Why There Is a Poor Side of Town
November 17, 2008
I lived on the poorer side of town for many years, in a mobile
home manufactured in 1969. By the time I left, there were nice
homes being built nearby. By now I imagine it is illegal to put
a mobile home anywhere near there, and even existing ones that
burn down probably have to be replaced with regular
houses. Thats the usual pattern in a town, and its
another way wealth is redistributed from the poor to the wealthy.
As I have said before, Im not against the rich. I want
people to be free to make as much money as they can. But I am
against people accumulating wealth dishonestly and at the expense
of others. The method Im about to describe does the latter
it helps people build wealth at the expense of the poor.
It cant necessarily be called dishonest, however, because
they really may not know what theyre doing.
As a child I heard more than one adult complain about mobile
homes. Specifically, they hated how ugly they are,
and how they therefore reduced property values. They shouldnt
be allowed here, was the general consensus among owners
of regular homes. Only later, as an adult, did it
occur to me that it may be unfair to use the power of law and
the implied threat of force that comes with it to decide who
can live where and how based solely on the tastes
of other residents.
In addition to bans on mobile homes, many communities implement
minimum square footage requirements for homes. This
has nothing to do with safety, but is about preventing ugly
little houses that dont fit the standards of taste of the
wealthier class. A friend of mine was rendered homeless (yes
actually forced to move out of his small home and off his own
land) by one of these laws.
There are other regulations that beautify a community
as well. For example, many towns have regulations forbidding
non-working cars from being in a persons driveway for more
than two weeks.
In passing such laws and regulations, people dont necessarily
intend to hurt poor residents. They just want to make things
nicer and help themselves raise their property values.
Some may be vaguely aware that removing affordable housing effectively
transfers wealth from the poor to the nice home owners,
but that isnt their intent.
Nonetheless, it is the effect, and it is accomplished not
through honest agreement, but through the use of force (or the
threat), that comes with law. If smaller or otherwise cheaper
homes are not allowed, what happens? Well, the working poor can
simply rent more expensive places or buy more expensive homes,
thus becoming poorer in the process.
They can move to the poor side of town, but of
course that gets further and further away as regulations increase.
Or they move out of town altogether, to live where more affordable
housing is. In either of these last two cases, they then have
long commutes to their jobs, taking money out of their pockets
and so impoverishing them more. The middle class home owners
meanwhile get wealthier with the rising property values that
result once the uglies have been removed.
Even such things as a not allowing a car in the driveway if
it doesnt run, though well intended (we all like nicer
neighborhoods) hurt the poor. People on lower incomes often have
to wait to repair a car. Again, there may be no intent to hurt
the poor, but this effectively enriches the richer residents
and impoverishes the poorer ones.
Im not saying that we cannot have nice neighborhoods,
but how we get them makes all the difference. To my knowledge
developers are free in every state in the nation to make rules
for any new neighborhoods they create. This is why we have wealthy
suburbs surrounding many towns, where houses have to be a certain
size, and fifty other rules protect home values. Everyone knows
the rules when they buy, and this is all done honestly and voluntarily
by all parties involved.
Choosing to use the force of law on existing communities is
another matter entirely. It is based on the assumption that if
enough of us want something we have the right to impose our will
on others. This may not be recognized as a mob mentality, but
it is. Once the mob is relatively wealthy, they impose their
will on the poor by force, rather than honestly paying for what
they want as they do in the case of planned subdivisions.
Remember, were not talking about regulations for safety
or public health. This is about some people forcing their aesthetic
and economic preferences on everyone, without regard for the
cost to the poor. Certainly those with lower incomes can do this
too, by voting for those politicians who then take from the wealthy
to give to the poor. But the truth is that a lot of power comes
with money, so the poor will always have a disadvantage if that
is how the game is played.
Now, I would prefer that there is no such game,
and that we all rely on honest business more than on the force
of law to get what we want. I also think there is a real danger
when we allow those who have more to take advantage of those
who have less. When this happens in what people think is a capitalist
system (it isnt), they will turn to more socialist
economic and political ideas, which in the end do even more harm.
Note: This is part of a series. You can find all of
the pages listed and linked to here:
of Wealth to the Wealthy