Ending capitalism, er, homelessness

Chapel Hill Town Council Member Sally Greene has tons of great info on the local community efforts to "end homelessness" on her blog. After the most recent homelessness forum, she posted the text of Mayor Kevin Foy's remarks, which attempted to put this economic struggle in context with the recent debacle in New Orleans and to encourage out community to strive for something better. Foy said, "it is possible to have a society as rich as ours based on moral values that does not accept that some people just will be homeless."

After reading her report on the second Homelessness Roundtable back in February 2005, I was impressed by the effort, but confused at the presence of Philip Mangano, the federal "homelessness czar," touting the Bush Administration's efforts. He was back again this time.

In her report on the third roundtable in May, Sally talked about the impending changes in state government that will take a lot of funds away from these programs, and the need for a focus on actual stable housing to help people. Bush lackey Philip Mangano made this bold statement "Spare change is not enough. . . . We need real change." Which makes me feel about as good as Bush saying he's making America safer. The same guy had this to say at the latest forum "There's nothing that drives political will in our country more now than cost-benefit analysis." How heart warnming.

On the other hand, local efforts really seem to be coming together as the Partnership to End Homelessness in Orange County gets off the ground, as well as other innovative programs. These initiatives are all the more impressive at a time when the state and federal government are decimating social services and mental health budgets. I'm glad these advocates for the homeless are ambitious and energetic about their work. They are badly needed. But as I've said before, no-one is going to END homelessness without a massive restructuring of our economic system.

That's a change I would welcome, but I don't see these activists tackling the casuses of poverty (and I don't blame them). They are trying to better help their neighbors and I applaud them for their compassion and hard work. But as long as we keep living this way, we will keep having to take care of people who are in some ways the spent fuel of our capitalist economy.

Total votes: 159


There was a great story on NPR about Norway last night, which I cannot find a link to anywhere. It was about the oil economy in Norway and the social welfare system. Basically, a doctor in Norway makes about the same wage as a nurse, or a repairman, or a waiter. In return, they have a great health-care system and a great social welfare system (10 months paid maternity or paternity leave per child). They also bring in about... $34 Billion in oil revenue per year. However, they are afraid that dumping all that money into the economy would be bad for their way of life, so they only allow themselves to spend 4% of it per year, the rest they save.

They just removed a rightish leaning government because it wanted to lower taxes, they think the taxes they pay are integral to their way of life, which they love, so they elected a leftish government to keep taxes the same and use oil money to improve their welfare system.
The speaker went on to say that because of high wages, things like dinner were quite expensive in Norway, so people did other things like going for walks in the forest - instead of spending money.
I guess my question is, how did they get here? The person speaking said this welfare state started after WWII, but didn't get into the specifics. Imagine a United States were people shopped at local stores for goods, there were no Wal-Marts and for fun people biked, skied, swam, and walked. Imagine a United States were profits were less important than the well-being of your fellow citizens? Shouldn't that be the mantra of the righteous right?

Actually Ruby there was a great deal of talk about the economic system and the recognition that unless we address poverty, we can't end homelessness.

I think its important here to separate out any feelings we may have about the Bush administration and allow for there to be at least one bright light shining through that darkness. To me, Philip Mangano is that light. He offers a practical approach, cost benefit analysis, that brings those in our society who don't believe it is the role of government to address inequities. We know we have endorsement by local liberals, but we need more involvement. Homeless costs society financially, an impact everyone can understand regardless of ideology. I believe we will make more progress on addressing the problem by making the conversation as inclusive as possible.

The first step is help the chronically homeless, those who have the greatest need for high cost services such emergency medical care. We know those folks need ongoing services and support. By improving the way we care for those high-risk individuals, we also free up a lot of federal and state funding that can then be redirected to those who are 'at risk' of homelessness, including systemic poverty.

I heard that story on NPR, too. My theory has been that European social welfare flourished in relatively homogeneous environments. Folks have a lot easier time having sypathy for their cousin (or somone who looks her) than for a stranger from a different race or culture. I think that many Americans (incorrectly) tend to think of as welfare recipents as the "other."

Ruby is correct that there is a long history in the US of capital using immigration and ethnic differences to fracture working class solidarity, preventing the rise of the sort of socially responsible politics we see in Scandinavia and elsewhere.

We must also bear in mind that the US government was designed expressly for the benefit of capital. When John Jay said that "those who own the country ought to run it" he spoke for the founding fathers as a self-conscious and coherent economic class. The commerce clause (of much focus this week) and the pro-corporate interpretations of the 14th amendment have cemented a society in which money-grubbing and a reductive materialism are the driving values.

Ruby is also correct that cost-benefit analysis is a morally bankrupt approach, unable to come to grips with the roots of either poverty or homelessness. How will cost-benefit analysis rate the provision of homes for New Orlean's displaced as compared to the development of casinos and oil refineries? How will it value the vastly expensive cleanup of the run-off from dozens of superfund sites?

How does cost-benefit analysis provide the treatment centers, half-way houses, and other support systems required by much of the chronically homeless?

How will cost-benefit analysis lead an Orange County developer to eschew $500k homes in favor of under $200k homes? As we have seen, it takes government action to change the cost-benefit equation or provide a regulatory requirement to ensure even a modicum of "affordable" housing.

Foy has the ultimately correct prescription: base society on "moral values" and on that basis determine how to allocate resources to achieve those moral results.

Robert's question is a compelling one: what will it take for Americans to demand a system that prioritizes human well-being over capital accumulation? Unfortunately, Americans seem to be farther from even conceptualizing that with every generation (that is, in part, why I wrote a novel set in 1901: I was amazed at how much more understanding 'uneducated' workers had in that day about the nature of our economy).

What I neglected to state directly is that cost-benefit analysis always hinges on the question: whose costs? whose benefits? Much of the struggle over regulation is in fact an attempt to assign costs and benefits to either public or private parties.

It would help our housing problem if we could get rid of the Roger Perry/D.R. Bryan model of mixed-use development (no offense to anyone enjoying living at Meadowmont or Southern Village! that's not the point) in favor of something like that of Richard Baron:

"Richard is one of the few people who looks at the whole community," says longtime friend Andrew Trivers, president of the St. Louis-based architectural firm Trivers Associates. "Most developers are only in it to make a buck and get out; he wants to make a better life for people. It's maintenance, parent participation, and education. That's what makes Richard tick."

[Baron's] Lexington Village in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland, a 347-apartment development, houses everyone from teachers and doctors, who pay market-rate rents, to low-income families. Nearby, a new subdivision houses professionals and families moving up out of starter homes.

"Richard was the only developer who was able to do what I envisioned at 79th and Hough," says Cleveland Councilwoman Fannie Lewis. "I didn't want it to be public housing. I wanted mixed use. I wanted it to look as good 10 years down the road as it was the day it went up."

Now, 13 years later, McCormack Baron's development has more than met Lewis's expectations. The neighborhood has been rebuilt, and two-thirds of the housing units are owner occupied. "I would recommend Richard anywhere to do housing," Lewis adds. "He does more than just housing; he sees people and he designs things for people. He's the best I've seen across the country."

...Baron doesn't just build housing. He builds connections. American Planning Association, March 2004

Real mixed-use that integrates genuine low-income housing with what we call "affordable" and market rate, creating a diverse community. Cost-benefit analysis probably won't get us there but a good solid regulatory kick-in-the-pants might.

Dan--Your negative reaction to cost benefit analysis would be more properly directed at the Gingrich-era implementation of the tool. CBA comes out of the classical (liberal) branch of economics and is intended to include the full cost of public goods used by society such as air quality, health, and other non-tangible aspects of the economy. It is not an accounting tool like other cost analysis methods. The Lexington Village model you cite above appears to follow the classical understanding (based on systems theory) of CBA rather than the market-based implementation advocated by Gingrich et al.

From everything I have read about Mangano, he falls somewhere in between the classical approach and the market-based implementation. Because CBA is intended to look at costs and benefits to SOCIETY, a CBA of homelessness should include a portion of the costs of emergency medical treatment or crime attributed to those who are homeless as well as the lifetime benefits that would accrue through ensuring homeless children have regular, healthy meals. That data is always a little squishy and depends on clearly stating where the data derived from and the assumptions upon which it is based, which is probably why the tool has been so bastardized from its original intent.

When used as intended, CBA can serve as a model for helping the community come together and determine what values they want to quantify as the analysis unfolds. In this way, we would see the benefits to individuals as well as the community that could arise from particular policy making decisions.

Mangano's approach doesn't include the benefits side, but the costs are so high in this case that the benefits really aren't needed to make decisions clear cut. What his approach is doing is improving the political will to take action. Once (if) we can help the chronically homeless, more finessed analysis will probably become more necessary to address those who are at-risk of homelessness.

As I contemplate this thread, I find myself increasingly troubled that our elected officials are giving the Bush Administration cover. Bush has cut billions from housing programs such as CDBG and Section 8. Like a good sleight-of-hand artist, he directs our attention away from this by offering up Mangano and his narrowly defined, scantly funded project to "end homelessness." Overall, Mangano is an apologist for Bush. Consider the following from a newsletter of the National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness (NPACH):

In a new report published by Congressional Quarterly Researcher, the Executive Director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, Philip Mangano, defended the Bush Administration's proposed $1.6 billion cut to the Section 8 program. Mr. Mangano characterized the cuts as a "corrective" which would ultimately result in the program "serving more people". These remarks have sparked outrage among housing and homeless advocates, who have been fighting the proposed cuts since they were announced last February in President Bush's FY2005 budget. The proposed Section 8 cut would result in as many as 250,000 families losing their rent assistance and facing increased risk of homelessness. In the face of long waiting lists for Section 8 housing in most communities, escalating housing costs, and no new affordable housing production initiatives, the proposed cuts to the Section 8 program will only increase hardships for hundreds of thousands of Americans

According to the Herald, "despite around 40,000 programs for the homeless around the country, Mangano said, there are more homeless people than ever." Why are there more homeless than ever? As one Massachusetts homelessness organization put it, "the upsurge in homelessness that we have witnessed over the last 20-plus years is fundamentally a result of government policy choices made at the federal and state levels." Policy, that is, promoted by the Reagan, Bush, and Bush administrations. Mangano's inspiring rhetoric provides cover for the Bush budget ax.

Surely we can forge local efforts to end homelessness without inviting the fox to tell us what great work he's doing to patch the holes in the henhouse.

That this is a rich planet. Therefore poverty and hunger are unworthy of it, and since we can abolish them, we must.

It' s hard to measure homelessness. The Urban Institute (2000) estimates about 1 percent of the population experiences homelessness, 39% of which are children.

Assuming an adult and a child can live on $25,000 a year (and if you think they can't ask me how my daughter and I have done it for 8 years).

For the sake of sensitivity analysis, let's further assume a high number of 3.5 million homeless people, about 1.4 million of those being children.

Now it gets messy, because the money needs of one single adult is different than that for a family of 6 with 2 adults and 4 children, or anything in between. You really can't superimpose a normal distribution from US demographics. I would guess, for one thing, that there are many more single male adults in the homeless population as a percentage than there are in the US population.

But let's assume that every child has at least one adult. I would put subsistence income (the amount necessary to pay for rent, food, and basic necessities) to be about $18,000 per adult and $7,000 per child.

The income needs of the homeless population would be about $48 billion ([2.1 million adults X $18,000] + [1.4 million children X $7,000]). Assuming high health care costs of $1,000 per person, the amount increases another $3.5 billion, for a total $51.5 billion.

The US Census estimates there's about 109 million households in the US. Assuming a non-homeless US household population of 105 million, and assuming that homeless people don't work at all.

Based on these outrageously inflated figures, the cost per household to subsidize our homeless would be $515.

If you adjust the number of non-homeless households to a more reasonable 107 million, the cost per household would be $481.

If you redefine the subsistence income to a more realistic $15,000 per adult and $5,000 per child (not everybody lives in high-cost Carrboro, NC), the cost per household would be $388.

If you make the more reasonable assumption that health care costs would come to $800 per person, the cost per household would be $372.

If you put the adults to work at the mininum wage to pay for part of their subsistence ($5.15 X 40 hours X 52 weeks), and adjust for childcare (1/2 childcare costs per adult for one child = $600 X 12) the cost per household would drop to about $250 per year.

This is still an inflated estimate but I guess I'll stop there. Bottom line: it would cost each non-homeless man, woman, and child about a quarter a day to secure the welfare of the homeless in this country.

It's about half of what we're paying for the Iraq War alone, not counting the amount it costs to maintain a standing military.

Or in the parlance of the Mastercard Syllogism:

The Iraq War: $1 billion per week.
Maintaining our military (non-war costs): $7 billion per week.
Eradicating homelessness: Priceless

The Asheville-Buncombe Partnership to End Homelessness found that approximately $800,000 per year went into supporting 37 (12%) of the 300 homeless individuals living in their community. The Partnerships goal is to get those 37 individuals into housing immediately, changing the practice of treating them first and then providing them with housing. This Housing First approach is more humane and more cost effective for the community. In other communities, 90% of Housing First participants remained in their homes during the 5 year study.

Isn't it a bit, mmm, trite, to lay the blame for homelessness on "Capitalism"?

Capitalism, almost by definition, fails to empower the poor to buy the housing they need; Democratic rule by the majority, by definition, fails to empower a minority to protect their basic civil rights. So its Democracy's fault that the gay community has waited for generations to be treated as equal under the law? Its not cause and effect...it is appreciating the limits of what each part of the system can accomplish and looking for the additional tools that can do more. (...so we have a legislative branch AND a judiciary...which is still imperfect)

We need to tear down Capitalism before we can find a way to help the homeless? Its gonna a be a long wait. How about we skip the chorus of blame and work on the specifics?

No matter how you define the greater economy, two of the big challenges are going to be garnering resources, and allocationg them. This project is trying to address both.

Dan, Southern Village and Meadowmont have some of the broadest variety of housing types that our community allows...that the housing is expensive and that citizens can not afford it is the community's responsibility, not the fault of the developments, and certainly not the fault of the developers. If there were cheaper ways to provide housing, why wouldn't you or I or any number of other interests simply make cheaper housing? The issue (at the economic level) is that people can't afford to PAY for it.

Even if one holds that the community has a right to take what it needs for its people (Socialism, I guess), who's going to PAY the expense to build the housing that the community is going to take? The resources still have to come from some source. Bottom line is housing is a complex and expensive product to create, especially as our community gets more and more sophisticated in its efforts to capture all the externalities of housing in the cost of any given project.

Captalism isn't immoral...it is a-moral. We each spend dollars on what ever choices we value and we contribute our resources to the community based on what we value. Those activities, collectively, define the "market". If we don't like "the market" than either we don't like our values, or we don't like our government (which manipulates the environment in which "the market" takes place).

Our society is full of cultural values that work against a clear understanding of homelessness. The whole self-made-man, self-reliancy myth is a big one. The "good things happen to good people/ bad things happen to bad people" is another. Both of these play out in our bahavior IN our capitalist system, but they weren't created by it.

If we are going to talk big picture, can we back up and talk about our Society and our Values? Otherwise, I feel like we are bigots looking to scapegoat some stero-typed group to blame for causing a problem we all feel guilty about...and want to improve.

Is the poverty that led to so many deaths and so much hardship in New Orleans moral? If morality is to be a meaningful concept then that is practically definitive of immorality. Capitalism, which creates that, is therefore immoral. Did the poor in New Orleans "spend dollars on what ever choices we value"? Of course not because they didn't have those dollars. Thus, an immoral system gave them no choice.

Obviously we're not going to cure the ills of capitalism on this blog or even in this county. Nonetheless, it is incumbent upon us to name them from time to time. Glen's apologia is certain proof of that necessity.

Dan--Taking a moral stance on capitalism doesn't help resolve the problem of homelessness or poverty. If the goal is change in this lifetime, then we need to work within the system while we struggle to change it.

You might study some of the history of how social change actually happens, Terri. I don't think your words above quite paraphrase what Martin Luther King Jr might have said to Rosa Parks. Or Lech Walesa to Vaclav Havel. etc. etc.

You know the old saying of Edmund Burke's “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” How much worse then to say nothing or even think nothing?

Thanks for your invitation but I'll have to decline.

Who said anything about doing nothing Dan? You may be comfortable standing on your pedestal and telling everyone below they're uncaring and uninformed, but that approach isn't going to help people who need help right now. Dr King didn't stand around criticizing--he took action down in the trenches. That's what the folks working on homelessness are doing. Too bad you can't support them.

Terri, if you reread the above you will find that I oppose what the Bush Administration is doing; I support our local efforts. The implication of your criticism therefore would appear to be that you support the Bush approach. I'll have to part ways with you there.

You're the one who said not to take a principled and moral stance against injustice. The fact that one does not have the power to right a wrong makes it even more important that the wrong be named, not less so. You may speak glibly of King but he stood on the shoulders of previous generations in the cause. The fact that those forebears were unable to effect change in their life times did not keep them from acting or speaking out. In terms of the history of the march toward justice, it was probably essential that they do so.

People like you who oppose the call for justice out of self-satisfied liberalism may slow the march of progress but you can't stop it. No wonder you leap to the defense of Ed Harrison. You're two peas in a pod.

(apologies to those who think I should take crap like Terri is dishing out and not call her on it in reply)


I don't see blaming capitalism. But if blame is what we're peddling, then let's point our fingers at the real villains. Like the pundit says, the problem with government is that there are too many politicians in it.

There certainly aren't enough statesmen.

The purpose of government is to cure the excesses of capitalism, to be an advocate for both society and the individual, to look out for all of us, no matter the color of our skin or the number of credit cards in our wallets.

Government at both the state and federal level has clearly failed to do that.

But like my pappy says, when you point your finger at someone, your pointing three fingers back at yourself. Our government leaders have let us down because we have allowed them to hijack our dreams for this country.

Why do we have a political system that allows right-wing extremists to take over one party and ineffectual and uncompromising ideologues to divide the other?

This train is off its tracks.

As a Christian I would have thought that the side touting itself as God's party would be the one most diligent in looking out for the welfare of those "least among us".

As a humanist I had thought that the party holding itself as representative of the best ideals of man--the Enlightenment values of reason, of the intrinsic worth and dignity of ALL people (including Republicans, damn it!), of tolerance for beliefs that differ from our own, of the defense of civil liberties, and of a profound faith in the ability of man to achieve real and lasting changes for the betterment of all humanity--would be acting in concert with those values.

Republican politicians seem to care more about trickling down their wealth than addressing the core problems of poverty. They harbor the secret belief that those who are poor choose their condition, and openly cry "personal responsibility" to ennoble their perversity.

Politicians from the Democratic Party have lost the moral high ground by ignoring their calling. The vote for the lottery--that most repressive of all taxes--was a vote against the poorest among us. Their support for an unpopular, divisive, and fiscally draining war is a betrayal of the worst sort. This oozing pus of a war has taken my comrades in arms from me, fathers and mothers from their sons and daughters, sons and daughters from their fathers and mothers, and has widowed spouses. It has injured in horrific ways so many others, including the best and bravest among us.

Capitalism is only a machine, a locomotive that singlemindely follows a track. It is our responsibility to ensure that whom we elect as executives of this railroad know whither to lay down the tracks.

You're tring to turn support for the Housing First program into some kind of acceptance of the Bush administration. That's false logic Dan. By that rights, I should refuse to read the Herald-Sun because they pay you.

David, I read your sincerity but you need to educate yourself further. Capitalism may be a machine but it is one that lays down its own tracks.

If you haven't done so, please read Zinn's People's History of the United States, particularly the struggles for economic justice.

I still have trouble wrapping my head around the hundreds of times federal troops were called in to break strikes. The ease with which capitalists hired Pinkertons and other armed thugs to murder strikers. See Sayle's film Matewan. It's fictional but gives a very realistic picture of what went on. Or read Denise Giardina's wonderful novel Storming Heaven, in a similar vein.

It is not that the people have not waged the struggle to get our economic system on the right track. It is that the financial interests have used their power to beat down that struggle, no holds barred. As I alluded to above, this is rooted in the structure of the US Constitution.

And no, that does not mean that we should not do everything we can locally to combat homelessness. But we should do so with cognizance of the roots of the problem so that we are not too disappointed when we run into the limitations of the local under a global regime.

Didn't Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel work to replace Communist dictatorships with capitalist democracies?

Or did I miss something?

Chris, the topic was "how social change actually happens."

Dan, I think you missed my point about capitalism being a-moral. My thought is that capitalism is simply a model of exchange that translates our personal choices and those of our society into a set of economic transactions and values. Any other form of governance/ethics would have to do the same, albeit by its own sysytem and values. If folks live in a society, there is going to be SOME series of economic transactions between them, and that system is going to be responsible for the same types of resolutions that Capitalism is, i.e. allocation of resources, rewarding/motivating contributions to the community, etc.

If we didn't value those folks in New Orleans enough to treat them any differently, then that was the judgements of thousands of transactions, thousands of value judgements. If me, you, Bill Gates, and whoever else did not value those people enough to spend our money on them and "let this happen" to them, then that was a choice we all had and we all made (though I have a problem with the "let this happen" part...it assumes a certain amount of power over all outcomes that, while very human, might be a bit idealistic in itself). So if you mean that Capitalism allows us to MAKE immoral choices, then I guess you are right (I, for one, certainly would agree that there is some moral absolute in the universe and that the type of decision by the "market" that Capitalism creates is certainly not any definition of what is right or wrong.) But you are going to have to explain to me how some other system that permits free will could not permit the same outcome. ...And if you want to talk about a system that does not allow free will, then I think we have to drop the thread of morality on those grounds alone, 'cause you aren't going to convince me that there is some sub-set of the population inheriently more qualified to decide how to spend resources then the population as a whole.

Some of your other comments about Capitalism are references to historical events that took place in the name of Capitalism. We could list all the ideaologies and all the social injustices that have been commited in the name of each (which actually could be a useful exercise), but we still don't have cause and effect...we have people doing evil things in their own interest (while other people choose to do good things in their own interest and those of others.)

I'd actually like to hear more about your views on capitalism. (Maybe we can start another string?) Despite the bent of these particular entries, I certainly don't see it as a sacred cow. But I do have a BIG problem with throwing around the "Those Capitalists" reference as a code phrase without any analysis to test or explain what is being communicated in the matters being discussed. It makes the hair on the back of my neck go up the same way as when I hear anybody concerned about a problem say "those poor/old/black/mexican/irish/asian people" as if they have just named and explained the whole problem (and offered their best suggestion of a solution).

Sorry, Glen. It's a convenient myth that capitalism is some democratic form in which people vote with their dollars. But let's say it is: what kind of "democracy" gives some people millions more votes than other? The answer: no kind.

The problem with capitalism is not that it permits immoral choices which you correctly note other "free" systems would do as well. The problem is that it is based on an immoral set of values: greed and materialism.

Is it moral that the work of a stock-broker for example might be valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars while a daycare worker or school teacher might be valued at 10k or 20k? Of course not. Would we "freely chose" that division of rewards? Or course not. Whether or not you like the term immoral, it is a very poor outcome yet one that is implicit in the system.

This kind of gross mis-allocation applies to housing as well which I believe was Ruby's original point. How big is Bill Gates' house? How big does he "need" it to be? How many Windows crashes should we all suffer through so that he can enjoy his well-earned and (according to the pro-capitalist apologia) freely bestowed excess?

Agreed...nothing particularly democratic about the "voting" that takes place in a capital driven market. The relative impact of a small number of persons with a large amount of capital can dictate an outcome that is only optimal for the big "voters". (But how does that capital get to their hands and where does that capital reside when it is not being "spent"? The pursuit of the same self-interest demands that the capital be invested in the most productive way...which of course is again defined by the "market", not by any moral standard. Around and around we go...at what point do $$$ values and moral values diverge? Answer: when, individually or collectively, the participants make immoral choices.)

So the position you hold is that the (immoral) decisions of those whom hold these reources are a product of the system itself? mmm...yeah...kinda-sorta. I have some of your same concerns about "over-consumption" issues, but I'd tend to think that materialism is a bane on society with or without capitalism...Why don't the "rich" value spending more of their money on "society"? (Classic economics would say that at SOME POINT, the marginal satisfaction of trying to consume anything else would be just about zero. ) I think we, as a culture, are come so recently to the industrial and post-industrial age that our values haven't yet been able to sift through the pea-soup of mass production, marketing, and instant gratification to re-calibrate an appreciation for all the OTHER things in life that are important.

But capital markets do something else when they encourage massive amounts of consumption...they encourage massive amounts of production. Can Bill G. be SO interested in one more square foot of housing that the net effect of his pursuit of wealth is to take value from those around him? Tough to say (or to measure, at least). But the general premise of awarding the economic gain of the invention (or the capital) to the inventor is that it is a win-win. (If I buy or invent a shovel and rent it to you at some price at which you still make more money than digging with your hands...)

And...sorry, but i gotta go local here for a second...in the dimension of homelessness that is poverty based (I don't want to forget that there are other roots to the problem as well), isn't part of the issue also defining what a "unit" of housing is? Our local process holds pretty firmly to the premise that ALL housing in the community has to meet the same standards, which means that folks can't buy any "less" of a "unit" of housing than the community standard...and that only units of housing that the community accepts, based on the community's agenda (no trailers in Chapel Hill, please), can be built, regardless of the need of any particular interest. Are we protecting the poor from themselves? Are we protecting our community from the poor? Or are we upholding a moral standard on behalf of all the individuals in the community? I don't know the answer...but I do know that "the community" is stepping in to the decision making process.

And back to one of my initial basic points...i don't care if we barter with clam shells...some how Society has to allocate the resources to create the housing for the homeless, even if they can't "buy" it in the usual sense. Where do those resources come from, if not from some sort of capital market in which we are making decisions about how to allocate resources? Yeah...Bill Gates has enough housing for the first 100 or so...but what social institution is going to be qualified to, in a moral sense, decide who's resources to re-allocate? Seems like it might be easy...until you get back to taking away the ability of the entire market (population) (inequalities in wealth and all) to make that choice, and start looking around for some other sub-set to make the choice on their behalf. "Big Brother"? "The Superior Man"? I get the frustration...its not a "fair" system, but what's Plan B?

So...give me a hint here...what other system are we proposing that would give us all better character and values?

Those interested in the above discussion might consider attending the talk by Hunter Lovins who will be speaking Wednesday night at Koury Auditorium at the business school.

It would be great to get a report-back from anyone who attends.


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