Home > Uncategorized > Richard Reeves Exposes Reality Progressives Need to Face: The Top 20% Are Resistant to Change

Richard Reeves Exposes Reality Progressives Need to Face: The Top 20% Are Resistant to Change

Stop Pretending You’re Not Rich“, Richard Reeves op ed column in yesterday’s NYTimes, exposes a dirty secret about America: because our system is rigged in favor of the top 20% our “class system” is more rigid than any developed country… and— here’s the bad part— because the top 20% are in denial about their well-being nothing is going to change. His column offers several examples of how the system is rigged in favor of the upper middle class, but the most compelling one is housing. Reeves writes:

Exclusionary zoning practices allow the upper middle class to live in enclaves. Gated communities, in effect, even if the gates are not visible. Since schools typically draw from their surrounding area, the physical separation of upper-middle-class neighborhoods is replicated in the classroom. Good schools make the area more desirable, further inflating the value of our houses. The federal tax system gives us a handout, through the mortgage-interest deduction, to help us purchase these pricey homes. For the upper middle classes, regardless of their professed political preferences, zoning, wealth, tax deductions and educational opportunity reinforce one another in a virtuous cycle.

It takes a brave politician to question the privileges enjoyed by the upper middle class. Recently, there have been failed attempts to make zoning laws more inclusive in supposedly liberal cities like Seattle and states like California and Massachusetts. The handout on mortgage interest appears to be an indestructible deduction (unlike in Britain, where the equivalent tax break was phased out under both Conservative and Labour governments by 2000).

And another solution to the housing disparity, the construction of “affordable housing” has also been stymied by those who live in communities surrounded by invisible gates. As Livia Gershon wrote in a recent JStor Daily article:

In much of the country, public housing is disappearing as governments fail to maintain the buildings or actively demolish them. That’s a disaster for many low-income people, who have nowhere else to go. But it’s hard to find much public support for maintaining the housing—let alone building more.

Offering an overview of the history of public housing in NYC from a 1995 journal article by Peter Marcuse, Ms. Gershon notes that public housing began as a jobs program in the Depression, evolved into subsidized housing for white returning veterans, before it changed into a means of housing those who lived in slums in the 1950s. At that point, Marcuse concluded, “For the first time, public housing began to be seen as an ‘underclass’ program.” Ms. Gershon took that a step further in her concluding paragraphs:

In the decades that followed, production of public housing in New York City and across the country, eventually ground to a halt. Tarred as a benefit for poor black and brown people, the buildings lost support and went underfunded and poorly maintained. In a vicious cycle, that encouraged the public to dismiss public housing as a program that wasn’t worth saving.

When Ms. Gershon’s analysis of affordable housing is combined with Reeves’ article on the advantages our government offers to affluent homeowners, the conclusion about our country’s policies regarding housing are even more shameful. Not only is the system rigged in favor of those who can afford expensive housing, it denies opportunities to “...poor black and brown people” who aspire to having their children attend the well-funded and good public schools available to their upper middle class cohorts. The “…zoning, wealth, tax deductions and educational opportunity (that) reinforce one another in a virtuous cycle” are mirrored by a “…zoning, wealth, tax deductions and educational opportunity (that) reinforce one another in a vicious cycle.” 

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