[Plura-list] Eviction is over (if we want it)

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Wed Sep 1 12:41:12 EDT 2021

Read today's issue online at: https://pluralistic.net/2021/09/01/learned-helplessness/

Today's links

* Eviction is over (if we want it): The Big Bag of Money Method.

* This day in history: 2001, 2020

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current writing projects, current reading


🎑 Eviction is over (if we want it)

Now that the illegitimate, undemocratic Supremes have voided the CDC eviction ban, and now that the cowardly Dems who control House, Senate and Oval Office have declined to pass an eviction ban bill, millions of Americans teeter on the brink of homelessness.

As we look at this looming crisis, which will increase the spread of covid, kill more Americans, and put a generations-long stamp of trauma on the people who lose their homes, we're asked to side with either renters or landlords.

But that's a false dichotomy. Americans owe $12-14b to their landlords, and Congress has authorized $46.5b in rental assistance that could make all of those landlords whole several times over. But the states have only distributed 11% of the money!


Why are the states having so much trouble handing out money? Bureaucracy. You know, the thing whose supposed absence was cited as the source of America's moral and economic superiority to the USSR.

What's the source of this bureaucracy? Means-testing. The endless red-tape, so beloved of conservatives, that is meant to ensure that the "undeserving poor" don't get any of the money earmarked for "hardworking poor people."

(The irony, of course, is that conservatives are completely unconcerned with trillions in no-bid contracts for the beltway bandits who were supposed to be nation-building in Afghanistan) 


(Nor do they care about Trump's billions for crooks who were supposed to supply PPE at the start of the lockdown, but simply placed orders from China, got in line, and marked up the shipments to Uncle Sucker)


When it comes to delivering aid to the wealthy, conservatives hate red-tape. When it comes to preventing working people from starving or becoming homeless, conservatives put on a paperwork parade that outshine the pettiest Soviet commissar.

This contradiction arises from a cornerstone of conservative ideology - the idea of "learned helplessness." Learned helplessness is a real thing that psychologists can induce in lab animals, discouraging them to the point of fatal listlessness.


But that's not what conservatives mean by learned helplessness. For them, learned helplessness is the evidence-free conviction that if you give a person a "handout," they will lose interest in "hard work."

Think of all the fast-food "entrepreneurs" whose signage proclaims "no one wants to work anymore" because of "government handouts," conspicuously failing to mention sub-starvation wages, irregular shifts, and abusive working conditions.

In conservativism, wealth is providential. Markets reward virtue, so the wealthy are inherently virtuous. They know the value of "hard work" and aren't at risk of "learned helplessness" so they can get "bailouts" (not "handouts") without risk of "perverse incentives."

But conservativism contains a contradiction: because capital - by definition - earns its returns from someone else's labor, any bailout is also a potential handout. If you save a locked down "heroic small business" with payroll support, you also "pay workers to stay home."

And if you bail out landlords by making up their tenants' missed rental payments, you also let the tenants "live for free" (ignoring for the moment that landlords whose mortgages and living expenses derive from tenant payments are literally "living for free").

So here we are, about to endure a gaping, generations-long self-inflicted wound. We're about to cost millions of renters their homes *and* potentially put their landlords in default because evicting a tenant doesn't get you a nickel in back-rent.

You couldn't ask for a neater demonstration of the extent to which "conservative business acumen" is a LARP - a set of culture-war performances rather than any kind of meaningful attention to profit and loss.

Because saving millions of your fellow Americans from destitution and homelessness isn't merely the right (and, you know, Christian) thing to do - it's also the smart business move. Homelessness is infinitely more expensive than rental assistance.

State conservatives are refusing to hand out $41.3b in order to create a decades-long cycle of public liabilities that will easily cost a hundred times that amount, and they're not just hurting poor people - they're euthanizing a whole shit-ton of rentiers!

As David Dayen writes in The American Prospect, it's the kind of thing you'd expect from a party with "two primary core talents: selling quack supplements and lowering taxes." 


After all, if you campaign on eliminating government due to its incompetence, then governing incompetently is a feature, not a bug. But for the nation (and the world) which needs its government to manage climate, pandemic, etc, this is a *serious* bug.

Meanwhile, Dayen has a great suggestion for how to dispense with all the red tape and save landlords *and* tenants.

Just station a federal official with a "big bag of money" in every eviction court. Every time a judge hears evidence that a tenant is behind in the rent, the official makes them whole out of the big bag of money, and the eviction is cancelled. 

This is literally the worst way of doing it, a monumental waste of court resources and an inhumane way to treat tenants (and landlords, too). The only thing worse would be to allow that wave of looming evictions to wash millions of our neighbors onto the streets.

Oh, and note the Repubs aren't the only ones who have a problem with learned helplessness. The Dems have the House, Senate and Oval Office and they can't even pass the For the People Act, which will force all those red states to stop thumbing the scales for GOP candidates.

Because the Dems can't figure out how to whip Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, they can't nuke the filibuster and pass a wildly popular law that will stop the GOP from rigging every election to come with voter suppression and gerrymandering.

When the party with the triple-lock on power watches as Texas passes a law that disenfranchises Black and brown people as well as people in major cities, guaranteeing the midterms, the 2024 Congress and eternal rule, what is it but learned helplessness?


🎑 This day in history

#20yrsago Stansted airport’s list of deadly dinners https://web.archive.org/web/20060903231800/https://www.stanstedairport.com/assets/B2CPortal/Static%20Files/Permitted_and_not_permitted_items.txt/

#20yrsago Walt Disney World fingerprints visitors https://web.archive.org/web/20061013033737/http://newsinitiative.org/story/2006/09/01/walt_disney_world_the_governments

#1yrago America's economy is cooked https://pluralistic.net/2020/09/01/cant-pay-wont-pay/#jubilee-now

#1yrago Set My Heart to Five https://pluralistic.net/2020/09/01/cant-pay-wont-pay/#robot-rights


🎑 Colophon

Currently writing: 

* Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. Yesterday's progress: 272 words (18251 words total)

* A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation.  PLANNING

* A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown."  FINAL EDITS

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Disneyland at a stroll https://craphound.com/news/2021/08/22/disneyland-at-a-stroll/

Upcoming appearances:  

* From Wayback to Way Forward: The Internet Archive turns 25, Oct 21

* Keynote for SeaGL 2021, Nov 5-6

Recent appearances:

* Launch for Ben Rosenbaum's "The Unraveling" (Booksoup)

* The Night of the Comet (NISO Plus):

* Privacy Without Monopoly (Defcon)

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1562/_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer.html.

Upcoming books:

* The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022

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"*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla*" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

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