Even if it is not yet time to come in out of the cold of COVID-19, or go out into the cold, I am feeling a bit more optimistic. The pandemic has made it pretty hard to write encouraging words about getting out there and building contacts to develop low-cost housing and confront inequality in housing. It felt like talking to immigrant children in cages about team sports and thrifty spending.
Money and Inequality in Housing and All Other Things
The cause of my newfound optimism is not the usual place one normally looks for hope and inspiration: a 1000+ page book by a French economist, the new Thomas Piketty book, Capital and Ideology. I holed up to read it and thought it might last long enough. It didn’t, but I found what I needed: renewal as well as hope and inspiration, and the basis for a plan.* The experience of living long enough is one of watching things change while still staying the same. In 2012 I began feeling as if I was back in the protest movements of the 1960s. Same subject, inequality, and same plan, protest. Even the signs in the protest parades are the same. (Is it too negative to think that we should have saved them? And used more permanent materials?)
As an economist, Piketty sees the world through a lens that most of us don’t have. He looks first at the numbers, the money. And uses historical examples to derive and test his theories. He also has an international scope so the truth in France or Europe or the United States is not generalized as the truth.
Solutions to Inequality
These are my highly simplified takeaways on working toward equality:
- Throughout history, societies have had “switch points” where the unthinkable suddenly becomes thinkable, even doable.
- Change is the result of ideology, not events or discoveries. Change is a reaction and can go in many directions. It’s what people believe that determines the nature and direction of change.
- Fundamental social change has historically been preceded by protests. Protests work and are not a waste of time.
- Financial inequality is at the base of all injustice. Justifying economic disparity is justifying inequality.
- Liberalism has failed because it didn’t understand the financial practices that created and sustained injustice.
- The solution to inequality is transparency and enforcement. Correction requires understanding the economic advantages the privileged use (and hide) to maintain their dominance.
Ideologies based on reason, ethics, and equality have not recognized that it is the economic advantages of injustice that keep it a living institution. Efforts to prove that money was not a noble human value largely ignored reality. Financial security is a primary need.
Education has not conquered injustice. Education can lead horses to water, not make them drink. Or even want to drink. The foundation of injustice is not ignorance.
Exposing Financial Practices that Support Inequality in Housing
Piketty still believes that higher taxation on wealth is necessary to correct the effects of capitalism as he concluded in Capital in the 21st Century. But he now sees exposing the effects of financial practices as possible, necessary, and productive to correcting injustice.
The question is how do we use this to expose inequality in housing and correct the practices that keep almost half our population housing insecure?
*Then another boulder rolling down the mountain landed. Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. I’m holding up but just.
A warning to readers: Not that everyone is going to clear their calendar to read 1000+ pages, but I don’t advise reading all of them. It is incredibly duplicative. He needed an editor. This is a prime second book syndrome example: the publishing company wants the second book published quickly to capitalize on the success of the first book and doesn’t take enough time to do proper editing. Maybe a second edition will be more satisfying. (The first half and the final chapters are good.)