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.”

3 thoughts on “Les Misérables, à l’américaine

  1. All politics IS local!

    The problem is, our local idiots emulate those higher up the local, county, district, state, and national political food chains, because that’s where they hope to end up in the future.

    So, it’s monkey-see, monkey-do.
    And the monkey’s need money to get reelected, so, at all levels, the monkey’s also have got their hands out for campaign donations (and/or bribes).

  2. The post-FDR model of democracy was not socialism. The vision was an anti-monopoly capitalistic system of energetic competitors in the markets. Two categories were to fall under government control – (1) services that couldn’t be structured to compete or (2) services which the public would be required to buy. Thus utilities and insurance companies have to ask permission and justify a rate hike at the state level.

    There was a time when moving towards a monopoly was viewed as against the public good, and was against the law. (Anti-trust). The business model today shows competing small businesses swallowed by larger companies and those larger companies merging to create behemoths with huge global (political) clout.

    The masters of the universe are playing the whole board. Liberals are sometimes able to make competent individual moves. Thus the strategy of the puppet masters seems to be to cripple the national government and shift authority to the state governments. It’s at the state level that ALEC has been passing voter suppression laws, for example. At the national level, gerrymandering has given the House to the GOP radicals, paralyzing the federal legislative branch.

    The end game, if they win, is a smaller total economy because lower wages for the worker is an integral component of their plan. Aggregate lower wages means less money in the economy to purchase goods, which translates to fewer jobs. However the economic model means obscene profits and power for a VERY select group of princes in a position to exploit essential services and prevent the government from interfering.

  3. I remember reading some material about the witch trials in colonial America. The icing on the cake was that when the accused were fortunate enough to escape death by torture, they were jailed and had to pay their jailer. At the time, it seemed unspeakably, yet brashly barbaric. Fast forward a few hundred years and a few decades of intense privatization and “fiscal responsibility” indoctrination, and “everything old is new again.”

    My wild neighbor who keeps me in touch with such things, hasn’t been able to drive for several years. I only recently found out that it is because he has a fine of a few hundred dollars, which he has been unable to pay off. It might as well be a million.
    This, among other things, has put his life on hold for years, and made even the simplest requirements of daily life ridiculously complicated, or impossible. That is a pointless and obscene distortion of justice.

    Ironically, if he still had the right to vote, he would cheerfully vote for the biggest right wing nut job in the race. If we ever had an open and honest discussion of religion or politics, he would be convinced that I had gone terribly wrong somewhere along the way.

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