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Philadelphia's Poverty Industry

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Paul Glover       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   5 comments

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Poverty is one of Philadelphia's major industries. Tens of thousands of jobs-- public and private-- depend on managing poverty. The poor, 400,000 here, are raw material to control (evaluate, certify, monitor, police), punish (courts, fines, evictions, prison), and exploit (small pay, big rent, predatory mortgages, payday loans).

Therefore, it is essentially against the law to end poverty in Philadelphia. The major owners of the city's land and money forbid profound change that weakens their grip, even though Philadelphia has the nation's highest rates of deep poverty and incarceration; plus 200,000 unemployed, 135,000 uninsured, 250,000 "food insecure" with 60,000 chronically hungry children; even though life expectancy in North Philly is 20 years less than in Queen Village.

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Complete solutions to poverty are everywhere. Hundreds of neighborhood-based initiatives here could empower the poor to take direct control of their lives, gradually replacing welfare with well-being. But Philadelphia does to the poor everything but provide them the tools (land, home ownership, education, jobs, respect) with which to prove they're the equal of everyone else.

For example, Philadelphians could build thousands of low-cost, energy-efficient "tiny houses" and "earthships" on vacant lots, for our seniors, veterans, returning citizens, teachers, farmers, teachers, students, and homeless on land trusts that keep dwellings permanently affordable. Within them, the poor could become creative owners of green neighborhoods. But building and zoning codes resist such construction.
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(Image by Rob Kall)   Details   DMCA

By contrast, City Council could change current laws to prioritize economic justice. This benefits everyone. Philly's middle class will stabilize by joining forces with the traditionally poor, to rebuild society toward balance with nature. This would employ the next ten generations of construction workers, engineers, and the rest of us.

Rather than merely servicing and controlling suffering people, we gradually transfer economic power and land to them, and ourselves, through mutual aid systems. By embracing this new idea of success the middle class can, in fact, become something better-- the Mutual Class. They can reduce their own costs of living, and costs of government, by investing in poor neighborhoods directly.

While there may always be need for government safety nets, taxpayers would increasingly escape the taxes that currently subsidize housing, heating and electric, Medicaid and Food Stamps. And there will be more taxpayers to share the load.

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At the same time, the rich and powerful would be freed to use their authority is to serve humanity, not gluttony. Employers would invest in workers as assets (even as friends) rather than as costs. This process requires neither bloodthirsty capitalism nor bleeding-heart socialism. Call it Mutual Enterprise-- the collaboration of mutual aid groups and businesses dedicated to community.

To summarize, it is an unusual revolution which benefits liberals and conservatives, which lowers taxes and living costs, expands enterprise, reduces crime, cleans the environment, and ends poverty. Philadelphia will get ahead by getting together.

* * *

Glover is founder of 18 mutual aid campaigns, author of six books on grassroots economics including Green Jobs Philly, former adjunct professor of urban studies at Temple University.


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Paul Glover teaches Metropolitan Ecology at Temple University. He is founder of Ithaca HOURS local currency, Philadelphia Orchard Project, Ithaca Health Alliance, Green Jobs Philly, Citizen Planners of Los Angeles, and many other groups. He is (more...)

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