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capitalism (was Re: Inevitable by-products of sprawl)

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  • Guy Berliner
    [Warning: There follows a big digression here, from the real subject of carfree_cities, occasioned in answer to some remarks by Karen Sandness. I think this
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 8, 2001
      [Warning: There follows a big digression here, from the real subject
      of carfree_cities, occasioned in answer to some remarks by Karen
      Sandness. I think this digression is ultimately highly relevant,
      because it relates eventually to the crucial subject of "subsidies"
      to transport, and their desirability or undesirability, and also to
      the effects of zoning laws. My apologies to those who consider it
      otherwise.]

      I actually think the intellectual history of Marxism is a lot
      more honorable than what goes by the name "libertarianism" today.
      People confuse "Marxism," which I would define as what Marx wrote,
      with "Marxism-Leninism," which is one very particular ideology of
      revolution which has had the most lamentable effects in the world.

      Marx was an analyst and critic of what he called the "contradictions"
      of capitalism. He was NOT a strident hater of capitalism. He was a
      student of its historical underpinnings, inner dynamics, and its
      social effects, both positive and negative. Most of his analysis is
      still quite valuable and remarkably prescient to this day. But, in
      contrast with his voluminous analysis of extant capitalism, he
      provided but the sketchiest outlines of what was, in his philosophy,
      to supplant it, i.e., "socialism."

      The fatal mistake of the early followers of Marx was in believing that,
      if one could make a systematic study of a social phenomenon like
      capitalism, then one could just as well systematically devise and
      implement a replacement for it. But, while enthusiasm for "scientific"
      thinking in the social sciences, if leavened with humility, might be
      enlightening, to take such an attitude towards the enterprise of
      working practically for a more just society is anything but
      "enlightening." Instead, it quickly leads to political totalitarianism.
      And these considerations are as urgent and applicable to rightwing as
      leftwing ideologies.

      A "market" is nothing but a set of relations between pairs of people,
      one, a buyer, the other, a seller, in which that pair may consummate
      an exchange, without needing to consult anyone else. It happens to
      be the simplest possible way in which to organize the
      distribution of the wealth of society. But aside from simplicity,
      there's nothing especially magical about it. Sometimes, the simplest
      way to arrange something is also the best, sometimes not. Furthermore,
      "the market" is not the same as "capitalism." A market economy, under
      specific sociohistorical conditions LEADS TO capitalism. But there is
      nothing "natural" about it. To quote Marx, referring to one especially
      unique characteristic of capitalism, wage labor, which we might
      generalize to capitalism as a whole:

      "This relation has no natural basis, neither is its social
      basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is
      clearly the result of a past historical development, the
      product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of
      a whole series of older forms of social production."

      --__Capital__, part II, ch.6

      Now, the best classical liberals, like Adam Smith or John Locke,
      viewed the economic organization of society as being an equally fit
      subject for democratic scrutiny as its political organization. Whereas,
      by contrast, "libertarians," (aka, "neoliberals") -- who falsely claim
      to follow in the footsteps of the classical liberals -- are instead little
      different than the fuzzy headed, nakedly self-interested bourgeois
      apologists for capitalism that Marx so thoroughly skewered in his works.
      They make the most absurd, ahistorical arguments, trying to equate
      "capitalism," a very specific historical set of social relations,
      played out on a particular historical stage of times and places, to the
      outcome of some kind of timeless, cosmic moral philosophy. Consider this
      excerpt from "capitalism.com":

      Capitalism is founded on a proper understanding of Man's
      nature: The existence of inalienable individual rights.
      The validity of individual rights rests on the recognition
      that man is a rational being and has the capacity to
      discover truth on his own - without the need for a king or
      mystical revelation to guide him.

      They go on to give as an example of a capitalist a little girl running
      a lemonade stand.

      The naivete of these people is painful to behold -- they are either
      the most shamelessly disingenuous hucksters, or hopelessly adolescent
      ideological enthusiasts.

      Now, finally, to tie this back together, and make it relevant for
      carfree_cities, we need to see how this ideology is used to argue
      against subsidies for public transit. Because the "laissez-faire"
      market is presented as the "natural order" of the universe, to
      subsidize is somehow to "distort." It is to greatly burden the
      "natural rights of Man," in the extreme form. In the more neutral
      language of neoliberal economists, it is to introduce
      "inefficiencies," viewing, as they do, the unregulated exchange
      of commodities as always the "most efficient" form of economic
      organization.

      When, informed by an acute historical analysis, we deflate the moral
      mystifications of the extreme forms of pro-capitalist ideology, we
      are left with the economistic ones. Here, we venture into endless
      complexities. But it should suffice to point out but a few of the
      countless examples of "inefficiencies" arising directly from
      capitalism, to debunk the notion that this system automatically
      produces the most "efficient" outcomes, if by efficient we mean
      optimal in utilizing human and natural resources. Consider the
      unending miseries of the masses of humanity who are coldly ground
      down in sweatshop labor. Clearly, countless people with enormous,
      untapped creativity and potential are turned into labor commodities
      to produce unearned profits for capitalists, ground into an early
      grave by punishing toil. Leaving aside moral questions, is this the
      most "efficient" use of resources we can come up with?

      Moving on to an example more immediately relevant to transit: When we "do
      the numbers," as our friends at the Surface Transportation Policy Project
      have, we find that the percentage of household budgets consumed by
      transportation costs are MUCH HIGHER in cities that are more
      autodependent, even factoring in the costs of taxes to pay for public
      transit. But in the Libertarian ideology, of course, this is a no-no. Each
      rider should always pay his own freight upfront, never mind the
      transaction costs. The car automatically comes out ahead in this calculus,
      because public transit requires longterm planning that private capital is
      reluctant to risk. Better to leave every man and woman to fend for him or
      herself, and each buy his or her own little automobile.

      Consider another problem that ties into livable cities: zoning
      and private land ownership. Under typical capitalist land tenure,
      the land is alienable at will for whatever purpose the owner sees
      fit. This is regulated by zoning laws, but the latter is anathema
      to the Libertarian, according to whom no such thing should exist,
      in pure, unalloyed "laissez faire" economics. But in no part of
      our economy does the reality of complex historical underpinnings
      present itself as clearly as land tenure. In the first instance,
      all the land was stolen from the Indians in the USA anyway, so
      much for stuffy moral claims as to the absolute sanctity of
      private property ownership. But, more immediately, we see that
      no one lives forever, whereas the land does, and we are but
      stewards of this resource that we hand down to future generations.

      Also, we know that land is a unique resource among those deemed
      fit for private ownership. Unlike, say, toothbrushes, it does
      not behave according to ordinary rules of supply and demand. The
      supply is fixed. The demand is not. In this state of affairs, the
      land speculator, the first one to lay claim to the supply with the
      intent of earning profits by bidding up its price, has all the
      advantages. The land speculator earns windfall profits, not from any
      productive economic activity sponsored by himself, but by the
      productive economic activity of others in the area surrounding him,
      which make his property valuable -- attracting others to an area,
      whether by employment or other attractions.

      Properly viewed, property taxes are the least that society can
      demand from those who earn such windfall profits. They should be
      viewed as a mechanism and an opportunity to redress the problems
      created by private land ownership, for example, lack of affordable
      housing. And zoning, rather than an imposition, should be viewed
      as the proper mechanism for social accountability, which takes
      into account the stewardship aspect of land ownership referred
      to before.

      When we understand these things, we can not only analyze the
      blights caused by autocentric urban sprawl development, but
      unapologetically recommend public policies to fix them.

      I'm sorry for the length of this discussion. Obviously, the
      subject matter is complex enough to take up many volumes. I hope
      I've at least provided some directions for further discussion of
      these subjects.

      Karen Sandness <ksand@...> wrote:

      >
      > The root problem of libertarianism is precisely the root problem of
      > Marxism: it's a religion, in this case, the religion of the great and
      > all-consuming god Market Forces, and like Marxism, it assumes that if we
      > just follow all the commandments of this god, utopia will be the result.
      >
      > Unfortunately for both extremes of the economic and political spectrum,
      > reality has a way of tossing monkey wrenches into right-wing and
      > left-wing religions.
      >
      > Libertarianism underestimates the negative power of selfishness. It
      > assumes that everyone's "enlightened self-interest" will somehow work
      > together to produce a desired outcome. But like Marxism, Libertarianism
      > neglects to take the human capacity for evil into account. In other
      > words, it has no defense against the economic predator, the
      > environmental rapist, the largest employer in town who depresses wages
      > and benefits for everyone, the deliberately deceptive advertiser, the
      > union buster, the price-fixing cartel, or the seller of dangerous
      > products.
      >
      > The libertarian economic ideal looks a lot like the nineteenth century
      > or the contemporary Third World. It's a fantastic ideology for rich
      > people or for the tiny percentage of the population that has the
      > combination of talent and personality traits to become fabulously
      > successful entrepreneurs. For everyone else, --well, the Progressive
      > Movement, the labor movement, the trust-busting movement, and the growth
      > of consumer protection and securities fraud regulations in the late
      > nineteenth and early twentieth centuries occurred for a reason.
      >
      > So what does this have to do with suburbia? Well, in most suburbs,
      > land-use regulations can be boiled down to the following rules: 1) Put
      > the houses here. 2) Put the commercial businesses there. 3) Provide lots
      > of off-street parking. 4) (Optional:) Pay some of the costs of extending
      > utilities and streets to your development. 5) Go for it.
      >
      > Combined with massive federal subsidies for freeways and the
      > availability of cheap land, this situation has been an irresistible
      > temptation for businesses that profit from sprawl. Don't bother to
      > invest in fixing up the inner city. Just grab some new land along the
      > interstate and throw up some McMansions and a shopping center full of
      > nationwide chain businesses. You don't have to put much thought into it.
      > Just put up what everyone else is building and mass--produce it,
      > offering three or four "distinctive" plans. Then advertise your new
      > "community" as offering a pastoral slice of country life, in order to
      > attract buyers frustrated with the way their former "pastoral slice of
      > country life" has turned into a hell-hole of smog and gridlock.
      >
      > In many cities, the only choices left for the would-be urbanite are
      > slums and $500,000 condos. Most of the slums used to be perfectly nice
      > neighborhoods (ask an old-timer), but decades of disinvestment have done
      > their work.
      >
      > Suburbia appears to be a "choice," but it's not a "choice" if the only
      > reasonable alternatives are too expensive for the average buyer. What if
      > someone built new $150,000 houses in an urban area?
      >
      > Now for the greatest and most universally hated by-product of sprawl:
      > traffic. Everyone hates being stuck in traffic jams, but few people are
      > stepping back and seeing how suburbia makes traffic jams inevitable.
      >
      > In a city, most people get by with one car or no cars. In the suburbs,
      > two cars are the norm, since there is little or no mass transit and the
      > landscape is not laid out for walking or cycling, it is not uncommon for
      > families to buy an additional car for each teenager. While this may make
      > life "easier" for the individual, in that parents no longer have to
      > chauffeur their kids here and there, it inevitably puts more cars on the
      > road. The farther out a family lives, the more it needs cars. Two or
      > three cars per family, instead of zero or one. It doesn't take a degree
      > in math to figure out why new highways fill up in a couple of years.
      >
      > Ideologies are fun to talk about, but they pay insufficient attention to reality.
      >
      > In transit,
      > Karen Sandness
      >
      >
      > ________________________________________________________________________
      > ________________________________________________________________________
      >
      > Message: 4
      > Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001 21:48:24 +0100
      > From: Roy Preston <preston@...>
      > Subject: Monday Market
      >
      > Scenario:
      >
      > A small market town in England has, at last, closed the High Street to
      > traffic for one day to hold a Monday market. It is hugely successful.
      >
      > Normally, every one-and-a-half minutes throughout the day, a mainly empty
      > double decked bus thunders through the High Street belching fumes, only to
      > turn around and make its way back to its point of origin in the large town
      > 10 miles away. (700 buses per day)
      >
      > The Council and instigators of the market are now coming under fire from
      > the bus company which has been inconvenienced by the closure and who claim,
      > on emotive grounds, that their elderly passengers are unable to walk the
      > extra 200-yards to the end of the High Street on the day of road closure
      > (half-a-dozen passengers at the most!), and are threatening legal action.
      >
      > Question:
      >
      > Apart from abandoning the Monday road closure, which seems very likely
      > under the circumstances, how would one defend the road closure without
      > appearing to be non-caring?
      >
      > Roy P(leased to hear any suggestions?)
      >
      >
      >
      >
      > ________________________________________________________________________
      > ________________________________________________________________________
      >
      > Message: 5
      > Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001 22:12:50 +0100
      > From: "Simon Baddeley" <s.j.baddeley@...>
      > Subject: Re: Monday Market
      >
      > Get "shopmobility" involved - meeting people as they alight or giving notice
      > of their services near the point where bus passengers alight and board at
      > the point where pedestrianisation starts. In Inverness the shopmobility
      > service is right by a carpark exit, taxi/car drop-off pick up point and bus
      > stop.
      >
      > With the passenger numbers you mention, I imagine the bus company is feeling
      > pretty threatened already. Surely management could be persuaded to
      > negotiate. If they have been receiving complaints from their passengers they
      > have to be able to offer something back.
      >
      > Just an idea. I hope the council etc don't cave in - but transport issues
      > are characteristically full of stake holders frequently in win-lose
      > situations. How can this situation become win-win?
      >
      > Simon
      >
      >
      > ----- Original Message -----
      > From: Roy Preston <preston@...>
      > To: <carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com>
      > Sent: Tuesday, August 07, 2001 9:48 PM
      > Subject: [carfree_cities] Monday Market
      >
      >
      > > Scenario:
      > >
      > > A small market town in England has, at last, closed the High Street to
      > > traffic for one day to hold a Monday market. It is hugely successful.
      > >
      > > Normally, every one-and-a-half minutes throughout the day, a mainly empty
      > > double decked bus thunders through the High Street belching fumes, only to
      > > turn around and make its way back to its point of origin in the large town
      > > 10 miles away. (700 buses per day)
      > >
      > > The Council and instigators of the market are now coming under fire from
      > > the bus company which has been inconvenienced by the closure and who
      > claim,
      > > on emotive grounds, that their elderly passengers are unable to walk the
      > > extra 200-yards to the end of the High Street on the day of road closure
      > > (half-a-dozen passengers at the most!), and are threatening legal action.
      > >
      > > Question:
      > >
      > > Apart from abandoning the Monday road closure, which seems very likely
      > > under the circumstances, how would one defend the road closure without
      > > appearing to be non-caring?
      > >
      >
      >
      >
      >
      > ________________________________________________________________________
      > ________________________________________________________________________
      >
      > Message: 6
      > Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001 22:36:39 +0100
      > From: "Simon Baddeley" <s.j.baddeley@...>
      > Subject: Letter re "Congestion charging"
      >
      > Letter prompted by a local MEP's letter to the Birmingham Post decrying
      > congestion charging.
      >
      > S
      >
      >
      > ----- Original Message -----
      > From: Simon Baddeley <s.j.baddeley@...>
      > To: <thepost@...>
      > Sent: Monday, August 06, 2001 5:32 PM
      > Subject: Congestion charging
      >
      >
      > > 6 August 2001
      > >
      > > The Editor
      > > BIRMINGHAM POST & MAIL
      > > Colmore Circus
      > > Birmingham B4 6AX
      > > Fax 625 1105 thepost@...
      > >
      > >
      > > Sir
      > >
      > > I am surprised at the fears expressed in your columns that congestion
      > > charging will turn central Birmingham into a "ghost town" (Post 6/08/01).
      > > What concerned many people 15 years ago was the way our city centre was
      > > being abandoned because it was perceived by the public as a hazardous
      > > concrete desert.
      > >
      > > Things have got a lot better but Birmingham still lacks the superlative
      > > public transport system it needs to maintain prominence in competition
      > with
      > > other cities. A system that would give mobility on a level equivalent to
      > > that offered by the private car would have stops no more than 9 minutes
      > walk
      > > from anyone's home; trains, trams or buses every 4 minutes throughout the
      > > day (8 minutes late night and early morning); and no journey from any
      > point
      > > in the city lasting more than 30 minutes with most a lot swifter.
      > >
      > > If effective mobility is to be achieved other than by reliance on cars,
      > > money is needed for alternatives on the same scale as the capital raised
      > to
      > > bring clean water to Birmingham in the 19th century - until now the
      > greatest
      > > public health project ever initiated. Whatever is decided is bound to be a
      > > gamble with the future, but Mr.Prescott, while he bore the brunt of the
      > > unpopularity that attached to trying to address this complex problem,
      > > rightly said "Doing nothing is not an option."
      > >
      > > If congestion charging can lever in the investment needed to realise
      > > solutions, all of us, including committed motorists, will come to regard
      > > this tax as value for money. There are, after all, going to be more short
      > > term car-parking spaces in the city after the present rebuilding than
      > > before.
      > >
      > > We must continue the trend towards the "compact" city with more and more
      > of
      > > professionals who abandoned the city centre in the late 19th century
      > wanting
      > > to live and work in the central square mile. At the same time we must not
      > so
      > > gentrify the centre that anyone who isn't rich is excluded from living
      > > there. We must also raise money to ensure that those whose employment has
      > > revolved around the motor-trade do not suffer more than they have already.
      > > Our local economy has been especially over-reliant on car making, but a
      > > century of undoubted success in achieving access by mobility has led to
      > > problems that afflict cities across the world. We need to move far further
      > > towards employment based on e-commerce as well as local trading, local
      > > manufacture and food retailing. Over the next 20 years we need to place
      > > greater reliance on access by proximity - to homes, schools, shops,
      > > entertainment as well as to safer streets and to beautiful public parks,
      > > walkways and squares.
      > >
      > > Churchill said the sublime is so close to the ridiculous. A vision of this
      > > kind is likely, at its inception, to run counter to popular opinion - even
      > > among those suffering in grid-lock. Congestion charging is a measure that
      > > requires great political courage. It is a measure designed to help achieve
      > a
      > > long term vision. One of these is linked to a quote in the manifesto of
      > the
      > > Road Traffic Reduction Campaign, supported by many MPs across the House.
      > It
      > > comes from Zechariah (8:4 & 5) "There shall yet old men and old women
      > dwell
      > > in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for
      > > very age. and the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls
      > > playing in the streets thereof." I doubt I shall live to see this dream of
      > a
      > > city recovered, but I shall strive to help others achieve it.
      > >
      > > Yours etc.
      > >
      > >
      > > Simon Baddeley
      > > 34 Beaudesert Road
      > > Handsworth
      > > Birmingham B20 3TG
      > > 0121 554 9794
      > > 07775 655842
      > >
      > >
      > >
      >
      >
      >
      > ________________________________________________________________________
      > ________________________________________________________________________
      >
      > Message: 7
      > Date: Tue, 07 Aug 2001 15:16:30 -0700
      > From: "T. J. Binkley" <tjbink@...>
      > Subject: Re: Monday Market
      >
      >
      > >The Council and instigators of the market are now coming under fire from
      > >the bus company which has been inconvenienced by the closure and who claim,
      > >on emotive grounds, that their elderly passengers are unable to walk the
      > >extra 200-yards to the end of the High Street on the day of road closure
      > >(half-a-dozen passengers at the most!), and are threatening legal action.
      > >
      > >Question:
      > >
      > >Apart from abandoning the Monday road closure, which seems very likely
      > >under the circumstances, how would one defend the road closure without
      > >appearing to be non-caring?
      >
      > How about suggesting that the market vendors all chip in a few bucks to
      > hire a thick-calved college student to run a pedicab back and forth during
      > the "closure".
      >
      >
      >
      > ________________________________________________________________________
      > ________________________________________________________________________
      >
      > Message: 8
      > Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001 23:20:45 -0400
      > From: "Louis-Luc" <exqmtl@...>
      > Subject: RE: Monday Market
      >
      > How about a voluntary (or hired by transit company) pedicab driver, or buggy
      > puller person, that will take one of the (half dozen) elderly, or disable
      > people through the carfree zone to the new bus stop location. If such
      > passenger are rare, the voluntary/hired person could be a shop tenant
      > concurrently. One would need a doctor note to be granted a pass for this
      > service (so it is not overused).
      >
      > Once this is popular, it becomes easier to repulse motor traffic (even
      > buses) farther away from the activity zones.
      >
      > Louis-Luc
      >
      > > -----Original Message-----
      > > From: Roy Preston [mailto:preston@...]
      > > Sent: 7 ao�t, 2001 16:48
      > > To: carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com
      > > Subject: [carfree_cities] Monday Market
      > >
      > >
      > > Scenario:
      > >
      > > A small market town in England has, at last, closed the High Street to
      > > traffic for one day to hold a Monday market. It is hugely successful.
      > >
      > > Normally, every one-and-a-half minutes throughout the day, a mainly empty
      > > double decked bus thunders through the High Street belching fumes, only to
      > > turn around and make its way back to its point of origin in the large town
      > > 10 miles away. (700 buses per day)
      > >
      > > The Council and instigators of the market are now coming under fire from
      > > the bus company which has been inconvenienced by the closure and
      > > who claim,
      > > on emotive grounds, that their elderly passengers are unable to walk the
      > > extra 200-yards to the end of the High Street on the day of road closure
      > > (half-a-dozen passengers at the most!), and are threatening legal action.
      > >
      > > Question:
      > >
      > > Apart from abandoning the Monday road closure, which seems very likely
      > > under the circumstances, how would one defend the road closure without
      > > appearing to be non-caring?
      > >
      > > Roy P(leased to hear any suggestions?)
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > > To Post a message, send it to: carfree_cities@...
      > > To Unsubscribe, send a blank message to:
      > > carfree_cities-unsubscribe@...
      > > Group address: http://www.egroups.com/group/carfree_cities/
      > >
      > > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
      > >
      > >
      >
      >
      >
      > ________________________________________________________________________
      > ________________________________________________________________________
      >
      > Message: 9
      > Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001 23:26:56 -0400
      > From: "Louis-Luc" <exqmtl@...>
      > Subject: RE: Monday Market
      >
      > We had the same idea!
      > (I wrote my followup before reading yours).
      >
      > Cheers.
      > Louis-Luc
      > > How about suggesting that the market vendors all chip in a few bucks to
      > > hire a thick-calved college student to run a pedicab back and
      > > forth during
      > > the "closure".
      > >
      > >
      > > To Post a message, send it to: carfree_cities@...
      > > To Unsubscribe, send a blank message to:
      > > carfree_cities-unsubscribe@...
      > > Group address: http://www.egroups.com/group/carfree_cities/
      > >
      > > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
      > >
      > >
      >
      >
      >
      > ________________________________________________________________________
      > ________________________________________________________________________
      >
      >
      >
      > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
      >
      >
      >
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