Tonight’s main theme is about homelessness.
Did you ever play musical chairs? I never did but it appears that in a party context, the guests walk in a circle around a set of chairs while music plays. When the music stops, each of the players sits in a chair. The game aspect comes in when it is realized that there are more players than chairs, typically, one less chair than players. So someone has no place to sit. That person is a loser. That person feels embarrassed. That person has failed.
Now when the game is played fairly, each losing person has lost due to bad luck. Out of all the players in that round, that person had the misfortune to be furthest from any chair and thus lost. It was not bad character or inadequate preparation or some moral failure. In fact it might even be the result of a gentleman allowing a lady to sit even though he was closer to the chair than she was when the music stopped.
But the game need not be played fairly. The person controlling the music can give some players advantages over others by choosing the moment to stop the music. Players can also use their strength to push someone else out of the way and the game can degenerate into a “no holds barred” struggle for possession of a chair. Chairs can even be broken in the altercation, so that the number of “losers” is greater than it needed to be.
By this time in my description the similarities to a physical object money or “POM” economy must be rather obvious to you, gentle reader. Depending upon the point of view you have taken while reading you will have identified with the many (all but one) losers of the game or with the lucky or unscrupulous winner who sits while all others must stand. If you took the point of view of the winner I ask you to consider how many players now think of you with animosity, perhaps anger, perhaps contempt. I ask you to consider whether they felt like your friends during the course of the play. I also ask you to search your mind and discover whether winning by luck made you feel superior or, if you used some unfair means to win in this hypothetical game, did that made you feel superior or ashamed or guilty or angry at the other players because you know you cheated and they know as well?
If you took the point of view of the many losers, did that make you feel inferior, foolish, angry, resentful, or depressed? How did you feel about that winner? How did you feel about the person who got the chair you tried for but failed to get? Were those feelings positive?
These feelings by the “winners” and “losers” mirror the feelings in miniature that one experiences in life in a POM economy. Of course in a POM economy, the chairs of the game correspond to shelter, a place to sleep for the night, a home. I hope you have only your imagination rather than memories of having been homeless to tell you how being homeless feels. Perhaps you have tried to find a motel with a vacancy without success at some time when traveling. Perhaps you have had to evacuate ahead of a storm and depended on luck to find a place to stay. You were not homeless in these cases, of course, but living through something like that will, perhaps, give you an idea of the emotions experienced by someone who literally has no roof over their head some nights – and not by choice. I have had to spend the night in the car on a few occasions as a child. It was no big deal to me because I could sleep on the back seat and I was with my parents who would take care of me. We were only traveling on vacation. It wasn’t as if we were penniless. From the other perspective, that of the “winners,” perhaps you have resented seeing homeless people on the streets especially if they were begging. You certainly didn’t want them around your children. You knew that they were not good people because of how they dressed and, if you got close enough, how they smelled and how dirty their skin looked. You just knew that they were in such desperate straits due to some moral failing. It had to be their fault. They must be drug addicts or mentally ill or criminals or something to let themselves be so poor. You certainly don’t want them in your neighborhood.
So whether you are homeless or merely see some homeless people from time to time, the homeless are a problem for the society as a whole and the economy. Let’s examine some statistics concerning the homeless in the U. S. I take these figures from “The 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress.” You can find this document easily on the internet.
In January 2013 there were over 600,000 people classified as homeless on a given night. The report gives an exact number but we can be quite confident that the number is wrong. Homeless people are very hard to count. Where do they live? Where do you look to find them? They often hide from the authorities since local communities don’t want them around… and the police, as we have seen in a number of cases on the news recently, can be rather rough with people who are not wanted in the community. So whatever the official numbers are, we know they are an undercount. Those reports missed quite a few people. But for now, we’ll consider the numbers to be accurate.
Of that 600,000 homeless about a quarter (23%) were children under the age of 18. About a third of the homeless were in family groups of at least one adult and at least one child. Of course, over half these people were children. Tragically, over 5000 of the homeless were unaccompanied children under the age of 18. Sort of makes one think of Oliver Twist in the Dickens novel of the same name. Many of the homeless are veterans, over 50,000 of them. The report indicates that homelessness in most categories has decreased between 2009 and 2013 as one would expect given economic conditions in real estate in 2009.
I believe that a famous Russian dictator (Joseph Stalin) is quoted as saying that one person dying is a tragedy but a million people dying is a statistic. When I quote those large numbers of people suffering from homelessness there’s little emotion to be felt. That’s just numbers. You have no names and faces and life histories to make you care about those thousands of human beings. That’s very human of you. That’s how people are. That’s not a consequence of the physical object nature of our money. You should feel no guilt about that lack of feeling. But those large numbers should be considered by your rational and less emotional mind.
If people can be reduced to homelessness in your economy then it can happen to you. Yes, I know that’s hard to believe. Your subconscious rebels at the idea that you would ever be reduced to such a miserable condition. But your rational mind will tell you that bad luck can come to anyone, even you. Think of the many people who bought houses in the last decade, confident that they could somehow make those house payments, and that the value of their house would keep going up. When that didn’t happen there were lots of foreclosures and evictions. The economic hard times increased the incidence of homelessness and yes, it could happen to any of us whether we care to admit it or not.
There is another kind of homelessness that can also happen to anyone. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes can destroy homes over large geographic areas. Your home could be destroyed by fire, flood, or termites. It might be made uninhabitable by mold, radon gas, or stench. So you can lose your housing even if you are well off financially. If your home is but one of thousands in the area to be destroyed then you may, indeed, be homeless while nonetheless possessing adequate funds. But such homelessness is usually quite temporary.
Even if you are lucky enough to have plenty of money, you can be rendered at least temporarily homeless for a few days. Therefore even a selfish person should be concerned about the ability of the economy to respond to homelessness – in that such a person may also be homeless one day.
Of course, in a physical object money economy one must always have at least a small fear of being homeless. Anyone can be made poor if only through simple bad luck in a POM economy. A few people who were accustomed to being rich and powerful have chosen suicide rather than face being poor and homeless, so we know that even the wealthy are terrified of such a turn of events.
Virtually every POM economy has at least some homelessness among its populace as revealed by statistics from around the world. This is true even in the most highly-developed economies, and in nations which have constitutions that require their governments to provide housing to everyone no matter how poor a person may be. Therefore neither capitalism nor socialism or any other form of government has successfully eliminated homelessness – even excluding natural disaster homelessness. POM economies always have poverty and always have homelessness as a component of that poverty.
It is common and popular to blame the homeless people for their situation. Why should we blame a homeless person for being in a situation which almost no one desires? That’s like blaming a starving person for not eating. Of course, we do that as well, don’t we? I suggest that the reason we blame the homeless and the starving as well is because we don’t want to give up any of our money to see that they are housed and fed. That’s an aspect of the nature of POM which exists in every society that uses POM. Picture a truly Christian nation which was founded on Christian principles and in which every person acted as the New Testament would have them act. If such a nation had enough housing to house everyone then everyone would have housing available to them. Of course they could choose to “camp out” if they liked rather than sleep indoors but the Christians of that nation would gladly open their doors to anyone in need of shelter. The industrialized nations of the world, particularly the more wealthy nations of the West, have more housing than their population uses. When one counts the bedrooms of the U.S., for example, one finds that there are more than enough bedrooms to go around. Over one percent of the homes owned by individuals are vacant, about five percent of the rental properties are unoccupied and at least 20 percent of the hotel rooms are vacant. So we know that homeless people do not lack housing because there is not enough housing to go around, they lack housing because those who control that housing would rather see it stand empty than to let it be occupied by those homeless people.
At this point you’re probably objecting to the suggestion that you allow a homeless person or persons to use your guest room or your rental property. You don’t want people like that in your home and you certainly are not a non-profit, charity real estate owner. You didn’t buy that rental property to just give it away. You can also point to the damage such people would no doubt do to your gift of housing. They would get everything dirty and would not clean up after themselves making the place smell. It would cost you a lot of money to repair the damage when they left. Besides, what if after they moved in you found a renter who was both willing and able to pay the full rent? You would lose that potential income. Nobody has a right to demand that you give away your property, nor does anyone have a right to force you to allow other people to damage your property.
Let’s digress for a moment. Do you enjoy being dirty? Do you like having dirty hair or wearing the same underwear for a couple of weeks between washings? Do you like to have black grime in the skin of your hands or under your fingernails? Do you like to smell rotten? You can see where I’m going here, I’ll bet. If you don’t like to live dirty, why would you believe that the homeless enjoy that condition? I suggest to you that the homeless don’t enjoy being dirty and smelling bad. I suggest that it would please them to get cleaned up and to have their breath smell of mint toothpaste rather than of rotting food. I suggest that most are not poor and homeless by choice.
Now my experience with the homeless is secondhand: I have never been homeless myself. But my father graduated from high school in June of 1929. He got training as a bookkeeper and accountant, working for about nine months before he joined the ranks of the unemployed courtesy of the Great Depression. He was homeless from time to time, and he hated being homeless. He was politically a conservative Republican and remained so all his adult life. In the late 1940s he supported Taft for President, and in the 1950s he was a supporter of the John Birch Society. Today he would probably be considered to be a Tea Party follower or libertarian because he strongly opposed income tax. So my understanding of what being homeless is like and how the homeless feel about it is colored by his descriptions of “life on the road” as a young man. I can’t remember that he ever mentioned anyone he met living that life who enjoyed it. Historically, as soon as jobs were available – even jobs in the Army as a rifleman when the war started – those unemployed homeless men and women applied for and worked at those jobs and obtained homes as soon as they could.
I suggest that given a chance to live a middle-class life, the vast majority of the current homeless would leap at that chance. It isn’t just bad character than makes a person poor: One has to work very hard just to survive when one is poor. Everything requires a great effort when one has no phone, address, job, or credit cards as well as no references, computer or other labor-saving devices, or transportation, not to mention no place to bathe, and no cash. If you were in that situation, do you think you could apply for and get your present job? Would your current boss have hired you if that was your situation? If you had no address, phone number, car, or suit, would you be qualified to even apply for a job? How would you get a job while lacking those resources? How would the company even reach you in order to hire you if you had no home? Some homeless people are lucky enough to have a friend or family member to use for contact – but many, if not most, don’t even have that.
We have homeless people in our POM economies because POM gives us the sense that we are acting in a zero-sum game situation. We have the impression that to give the homeless a place to live will cost us money in taxes, lost rent, or repairs. The homeless become our enemies and we don’t like to think about them because those enemies scare us. Would you want your daughter to date a homeless boy? But those feelings, those impressions, these fears are lies told by the nature of POM. Human beings are mutually interdependent. We all depend on each other and need the help of other people to live… and even more so to live well. That’s a simple and obvious fact apparent to – though not acknowledged by – everyone. It is only our POM that makes us believe we are better off with some of us being homeless. I have heard news reports that those communities which have given the homeless free places to live have actually saved considerable money. Homeless people are expensive to uncaring and unfeeling communities. If given homes, many of those currently homeless can become productive contributors to their communities by working and even by paying taxes like everyone else.
If homelessness is a function of POM and natural disaster, how does non-POM propose to virtually eliminate homelessness? What sort of draconian, totalitarian, oppressive, government-intensive plan does non-POM have which will force property owners to share that property with homeless bums? Well, I must say that in the history of humanity, none of the draconian, totalitarian, oppressive governments have ever eliminated homelessness. I can’t imagine why you would believe that such a system could possibly work. So what about the reverse? What about a system which does not require that anyone give shelter to anyone else? That we have tried but only in a POM economy context. That didn’t work either. But non-POM uses rewards to produce results rather than punishments to force compliance. Non-POM has no need to require anything because it rewards good actions. Providing shelter for the otherwise homeless is certainly a good action. Non-POM rewards the production of benefits. Shelter is certainly a benefit: So people in a non-POM economy get paid for helping to provide shelter to any other person. If you want money, if you want to live well, if you are greedy, then you are motivated to provide shelter for the homeless in a non-POM economy.
So let’s say you have a second house in a non-POM economy. If you just let it sit it will deteriorate, require maintenance, and decline in value. If you have someone living in it, you will be earning money. You will not have to pay any taxes on that income. You will have no property taxes to pay at all. You will be able to evict the persons living in your house at any time for any reason or no reason at all. If you choose to not provide maintenance and repairs to the house others will be paid for providing those repairs if you allow them to do so. In other words, you don’t have to pay for repairs that are needed. You don’t have to pay for utilities. You don’t have to pay for furnishings. All the non-POM you earn by allowing people to live in that house you own corresponds to tax free profit in a POM economy. You don’t have to worry about inflation or deflation. In other words, your downside risk in allowing people to live in that house is minimal and your upside potential is strong. It would be exceedingly difficult to avoid earning non-POM in this situation unlike your situation in a POM economy in which a landlord can easily lose money on a rental property.
Of course, in a non-POM economy you never can be required to allow anyone to live in that spare house of yours. That’s your property and you have full and complete property rights over that house and full responsibility for that property. With POM you are taxed, regulated, and have to meet all sorts of building codes and renting regulations. It’s hard to evict anyone and you have all that capital at risk. With POM, you may even need professional tax help to file your taxes because you own that property. With non-POM there are no regulations and no taxes of any kind at any level of government. You don’t have any building codes nor other such restrictions or requirements.
So with non-POM it’s a much more landlord- or property owner-friendly context for deciding whether to allow someone to live in your property. There are all sorts of reasons to help the homeless and almost no reasons to ignore their plight. The result is almost nobody is homeless unless they choose that condition and refuse to accept the many offers of places to live. You will almost never see a person who is dirty because they have no means of getting clean. There will be no panhandlers on street corners begging for your spare change. (With non-POM you have no change anyway. Coins are physical objects used as money.) Providing basic shelter is one of the ways that non-POM eliminates poverty.
You might have inferred from the previous section that the productivity of a person is greatly reduced by being homeless. So the non-POM economy, by providing homes for everyone, increases the productivity of the economy. This makes everyone richer than they would have otherwise been. Non-POM makes that mutual interdependence obvious. The enormous waste of human capital that poverty generates does not happen with non-POM.
What about those natural disasters such as volcanoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes which destroy thousands or even millions of homes? Those will still exist with a non-POM economy. No economy can prevent such things until humanity greatly increases its understanding and control of nature. But a non-POM economy will be far better prepared for such events. How will they do that and why?
Well, there’s money to be made by minimizing the harm from disasters in a non-POM economy. Let’s say that the hurricane Katrina had happened to a non-POM economy. What would have been different? First off, the unpreparedness of the infrastructure of New Orleans in the face of a hurricane was well-known. It’s just that none of the government agencies were willing to spend the physical object money on improving that infrastructure in the years before the storm. With non-POM those who had the capital goods and the people who work using those capital goods would have been able to consider the odds on a hurricane during the next several years and the payoff they could reasonably expect if a hurricane did strike. Since New Orleans is a major port for the U.S. and since so many people live at such a low elevation, many below sea level, the potential harm to people and their property from a storm of the type common in the Gulf was and still is enormous. So the payoff in contributing to improving the storm-resistant qualities of the New Orleans area would be correspondingly high. Therefore, levees, roadways, and other parts of the infrastructure would have been in far better condition than we had in our POM economy setting.
Next, there’s the preparation for storm conditions. The storage of materials needed for emergency shelter like cots, blankets, clean water, food, electric power generators, medical facilities, and so forth would be almost automatic. These materials can be centrally-located in many places around the nation, since all parts of the country are subject to bad weather and other disruptions which make such equipment useful. The coordination of the movement of such materials to areas in which they are needed would be easily done because any contribution of goods or services would earn non-POM for the benefits derived from their use. Plans created ahead of time for disasters earn money for the planners. Many such procedures can be used in a variety of circumstances, even ordinary daily life. Such strategies need not be specific to a hurricane in New Orleans. They can apply to transportation problems anywhere, and to mass need for housing anywhere. Much of the preparation that should have been in place for New Orleans would have worked just as well for the hurricane (Sandy) that struck New York. You’d be surprised to discover what prodigious feats can be achieved when money is no object, when prices don’t have to be set, and when anyone who helps will be paid based on the benefits that result. Remember how the American economy produced huge amounts of supplies for WWII, almost twice as much as Congressional and industry leaders thought possible? And that was with a considerable amount of waste and inefficiency. With non-POM the response to a need is immediate. No one has to wait for some government official to make a decision. No one has to limit their response due to lack of funding. The evacuation of residents from the path of a storm would have been far more quick and easy because virtually everyone with a car, truck, or van would have used their vehicles to speed the evacuation. The evacuated residents would have had places to stay in private homes, hotels, college dormitories, military bases, and so forth. Trucks of food and other supplies would have been brought before the emergency to the areas where the evacuated would be located before the storm hit. Even pets would have been cared for. During the storm itself, and its immediate aftermath there would have been no looting because there would be no profit in looting. There would be no way to sell the loot. Possession of stolen property would be merely evidence of one’s guilt. So property left behind which was not destroyed by the storm would almost all be still there when people returned.
With non-POM there is no insurance of any kind. Thus, there is no delay in cleaning up and rebuilding after the storm passes. No one has to wait for money to be granted by an insurance company or by a government agency or even by a corporation. If you just go do the job you get paid for the net benefits with non-POM. There’s no reason to wait and every reason to get started right away. Since the pay continues for as long as the repairs and rebuilding continue to provide benefits, the work is done to last a long time and be of high quality. If a house or neighborhood is particularly vulnerable to flooding – as are some of the neighborhoods in low lying New Orleans – repairs would be unlikely, given the short “life expectancy” of the benefits from such repairs. In other words, whole neighborhoods might be improved in infrastructure or setting before any homes are rebuilt. There’s no point in building a house somewhere if it will just be destroyed again soon. Of course this applies to all beachfront property especially in places prone to storms such as the North Carolina outer banks, which are just sand dunes being pushed around by the ocean. So the more rational locations for houses will be used and the high-risk areas will either be changed or allowed to return to being wetlands. Given the almost certain rise in sea level and increase in the severity of hurricanes, a non-POM economy would tend to leave vulnerable coastlines undeveloped.
In any event, the recovery period with a non-POM economy would be brief, and it would be used to actually improve conditions over what they were before. There would, of course, be some houses which are not replaced for one reason or another. There is no compensation for such a loss with non-POM. No one benefits from such a loss so no one is rewarded for such a loss. The property owner loses no money but also gains none. Basic housing will be available, of course, to that property owner at no charge. If the property owner wishes to have a luxury home in such a location that owner might try to interest some builders and owners of capital goods in constructing such a house on the lot that is subject to flooding. Most builders will prefer a structure which has a greater life expectancy. But it’s up to them whether they build there or not, since there is no law or regulation which has either any authority to prevent their building nor to require their building. But there’s also no motive to build something stupid which will only last a short time just because some person with lots of money wants it done.
The non-POM economy tends to be rational, because the free market is rational – and free markets are the foundation of non-POM. The insanities of POM economies simply don’t exist with non-POM. Thus, dealing with disaster is more rational with non-POM. The suffering is greatly reduced, and far less suffering and damage is likely to happen because of that more rational approach. Non-POM is also far more productive, so it has more resources per person than POM economies… which allows more to be done.
The worst of disasters such as super volcanoes and asteroid strikes can only be avoided by leaving earth behind. Non-POM will also make that possible for humanity much sooner than POM. If we don’t leave, earth will kill us eventually. For more on THAT subject, you might consider my essay on space.