Marqueece Harris-Dawson Really Got To The Heart Of The City’s Role In The Conflict Between Tenants And Landlords When Speaking Yesterday About The Just Cause Eviction Ordinance

Yesterday during the LA City Council’s discussion of the eviction moratorium Marqueece Harris-Dawson quietly made a really important and really radical point when questioning the deputy city attorney in attendance. He asked her if the law would mean that a landlord could evict a tenant for any reason “and [the City of Los Angeles will help [them].” She responded that “the City would be permitting that to happen.” The difference of course is that in MHD’s version the City plays an active role, the role of violent enforcer,1 whereas in the DCA’s version the City is like a passive referee, whose role is merely to regulate voluntary transactions between private parties.

He’s right, of course, and she’s lying. And I don’t mean she’s mistaken. The principle MHD is referring to is well-known to lawyers. It’s the principle on which the Supreme Court decided Shelley v. Kraemer. This is popularly known as the case which outlawed racial restrictions in real estate transactions, but that’s not exactly right. What the case did was outlaw government enforcement of racial restrictions in real estate contracts. Without state enforcement, which necessarily means violent enforcement, racially restrictive contracts, many of which still exist, are meaningless.
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Local control over land use may or may not be a bad idea but it’s not its racist origins that make it so

Have you heard that local control over land use1 is bad because it’s racist and was invented to promote white supremacy?2 I mean, I have too, but it’s a nonsensical position, not least because people with the power to pass laws in this country, and I don’t mean legislators especially, but the people who control legislators, are all white supremacists and have always been white supremacists.3 White supremacy is their ecological niche and they couldn’t survive outside it.

Every law they pass supports white supremacy in one way or another.4 This is a fact as true now as it was in the days when only slaveholding plantation owners were allowed in legislatures.5 If a law’s having been passed to support white supremacy were a reason to repeal it we’d have to repeal every law on the books.6 The constitution would have to go as well.7 That’s an extrinsic reason why the idea is nonsensical, but it’s also intrinsically nonsensical.
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If it’s actually true that building more homes makes the rent go down then it’s also true that intentionally keeping units vacant will increase profits

If you pay any attention to online housing discourse you’ve heard repeatedly that we can eliminate homelessness by just building more houses. The most idiotic versions of this theory rely on the (putatively obvious) idea that if the demand for a good is fixed then the price is roughly inversely proportional to the supply. My personal feeling about all theories like this is that they are framing phenomena created by state violence as if they were the result of universal natural laws, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from them.

In particular we can learn that this supply/price assumption implies that under apparently normal market conditions landlords with more than a few units can maximize their profit by intentionally keeping apartments vacant to artificially restrict supply. If it’s actually true that increasing housing supply functionally decreases housing costs then all else being equal it will lead to house-hoarding. This appears to be a contradiction in the theory.
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In Los Angeles Revolution Is More Realistic Than Reform When It Comes To Ending Homelessness

Apparently human beings are forced to live on the streets of Los Angeles because it’s “illegal to build housing” here. I guess there are even people who think we can “solve homelessness” in this City by changing or eliminating zoning codes to allow developers to build whatever they want wherever they want?1 These folks self-present as the smartest guys in the room but nevertheless have some pretty kooky ideas about how things work in this City. Just for instance, they seem to think that Los Angeles developers and politicians desperately want to house the homeless but somehow always end up thwarted by the complexity of the problem and a bunch of putatively bad laws that no one likes but somehow got written and enforced anyway.

Neither politicians nor developers can do anything about homelessness despite the fact that they’re in charge of the whole damn City because, the story goes, a bunch of single family homeowners hate apartments and use their vast political power to retain racist zoning laws in order to increase property values. These genius urban theorists, who apparently think it would be easier to get Los Angeles2 to eliminate zoning codes than to build a bunch of public housing, characterize every possible non-market solution to homelessness as leftist naivete. They tout their desired policies as political realism even as they denigrate progressive ideas as impossible and revolutionary.
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Compulsory Schooling and Police Abolition

I’ve been thinking and reading about police abolition for eight years now, and have become convinced that the world doesn’t necessarily need another rich white male academic having thoughts about the nature and effects of police oppression on the oppressed. But learning from the privileged about how policing and the prison industrial complex benefits them personally would have been very valuable to me. I haven’t found much writing like this so I thought I’d make some myself.

If I’m going to make a strong argument for police abolition I have to try to make a complete account of the ways that policing supports my present way of life. Without some kind of connection to my own lived experience at best I’d just be reframing other people’s more experientially grounded arguments. It hasn’t helped me at all to read this kind of material so what a waste of time to write more of it, eh? Not only that, but accounting for the ways I rely on policing is a way for me to understand what I’d be giving up if we do manage to abolish cops. Without understanding this my arguments for abolition would seem hollow to me, and so probably to others also.

One of the ways policing supports me is through compulsory K12 schooling. Some of my reliance has to do with the fact that I teach mathematics at a local liberal arts school, and some of it is shared more generally with other privileged people. But regardless of that, first I want to talk about why compulsory schooling requires police to exist. Is this controversial or implausible? It seems obvious to me and probably to any parent who’s been criminally charged and subsequently taken to court over a truant child, or whose truant child has been criminally charged and taken to court independently. Without police this whole coercive infrastructure evaporates and along with it the possibility of requiring children to attend school.

Cops force students into school and anyone other than their parent who forces them is a cop. Without cops they can’t be forced. And the only power of the police is the power to harm, to hurt, to torture, to kill. Ultimately children are violently forced to attend school.1 This fact is sufficient evidence that schools are not a net benefit to parents and children, then. If they were there’d be no need for coercion. No one needs to be forced at gunpoint to accept something which is in fact good for them.2 Which is not to say there’s no such thing as schooling without police, just that it couldn’t be compulsory. Schools are old and police are new. Schools existed before police and they will exist after police. Even now schools serve all kinds of life affirming purposes in ways that no one has to be forced at gunpoint to accept.

Not only do schools provide education but also day care, food distribution, emotional support, community, companionship, green space, and on and on and on. No one with good intentions wants to get rid of schools. But without police schools, like every other social institution, will have to be voluntary. Everything schools now do that the recipients are forced to accept at gunpoint will have to go, and this clearly includes compulsory attendance. In order to survive, schools will have to meet the actual needs of the people who have the capacity to maintain and reproduce them, and they’ll have to meet them to an extent sufficient to justify those people continuing to maintain them.
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How I’m Grading Now and Why

PDFTeX source


There is a great deal of pedagogical literature concerning the harm done to students by the practice of ranking them with letter grades.1 The authors of these papers, self-styled ungraders, focus on the effects of letter grading on students’ mindsets. Ungraders generally agree that letter grades distract students away from true understanding because, as widely cited ungrader Alfie Kohn puts it, “too many [of them] have been led to believe the primary purpose of schooling is to get As.”2.

That students believe this is universally acknowledged, at least by teachers. But why they believe it, in particular why they believe it so tenaciously even though their teachers have been telling them the opposite since forever, is not so clear. Also, I’m not sure that students “have been led to believe” this by anything other than their own accurate observations, or even that the students are wrong about “the primary purpose of schooling.”

The ungrading community believes that, as Susan Blum puts it, “when we grade, we really convey very little information about what is being assessed”3 and their arguments are convincing. Just for instance, there are too few letter grade options to differentiate between the wide variety of student achievements, even in a single class. My institution only offers ten choices, which isn’t granular enough even to draw a conclusion from the bare fact that two students received the same grade in a given class.4

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