Skill improves with experience. An experienced artist may be able to paint with one quick line something that would previously have taken a whole canvas full of brushstrokes. This is an individual process, but it happens in society as well. Social systems also become more efficient with increasing experience.1 A shepherd with a dog, a fence, and an ATV can control more sheep of the sort bred to respond to those tools with less effort than could ever have been done without them. They’re all elements in a social system.2
The diamond/water paradox is a name given to the fact that water has infinitely high use value but only minimal exchange value whereas roughly the opposite is true for diamonds. Apparently economists have been trying to untangle this putative problem for centuries, but my thesis is that it’s actually no problem at all. It seems paradoxical only because these economists have completely ignored the role of state violence in creating value and maintaining capitalism. Without state violence there would be no capitalist economy for them to study and prices of things would be very different than they are now.1
People need water, food, and shelter to survive. For a million years of human history people found countless successful ways to meet these needs directly, for themselves, their families, their communities, without being violently forced by zillionaires to cede a share of the value they created. Fundamentally, capitalism is possible only because if you charge money for those needs and kill anyone who tries to meet them without paying you can force masses of people to labor for your benefit.2 Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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