Les Misérables, à l’américaine

Recently Thomas Edsall published a op ed at the New York Times called “The Expanding World of Poverty Capitalism” that’s worth a read. In brief, Edsall explains how municipalities around the country are balancing budgets by privatizing essential services to companies that prey on the poor.

Add to that Radley Balko’s piece in WaPo focusing on Saint Louis County, “How municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty.” In particular Balko focuses on one woman whose life was torn apart by The System after she failed to pay for a speeding ticket because she lacked the money. We’re in Les Misérables territory here.

Add to that Reihan Salam’s “How the Suburb Got Poor.” Salam’s articles leaves a lot of big stuff out, such as the role of the financial system in screwing home buyers, but it’s a piece of the puzzle. Salam makes a case that around the country suburban “bedroom communities” are turning into enclaves of poverty. Very simply, the suburban model that worked after the post World War II years, when most white men could not only earn a living wage but also support a family on it, is not working for today’s working class.  The suburbs catering to the very rich are doing fine, of course. Otherwise, the most successful communities are those that combine single-family homes, apartment buildings, and retail shops in the same neighborhoods, not those that are nothing but single-family homes, block after block. I remember well that Saint Louis County has a lot of the latter.

I know a lot of us are focused on national politics, but the rot is at the local level also. Too many state legislatures are owned by ALEC. Too many local governments are run by incompetents who can’s see beyond their own petty interests. For a grand example of the latter, see Nelson Johnson, “Atlantic City’s Next Gamble.”