Director’s Corner: When Rich causes Poor
More than a half dozen years ago, after an old acquaintance from Boston, Phil Mangano, was appointed head of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, we had dinner at a now-defunct Argentine steakhouse in Belltown.
Mangano was the new chief sales guy for the nation’s Ten-Year Plans to End Homelessness. After turning on a tape recorder, I asked how he expected to end homelessness without addressing inequality.
Phil went uncharacteristically silent. I waited.
When he finally spoke, it was to say that people getting rich had little to do with others becoming poor.
He said something to the effect that while a rising tide does not lift all boats, it does not follow that big ships sink little ones.
My next question was whether he was a Republican. He declined to answer.
Perhaps, in an ideal world, where governments are like families and need to balance checkbooks at their kitchen tables, what Phil said is true.
When Mr. Smith down the street works hard and moves into a bigger house, it’s no skin off anyone else’s nose. This is what America’s about.
But what about when, say, hedge fund managers earn something like $300 million a year by gambling with other people’s livelihoods? Or when deregulation and regressive taxation so distort our politics that government becomes a means of transferring wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich?
After nearly 40 years moving toward extreme inequality, it’s hard to deny the relationship between the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
This dynamic isn’t natural law. We let it happen. Along with that, we’ve created a kind of homelessness so deeply institutionalized that it’s here to stay—unless, of course, we get to the root of things.
When Phil was out on the road selling the Ten-Year Plans for the Bush Administration, he offered an extremely compelling logic. We can end homelessness and not just manage it, he’d say. The answer to homelessness is housing. Build the housing and provide the services, beginning with those most in need—the chronically homeless—and gradually, the emergency shelter system will wither away, just like the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in the final stage of Communism.
Well, bureaucratic state socialism didn’t go away. It turns out that the “inevitability” of dialectical materialism was based more in ideology than fact.
Another ideology: the idea that you can “end homelessness” through housing first within a political and economic system that offers budget austerity for the poor and tax breaks for the rich. We will never end homelessness through better and smarter human services. We will only end homelessness by ending inequality. It’s time to stop pretending.
“He said something to the effect that while a rising tide does not lift all boats, it does not follow that big ships sink little ones.”
Did he truly say that while a rising tide does NOT lift all boats, it also DOES NOT follow that big ships sink little ones?
If so, I don’t see how he has much ground to stand on~!
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