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The Homeless, the Government, and the Genuine Free Enterprise

2010 Uptown Super SundayWayne Hurlbert of Blog Business World is interested in such concepts as how cooperation is the most effective technique for everyone in a society or a world. In his capacity as radio host, Hurlbert had the author of Looking Up at the Bottom Line on his show recently. Yes, of course we mentioned this in a previous House the Homeless post, but the dialogue is so rich with material, it’s worth expounding and expanding. The whole interview is available as a free podcast download from Blog Business Success Radio.

The federal government has been the biggest cause of homelessness, Richard R. Troxell says, particularly under the Reagan administration, when large areas of inner cities were demolished without any substitute housing taking their place. But the destruction goes back as far as the Marshall Plan after World War II, when the U.S. provided so much aid to other countries to rebuild their industries, that American industry wasn’t able to be competitive and ended up closing factories and laying off workers. And then, more recently, the overseas outsourcing of jobs caught on. That’s a big factor in the current mess, but by no means the only factor.

Another very large and harmful factor is that having a job is not enough, these days, to keep a person out of the “economic homeless” class, which is where you are when you work full-time and still can’t make rent. Richard recounts how, when the mayors of American cities get together for their annual conference, they consistently agree that an average person working a 40-hour week cannot afford basic rental housing in their cities.

Richard’s solution is the Universal Living Wage, which is not so different from the minimum wage we have now, except it would be indexed to the single most expensive item in the budget of every American:housing …on a local basis.  This concept is similar in spirit to the bio-regionalism that environmentalists talk about, which is also based on the concept that America is just too big and diverse for one-size-fits-all rules that are handed down from the federal level.

Different places have different conditions, and the people in them have different needs. A full-time worker in a small Midwestern city might be able survive on the current minimum wage. In New York or Los Angeles, not a chance. Looking Up at the Bottom Line tells how to fix this.

A mellow person might say, “You can’t expect the government to do everything.” But the mood of many Americans today is far from mellow, and they are more likely to say, “You can’t expect the government to do anything except screw up.” Kevin Carson is against corporatism, and feels that the free market concept is blamed for current evils that are not its fault at all. Almost nobody in America really understands what free enterprise is, because for so long we have been presented with an imposter going by that name. Carson says,

But we haven’t had anything even remotely resembling a free market for over 150 years… Since the mid-19th century, what we’ve had is massive collusion between big government and big business… What we have is not a free enterprise system, but an interlocking directorate of giant, centralized government and corporate bureaucracies… We’re not talking about socialism for the rich and a Dickensian work house for everyone else. When we say we believe in free enterprise, we mean it.

That is what the “free market left” is all about. In another piece, Carson explains further the disastrous effects wrought by the federal government, to which the crisis of homelessness can be traced.

Wouldn’t it be great if every household with children could have one parent at home, instead of both of them out scrambling for the bucks? Wouldn’t it be great if people could retire at an age young enough to still get some enjoyment from life, rather than having to stay in the labor market, wearing a silly hat and serving tacos at age 60? Wouldn’t it be great if people could make enough when employed, to have some slack, so they could survive comfortably until a job suitable to their training and education turned up? And wouldn’t it be great if the property-owning class could be prevented from soaking up every available dollar? Carson has ideas about how to make all these dreams come true.

For instance, there are far too many zoning laws, health and safety codes, and other laws that prevent an ordinary person from running a small business from home. He would like to see neighborhoods bursting with thriving “microenterprises” — bakers, brewers, daycare providers, hairdressers, clothing makers, and one-person taxicab services, to name just a few. A lot more people could be self-supporting if the government would just get out of their way.

And the same goes for the creation of housing. Too many “safety codes” are created for the purpose of cutting anyone but high-priced contractors out of the market. When only massively capitalized companies with high overhead are allowed to remodel bathrooms or install porch railings, an artificial monopoly is created that harms the ordinary citizen. Big businesses are protected from the possibility that anyone can be self-sufficient, because of the laws that require their services to be retained. Carson says,

I frequently argue that, far from the result of the ‘free market,’ the recent speculative bubble was the result of over a century’s worth of government intervention. The bubble resulted from vast disparities of wealth — disparities created by the state and its enforcement of privilege — with a growing share of income going to classes looking to use it for investment rather than consumption.

Carson would like to see a big increase in the “share of total consumption needs that could be met through low-overhead production in the home, or by trading with others engaged in such production, and to reduce the total amount of wage labor required to meet one’s needs.” In other words, people become more prosperous not only by making more money, but by spending less money.

Reactions?

Source: “Richard Troxell Looking Up at the Bottom Line,” BlogTalkRadio.com, 12/07/10
Source: “Back in the USSA,” C4SS.org, 12/22/10
Source: “The Rent’s Still Too Damn High — Here’s How to Lower It,” C4SS.org, 01/13/11
Image by Infrogmation of New Orleans, used under its Creative Commons license.

  1. […] or unemployed workers are at greater risk for losing their places to live. Some are the “economic homeless,” working full-time or even more, and still unable to afford […]