Sunday, February 22, 2004


UP FRONT News 2/22/04
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham

“The paper that can’t be bought and can’t be sold.”

“How many houses can you have? How many cars can you have? How much greed could you possibly have?” was the response from “R.A.”, a worker at the Sunnydale Farms milk plant in Brooklyn, to the news about multi-million dollar/euro CEO rip-off at the parent Parmalat Company in Italy.

Karl Marx, despite volumes of bad press he has received over the years, much of it attributable to eras of atrocities committed in his name (see Joseph Stalin, see also Communist China in Tibet; see also; see also…), had a point. There is, in fact, a ruling class. It exists in every country and it transcends national boundaries, political systems, and cultures. The world’s most potent ruling class is, of course, based in the U.S., much of it in New York City. Its life blood is anything that generates cash: oil, diamonds, DVD’s, pharmaceuticals, rock and roll, goose liver pate’, cocaine, smart bombs, prostitution, slavery, and of course housing.

The reality of the ruling class transcends generations. The Old Testament is a good place to start a rather murderous legacy that includes pharaohs, kings/queens, tsars, emperors, presidents, popes, movie stars, corporate executives, publishers, athletes, villains and heroes. And it’s the “heroes” who play a systematically overlooked part in creating and sustaining the conditions that breed homelessness, among other very negative phenomena. And despite great historical movements and changes that have involved rich and poor alike: the rise of Christianity, the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the French and Russian Revolutions, the decline of European colonialism, and the rise of Superpower America, the reality is that, “democracy” notwithstanding, the ruling class lives off the ruled, with deadly consequences. Millions and millions suffer and die because of this relationship. (I refer to the phenomenon as anthrocide as distinguished from genocide, which refers to the extinction of particular ethnic groups. Anthrocide doesn’t make that distinction. “The poor will always be with us?” As long as there is a ruling class, there will always be poverty and homelessness.)

And similarly, although I am not aware of who first said or wrote the oft-quoted maxim that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, I would suggest a change. To wit, the poor get poorer because the rich get richer.

Among the areas in which – certainly in this country and perhaps most dramatically in New York City – the socially toxic effect of the power of the ruling class is experienced in housing. A brief examination of, for example, the real estate section of the New York Times, particularly on a Sunday, is educational. The reader is likely to leaf through several pages of advertisements and listings for luxury housing. The ruling class selling and renting to the ruling class. Housing bling bling. And even as Martha Stewart, Richard Grasso, and other profiteers get caught, the rich get richer and can pay more for housing, thereby escalating the cost of one of life’s essentials. And one can be sure, considering the ripple effect generated by economic patterns in New York City, that, as for example, Donald Trump raises the ante, housing everywhere becomes less affordable, from Riverdale to Rio, from Manhattan to Moscow. And as housing becomes less affordable, the incidence of homelessness increases, somewhat moderated by the occasional availability of units in grim housing projects that reinforce the pattern of racial and economic segregation that persists in democracies and dictatorships alike.

One of the factors that sustains this arrangement is what might be called seduction by the ruling class. Even as a great many people resent and deplore the life threatening inequities that have people sleeping in cardboard boxes in the shadow of luxury high-rises, we allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by the siren song of equal opportunity. That notion is taught and reinforced in our schools, religious institutions, politics, and most emphatically our entertainments. And it is from our entertainments that so many of our “heroes”, our “role models” emerge. And so the fantasies develop, like personal mushroom clouds, that we can be like Mike (Jordan), or Arnold (Schwarzenegger $30 million for a movie), or A-Rod ($26 million+/yr for a part-time job) or any of the other charismatic icons of the ruling class whose economic power (conspicuously flaunted at, for example, the Academy Awards) has a direct impact on the affordability of housing, among other necessities. And even taking into account the efforts of the private sector and the waiting list benefits programs like Section 8, poverty and homelessness will persist as long as, for example a professional athlete can “earn” an eight figure salary (a .204 hitter or 6-ll pitcher with a 6.39 ERA may have to settle for seven figures) or a corporate executive can emulate the life style comfort-wise of pre-war Saddam.

Because, politically, homelessness has come to be perceived as a mental health problem, unrelated to economics, the remedies tend to be of the band-aid variety, geared at protecting society from social disorder rather than resolving an inequity. Many thousands now live in shelters, which while able to address bottom-line protection from the elements and provide budget-constrained social services, cannot address the need for space and privacy, which, while not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, might be considered human rights.

There is no question, however, that, in many cases, homelessness and mental health issues, e.g. substance abuse, go together. The question of cause and effect is not easily answered. A couple of realities, however, are evident. One is that substance abuse and socially unacceptable behavior are relatively visible among the homeless, who sometimes tend to act out in public.

Another is that, regardless of the instance of substance abuse among the rich, you won’t find them sleeping in cardboard boxes or on chairs in drop-in centers. The kinds of anti-social behavior that are often public among the homeless tend to remain private among the upper classes. And thus the political response takes the form of efforts to hide the problem – in the shelters. All of which ignores the unpleasant fact that homelessness is a major stress factor contributing to anti-social behavior.

The United States implemented that Marshall Plan to attack mass homelessness and related consequences of World War II in Europe. Currently, despite, some protest, billions are to be spent on protecting American “interests” in Iraq. Subsidies to the moguls of agribusiness costs us millions, and earns us the enmity of vast numbers of poor farmers for whom globalization means destitution.

If we are not ready to do what may be necessary to attack the roots of the housing crisis and of homelessness, i.e. the existence and power of the ruling class – the heroes and the villains (over lapping categories) – perhaps it is time for a domestic Marshall Plan.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home