Busy Week

Man, what a week! All kinds of buzz over Iowa, and the State of the Union, and now tonight there is another Republican debate! And really I should be working on other projects, but I just have to get this out…

So, this week at least, my intuition is saying that Trump is going to win. He’s going to win because everyone keeps saying and wishing and hoping and praying that it won’t be him. Nobody believes he will make it through the nomination. And nobody believes he could be President. But everyone is thinking about it. Obama is thinking about it.

Speaking of what Obama is thinking about, I kind of loved Francis Wilkerson’s piece in Bloomberg View on how the State of the Union essentially proposes “crushing the reactionary party obstructing the way” of progress. Man, I wish that was the President’s plan. I wish it had been his plan in January 2009. At this point, I do think it’s accurate to say that stopping the dismantling of Obama’s legacy after 2016 will amount to making the reactionaries feel crushed.

According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, most people (about two-thirds) feel like they’re losing in politics today. Small wonder that the reactionaries are so strong this year. The study finds that people who feel like their losing are more likely to be angry.

And lately, I feel like a lot of what I hear from my friends on the left is anger. Obama can do no wrong, but everybody else is crooked and horrible. In Illinois, nobody has any love for State Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, because he’s been running the state for decades, so obviously everything going wrong now is his fault. Never mind Governor Rauner refusing to compromise with Democrats in the legislature. And never mind changing demographics, secular stagnation, and the sustained efforts of anti-union forces. Rahm Emmanuel is blamed for systemic racism and violence in Chicago. As if that was his fault.

This is an insidious thing about capitalism! Unemployment is never really anyone’s fault. If there aren’t enough jobs for everyone who wants/needs to work, it is supposed to be the fault of the unemployed for not trying hard enough. And people have the hardest time accepting any other story. It isn’t anyone’s fault that there is high unemployment in Chicago, except as far as you can say the city disincentivizes business through taxes and regulations. You aren’t supposed to force businesses to hire people.

But the fact is that poor neighborhoods are poor because the people in them don’t have enough money. And I’ve heard people suggest that the answer to Chicago’s problems is to take money away from the police and give it poor black people, who need it more. Which is never going to happen.

But in the meantime, everyone in Chicago is up in arms, trying to say that Rahm has got to go. I’d say the chances of him willingly resigning are still slim to none, although it would seem the state legislature might oblige the city by allowing them to recall the mayor. And if that did happen, I’m sure people would be super excited and it would be a big party, until the day after the city’s politics collapsed into the giant power vacuum left by the former White House Chief of Staff. It seems doubtful that Chicago would turn into Detroit, but I think it may eventually parallel the Motor City. Maybe it will become a new frontier in privatization. As public sector unions fall, and public services are diminished, perhaps we will see the rise of a different kind of city.

I mean, think about it this way. If the Loop was secured through private forces, instead of municipal police officers accountable to the public, the rest of the city could just get along with minimal supervision. People would either have an income allowing them to live with dignity, or they would have to fend for themselves. This sort of thing keeps everyone in line: market discipline. You don’t worry about being punished. You worry about being cast out, losing your place. But in the meantime, nobody would be able to talk about police oppression, because they wouldn’t be there.

In some sense, what I think a lot of the people who are calling for Rahm’s resignation really want is something like this: 1) for everyone living in Chicago to identified as people who live in Chicago (this is important for reasons that will become clear), 2) for generous public services to be provided to all of those people, for free, without exception, and for the city to take full legal and financial responsibility for all public services, 3) for the city government to provide these services without raising taxes or revenue of any kind, including and especially borrowing or engaging with banks, 4) for the city to guarantee the opportunity for meaningful remunerative work to be made available, with minimum compensation set at a sustainable living-wage, 5) for the city to guarantee that the increases in rents and property values not outpace the growth of wages, and 6) to guarantee that the city not allow too many people to move to the city once these provisions are established. Its extremely important to realize that what people want is not change, but justice (which, often enough, looks like plain old revenge). Notice how completely unrealistic this all is, and notice the emphasis on people wanting things only for themselves. The people of Chicago want to fire Rahm, but not because they want to help anyone. They’re just mad, and they think by punishing Rahm they’ll feel better.

But this is basically why I see the city moving towards privatization. Nobody really wants a better city government, they just want someone to blame when things go wrong. Certainly no one wants to pay more taxes, and nobody wants to go into debt, but the city can’t operate without funding. This is easily the most infuriating thing about dealing with city politics, people have just no reasonable expectations about money and jobs. They expect everything to be done perfectly, and are outraged whenever they feel disappointed. And for what? Chicago politicians and civil servants are demonized as a matter of routine. Why bother putting your life into public service if all the public can do is complain about you?

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