Rent Control and California Prop 10


submitted to LA Times October 31, 2018 Likely only of interest to Californians.

To the Editor, Los Angeles Times

Proposition 10 can be confusing. It does NOT establish rent controls anywhere. The Costa-Hawkins law, which Prop 10 repeals, is a state law that simply takes away the decision-making from local communities on whether or not there should be specific forms of rent regulation on specific types of housing units and established its prohibitions state-wide, overruling local decisions. Proposition 10 repeals that law, leaving decision-making on rent regulations in the hands of local communities, where almost all other land use decisions, e.g. zoning and land use planning regulations are now lodged.

Proposition 10 is essentially a home rule proposition. A YES vote restores local control of key housing decisions. If it passes, it will then be up to local voters to decide what kind of regulations of rents they want, if any, want, if any. They can then consider Gary Painter’s compelling arguments for adopting rent controls to spur more building (LA Times, Op-Ed, October 31), and it will be their decision.

Peter Marcuse
Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning
Columbia University
Home address:
3775 Modoc Road
Santa Barbara, Calif. 93105
Phone: 805 879 7714
Pm35@columbia.edu

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Blog #124 – Dear Artificial Intelligence


Dear Artificial Intelligence.
On reading economics, thinking Artificial Intelligence might help.
But recalling Faust on self-doubt and Bernie Sanders on winners and losers

Here I sit, a PhD. a retired legal technician,
I’ve had to study the latest economics as if on a mission
I’ve spent hours on the web and can do no more.
Yet here I sit, poor fool, and am no wiser than before,

Maybe artificial intelligence will solve all those problems
I won’t have to go back and read all those volumes
JI can just lie back and let it all sink in
And I will know who will lose and who will win.

Yet if I think about it just as bit more
I’ll realize I actually knew the answer to that before.

To wit the answer is:

The winners will be those that were rich and have all the money,
Whose words were all so persuasive, all dripping with honey
Who only do what their lawyer says the law will allow,
Who sometimes acted quickly and sometime acted slow.
But whether the markets are frozen or runny
Whether the forecasts are cloudy or sunny
The rich always turn out to be winners. Wow isn’t that funny?

And I had to read economics to learn that?
Working hard while others grew fat?
And still not have the power to change it at all?
Maybe Artificial Intelligence will help where the natural fails?
And is better than just flipping a coin and calling heads or tails?

But that doesn’t mean Artificial Intelligence can’t have any good use
Only that what it’s taken to be doing can be seriously misleading
By ignoring whose hand and whose interest is doing its feeding.
Not disclosing who owns its product can lead to dangerous abuse.
Pretending that if something is the result of A.I.,
Without disclosing who’s asking the questions
What stake they have in what the answers are,
Against such practices there should be a bar.

Dear A.I., the problems economics describes seem intractable to me,
The answers, A.I. or no, seem to me nowhere in sight.
I’m not even sure I know which ones are harmful, which ones right.
So A.I., if you’re so smart, please tell me what I should do,
And I’ll go do it, and if it goes wrong, blame the results on you.
Of course if it succeeds, I’ll take the credit for having seen the light.

So remember, Dear Artificial Intelligence,
You may think you’re so smart
But– you and we know you don’t have a heart,
You can’t tell the good from the bad
You don’t know if you’re being used honorably or being had
You may know moral values by their name,
And you may even refer to them without shame
But letting feelings influence your work is for you are a no-no
People are just numbers in some algorithm you have developed.
You can’t tell whether the level of happiness produced is high or is low.
All most of your clients seem to care about is the dough.

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.

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 #90 – The Paradox of Trump and his Followers


What follows is a Work in Progress  attempting to explain a quite  apparent paradox: how is it that Donald Trump, a billionaire real estate developer,  whose claim to fame includes popularizing the slogan : “You’re fired!” can  end up leading a right wing populist following that in fact is plagued by the very  activities he as businessman epitomizes? How it is so many people enthusiastically and vociferously support him, in apparent contradiction to their own interests?

The argument here begins by suggesting that Donald Trump is in fact operationally three different persons, three Trumps (perish the thought, if taken literally!), three entities he has struggled to keep separate: Trump the Individual, Trump the Businessman, and Trump the Political Campaigner. His individual psychological characteristics, idiosyncrasies, if not neuroses, have been extensively examined elsewhere, and are not examined here.

As Businessman, Trump’s activities are a combination of conventional exploitation, underpaying workers in the conventional businesses he operates, principally managing real estate, and an entrepreneurial instinct expanding profit-making by commodifying desires for consumption, for luxury activities providing status over and above actual use. He seeks support as a Political Campaigner for his political ambitions as well as for his businesses, by exploiting conventional aspirations for economic security and social safety, both linked to private enterprise and dreams of wealth accumulation.

As Political Campaigner Trump gains support by latching onto what might be called a Deep Story, an emotionally held ideology and set of values that explains, rationalizes, and legitimates how the world works. Such a Deep Story has long existed as to how the industrialized capitalist world works.  Trump has modified that old Story to proclaim a New version counting on the vulnerabilities of voters and popular media to changes in the economies of the world that have frightened masses of ordinary people seeking assurances that the supposed promises of the old Deep Reality, seemingly vanishing, could be restored quickly and easily by his authoritarian rule. He has used promises of “Making America Great Again” to propagate a new right-populism and a New Deep Story appealing to those susceptible to promises of quick and easy solutions to deeply threatening and hard to understand changes.

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 industrial  production but also in the process of its realization in user consumption. The 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 resting on a widespread popularly accepted account of how the changed reality works.

I hope in the next week to flesh out the argument here in a series of perhaps six blogs, perhaps as follows

This Blog #90 – The Trump Series: The Paradox of Trump and His Followers

  1. Blog #90a – The Three Trumps: Individual, Campaigner, Businessman
  2. Blog #90b -Trump the Businessman: The Commodification of Luxurious Living
  3. Blog #90c – Trump the Campaigner and his Opposition
  4. Blog #90d – The Deep Realities and The Deep Story of Industrial Capitalism
  5. Blog #90e – The New Deep Realities of the New Economy and its New Deep Story
  6. Blog #90f The Philosophic Explanation of the Persuasive Power of the new Deep Story
  7. Blog #90g The Alternative Reactions to the New Deep Reality: Right, Middle, and Left

****   WORK IN PROGRESS   ****

Blog #60 Toward a Housing Strategy for New York 1


Notes Towards a Housing Strategy for New York City

That there Is a housing crisis in New York City for the majority of its residents, and particularly severe for lower income and “discriminated-against minority groups,” hardly requires further documentation.[1] And there is an emerging consensus amongst housing advocacy groups and community-based and progressive political groups that strong measures, from administrative changes to even radical legislation, are needed to remedy the situation. It may be useful to try to put together what a comprehensive agenda for legal, political, and administrative change might look like, on whose substance common agreement might be developed. And the language with which we discuss urban issues needs to be looked at carefully, for the implicit bias much of it contains.

A. sets forth the premises of the strategy.
B. lists some of the concrete programs that might be foregrounded as demands.
C. lists some of the words that are often mischievously used in housing discussions.

A. The strategy accepts the following premises:

1. That there is indeed a crisis in housing, that it inequitably negatively affects particularly low-income and discriminated-against minority groups and inequitably favors higher income groups and profit-motivated suppliers of housing in the housing industry.
2. That the market, given the gross and inequitable inequalities of income reflects these inequalities, and cannot be expected to be a tool to end this crisis; its natural tendency is indeed to exacerbate it, and it requires radical control from government to act otherwise.
3. That community-based decision-making, accepting broadly-defined principles of justice, non-discrimination, and participation, is an essential element in developing a housing system that is equitable and free of crisis.
4. That, while some reforms may meet general approval and be win-win measures, any serious attempt to resolve the housing crisis will involve sharp conflicts of real interests, both material and ideological, and full consensus of serious reform is not to be expect. Rather, conflicts, in which grass-roots organizations and social movements need to play a critical role, are inevitable, and must be anticipated and planned for.
5. That the very words used in debates about housing policy can operate to vitiate meaningful research and be used as tools to influence the outcomes of conflicts over policy.

B. In outline, then, the measures that together might implement a serous strategy [3] addressing the housing crisis might include [2]:

2. Adopting public policies that predictably serve to reduce discrimination, reinforce equity, and help end the housing crisis, including :

a. Ending upmarket rezoning, which produces displacement, discriminates against the interests of those most in need of housing, and produces exclusionary communities.
b. Participatory budgeting, allocating significant sums for housing programs expanding options for affordable housing.[4]
c. Reinterpreting ULURP to required 4/5 majority of City Planning Commission and city Council votes to override a CB vote, thus reversing an opinion of the Planning commission’s counsel that the Charter Revision creating the Community Boards did not give their votes any legal force or effect. [5]
d. Revising City procedures for the handling of properties whose future use is within its power to influence, to give priority to uses expanding housing opportunities for lower-income households and development, to promote ownership and/or management by non-profits in the form of non-profit coops or condos or community land trusts or mutual housing associations community-based non-profit non-governmental organizations.
e. Amending the real estate tax system to serve social policy purposes as well as raise revenue, by increasing taxes for underused and speculatively-held vacant properties, imposing a speculation tax on the profit from rapid turnover of properties acquired for resale.
f. Requiring a registry of residential properties (lots, buildings, units) held vacant for over 3 months and imposing significant fees for late registration or failure to register, steeply increase with time, and authorizing filing of a lien.
g. Rent control, with limits pegged at the lower of tenant affordability and landlord break-even in the aggregate. Eliminating vacancy decontrol.
h. Public housing support and new construction, with continuing occupancy at proportionately increased rent if income increases over limits for entry.
i. Minimum wage and pro-labor organizing measures, with the understanding that they ameliorate the housing crisis, but do not establish an equitable housing system, and are ineffective unless coupled with rent and price controls. (Likewise, health insurance, unemployment compensation, and parallel measures).

C. In research and advocacy, avoiding language that cloaks serious issues or act as euphemisms for actions that would be recognized as undesirable if properly named.[6] Such terms, which often reflect implicit but heavily
Ideologically biased concepts, include:

a. Density, when put forward as if increasing density is per se a suitable goal for a housing policy, or as a simple way to produce affordable housing
b. Affordable housing, when used without recognizing that the definition of what is affordable must take into account that the need for housing becomes greater as incomes decline.
c. Market, when only the private profit-driven market in meant, rather than a system of shaping the distribution of goods and serves, and of public policies, to reflect varying individual and social preferences.
d. Up-zoning, rather than upmarket zoning
e. Wealth creation, if seen as a goal of housing policy for home owners, treating housing, not as a necessity of life valued for its use, but rather as a commodity invested in for it the profit to be derived from it
f. Government intervention, if suggesting there is a “natural” private housing system not fully dependent from the outset on governmental action.
g. Diversity, if used to encourage introduction of higher income or higher status households into lower income communities or communities of color.
h. Color blindness, if used to preclude examination of patterns that my reflect discrimination on the basis of color.
i. Environmentally Sustainable, when excluding the consideration of the social environment.
j. Displacement, when limited to the immediate eviction of households, excluding 1) precautionary or “voluntary” displacement undertaken ahead of but because of the immanence of rising unaffordable rents/costs or foreclosure actions, excluding 2) secondary displacement resulting from price changes in areas outside the immediate area of a given change but required because of it, and excluding 3) excluding prospective displacement, the prevention of households moving into -moving into a neighborhood desired by and otherwise affordable for them because of rising prices. [7]
k. Gentrification, when used as synonymous with neighborhood improvement, rather than its accurate definition as in-movement of higher income households into a neighborhood displacing lower-income households.
l. Integration, desegregation, mixed income, when used to support-movement of a white non-Hispanic population into a community displacing lower income and/or minority households. [8]
m. Growth, when used as a self-evident goal of public policy per se, neglecting what is to be grown and for whom, the relation between the various forms and directions of growth and social justice .
n. Competitiveness, when used as a desirable goal of city policy per se, neglecting questions of the net social desirability of aiding the competitive position of a given city against other cities in terms of the impact on social justice and the differential impact of economic competiveness on different economic and ethnic and racial goops.
o. City, as in ”the city,” when used to suggest that the city is an organic entity in which a benefit to any one part is a benefit to all, avoiding acknowledgement of the multiple conflicting interests in the city and the recognition that benefits for some, most frequently the upper income and elite, is likely to be at the expense of others, most likely the poor and minorities, e.g. wage levels.
p. Filtering, the assumption, contrary to fact, that benefits at the top of the income social, ethnic and racial ladder will filter down and benefit those below as well. As their higher-income residents move in, the tendency is rather to displace than to benefit lower-income ones. [9]
q. Transformative, unless used to separate radical from reformist proposals or policies. [10]

———————-
1. See, for instance, the several excellent studies of the Furman Center for Real Estate at New York University, the trenchant studies of many
3.For the distinctions between reformist and transformative proposals, see pmarcuse.wordpress.com, “Blog #30 – Transformative Proposals in Nine Areas”
4. See Marcuse, Peter. 2014. “Participatory Budgeting–Expansion.” In City Limits web site, http://www.citylimits.org/conversations/262/participatory-budgeting-what-s-the-potential.
5. A vote of the City Council, or even a new Charter Revision may be necessary for this purpose, and might expand the Board’s access to information and revise Board procedures improving the availability of technical assistance outside of city government if needed.
6. Marcuse, Peter, 2006. Expert Report, In Mhany Management Inc., And New York Communities For Change Vs. Incorporated Village Of Garden City and Garden City Board Of Trustees, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York Case 2:05-cv-02301-ADS-WDW Document 413 Filed 12/06/13 Page 1 of 65 PageID #: 10601, cited at page 41.
7.For a fuller discussion, see Marcuse, Peter, “Gentrification, Abandonment, and Displacement: Connections, Causes, and Policy Responses in New York City,” Journal of Urban and Contemporary Law, Vol. 28, 1985, reprinted in revised form as “Abandonment, Gentrification and Displacement: The Linkages in Nw York City” in Neil Smith and Peter Williams, eds., Gentrification of the City, Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1986, pp. 153-177, and in Loretta Lees, Tom Slater, and Elvin Wyly, eds. The Gentrification Reader, 2010, London, Routledge, pp. 333-348.
8.As a sample of the mischievous use of the term: a chair of the New York City Planning commission argued: “gentrification is merely a pejorative term for necessary growth.. “ “Improvement of neighborhoods – some people call it gentrification – provides more jobs, provides housing, much of it affordable, and private investment, which is tax revenue for the city,” she said.
9. Leo Goldberg’s draft for his research spells this out.
10. See pmarcuse.wordpress.com, Blog #11, Reforms, Radical Reforms, and Transformative Claims.

Blog #55b – Why Does Inequality Have Popular Support?


Blog #55b – Why Does Inequality Have Popular Support?

The Agents of Inequality The Agents of InequalityThe Processes of Inequality: Exploitation, Dispossession, Incorporation

I have argue here and elsewhere[1] that

Social inequality is caused, not by any technical developments or by agreement that it is just or because the people wanted it, but because it directly serves the interest of the 1%, who have the power to impose it through the processes of exploitation, dispossession, and incorporation. Inequality is inevitably a matter of conflict, roughly between the 1% and the 99%. Any serious effort to reduce inequality must deal with this simple and obvious fact.

(It should be clear that we are talking about social inequality, inequalities in social relations reflecting hierarchies of power and wealth, not individual differences or inequalities in strength, wisdom, inherent abilities, virtues. It is of course what Jefferson meant in the Declaration of Independence’s ringing declaration: “all men are created equal.” They obviously differ in size, weight, talent, strength, desires, etc.; it’s the social relations among them that is in question.)

But what are the concrete processes that create social inequality, that permit the 1% to impose social inequality in society, to their benefit?

The answer, again, can be given in a few words: Exploitation, Historical Dispossession, Capitalist Dispossession (Expropriation), and Incorporation

Historic dispossession actually came first, in primitive societies and pre-feudal monarchies and empires and autocracies. The 1%, the established rulers, chieftains, monarchs, simply were entitled to take possession of what they wanted from anyone in their power. They did this through the exercise of brute force: slavery, where the masters took possession of anything of the slaves that they wished, war, where the spoils of the war were simply taken by the victors from the losers as their spoils.. The practice persisted well into feudalism, with the divine right of kinds (even Mozart built on its recognition in Figaro’s objection to the exercise of the Rights of the Seigneur in 1786!). And the dispossession of villagers’ use of the traditional commons for grazing, what we would now call privatization, was a significant part of the transition from feudalism to capitalism.[2]

Exploitation is a widely understood concept, and understood as a constitutive component of capitalism in the form of the wage relationship in production. , and focuses on the processes by which one person or group obtains the benefits of someone else’s labor through the payment of wages that do not equal the value of that labor. The profits accruing to the employer in that relationship accrue to capital, are a “return to capital” in Piketty’s sesnse, a conspicuously non-judgmental phrase for a relationship that could raise some questions of justice but which clearly benefit the 1% and the expense of a major part of the 99%, and contribute to a mounting inequality as capitalist forms of production expand and go global.

Capitalist dispossession, however, accompanies the drive to ever-increasing profit (what Marx calls primitive accumulation and David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession[3]). Colonialism is its manifestation at the international level, but is paralleled by national practices. Rosa Luxemburg spoke of “The right to take possession, oppression, looting, are openly displayed without any attempt at concealment, and implemented by force if necessary.”[4] But in its mature capitalist form it is put forward as a right, and a right available to anyone, not merely of a chieftain or king exerting a hereditary or divine right to its exercise.

Foreclosing on a mortgage effectively dispossesses the “owner” of the house of his occupancy of it, and expropriates the house to the bank or financial institution that holds the mortgage. And the force behind it is state sanctioned and applied, if not under specific legislation then by execution of judgments in courts of law. The Sheriff will enforce the order of eviction a court grants, and forcefully puts the owner’s property on the street.

Contemporary dispossession (expropriation) differs from both its preceding forms, historic and capitalist, in two major ways;

  • Contemporary dispossession is much less focused on physical dispossession, and involves a whole range of broader goods and assets, including property rights in all sorts of values which are included when one speaks of inequality. Contemporary dispossession might more properly be called expropriation, the taking of some key rights in that bundle of rights called ownership, key rights that go into the composition of wealth and power that Piketty, unlike Marx, lumps together in the term capital. The most obvious, of course, is the right to income or a share in the profits from an investment. Expropriation here is not the taking of the physical stock certificate, but the justification for not honoring a supposed “right” to a proper return on the investment. The right to an education, the right to health care, the right not to be discriminated against, the right to security of the person, the right to the sanctity of the home free of trespass, the right to vote, are all rights the 1% take for granted, but that large parts of the 99% find in practice not or barely available to them. The effective elimination of those rights in practice leads directly to the relative reduced wealth and income of the 99% and the expansion of the wealth and income of the 1%, increasing inequality by the most conventional of measures, and in a quite fundamental way. As an (critical) example, every reduction in the progressivity of taxes used to make such rights meaningful goes directly in the pockets of the 1% and the expense of those in need of those rights.
  • Contemporary dispossession in fact largely creates those very rights and values it then expropriates. Ironically, when the “owner” of a home among the 99% loses it in foreclosure, his or her very ability to purchase it was enabled through high credit by the institutions of the 1%, who end up unharmed by the foreclosure. The bank owner, surely among the 1%, itself enabled the creation of the owned homes of many of the 99% which it helped finance, and then through foreclosure dispossesses the homeowner of that home to its own benefit, widening the gap between the two. The whole process of financialization, and the credit bubble it engendered has caused harm to the 99% from which the 1% have benefited, so that their share of the society’s wealth has increased while that of the 99% has decreased. It is a case of private dispossession/expropriation.

How could the 1% get away with this, in an advanced democracy? It couldn’t happen without support, including much active support, from a large part of the population, at least in the so-called “advanced democracies.”

Incorporation is the best term I can think of for the answer. Not in the sense of forming a corporation, of course, but in the sense of absorbing any potential resistance within it, making the resistance itself part of the system it attempts to criticize. Co-optation might be an easier term, but it is co-optation at a fundamental level, deliberately provoked and nurtured out of self-interest. But then internalized as natural, inevitable, and indeed desirable by the majority whose interests are in fact badly served by it. If the key cause of inequality is what was theorized at the opening here:

Social inequality is caused, not by any technical developments or by agreement that it is just or because the people wanted it, but because it directly serves the interest of the 1%; who have the power to impose it.

The question becomes how have the 1% amassed that power, and why are the 99% not able to resist it?

But that question is simply missing from mainstream discussions of inequality, and rarely raised even in critical discussions in economics even from the left, where it might be expected but where it seems to encounter a blockage that requires understanding. Instead what critical analysis exists is incorporated in a mainstream analysis that neglects fundamental conflicts and instead pokes at the edges of the problem sometimes with sensible but limited suggestions for reform that are incorporated into the mainstream of reform discussions, but shy away from even acknowledging the deeper issues of conflicts of interest that a more iconoclastic discussion would engender. And as the discussion veers away from these conflicts at the ideological level, the political attitude towards inequality likewise veers away from unsettling proposals and ends up incorporated within the mainstream in at best mild reforms at its edges and at worst celebrating its existence.

Such incorporation into the mainstream is produced by the combination of two factors:

1) at the discourse level, suppression of the acknowledgement of conflict: the domination of public discussion of the issues by ideological analysis incorporated into an acceptable mainstream blind to the conflict-laden causes and alternatives, and spread through media practices and institutional support into the popular consciousness; and

2) at the political level, consumerism leads to acquiescence: the strong lure of artificially induced consumerism, as reality and as hope, smothers criticism and incorporates the potential critic into the mainstream of acquiescence.

At the discourse level the public discussion of inequality is strangely limited. It not only circles around partial or simply wrong answers, discussed schematically in Blog 55, Inequality is indeed spoken of in public, and even makes the best seller lists, viz. Piketty, but the public discussion almost always simply fails to address the right questions, fails to push superficial if plausible answers to their roots, to consciously recognize its roots and consequences, to acknowledge the conflicts of interests and motivations.[6]. At both the discourse and the political levels, both effectively suppress or sidetrack.

Blog #55c – The unasked questions about inequality   gives three concrete examples of this blockage of the discourse.

CONCLUSION

How is the foregoing discussion relevant to a concern about inequality? If the analysis is right, a very practical political conclusion. If inequality refers to how the pie is divided, and if inequality is to be reduced, the 1% must give up some of it to the 99%. But the acknowledgement of conflict is suppressed, not because the facts aren’t clear, but because of a simple acquiescence in things as they are, a hard wall that stops both the avowedly liberal and the hard-eyed conservative from extending the implications of their own analysis to the recognition that it will take a serious thwarting of the rich to effectively reduce the inequality of the poor.

The first conclusion: remedying inequality involves a fight, before a search for broad consensus can begin. The causes of inequality are not technical failures, or found by focusing singly on action aimed at improving the lot of the poor, or by changing the poor by education, moral suasion, example, or similar measures. Inequality is the result of real conflicts of interest. In the long run it may be to everyone’s interest, in common, to reduce inequality, but certainly in the short and intermediate run, reducing inequality will involve significant conflicts. It may not be entirely a zero sum game: the advantages of reducing inequality may include greater productivity, less social tension, more effective policy making; but it will also result in some winners and some losers. So the first conclusion: be prepared to fight, challenge the means by which the !% get their greater share of the pie to begin with, seek consensus as far as possible but only around a just answer and realize consensus is not likely to happen except at a very superficial level.

The second conclusion: The forces supporting inequality not homogeneous; the majority can be converted. In the unavoidable fight, figuring out who is on what side is key. As of this writing, it seems clear that a large number of folk, not simply defined by their economic position, support measures that buttress or even promote inequality. Taking the Tea Party, and the conservative wing of the Republican Party as examples, they support lowering taxes, reducing public services, undermining unionization, avoiding minimum wage legislation, increasing security by policing and incarceration, privatizing public services from education to garbage collection to health care, indeed to anything out of which the private sector might make a profit. And in these positions they are supported by a large part of the leaders of public discourse, not only in the media but also among pundits, academics, many religious leaders, grounded in some deeply embedded racial prejudices and social mores.

 But those who objectively end up supporting inequality can be separated analytically. and some can be significantly aroused to recognize their own interests politically. They might be separated, based on the analysis here, into at least two quite different parts: those whose interest these position serve, and those who are in reality adversely affected by them but have been incorporated, willy-nilly, into a pattern contrary to those own interests. In the first group, of which the Koch brothers are perhaps the most conspicuous example, their very material interests are served by inequality: they benefit from the inequality of the others. The 1% benefit directly from the inferior position of the 99%. But they are seduced into supporting the 1%, not only by the media and the doyens of public opinion, but also by their own benefits – their fear of losing those benefits which they already have, even with their limits, in favor of an alternative that is hardly visible on the horizon. They have been incorporated into a system harmful to their own interests by the various processes discussed in this piece. The challenge therefore is to break through those processes and convert even the bulk of the Tea Party supporters into supporters, rather than opponents, of greater equality.

Blog #55a gives an outline answer to why is there inequality.

This #Blog 55b explains why Inequality has so much Popular Support

Blog #55c gives examples of the blockage of key questions.

 

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[1] Blog #55

[2] Marx spoke of dispossession of the commons in the transitional phase from feudalism to capitalism as “primitive accumulation,” essentially the same thing.

[3]What Marx included under the concept, n Harvey’s summary, is included in Appendix A. Harvey’s trenchant discussion of its new form is in Harvey, D. 2004. “The ‘new’ imperialism: accumulation by dispossession.” Socialist Register 40: p. 73..

[4] The Accumulation of Capital, Rosa Luxemburg, quoted by Harvey, D. 2004. p. 73..

[6] Freud can be helpful here, but going beyond the general concept of mass psychology. See Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization