The New Deal plus Reaganomics equals too many luxury hotels.

Just saw that Bergamont Station is being plowed under to make way for, you guessed it, another luxury hotel. As if Santa Monica has a desperate need for another luxury hotel. It’s nothing but luxury hotels. But the thing about luxury hotels is that they provide enormous tax revenue for a city, and so the more the GOP cuts the federal budget of funds that would eventually (mostly via the state) make their way down to cities to pay for services, the more cities are reliant on big businesses like luxury hotels to provide local tax revenue. And the more city services and urban planning a city engages in, the more it needs the revenue of things like luxury hotels. Quality of life is expensive, and quality of life in a place like Santa Monica is very expensive. People who live there expect the city to provide very nice things. Which means a city like Santa Monica needs to come up with lots of tax revenue. To the City of Santa Monica, Bergamont Station was a big hole that didn’t make bring in much tax revenue. Fill that hole with a luxury hotel and revenue comes pouring in. So some of the worst offenders of tearing down small businesses and replacing them with mega developments are often progressive cities like Santa Monica that provide a wide array of city and social services. I watched Glendale do the same thing, tearing down all these little mom and pop places and replacing them with the then highly profitable shopping malls. What happens now that shopping malls are closing down I do not know. Nor do I know what will happen when there are not enough tourists and business groups to fill luxury hotels. But in the meantime mom and pop businesses and creative spaces like Bergamont Station are seized by eminent domain and leveled to make way for rich people spending lots of money. The city can pay its bills, provide social services, fix streets, build libraries and put on summer concert series. We’ve come to accept all this as necessary. A lot of people get hurt. More people get helped. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. It’s all quite logical and very Vulcan. It’s a very mid-20th century sort of thinking that goes back to the New Deal, actually, the same sort of thinking that condemned whole neighborhoods and replaced them with shiny identical apartment towers with affordable rents. That is the justification for tearing down Bergamont Station, anyway. Leveling a popular art colony and cultural hang and replacing it with a hotel that can help Santa Monica pay its bills. But that need to tear it down, the reason that Santa Monica needs to tear beautiful spaces like Bergamont Station down and build a hotel is due to late 20th century Republican fiscal policy. Tax cutting Reaganomics. Cut taxes, cut the budget, reduce pay outs to state and local governments and voila, Santa Monica needs to find a revenue stream, quick. Every city in America, big and small, is facing the same problem. Combine New Deal social policy and Reaganomics fiscal policy and instead of affordable apartments you wind up with way too many luxury hotels none of us can afford to stay in. I wonder what Robert Moses would say. He might think Boss Tweed was running things again. He might be right.

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Trumpstock

You’ll notice, incidentally, that most of that crowd is baby boomers. We are the worst generation politically since the 1920’s. We voted Republican in most elections, and if not Republican we came close, even in 1968. It was us who dismantled the New Deal. Reagan and his people began it, but it was the baby boomers who went at it hammer and saw and destroyed it. The Tea Party was the most successful political movement the baby boomers ever came up with, and look what it wrought, the political equivalent of the Mongol invasions. The George W. Bush administration was the ultimate in the baby boomer political philosophy in action, such as it was. Thankfully most of us will be dead in a couple decades and the younger folks can rebuild what our parents built. We may have been lots of fun and made some of the greatest music of all time, but we sure fucked everything up. Not that you can tell us that, though. We have convinced ourselves that it was us and us alone who brought progressive values to America. But think of this. When our parents saw Barry Goldwater running for president, they turned him down in a landslide. They knew dangerous crazies when they saw them. When we saw George W Bush, we elected him.

And Trump? Well, this is who baby boomers vote for when they get old and cranky. He is us. Maybe not me and you, but most of us. Certainly most of us baby boomer men, white and a surprising number Hispanic. And the majority of Trump’s female followers were born between 1946 to 1964, inclusive. There are not only a helluva lot of us–we were the biggest American generation ever since before the First World War, proportionately, there were so many of us and we all had lots of siblings, unlike today–and we live longer and healthier than our parents did, but we vote far, far more conservatively than any other generation in our age group, ever. The Bernie voters never had a chance against our numbers and voting participation rate–and that was against only those of us who voted for Democrats this year. More of us voted for Republicans. And most of them voted for Trump. The only reason that Trump is in this race at all is because so many Baby Boomers love the guy to death. Hey, we are wild and crazy guys. By the time we got to Trumpstock we were half a million strong.

trumpstock

A Trump rally in Loveland, Colorado, 10/3/2016. This shot is by Nate Gowdy, a brilliant photographer you can find on Facebook. His work has the depth of Walker Evans, and each picture tells a story worth far, far more than a thousand words. (Thanks, too, to Michael Rowe, who doesn’t know me from Adam, for the tip.)

 

Timing is everything

(2014)

A friend posted:

Just saw that people in America living at or below the “poverty level” has doubled in the past 5 years! Good times!!!!!

Well, when this last recession ended companies did not respond by rehiring but instead did the opposite. So the returning profits went into executive bonuses and shareholders (often those same executives) instead of labor force. Wages also stayed depressed, benefits have been cut back, and changes in the tax code made during the Reagan Administration gave financial incentive to ship American jobs overseas where wages are a fraction of ours (in India, a tenth of ours). Weakening labor protections have allowed permanent employees to be replaced by temps, and in a trend that makes one wonder if anyone is enforcing labor laws at all, many entry level positions in companies are filled by unpaid interns. It’s very likely that you if you are over fifty then you are making one third to one half less than you were making even a decade ago. Worse yet, chances are good that you are now making, when inflation and loss of benefits are factored in, about the same as you were making when you got your first real job. Your entire working life has left you where you started.

There is a logic at work here. It’s the logic of Wall Street and is inexplicable unless you read how executive bonuses are tied to the profit margin in the annual reports. If you can’t increase the price of your stocks, you are not a successful business. The mission of businesses is now to serve the big shareholders, instead of shareholders providing capital to improve the business which in turn will raise the value of the shares. T Boone Pickens turned the model inside out. The people who master the art of accumulating the most shares of stock and then selling them at a profit now run the economy. It makes no sense. We try to survive at their whim. It’s capitalism gone utterly mad, turned into something as warped and destructive a socio-economic philosophy as its arch-enemy communism.

There’s no sign we can yet see that any of this will reverse. I’m not saying it is irreversible, but we can’t  see how it will change, not yet. It’s a trend that began 40 years ago and really went into overdrive during George W. Bush’s two terms which pretty much validated pure greed as a positive social force. Much as happened in the decades immediately following the American Civil War in the age of the Robber Baron. As a result, today most of the former working and middle classes have been pushed into poverty or near poverty. Hence the doubling of that poverty rate in the last five years. The recession knocked middle class people over like nine pins, wiping them out, leaving them with nothing.

However, about 20% of the US is doing really well, and continue only to do better. People who focus on the top two or even top one per cent miss that point. It’s not just a tiny few but an entire class that dominates the US economically. This is a true class war, the top twenty per cent versus the rest of us, and we have lost. That upper twenty per cent have achieved total victory. In 2008 figures the top 20% held 85% of the total wealth in the country.  Eight five per cent. And over 90% of the cash money. Over ninety per cent. It has not been like this since the end of the twenties. The FDR social revolution was completely reversed by the Reagan Revolution. 1980 was the beginning of the end. We lay vanquished now beneath the feet of that top twenty per cent. If you want to see how vanquished, take a drive through the Westside of Los Angeles, or up in the Hollywood Hills, or through the vast swathes of the San Gabriel Valley where they live, segregated from the rest of us. Wealth segregation has long surpassed racial segregation in this country. It’s a de facto apartheid. Park your beat up old car on a quiet Beverly Hills street for an hour or so and read the paper. See how long it is before the cops show up and tell you to get out of there. Doesn’t even necessarily matter what color you are. If you aren’t rich, you are not supposed to be there.

The Reagan Revolution, though, has burned itself out. It is held in power only by clever gerrymandering, and the fact that rural districts and small state are over represented in Congress, or by the aging populations of small states that have more elderly voters than do the larger, growing states. Elderly voters are Reagan voters. In 1980 the elderly were FDR voters. But they died out and the Reagan voters took over and what a mess they made of things. But they are disappearing now, taking their party with them. Their blatantly restrictive voting laws just show how terrified they are. Change is coming. Slowly, the wealth of the country will even out more. Greed will return to its rightful place amid the seven deadly sins. Too late for those of us in our fifties, but your kids will benefit.

Here’s a cycle for you….the 1890’s was economically catastrophic. the 1930’s were catastrophic. The 1970’s were catastrophic. And the 2010’s are proving catastrophic as well. The economic system that was put in place by the American Civil War (which completely replaced the pre-Civil War system in which slaves accounted for more dollar value than all the assets in the North combined) seems to have these forty years cycles. People our age–I am 56–were born at just the right time to begin and end our working lives right at the low points. Timing, they  say, is everything.

Generations

The Millennials today will have their presidential election year about the time they morph into grumpy middle aged people who actually vote. 2024, maybe, or more like 2032, when today’s eighteen and twenty-nine year olds are thirty four and a thoroughly disagreeable forty five, respectively. As for the geezers, well, some of us will be there for it, and some will never have our year, we’ll be memories. The luck of the draw. But it won’t be the baby boomers’ world by then anyway, thankfully, we who voted more for Nixon and Reagan than Gene McCarthy and George McGovern, we who helped sweep the Reagan Revolution into power and helped it dismantle the New Deal. This mess we’re in today is as much our fault as the establishment we railed against way back when. We can’t blame it all on the Greatest Generation. Half of us voted for Reagan, even icons like Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Johnny Ramone were card carrying Republicans. (You gotta serve somebody, Bob said. Keep on rockin’ in the free world said Neil.) And a lot of us Baby Boomers will wind up cranky old Republicans, chasing left wing Millennials off our lawns. No, we fucked up, sold out, gave up. The New Deal generation never let the US descend into income inequality hell like we did. They had their priorities right. And it’s hard to imagine that Millennials won’t eventually do something about getting those priorities right again, once they get off their aging asses and vote. Continue reading