Sunday, December 18, 2016

2017: Capitalism's End Game?



It looks like we are on the verge of the largest country in the world taking a sharp turn right, and I can't help but wonder: is this the last gasp of capitalism?

I'm not a communist persay, I'm a social democracy guy, but I, like many, am surprised that we have gotten to this point, where people openly die in the street while a small group of families control and hoard the wealth of the world. 
It seems the right wing has managed to enlist the help of struggling farmers and workers in the southern part of the US.  I have often thought that the biggest failing of the Democratic party in the US is the failure to reach out to the rural population, which has been drowning in economic woes for decades.  The Dems tend to hang around the cities, where they feel their liberal agendas will find more support.  Its all too easy to stay in the liberal bubble and get re-elected, rather than listen to the angry rural voices.
A political science prof once told me that right wing governments get into power by implying that those who vote for them will "get a piece of the pie," and you can certainly see that strategy at work in Trump's "make America great again" slogan.  Its not hard to see why a farmer who has been beaten down by regulations and bank policies would want change.
So here we are, the mandate has been given to the people who already control us.  Perhaps this will take capitalism to its final stage: collapse under the weight of itself.
I liken the world to a monopoly game in the last few turns, where we are all going around the board, landing on properties, slowly being drained of cash while one player collects it all.  The game goes very quickly at that point, there is only so much you can do with the $200 you get for passing go. 
It makes me wonder if we can simply say to the richest people: "OK, you won, good job! Can we play again?" Of course it's more complicated in real life, nobody is going to give up paradise to struggle with the rest of us.  Many believe that the rich will only give up their wealth when forced.
I hold out hope that billionaires can be civilized and realize that it's an unworkable situation for too many families.  I see some indications that there are wealthy people who want to redestribute wealth, but it's simply not happening fast enough.
To avoid a violent revolution, I would suggest the wealthy move quickly, and intervene in the gravest cases--homeless families and children.  If they show a willingness to cooperate, we can all move into a peaceful era of shared resources.
Here's hoping.  Happy holidays to all, in any case 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Homeless Singularity

I haven't posted for some time, but homelessness remains as the largest social issue to rent space in my brain, so I thought I would offload a few more things today.

In the last few years, we have seen an explosion of homelessness in every city in North America.  Many communities have declared states of emergency, and are doing big sweeps of homeless encampments. While this is partially an economic issue, as homelessness has been in the past, this new wave of people hitting our streets carries a new, and more sinister complexity.

Homelessness has always been complex.  I used to work in a shelter, and trying to balance between the needs of people who were struggling with mental health issues, and those trying to get out of the prison system was challenging.  People would get schizophrenic people into street drugs, and the more aggressive dealers would prey upon the most vulnerable, leaving shelter workers with few options to keep the peace and support people.  Often, my co-workers said we needed two shelters to deal with the issue propery. Yet things just kept getting more complex, as we tried to support First Nations people, LGBT folks, and those with developmental issues such as Autism.

In lock-step with the micro-complexities of shelter life, we seem to have a new complexity and conflict of needs in our wider economy.  Property values have increased to such a level in many places that people simply cant afford rent.  Furthermore, the increased property values lead to market speculation on houses that would have been rented at one time.  Landlords have become eager to sell, leading to many evictions, and more chaos.

Since rentals more scarce, landlords have become more selective about who they rent to, so we have increased credit checks, paperwork, and high-pressure vetting of tenants.

And to top it off, increased property value leads to gentrified areas, squeezing those in poverty into smaller geographic areas.  The problem with homelessness in a gentrified city is that it doesn't fit-- anywhere.  Every square inch of every sidewalk in large cities is spoken for, and is the livelihood of some business-owner or homeowner.  There is simply nowhere to go.

I call this the "Homeless Singularity," and it seems quite apparent that homelessness cant exist in the future-- we simply don't have the space for it.  Homelessness is so costly now, with estimates of $20,000 - $50,000 per homeless person per year in policing, clean up, court fees, shelter, healthcare, etc.  Supportive housing has become increasingly attractive, and new partnerships between unlikely allies, such as the business community, academia, government, and faith groups, are being formed to address the costs.

I think this singularity will end well, but only through a lot of flexible tap dancing.  Many cities have opened up their parks to deal with the transition, but I think in the far future, we will look back and see ourselves as barbarians for letting good people die on the sidewalk un-noticed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

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I am one of the authors of this book, and we will be doing a tweet chat tomorrow at 1pm Eastern Time.  Join us on twitter #hhchat.