Oh Good, Another Forum

It doesn't inspire much confidence for me to see Orange County government holding yet another forum about our affordable housing problem. In addition to forums like this, a "summit" a few years ago, and a lengthy report from a well-qualified task force you'd think they'd be up to doing something about affordable housing by now.

In my experience, the County's not even particularly good at the one thing they do, which is disperse the voter-approved bond funds to support the building and acquisition of affordable housing.



It was Mussolini and his party that made the reference to the Roman Empire as an example of past Italian national and racial supremacy, and so it's not just a benevolent reference to be accepted without hesitation. The modern Italian word "fascio" means both "bundle" and "group," and the Latin "fasces" refers to the axe surrounded by rods bundled together, which was carried around whenever a Roman magistrate or other fabulous person appeared -- a symbol of that person's power. It was occasionally wrapped in laurel leaves.

"Fascist," the word, does not appear in English until 1928, according to the OED, nine years after Mussolini founded the party in 1919. It wasn't a word being used to describe government or politics before that, and it arose to describe a very specific kind of political movement. The Italian form of fascism? That's like using the phrase, "The American form of baseball." Yes, words evolve and yes, the politics of the Fascist party was not new in the world. But the rise of the Fascist party, from which the word gained wider use and which is still recent enough history to be within the memory of my still-living grandmother, gives the word "fascist" very specific historical and emotional resonance, and ought to be used sparingly and precisely. When Mussolini linked "fascio" with the politics of his party, ultra-right wing politics, nationalism and racism were not afterthoughts -- they were central to the whole concept. I think they ought to remain there.

I know that arguing over the English language is always a losing battle for the person more conservative on issues of usage, and so I should bow out now. I think I've swallowed too much Orwell while procrastinating, although I believe "Politics and the English Language" is still worth reading on this subject.In it, he coincidentally points out that "Fascism" and other political, abstract words, have lost their meaning, to the detriment of political discourse:

"What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is to surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about till you find the exact words that seem to fit. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning."


"I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy."


"Political language--and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists--is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase--some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno or other lump of verbal refuse--into the dustbin where it belongs."

Well, the word fascism comes from the latin word fasces which means laurel leaves. This term is a refernce to Julius Caesar's laurel crown. So at some fundamental level fascism is a form of government styled after the Roman Empire. In my view 20th century fascism is defined by 1) an authoritarian government, 2) a centrally planned economy, and 3) an industrial base that is owned by a powerful and wealthy elite. Nationalism and racism were of course also central to the German and Italian forms of fascism.

-Mark Chilton

What's your definition of fascism then? I take mine from Griffin's "The Nature of Fascism," and Il Duce himself. (Excerpts from his essay on fascism are here: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/mussolini-fascism.html )

My point is that "fascist" and "fascism" are terms rooted in history, with very specific meanings. It drives me up the wall when people use those words vaguely and without reference to that history -- when they mean something closer to "anti-democratic" or "authoritarian" or "someone/something I don't like, who seems mean to me."

Any liberal who has been accused of being a leftist or a communist (or vice versa) will know what I'm talking about.

Mark C.

Absolutely. The building codes and the local government policies are not evaluated in terms of their effect on affordable housing.

Then there is the whole American Dream myth in which we are told we desrve little mini-mansions and mini-estates (see "The Geography of Nowhere" by James Kuntsler - a fantastic history of planning & suburbia). So then we try to provide mini-mini-estates for people who need affordable housing, We should be looking more at cooperative housing, using recycled materials and secondhand materials (Habitat has that goofy policy that they won't use 2nd hand stuff so as not to affect the self-esteem of the new homeowner. My self-esteem should be in the negative zone if it's based on using 2nd hand stuff.)


The need for affordable housing can be ameloriated by subsides & volunteerism. This gets a few people into homes (a good thing), assuges the guilt of some, and doesn't really address the deep roots of the problem. The simple fact is that house construction costs a lot of money. People should be paid enough to be able to afford a place to live. Period. Ironically, a lot of affordable housing is built by low-cost workers who are making it affordable by the very fact that they are not getting paid enough to afford their own home.


Mark M, I think you will also agree that a large part of the cost of housing comes from the middle class values that are embodied in building codes etc. If we all lived with somewhat more reasonable expectations, life would not be so difficult or expensive (and this is true in many arenas besides housing).

Duncan, I am not sure that I agree with your definiton of fascism either. Regardless, fascism does not involve democracy. Local government in Orange County is definitely not a bad example of democracy in action. It may have some problems, but fascism it ain't.

BB, you could at least be more intellectually honest and go for red-baiting instead.

-Mark Chilton

I really don't think the Council could do anything that is "the very definition of fascism" without embracing a right-wing ideology that glorifies the nation (or the race, whatever) as a mythical entity beyond history, which they believe will inevitably rise again after the purging of multiplicitous "alien forces" that caused the nation/race to decline in the first place.

The regulation of land use -- as you put it, regulating "what the final product should be," improvements on and to the land-- is a perfectly legal and accepted practice of government, and is one of a number of influences on the value of real property and the characteristics of a local real estate market.

Thanks for playing Wheel of Demagoguery! Next!

"Let the market sort this one out" hasn't worked for us so far, so why would it now? We are not a marketplace, we are a COMMUNITY - with social and political as well as economic needs. Unless local employers (mostly UNC, as well as local governments and BCBS) start paying their employees a lot more, they will continue to not be able to afford to live here. As a result of that, we have increased auto congestion all over the Triangle, which leads to more pollution and less time spent with our families.

An example of what the Council can do is to implement "inclusionary zoning" which requires developers to include affordable units in residential developments. This has worked quite successfully in other communities. There are many other solutions, some of which have been undertaken.

The County, who held this forum, distributes Bond funds. In my opinion, they need to do more than that and do all of it better.

As a follower of the debate over "affordable housing" I would like to pose this question: What makes you think that it is in the council's power to do anything about creating affordable housing in Chapel Hill? What I am getting at is that the consequences of whatever policies the council decides upon will likely have severer blowback. What affordable housing means is that the council is going to interfere in the housing market and force builders to do something they would otherwise choose not to do (this is the very definition of fascism, by the way). Development companies are often the bad guys, and many have done things to deserve that reputation, but no one can claim that these companies produce homes that the marketplace is unwilling to support. If developers failed to produce a product that is readily saleable, they would quickly be out of business. Real estate developer's realize huge profits, but also assume huge risk and regulatory burdens. Now, affordable housing advocates are saying that regulation is not enough, the council should be allowed to dictate in the realm of what the final product should be as well. Wow! No good can come from this.

The whole concept of affordable housing is fundamentally flawed. What prevents the initial beneficiaries of the smaller, lower-priced homes from selling them at a profit for whatever the market will bear? What happens if the homes become unsaleable? What happens if heavily subsidized buyers become insolvent after being encouraged to overextend themselves? Affordable housing policies might end up injuring the very people they supposedly benefit. The Council might better bow out now and declare victory--home ownership in Chapel Hill is way up and moving higher every year. Let the market sort this one out.


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