One of the more bizarre and pathetic aspects of capitalism is the self-congratulatory coverage of free meals given to the homeless and poor on holidays like Christmas, presented as though people don’t need to eat, or live inside, 365 days out of the year. Meanwhile, millions of homes are abandoned, wasted vacation homes or warehoused as investments.
Where I live there are many vacation homes that are empty but for a few weeks a year. Homeless people break in and squat, but they don’t turn on water or electricity. They leave the commodes full of waste and dirty blankets and trash all over. What a terrible choice to have to make if you don’t want to go to a shelter.. You can live outdoors and be promptly arrested for vagrancy or force entry and squat until you’re arrested for B&E after a week or so.
We need a new term. This isn’t capitalism. In capitalism, you minimize costs to maximize profits. Talk to anyone involved in homelessness/mental health.
The cost to the system for handling one homeless person (the selfharming to get put in for overnight at a hospital via the ER; the arrests for vagrancy, loitering, etc.; the social cost of people camping out on sidewalks, as happens in heartless Nancy Pelosi’s district, the panhandling on subways, the disruption to public places like libraries when someone who hasn’t had a shower in three weeks sits in the main reading room all day long) is $X/year + k (the social cost).
The cost for handing that person the keys to an efficiency one-bedroom apartment and providing competent psychiatric care (with meds), a stipend to live on and a caretaker to help reintegrate the person into society is $Y/yr + j (the reduction in social cost).
$Y turns out to be less than $X, and j, in absolute terms, is higher than k, in absolute terms.
George Carlin used to say that if people could figure out how to make a buck off cleaning up homelessness, you’d see the streets clean out overnight. It’s been known for a long time that cleaning up homelessness makes a profit in traditional capitalism terms for the government. Just like Sanders healthcare plan, yes, you pay a little more in taxes but you end up paying a lot less on other things, so you do come out ahead in the end.
I haven’t seen the term capitalism used to refer to the state wanting to cut costs and increase profits for itself before (that calls to mind mercantilism or socialism, really). It seems to me that this would be common sense for a state that regards itself as an economic subject, but the “ideal” capitalist state, the night-watchman state, does not do this at all. I would say this is perfectly compatible with capitalism. Private entrepreneurs and enterprises are interested in what benefits them, not in what benefits the state (obviously). But they’re also neither rational nor omniscient, so even if dealing with homelessness was objectively beneficial to them in the long run, that’s not a guarantee that they would do it. They might simply not see it.
I beg to differ: this is the essence of capitalism.
As you say “In capitalism, you minimize costs to maximize profits” but you forgot a critical part …
“all ‘external’ costs of your profit seeking efforts are pushed onto others.”
This utterly pernicious aspect of capitalism is considered normal and is continuously justified (when not simply studiously ignored) by an elite cadre of “trained economists” (hired by whom?) and is subsidized by the taxing power (ie. tax payers) of all levels of government.
Can’t but agree, falco – one of the vital motors of capitalism is the externalisation of costs, which is one of the reasons we are now facing a climatic crisis of unprecedented severity in human history, and which may well lead to the extinction of our species. How about that for an «externality» ?…
Yes, but I’m talking about the government. An individual or a business can externalize a cost but the government can’t.
When the homeless “buy” their way into a hospital bed for a night, they have externalized the costs (they have no way to pay for admission to ER, gauze, sutures, sterile equipment, hospital gowns, admin costs, etc., etc., etc.) onto the taxpayers. The taxpayers cannot externalize the rise in hospital prices (and rise in wait times at the ER).
«Yes, but I’m talking about the government. An individual or a business can externalize a cost but the government can’t.» But that is precisely the point that – if he will allow me to speak for him, falco – and I were making. Capitalism is a system that benefits the owners of capital, who externalise costs onto others, e g, the body politic or the government, etc, etc….
Sometimes I miss the forest for the trees. Thanks for the clarification Henri. (Of course, if Ronald Reagan were still president, all the forests would have been cut down to stop pollution …)
Re: “The taxpayers cannot externalize …”
As Henri says, this is precisely the point – the taxpayer PAYS the “externalities” of the capitalist search for profit. This is “mediated” for the capitalist by the taxing-power of government.
And don’t forget the “front-loaded” government “assistance” to the terminally avaricious:
deregulation, obscene tax-breaks, patents, contracts, technology transfers from government funded research, essentially free use of media broadcast bands and other public property, cash subsidies, etc., etc., etc.
The only redeeming value of the climate crisis will be watching the capitalists cook/freeze/blow- away/drown in their own “externalities” that they forbade the government from addressing since they thought (correctly, for once) that it would harm their precious profits.