This week I've been reading Robert Reich's Supercapitalism, which argues that capitalism and democracy have basically come unhinged. Democracy may need capitalism, he says, but the evidence that capitalism needs democracy is less and less convincing all the time. While the market has become remarkably responsive to consumers and investors, the mechanisms that promote a sense of the common good have been fatally weakened. Legislative battles, he says, are almost always fights between huge corporate interests that dress themselves up as upholding the public interest for rhetorical effect. But whatever real public interest that exists and attempts to make itself felt is generally radically outgunned by superior resources and clout, and is a mere sideshow to this self-interested clash of corporate titans.
It's a sobering view of the world, and one that begs a number of uncomfortable questions about how the market responds or does not respond to poverty. There is the prison-industrial-complex, of course, which is increasingly privatized and predatory all the time. There is also the payday loan industry, which has proven notoriously difficult to regulate. When one looks at these issues through the lens of not only who benefits, but also who weighs in and how much do they pay and to whom, then things start getting more clear. Depressing, but clear.
The market responses to the housing issue are interesting to look at as well. How did we get to the point, for example, that more than three federal housing dollars go to subsidizing homeownership through tax breaks for every dollar that houses the poor? When the feds decided to get out of the housing business and began to disinvest in public housing in the late-70s, who were the corporate interests that stood to benefit from that and what role did they play? Its more than interesting that federal disinvestment coincided with the shift to approaching housing as a speculative commodity.
It's been said that in a system where housing is produced for profit, those who can provide no profit get no housing. At least they don't get it consistently. And when they do, they generally pay way too much for it.
But they provide profits in so many other ways. As objects of predatory lending. As consumers of overpriced and substandard housing. As widgets that get processed through our prisons and jails, our substandard schools, and our poverty industries on a per body basis. You could add to the list.