The “Libertarian Position” On Gentrification?
Regular commenter VRB recently asked me what libertarians thought of this story, regarding the poor and black former property owners in New Orleans getting screwed out of their homes by the government:
Evidence of eminent domain abuse can be found in the overwhelmingly-Black Lower 9th Ward, where the city bulldozed homes without informing their owners. Then there was the plan to raze 3,000 units of affordable housing in the cityâ€™s housing projects, which many Black New Orleanians called home, even though they were in relatively good shape. Add to that, only half the cityâ€™s population (and only 30% of the cityâ€™s Black population) has returned and you have the potential for a replay of all that we know about large scale displacement and its disastrous consequences. (See Mindy Fulliloveâ€™s â€œRoot Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurt America and What We Can Do About Itâ€)
This all leaves me with a deluge of important questions such as:
Who will Mr. Blakelyâ€™s eminent domain powers and Recovery Zones benefit? How will the many Black homeowners and entrepreneurs still living outside the city represent their property? Will already-struggling communities of color have to worry about city-sanctioned permanent displacement of former residents? Will â€œappraised valueâ€ for property be determined by pre-storm worth or storm-depressed real estate values? Where will the $1.1 billion of public money come from and what is the relationship of the Recovery Zones with the broad, city-wide Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP)?
With broken promises of affordable housing, an ineffective housing rebuilding program (Road Home) that is now running out of money, widespread housing discrimination, and elected officials who see Katrina â€œclean[ing] up public housing in New Orleansâ€, many former residents canâ€™t even find a place to live, let alone establish employment, access quality healthcare, or feel safe in their communities. If left to their own devices, the powers that be seem to be heading toward the gentrification model, which will rake in the bucks for a small minority of people with vested interests in real estate, finance and politics at the expense of most of the people.***
Notice that I said that they were getting screwed by the government, not by developers. Developers may want to raze your property, “buy” it from you for sub-market rates without you having opportunity to object, and then turn it into higher-priced housing at a large profit to themselves. But they can’t do that. Only government has the power to do that, and it’s government that should be looked at here.
So what is the “libertarian position” when poor black people get screwed by the government? Well, like most other issues, it’s a problem with the government having too much power. Government claims to be looking out for the poor, but government is driven by people that have a need to get reelected. To get reelected, you need to buy advertising. To afford advertising, you need to court people with money. So in the long run, you try to keep a balance between “appearing” to help the masses while you’re really helping the people with money behind the scenes.
When government is involved, rich people with lawyers win. Poor people who can’t afford lawyers lose. When government decides who to screw, they go for the easiest target. Why do you think the middle class gets audited while rich people with teams of lawyers to construct their tax shelters don’t? If you’re going to be a bully, and government is most certainly that, you target the people least likely to fight back. It’s that simple. This is how government works. This is how government must work. That’s how all the incentives line up. Anyone who tells you differently shouldn’t be trusted.
You want the libertarian position on poor black people getting screwed by the government? You want the libertarian position on black people being tossed out of their homes before the government bulldozers head their way?
I’d like to say that if we elect “the right people”, all will be well. But that’s not true. The only way to solve this problem, and the libertarian answer, is to take away the government’s bulldozers. Take away their power to screw people. Take from them every bit of power that you can, because you know they can’t be trusted to wield it.
***Note: there were a bunch of embedded links in the original source, you’ll need to click over there to read all of them if you’re interested, as I didn’t carry them over.