforming racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity and fostering and maintaining compliance with civil rights and fair housing laws. ”The End of Federally Financed Ghettos,” The New York Times, July 12, 2015, p. Sunday Review, p. 10.

[2] Deron Lovaas’s Blog. “Taking the First Big Step Toward Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” Posted July 8, 2015. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a historic and overdue final rule requiring its grantees to leap forward by “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing.” http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dlovaas/taking_the_first_big_step forward.htm. l Natural Defense Council Staff Blog.

[3] It goes on: “AFFH gives the federal government a lever to re-engineer nearly every American neighborhood — imposing a preferred racial and ethnic composition, densifying housing, transportation, and business development in suburb and city alike, and weakening or casting aside the authority of local governments over core responsibilities, from zoning to transportation to education. Not only the policy but the political implications are immense — at the presidential, congressional, state, and local levels.” National Review, July 8, 2015. Available at http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/420896/massive-government-overreach-obamas-affh-rule-out-stanley-kurtz.

[4] Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/420896/massive-government-overreach-obamas-affh-rule-out-stanley-kurtz

[5] On the present state of racism, see my Blog #   , Racism After Ferguson – A Turning Point? at pmarcuse.wordpress.com.

[6] Reed Jordan, “America’s public schools remain highly segregated.” Urban Wire, http://www.urban.org/urban-wire/americas-public-schools-remain-highly-segregated August 24, 2014.

[7] Kaiser Family Foundation, Infant Mortality Rate (Deaths per 1,000 Live Births) by Race/Ethnicity, available at              http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/infant-mortality-rate-by-race-ethnicity/

[9] Zoning is indeed typically a local government activity over which the Federal government has no general jurisdiction, but the final rule is clear that the basis of the Final Rule is HUD’s threat to withhold funding, a threat generally considered adequate to achieve compliance with HUD’s requirements. HUD could if it would.

[10] A Westchester case is a notable exception, and in fact was settled including an agreement that the County provide 450 units of new affordable housing within five years o when the suit was first brought, and its implementation has been tied up in litigation over almost 5 years and the results to date have been not been large, and whether it could have been mandated by HUD under the FHA was never tested in court. See http://homes.westchestergov.com/housingsettlement and http://www.propublica.org/article/westchester-county-could-lose-millions-for-fair-housing-failures.

Blog #69 now turns to a detailed examination of the specific weaknesses in the Court’s decision and the AFFHR