Sunday, June 25, 2017

I am revealed


[Friends arriving here for essays on economics are welcome to skip this, which is quite personal. But public, and they are welcome to read this also.]
If I had not this tortured, fragmented consciousness, if where cruelty, anger, and despair cascaded down from prior generations there had been respect and comfort, there had been love for the legacy that children are, the powers of my mind would have been applied to the grand mysteries of the cosmos. I might have applied myself to any of physics, philosophy, political science, sociology, economics, ecology, the human condition writ large or small, in articles, novels, book-length essays, by teaching at university or running for political office. Instead I disassociate. I decline to experience the comradery of my peers, I cannot sort out my priorities, my mind cannot absorb the meaning of words as I read them, and those mysteries filter slowly into my mind where they are malnourished, finding a habitat riven by trauma and a desperate, hostile hyper-vigilance. Because I cannot attach, feel friendship, think clearly, offer love, I am shunned and deprived of the social stimulation that might help me. For three decades of adulthood, I anguish over my isolation, insecurity, rootlessness, and raw self-loathing. I long for love and don't know how to receive it. I don't know that my “traumatic stress reaction” is real. Is more real than I imagined. Is the description of my mental illness, and the reason I have foundered. To have a name for it and to know this, is the first time I feel hope of recovery. 
A decision in the last decade to engage socially has altered this trajectory. Those who know me may feel the person I am describing is not the person they know. I have done much healing work. But I continue to feel pain, fear of people, unable to attach, and a fragmented mind. I am old enough to compound the cognitive dysfunctions of Post Traumatic Stress with the actual effects of aging. Or are these memory lapses the effect of staring into the eyes of trauma? I don't care. I want , with what is left of my life, to repair my damaged self, and release into the world that mind that might have cracked some of nature's secrets, but wishes today just to do the work I might still do. With love and tranquility. 
I ride the growing wave of awareness of trauma. I see myself in it and I want to act boldly, because with a long life behind me, life ahead looks short. I have contrived to get an evaluation at the Trauma Clinic in Brookline Massachusetts. The cost is $5900. I cannot imagine earning and saving this much money in a timely way. It feels unachievable, and I must achieve it. Thus, I ask for help. 

Of this cost, I expect to contribute $2000 out of personal savings. I hope to get some siblings and friends to contribute. And I am trying to raise money on the crowd funding sites. I will need to see the money before I can schedule the evaluation, and I need to discuss with them how much in advance they need to schedule, but I picture this as something I do in the fall of 2017. 

I am expecting the evaluation and diagnosis to be a significant healing event, in its own right. The number of therapies offered, and their effectiveness, is quite astonishing, given the nature of the injury, and this evaluation will propose which of these is likely to be the most productive. So my companion goals are 1) to engage the deep process of healing, through the evaluation, and 2) to leave with a confidence in my therapeutic pathway. Of course we don't know the outcome, but I trust in my ability to respond positively to treatment, and to build a future lived in love and not fear. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Marginal Economy - When is there too much wealth?

June 24, 2017

[Originally posted on Facebook]

Think about Burlington Vermont. 3% unemployment. New "affordable" apartments going for $1000. Homeless people who work who can't afford a room. Is it possible to have an overheated economy? Can we consider the possibility that there is too much demand to live in Burlington, that with employers unable to fill jobs because the qualified people can't find a place to live, that the demand for housing forces prices up and it's the property owners who are winning?
Let's try this, at the risk that the economy might cool down a little: Tax the highest rents and mortgages, progressively higher, as they rise above the median. The overheated high end of the market cools off a little, and the money can be used to build infrastructure to make down market housing more attractive to developers and more affordable to build.
It is said this will drive the rich people out. I want to know why we are protecting the rich people (see below "dream hoarders"). if they are not paying into the budget enough to actually help other members of the community have decent lives, why do we want the super wealthy in the community to start with?
The argument goes on. The reason that Burlington's housing, like most of Vermont's, is so expensive, is that year after year, each time a property is sold, the seller takes a capital gain. The value of their property grew faster than the wealth of the working people who might buy it or rent it. This is supply and demand run amok, where the property owners accumulate wealth, with thanks to an otherwise healthy economy, while the rest of us have to give it up.
Wealth through property is the original American Dream, the motivation of British entrepreneurs, our own Ethan Allen, and uncountable opportunists since the first European settlement of this continent. Property is the original security, the only investment guaranteed to grow in value decade on decade, century on century. How does wealth continue to flow from property for so long? How is that the population of Vermont has been stable for two centuries, but the value of land has risen from something a a broken dirt farmer from Massachusetts could afford, to something most of us only dream of? 
The law has always protected the right of an investor to take a capital gain. It was taxed, but viewed as a public good. Especially since the writers of law tend to be property owners, and operators of businesses, all of them living in a frontier society where opportunity was super abundant, and benefits of the system were spread widely, scrutiny of this logic was never likely.  But let's look. I'm tempted to discuss monetary policy, but I'll try to dodge that issue. 
Supply-and-demand dictates that when a resource is scarce the price for that resource will rise. Once all of the land is owned, and none is available for free, new purchasers will pay a premium (an amount in excess of the seller's investment) to acquire the property. Hence property owners take a slice of the wealth away from people who are trying to live their lives and might otherwise spend that money locally, and the value of the property has risen relative to the community productivity. When this happens incidentally, the owner of a home to a new owner, the transfer of wealth is invisible because both remain in the community. But most property is handled by large investors, and the transfer of wealth is not incidental. Large volumes of wealth are accumulated by a few, and this wealth no longer circulates in the community. It is not being used to stimulate the economy. It is being held and managed to further increase the wealth of the property speculator. Banks are used to under write mortgages, but the money that enters the community to pay for the property immediately goes to the seller, who is most likely to take the wealth our of the community, and will only invest in enterprises that further concentrate wealth. Meanwhile, the interest on that mortgage flows only out. It leaves the community. It cannot be used for local economic improvement.
But let's look again at "cooling off the economy". What do you think the impact would be if the cost of housing were actually adjusted to the incomes of the residents of the city? They would have disposable incomes, and homes to live in, stability and a mind for the future. Quality of life enhances economic vitality, and if there are rich people making a living here in Burlington, they will surely prosper with the rest of us.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


[Here I address the members of the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance, after it's Quarterly Community Meeting, 2017-06-06.]

The Alliance is wide and the Quarterly meeting could not have supported more Alliance people than came. And I am so grateful to those who did. The challenges of planning a meeting to which homeless folks would come and feel safe were met. Enough came and we met leaders. We have introduced the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance to the community of the homeless. We have initiated relationships. What remains is to do the work it takes to help people live in the dignity and safety of their own homes.

That work is intrinsically difficult, because we live in and work in a world where the injustice of unfairly distributed wealth is structural. The economy is healthy enough. It produces enough for everyone's needs to be met. But it does not adequately circulate that wealth. Through the exponential growth of wealth, property ownership, laws that tax investment income at lower rates than wage income, through low tax rates for the wealthy and wages below the minimum needed to survive, the productivity and wealth of the community is channeled into the hands of those who need it least, while those who need it do not have enough. The rhetoric of our society is that those who have deserve and those who do not have do not deserve. The old framing is that if you play the system and bring home the wealth, it is yours, and giving it to the government to spend is a wasteful drag on the economy. The claim, made since the Reagan era, is that wealth is necessary to capitalize the economy, but this is merely self-serving. Without concentrated wealth, there could be distributed wealth, which would benefit far more people, while yet inducing far more economic activity. 

But we know that no one deserves to live in fear of losing their home, no one deserves the trauma of an unstable and unsafe home life. No one deserves for their mental illness to be multiplied by the dangers of living outdoors, no one deserves the hopelessness of a life without productive employment and a place to live. Let us say instead that the wealthiest members of the community have been entrusted with the wealth which represents the productivity of the community, but that that wealth owed to the community, and must be used to bring up the quality of life for every member of the community. Through whatever means. I can think of many. 

I will not belabor my point by making specific proposals. The essential point is this: everything we are trying to do is defeated by the structure of the economy. We are defeated because we worship wealth as our source of personal security, and argue to protect the accumulation of wealth, even when the benefits go to the super wealthy. We are defeated because we admire the super wealthy and try to emulate them, and defer to them when they want more privilege. But the greatest benefit to everyone comes when wealth circulates, when the community has that wealth to spend and when it is spent to meet the needs - housing, education, health, employment - of the people, not when it accumulates. Nothing could be a greater stimulant to the production of wealth than to spend it producing well being. 

And those are our jobs. To produce well being. But the aspiration is at risk. The productive value of our communities continues to be claimed by a few, who grow increasingly impatient with the taxes that pay our salaries. The path we are on takes us to a condition like that of Pakistan or Somalia, lawless places where justice comes from the barrel of a gun, where just to meet needs people wend their way through the alleyways of desperation and violence, and criminal corporate and government greed. People who love democracy and  want to live in peaceful, healthy communities, must challenge the old ways of thinking about wealth. And then demand that our lawmakers change how we treat the accumulation of wealth. So that not only we, but all of our neighbors, will have homes to live in. 

The key notion to  this change is the "normative income". This idea declares that the preferred economic status of every person is in the middle range of  all possible wealth and income. It is a range of incomes defined by their ability to support a family which can pay a reasonable share of taxes, in comfort, with adequate health care, education and housing, It provides enough wealth to allow people to take vacations without fear of losing their homes, and to participate in the economy as fund-holders, but leans against that much wealth that permits a second home (while others are homeless), or to avoid ever needing to take a job.

Public policy would operate to push people toward a normative income. Up from underneath, down from above. Not to make great wealth impossible, but to make great wealth ephemeral, and to make great poverty unnecessary. This public policy would not control incomes, but through incentives and taxation, living wages, sound housing and property policy, free health care, and free education, make wealth accumulation ever more difficult as incomes go up, unnecessary in any person's life plan, and poverty a religious vocation no one needs to choose. This public policy declares huge accumulations of wealth to be as unhealthy and unproductive, as is poverty. 

Wealth bifurcation today is eviscerating the middle class, (that's you) leaving the super poor and the super rich. We cannot do our work as healers in the lives of the unlucky, unwell and unhoused, and have our own lives, while we tolerate structural inequality. The result of structural inequality is structural insecurity, structural violence, and structural poverty. The homeless we met tonight are not poor and out of work by choice. Their fates, and ours, are structural. We must change the structure.