The right has long held that homelessness is a symptom - of a lack of self-control, a lack of foresight, of addiction, mental illness, etc - and therefore the solution to it is training, incarceration, rehab, or rigid discipline.

None of this stuff worked.


For more than a decade, there's been a more pragmatic approach to homelessness: giving people homes. The housing first movement has repeatedly shown that the best way to make homeless people not homeless is to give. them. a. home.

After all, if you are struggling with addiction, mental illness, etc, or if you eed structure in your life, the chaos of not having a home only makes this a thousand times worse.


(Oh, and giving homeless people homes is MUCH cheaper than treating homelessness as a crime)

In a similar vein, the Foundations for Social Change's New Leaf Project tried simply giving homeless people money (CAD7500). If the right is correct and homelessness is a moral failing, then this should make everything worse ("they'll just blow it on drugs").


So this experiment isn't just a test of the best way to address homelessness; it's also a test of whether the right's frame of homelessness as an individual failing is correct, or whether the left's conception of homelessness as a system problem is right.


The results are definitive: 18 months on, grant recipients found housing a year earlier than the control group; 70% experienced less food insecurity. Money went to food, clothes and rent, with a 39% decline in spending on booze, drugs and cigarettes.


The randomized, controlled study had 115 subjects aged 19-64, all of whom had experienced homelessness for at least six months. On average, they saved CAD1000 of the initial grant over the 12-month study. Participants spent more on their kids and other family members.

The participants' 12-month, $7500 cash grants amounted to less than half of what it costs to billet a person in a homeless shelter over the same period.


This is both amazing and obvious. The best cure for homelessness is a home. The best cure for poverty is money.

It's a very powerful argument for a basic income, too.

But not necessarily for a *universal* basic income.

Here's the problem with UBI: imagine two people, one of whom is in the 10% or 1% or 0.1% and has all their needs met every month; the other person does not.


Give each of them $1000/month. The poor person experiences a huge difference in their life: they go from not having their needs met - that is, not having a home or food or utilities - to having them met. This is transformative.

What about the rich person? Well, they put the money in a 401(k) or other tax-advantaged savings.

Fast forward a decade.


10 years later, the poor person still has their needs met. They have better health outcomes, their kids have better educational outcomes. *Success!*

The rich person, meanwhile, is *a quarter million dollars richer*, thanks to the miracle of compound interest.

We have reduced one of the worst aspects of inequality, but inequality itself remains intact, along with all the toxic, corrosive problems it creates.


The system remains rotten to the core.

Can we get the benefits of UBI while still addressing inequality?

Yes. Basic income remains a no-brainer. The problem is universality. We shouldn't give subsidies to rich people.

But that doesn't mean we should do means-testing.


Means-testing is humiliating and cruel. Universal services promote solidarity. Means-tested services are a form of Apartheid.

Imagine if you had to prove your poverty before you could go to a public library, or let your kid play in a public park or attend a public school.

But public parks, schools and libraries are a subsidy to the wealthy. We could insist they use country clubs, private schools and subscription libraries instead.


It's easy to understand how this ends: wealthy people use their political power to defund the public sphere.

The money they'd lose by having to pay for country clubs and private schools wouldn't reduce their spending power enough to prevent them from accumulating outsized political power.

To do that, we need to tax them.


That's what taxes are for: to reduce the private sector's spending power so that when the government creates new money to fund the programs we need, the new money isn't competing with the money that's already in circulation for the same goods, which creates inflation.


Governments, after all, don't pile up our tax money and then send it out again to pay for programs. When currency-issuing governments tax their citizens, they just annihilate that money. When they pay their citizens to do things like build roads, they create new money.


All the money in circulation is money the government has spent, but hasn't taxed out of existence All the money you and I have to spend is the government's deficit. If governments don't run deficits (if they taxed as much as they spent), there'd be nothing left for us!

Federal taxes don't pay for programs, but they DO something important. They keep rich people from getting too rich - getting so rich that they can distort our political process.


High tax rates on top wages and wealth solve the UBI vs BI conundrum without cruel means-testing. If you're rich, you get the UBI, but you lose it at tax-time; just like you get to use the library for free, but we tax away the money you saved by not going to the bookstore.


All of this also reveals the incompleteness of cash transfers. As powerful as this experiment was, it is even more exciting when combined with Housing First (if you think finding a home in a year is a good outcome, imagine how great getting a home *tomorrow* will be!).


Likewise other progressive, universal programs like a Federal Job Guarantee, which would set a TRUE minimum wage - the wage every person who wants to work is guaranteed, irrespective of whether anyone in the private sector wants their labor.

Without such a guarantee, the true minimum wage is $0 - the price your labor fetches if no one in the private sector has a job for you.


Such universal programs must be complements to social programs like direct transfers, disability benefits, etc, not replacements for them.

When the current crisis is over we're going to face a massive unemployment and homelessness crisis. The private sector won't be able to solve it. The right's version of fixing this is workfare: Build Trump's wall or starve.



We need a powerful progressive alternative: grounded in caring, universality, and repairing the Earth. Direct transfers, housing first, and a jobs guarantee are policies that work:

* Need money? Here's money.

* Need a home? Here's a home.

* Need a job? Here's a job.

If those sound expensive to you, consider the unbearable cost of mass poverty, homlessness and unemployment.




@pluralistic Excellent thread, mostly annoys the heck out of me because you're wrapping up and bowing ideas I've been kicking around for a decade and more, betteer than I've been able to: #homelessness #MMT, #MoralisingPathology, #AssetInflation, #wealth, #poverty, #inequality, #WealthTax, #LVT, #capitalism, #postcapitalism, and more.

I'm going to amplify and extend a bit, you and readers may find this useful.

I'm going to break this out by themes.


@pluralistic #MoralisingPathology is the practice of treating some dysfunction as a moral failing.

It's why the Western US has been on fire:

Bernhard Eduard Fernow, a Prussian forestry official who married an American, came to the United States in 1876, and was soon naturalized. He headed the Bureau of Forestry, which was a small agency in the Department of Agriculture. ... [In Europe] fire was seen as a social problem, a problem of social order and disorder. Fernow looked at the American fire scene and declared that it was all a problem of "bad habits and loose morals." Well, that’s a great phrase. But it was totally inappropriate.

“California Is Built To Burn”"


@pluralistic #MoralisingPathology is practice which failed for infectious disease and physical medicine.

Longer discussion:

In part:

It fails for mental health and psychiatry. I suspect it fails at social levels as well: crime, politics, economics, culture. Not that bad things don’t happen (they do: they’re pathologies). But that treating them as moral failings … fails. Four thousand years of ethical medicine achieved little. Two hundred years of germ theory — and most of that by the very early 20th century — much. Public health measures account for about 85% of all longevity increase since 1850: solid waste disposal, sewage systems, clean water supplies, food purity laws, early vaccinations, and rudimentary safety practices. Antibiotics, imaging, organ transplants, cancer therapies, and other advanced treatments, comparatively little — expensive ineffectuality is the great shame of modern medicine. ...

Infectious disease made its breakthrough on the realisation that some infectious agent is transmitted via a vector to individuals exhibiting susceptibility within a population subject to therapies (there’s a great book coming out in the US this fall, The Rules of Contagion, ( by Adam Kucharski, addressing this). Each italicised term becomes a potential point of control and intervention. We can disrupt disease reservoirs, break chains of transmission, remove vectors, increase resistance (immunisation, nutrition, risk factors), provide supportive or immunological therapies (antibiotics, antivirals). Neither causes nor interventions are morally based.

Similar stories can be made for industrial hygiene, environmental regulation, weather forecasting, earthquakes, floods, climate, personal safety, or online security.

This goes by numerous other names. #BlameTheVictim is probably most common.


@pluralistic There's the questio of why #MoralisingPathology is so prevalent. I suspect a few factors:

History & philosophy. The social sciences laargely evolved from what used to be called "moral philosophy", and tends to have concepts of "good" and "bad" baked in. Even when they're "baked out", as with "positive economics", the end result ain't great.
Religion. There's a long history of divine judgement, Just God, God's will, etc., baked into both popular maralising and language itself.
Psychological simplicity. A worldview of "good and bad", black and white, is epistemically simple. It makes navigating complex realities easier, if not necessaarily more successful.
Economic convenience. If problems are the fault of the afflicted, the obligation of bystanders or others to help is negated.
The Golden Rule. Not "do unto others", but "For he that hath, to him shall be given". Mark 4:25, Mathew 13:12. "Wealth, as Mr Hobbes says, is power", Adam Smith. And power begets power. Both by relieving obligation and by denying necessities, inflating asset values.


@pluralistic An underappreciated dynamic of #capitalism is that most wealth accumulation does not occur through money transfers but by #AssetAppreciation, a form of #EconomicRents.

Jeff Bezos isn't seeing single-day net wealth gains of $13 billion because someone's shovelling dollars into a vault, but because the market price of Amazon, Inc. stock is appreciating:

The bulk of Bezos' personal wealth is tied to his more than 57 million shares of Amazon stock, so the company's stock spike also sent his net worth soaring to the point that he's on the precipice of becoming the first person in the world to officially boast a net worth of more than $200 billion

And stocks aren't the only asset class out there.


@pluralistic Residential real estate alone accounted for $31.8 trillion in US assets in 2017, 1.5 times US GDP.

The value of these assets to banks is in meeting reserve requirements for further lending. At a rate of 3%, in effect in January, 2020, $31 trillion in assets can back $1,033 quadrillion in loans. More assets, more loans.

(FWIW, the US Federal Reserve eliminated reserve requirements on March 26, 2020. Banks need hold nil in reserves.

There are very powerful interests in seeing real estate prices rise.

Oh, and this counts toward GDP via several routes, despite the fact that land value appreciation, as with other asset appreciation, is not actual economic production. It's something simply sitting there with its price rising.

#EconomicRents #AssetAppreciation #capitalism


@pluralistic I've previously mentioned Bernhard J. Stern, a largely-forgotten mid-century sociologist with a famous research assistant.†

Stern's 1937 article "Resistances to the Adoption of Technological Innovations" addresses housing specifically:

When recently the mechanized industries, particularly in metal, entered the housing field with the production of “prefabricated houses”, they were met by the resistance of property holders, especially of the banks, who hold mortgages on about 58 percent of all 1933 value of all urban real estate, and who fear that an influx of cheap modern dwellings would subtract substantially from the market value of existing structures. These banks and loan companies have been unwilling to finance prefabricated houses except in rare exceptions and then on a limited basis. ...

Planned public housing projects such as slum clearance which afford the most efficient methods of utilizing advanced technologies in the building industry, crash against the wall of vested private-property interest. They meet the combined opposition of the owners of obsolete buildings, that nonetheless are still profitable, of landowners who demand prohibitive prices, of holders of mortgages who fear a depreciation of housing values through the increase in available homes. Achievements in building technology lie sterile in the face of the opposition of these interests.

(I've re-typed the paper for easier reading / formatting in Markdown:

Sound familiar?


† Isaac Asimov.

#capitalism #AssetAppreciation #EconomicRents


@pluralistic #Homelessness itself is ... somewhat historically curious.

In its current form, it more or less burst into public consciousness in 1980, in the midst of the Carter-Reagan US presidential election.

I've commented on this at Hacker News:

In particular:

Various mentions of "homeless", "homeless person", and "homelessness" exploded in the 1980s, via Google's Ngram Viewer:
Up through the 1960s, references were frequently to persons "made homeless by" some event: a structure fire, a tornado, a hurricane, etc. It was an acute condition, not a chronic one.
Earlier equivalent terms include "transient' and "unattached".
There were thought to be 50-60k homeless in New York City in 1914:
Present numbers are 63,000 through September 2018, 130,000 different homeless persons sleeping in municipal shelters over 2017:


@pluralistic Among my madder notions is that the modern (1980 onwards) housing crisis might be a consequence of the 1970s oil embargos and end of the Bretton Woods agreement.

As a consequence:

... housing had become part of the international financial system, and grew in that role over the next forty or so years.

What assets do, if those holding them have any say in the matter, is appreciate [as previously discussed]... One classic mechanism for which is to constrain the supply. And there are lots of ways to do that with housing: big lots, big houses, construction and zoning laws, lousy infrastructure (crime, schools, transportation). So that the limited supply that is attractive keeps getting bid up....

At the same time, a bunch of the upward-mobility-escallator stuff starts disappearing. Especially factory jobs, that let high-school (or less!) educated people, and especially males, earn a solid, high-income, and really fucking reliable income. Join the factory at 18, retire at 65, spend your entire career with the same company, union's got your back, solid pension. It's hard work, sure, but it's also got a good reward.

I'm not sold on this myself, though it seems possible.

In connection with Doctorow's MMT mechanisms, it suggests that money is literally attached to both sides of this problem, though.

#Homelessness #BrettonWoods


@pluralistic Doreen Michele, another HN contributor, formerly homeless herself, mentions the reduction (often through regulatory restrictions) of single room occupancy (#SRO) housing as a major factor.



@pluralistic I'm trying to relocate an excellent long-form piece from the late 1960s or early 1970s on homeless in New York City. This may take a bit ...



@pluralistic Possibly:
"Alone and Homeless, ‘Shutouts’ Of Society Sleep in Doorways"

By John Darnton
Oct. 26, 1971

It was 10 minutes to mid night. In 10 more minutes the lights inside the bank would go out. Then the figures in the doorway would be barely discernible amid the shadows. Then would be the time to sleep.

There were three. One sat slumped against a fire hydrant, her face buried in her arms. One sat upright in a darkened corner, surrounded by brown‐paper shopping bags. The third lay fully stretched out, facing the interior of the bank, holding the brim of a battered blue rain hat over her ears.

"Shutout' is another earlier term.


@pluralistic I'm not positive that was the piece (I seem to recall something longer), though it's among the first to use the term "homeless" referring to chronic rather than acute circumstances.

The NYT search I'm running illustrates the contrast. "Homeless" was an action or temprary, not an identifying adjective, and almost always due to some disaster.

How much of this reflects reality vs. reporting, I'm not sure.


10,000 homeless; relief operations begun
4,000 Homeless in Floods: Mekong River floods; 4,000 homeless near Cambodian border
100,000 Reported Homeless: over 100,000 homeless, 19 dead
10,000 Homeless in Flood: Over 10,000 homeless in Acarau River flood, Ceara state
500 Homeless in Thai Fire: 500 homeless in Thonburi blaze started by sparks from TV set
500 Homeless in Rio Fire: Rio de Janeiro slum; 1 killed, 5 hurt, 500 homeless
400 Homeless in Quebec Flood: 400 homeless, Que, after heavy rains swell rivers; 2 dead in traffic accident attributed to flood
6,000 ARE HOMELESS IN MIDWEST FLOODS: Upper Midwest floods; over 6,000 homeless; details
20 Homeless in Queens Fire
21 Homeless in Elizabeth Fire
30 Made Homeless in Newark: new fire destroys 3 homes; origin suspicious
16 Families Homeless in Fire
Fire Leaves 300 Homeless

Digging through 1965--1974 NYT archives mentioning "homeless", this October 1968 rent strike:

WELFAIR CLIENTS PLAN RENT REVOLT; Organizers Say Checks for Housing Will Be Used for Food and Clothing

Very brief, low-quality scan.

@pluralistic my admin @woozle brought up that a significant chunk of this is brought about by enclosure of land:

@eryn @pluralistic ...with the main obstacle to implementation, at this point, being that the Right isn't interested in what works but rather in defending their cliquian beliefs at any cost. "Evidence" is, at best, a thing to be cherry-picked for the pieces they like. "Group cohesion" is their prime goal, not reducing misery.

Figuring out how to get past that mindset is a nontrivial problem, and leads to a much larger and more fraught discussion about the merits of democracy, as an ideal and in practice.

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