Tuesday, June 2, 2009

More Comments on Planning and Capitalism

This is an extension of previous posts on this topic. If I repeat things, I apologize, I am pretty frustrated by some of the trends and tendencies I see in the way we act as a society toward some of the most important and/or vulnerable elements.

First I want to talk about capitalism. I have long decried the share-holder and consumer based capitalism that I view as having sprung up in our country as a result of basic greed and the natural progression of capitalism. We have now the equivalent of what Ayn Rand wrote about in relation to Socialism/Communism, but in its capitalist form. A land where people's success is largely dependent upon the circumstances of their birth, where the owners of company do so only for their profit regardless of company longevity, and where our politicians aid and abet this process. For my arguments on this, see previous posts relating to capitalism and economics. To this, I want to add another problem, the lack of truly innovative social businesses that serve important areas, such as a local bank that gives loans to a local community with whom they are intimately connected, and the tendency to build and innovate only to sell to the highest bidder.

The first problem relates to the problems that hinder many communities blacklisted or red-lined against lenders or at least reasonable rates of mortage. This stuff really frustrates me since we refuse to supply the tools for success to areas of this country and then complain and call their inhabitants lazy when they fail to thrive. What is worse, we actively discourage their success both through programs that only give to those who truly fail (such as welfare or housing subsidies that disappear right when you get on your feet). The problem of areas that cannot get basic services leads to grocery gaps, banking gaps, and any other large number of gaps in things that are necessary for a community to become strong and unslum itself. Our policy in the past has been to demolish the community and in its place build a huge project. While this is no longer smiled upon, its effects are still imminently visible in the huge inequalities and lack of mobility that appear in poor areas of our country. We do not encourage the creation of local business infrastructure that can reverse these trends. What gets me about this is that our corporate policy effectively favors big companies by subsidizing them the most through tax write-offs and investments of which only they are able to take advantage. I believe that a healthy taxation system would have higher rates on large companies that provide a mere 30% of the GDP relative to small businesses which provide 70%. But no. We focus instead on big companies and as a society have come to believe in them and them alone. We have steadily edged out our local stores in favor of bigger, slightly cheaper (often only in the short-term--I do not remember the reference for this, but it exists) stores. We watch our local banks get bought up by companies that are now "too big to fail" and now we wonder why our economy has lost vitality. The modern "innovator" seems to me to be someone who creates a technology or service and then sells it to some very large firm that then standardizes it. This in turn destroys the important community links with that business that are necessary for responding to local needs.

While the above point is not well organized, the conclusion is this: through a mixture of government policy and societal change, we now use innovation as a "get rich quicker" scheme that is based upon selling an idea or company to a bigger one. We have created policies that benefit larger businesses at the expense of small, and we often fail to recognize the vast, systemic problems that prevent people from succeeding and keep them down either by red-lining policies or through programs that encourage failure. What causes me frustration is that smaller banks and businesses would not have let the housing crisis happen. Also, our failure to recognize that there still exists huge levels of systemic discrimination against people based upon where they live and who we stereotype them to be has prevented us as a country from accepting the need for policies meant to encourage people to build themselves out of their problems. We have in a sense planned for failure.

Lastly, and as a footnote to this, it is important to note that our tendency toward big projects, big companies, and less community-based activism has been created by policies that destroyed community interconnectedness. In order to achieve any success, we cannot bring in the success, we have to build it from what we already have. Bringing it in is gentrification, building it is the only path to real change. I will write on more of this later.

1 comment:

  1. looking forward to commentary on gentrification... should be interesting.