This was not the first or the last question during the forum, which attracted perhaps 80 people and was held in the community room of Bliss Towers, a public housing project. But where the other queries focused on local economic minutia, such as the city’s recent property reassessments and the inability of Section 8 vouchers to cover local housing costs, this question dove deep.
Mia, a high school sophomore, (whose last name I’m withholding due to her age), came to the front of the audience and asked exactly this:
“So, here in Hudson, for people with low incomes, and people who don’t make enough money to live here, they have to leave, they can’t live here,” she said “So, do you think that there should be a limit on – like, if you make too much, you can’t live here?”
The question was greeted with warm laughter, then applause, by the low- and middle-income audience – laughter at the youthful audacity of the question, applause at her willingness to go there.
So, let’s go there.
Hudson has undergone exponential gentrification over the last twenty-some years; the average rental price has gone up at least 300 percent since 2000. In the last ten years, the trend has inundated Hudson north of Warren Street, the lower-income part of the city. People have moved. Hudson looks very different now than when Mia must have been in grade school.
As Delgado pointed out after the applause died down, this displacement is the result of a capitalist system – “which I believe in,” he added – so we’ll have to examine that to get at Mia’s question.
Many libertarians and conservatives triumph free-market capitalism because they believe it creates the most wealth for the most people, and that it is proper to pursue economic self-interest because it ultimately benefits everyone.
Economic self-interest is also the natural state of things, so you don’t need to ask people to act any differently than they already want to in order for it to work.
The problem with this opinion is it doesn’t take into consideration a wide enough breadth of human history.
Humans have been around for more than 180,000 years. Capitalism has been around for about 250. There wasn’t even currency before 700 B.C., when the Lydians started minting it. From a 21st-century libertarian’s viewpoint, yes, economic self-interest has been the state of things forever, but it’s actually recent in our species’ history.
My point is this: capitalism is just one system; there have been others. Asking if rich people can be banned from Hudson is insane, but only insane in our current system.
I think Mia had a good question. Our current economic system bans lower-income people from Hudson. What if another system banned the rich?
I see a lot of problems with this. First of all, it sounds like something Pol Pot would do. Secondly, what if a born-and-bred lower-income Hudsonite acquired wealth? Would they be kicked out? Furthermore, wouldn’t this disincentivize economic success, because people didn’t want to be displaced? Isn’t displacement what we’re trying to fight in the first place?
But all these questions, I realize, still assume a capitalist system. What if those that acquired wealth under this new system thought differently than our current zeitgeist, and prioritized community so above personal wealth they wouldn’t think twice about just GIVING all their extra money to other community members, to inflate the city’s general well-being and to be able to keep living there?
This edition of A Day in TOHV doesn’t have any solutions. It only asks questions.
But in an era where capitalism has spurred environmental catastrophe and the only cohort really questioning the system’s logic are also teenagers (e.g. Greta Thunberg), questions should be prioritized. Non-traditional thought should be championed. New ideas are needed.
So, I’m glad Delgado called Mia up to ask her question. I don’t necessarily think it’s a good idea. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important to ask.