Iowa City Gentrification

Being a longtime resident of a place allows one perspective on change. But it can make one feel like an old curmudgeon reminiscing about the way things used to be.

Fortunately, I’m not a curmudgeon by nature, for the most part. I don’t mind the basic changes of life. In my mind’s eye, I see a field where my parents neighborhood now stands, I see a parking ramp where an empty lot once was, and I see even larger new buildings in place of smaller older buildings. Some changes seem less desirable, but others seem quite lovely. I’m generally for progress on principle. Certainly, I appreciate the new park built on the south side of Iowa City and the wondrous multi-use trails that have made non-vehicular travel easier and more pleasant.

Curmudgeon, I am not. I have my memories. Heck, with my study of local history, I even have ‘memories’ of what existed before I was born. I can see in my minds eye the fountain that existed before my time at the intersection of Iowa Avenue and Dubuque Street. All the past blends together, although I have a harder time envisioning in my head the Sauk villages that were along the Iowa River at the southern edge of town. The weight of the past isn’t a negative. The past passes, but it leaves its residue and shapes the present.

However, to be curmudgeonly for a moment, let me voice my complaints about what is becoming of this place of which I’m so fond. Well, not necessarily complaints, more just wonderings about what it means and where it is all headed.

When I was a kid in Iowa City during the 1980s, I experienced a downtown that had earlier been renovated to the extreme. The town has gone through very distinct phases. It began as a frontier settlement and I suppose a trading town with the Native American trail that passed by though what is now Hickory Hill Park. Then it became the first state capital of Iowa, but it turned out the river wasn’t navigable by steamboats. Eventually, it became a college town which it still is. At some point, tough times must have hit the economy because the downtown turned into a stark area with many empty lots and the respectable citizens were wary of venturing there. Then back in the 1970s, a ton of government money was dumped into a project to make the downtown attractive again. It was successful and we now have a great pedestrian mall which is a popular destination.

That set in motion changes that weren’t predictable. The downtown was maybe less respectable at an earlier time, but it was also a more affordable place. Almost anyone could open a store and sell whatever they wanted. Stores came and go, but the entrepreneurial spirit kept the place an active downtown. Maybe there weren’t as many stores for the upper classes, but that meant there were more stores directed to us common folk.

I see the downtown becoming gentrified with high rises popping up here and there and the downtown I knew slowly disappearing. I used to be able to do my entire Christmas shopping downtown and it was affordable. Now, my upper class parents don’t even shop downtown because it has become too expensive. If the downtown isn’t affordable for the upper middle class, then that is a sign that gentrification is in full gear.

Maybe all that gentrification began with that earlier downtown renovation or at least the seeds for it were planted. But I’m not sure this gentrification was inevitable. I suspect it was created because that is what some of those in power want. The question I ask is: Why do they want this?

All I can think of is that, along with being a major university town, this is also a major medical and research center because of the university. Iowa City has the second highest number of doctors per capita in the United States. On top of that, the University of Iowa has been attracting an increasing number of foreign students and I suspect a disproportionate number of them are wealthier than the native-born students. So, we have our share of wealthy people, many originally from places like Chicago or the big cities on the coasts or else from big cities in entirely other countries. The point being is that these people aren’t Iowa farmers and factory workers nor their children. They aren’t the local working class and they aren’t poor college students, especially not living in those expensive downtown high rises. It seems to me that downtown Iowa City is being designed to be attractive to these outsiders and not being designed to serve the interests and purposes of the average local.

I understand the desire to make one’s town attractive, especially attractive to those with lots of money. But this prostituting of one’s town is a sad fate. Like all class warfare, it is rarely the lower classes who win. Everyone but the wealthy will be driven out of the downtown and the heart of the community will begin to die. The repurcussions won’t be obvious right away, but give it some decades and the town will become even less recognizable. Maybe I’ll be converted to old curmudgeon before long.

Libertarians: Rich White Males of the Republican Party

“You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.”

~ Ludwig von Mises writing to Ayn Rand

In the above videos (I think he mentions it in the first one), brainpolice2 mentioned the data of libertarians being mostly white males from the upper middle class. The point being they’re supposedly out of touch with the average person and particularly out of touch with demographics that have in the past lacked political power and representation (minorities, immigrants, women, etc).

I thought I’d seen this data before, but I decided I should verify it. I found some data from the Cato Institute (which certaintly represents wealthy libertarians). Indeed, libertarians are 82% white (80% for all demographics) and 7% black (12% for all demographics). So, that isn’t all that extremely off the average and in fact is the same as what Cato labels as liberal (both groups being below the 83% white and 10% black of conservatives). This is a bit confusing as I’d have to look at their definitions more closely, but one comparison stood out. Cato’s diagram of ideologies puts populism opposite of libertarianism and populism has the highest percentage of minorities at 15% black (and 80% white). The Democratic party tends to draw both liberals and populists which is why there is higher representation of minorities among Democrats.

I suspect, however, that with the Tea Party there has been an increase of populism among whites which oddly has combined forces (at least in part) with the opposing ideology of libertarianism. I think this is because conservatism stands between the two and conservative nationalism bleeds over into libertarianism and populism. Anyway, at least in 2006 when this data was taken, white libertarians were the demographic most opposed to black populism (opposed both in terms of ideology and minority representation).

Some other demographic details:

Libertarians – second most well educated (after liberals), second most secular and least church attending (after liberals), highest percentage of males of any demographic, youngest demographic (youthful idealism?), wealthiest demographic (idealism supported by a comfortable lifestyle?), below average percentage in all regions except for the west where they have the highest representation of all demographics (I’m not sure why that is), mostly identified as Republican.

And let me compare to their opposite ideology:

Populists – least well educated, one of the most religiously identified and church attending (only slightly below conservatives), majority female, oldest demographic, poorest demogrpahic, most southern demographic, Cato doesn’t have the political identification data for this demographic (going by Pew data in “Beyond Red vs Blue”, I’d assume that this demographic would mostly Democrat).

According to Cato definitions, libertarians are socially liberal and fiscally conservative and populists are socially conservative and fiscally liberal. Since I brought up the Pew data, my guess is that these two ideologies would correlate to the Pew Demographics in the following way. Libertarians seem to be a perfect fit for what Pew labels as Enterprisers (which are basically the rich, white, males who vote almost entirely Republican and are the most loyal viewers of Fox News). Populists are probably mostly what Pew labels as Conservative Democrats and Disadvantaged Democrats (which have higher percentages of minorities, females, and the poor), although populists might also be found among the demographic Pew labels as Pro-Government Conservatives (the poor, female minorities who are almost evenly split between Republican and Indpendent).

In conclusion, it would seem that libertarians in the US are simply the rich, white, male demographic of the conservative movement who mostly identify as Republican. If I’m reading the data correctly (from the two above sources), libertarians seem less prone towards identifying as Independent than many other demographics (such as liberals or else conservatives who are some combination of poor, minority and female). Rupert Murdoch, the self-identified libertarian and former board member of the libertarian Cato Institute, is the Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, the owner of Fox News Channel. Murdoch seems the perfect representative of this libertarian demographic and he seems to have intentionally conflated libertarianism with the Republican party.

Ron Paul is another libertarian who fits the description of rich, white, male Republican. He might be a bit different than Murdoch in emphasizing civil libertarianism slightly more, but I doubt they’d disagree on much. Ron Paul did show his true libertarian colors recently.

Compared to many conservatives, I like how Ron Paul comes off as well-intentioned in his values. I get the sense that he is the complete opposite of the cynical neo-conservative who will use anything, including libertarian rhetoric, to win votes. In the comment section of the above video, there was a mocking portrayal of libertarianism which was on target. Despite good intentions, even someone like Ron Paul often comes off as a bit detached from the average American’s experience.

clownporn1 wrote (see comments here):

One of the more pretentious political self-descriptions is “Libertarian.” People think it puts them above the fray. It sounds fashionable, and to the uninitiated, faintly dangerous. Actually, it’s just one more bullshit political philosophy.

– George Carlin

Libertarianism is a fad political ideology for 13 year old boys, first year college students, and white business owners who use the “private property” argument so they don’t have to serve blacks.

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US Department of Energy.I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility.

After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels to see what the National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like using satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Then, after spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, I drive back to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and the fire marshal’s inspection, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to the local police department.

I then log onto the Internet which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration and post on freerepublic and fox news forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can’t do anything right.

self pwnage you say

Political Jiu Jitsu

I liked the last point made in the video below.

Various corporations, media & political groups are constantly trying to control the narrative. The narrative that would be most financially beneficial to powerful corporations is that of voter apathy & disenfranchisement. Riling people up & then misdirecting them away from real problems inevitably leads to a sense of helplessness. If this is repeated enough, the entire lower class develops an attitude of learned helplessness where they just give up entirely.

Combine this with the slow destruction of the middle class then you a combination punch. In the US, the middle class always aspired to be part of the upper class. This aspiration has caused many Americans to identify with the wealthy class. We like to watch rich people live their lives on tv and the middle class will fight for tax cuts for the rich (even though it personally harms their own class). Instead, middle class anger gets directed at the working class (i.e., worker unions), the working class anger gets directed at the poor, and the poor class anger gets directed at everyone who is at the very bottom (welfare receipients, homelesss, immigrants, etc).

The Conservative Nanny State

Here are some videos of Dean Baker and below is a link to his book which is available for free online.  I noticed that Noam Chomsky mentioned him in a video on Youtube (follow this link to see the video and some commentary).  Here is what Chomsky said in an interview:

The next group of appointments were the maiden problem that the—the issue, the primary issue that the government’s going to have to face is what to do about the financial crisis. Obama’s choices to more or less run this were Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, from the Clinton—secretaries of Treasury under Clinton. They are among the people who are substantially responsible for the crisis. Actually, one leading economist, one of the few economists who has been right all along in predicting what’s happening, Dean Baker, pointed out that selecting them is like selecting Osama bin Laden to run the war on terror.

The Conservative Nanny State
How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer

by Dean Baker

In his new book, economist Dean Baker debunks the myth that conservatives favor the market over government intervention. In fact, conservatives rely on a range of “nanny state” policies that ensure the rich get richer while leaving most Americans worse off. It’s time for the rules to change. Sound economic policy should harness the market in ways that produce desirable social outcomes – decent wages, good jobs and affordable health care.

“Here is the brutal truth, exposed systematically, methodically, unsparingly. Forget the pork rinds and the hokey Texas twang: Conservative government is government by and for the upper class.” 

Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

“Dean Baker is one of the most insightful and original economists in Washington. With this book, he exposes the prevailing myth of modern conservatives. They are not for limited government, as they claim. Rather, they are for a government that helps their own. Baker says it is time to balance the books. Government is by all the people, for all the people. It’s that simple.”

— Jeff Madrick, author of Why Economies Grow: The Forces That Shape Prosperity and How We Can Get Them Working Again

“There’s a new book from Dean Baker available as a free PDF download or in paperback if you’re so inclined. It’s fantastic…. It would be a wonderful thing to start getting attention to some of the issues he raises. At the end of the day, the current Democratic agenda of raising the minimum wage and re-establishing pay-as-you-go budget rules is a bit unambitious.

— Matthew Yglesias, The American Prospect

“In his recent book, ”The Conservative Nanny State,” the economist Dean Baker argues that government nannyism, broadly defined, benefits the rich.  So there is no point in pretending that government doesn’t influence behavior.”

— Daniel Akst, The New York Times, July 23, 2006

“[The book] examines massive government interventions in the market—including immigration, trade, monetary and intellectual property policy—and notes how they all have the curious effect of making America’s wealthiest people even more stupendously rich. And as if this weren’t bad enough, Baker has made The Conservative Nanny State available for free as a pdf (or at low cost as a paperback). Clearly he’s a madman who’ll stop at nothing.”

— Jonathan Schwarz,

“Baker knows what the phrase “free market” really means, and in his new book, The Conservative Nanny State (which you can purchase in paperback or download as an e-book free of charge), he lays waste to the notion that American conservatives embrace anything resembling a truly free market. In fact, they’re perverse Marxists, using heavy-handed government intervention to redistribute wealth upward.”

Joshua Holland, AlterNet

“Baker does not use the term “crony capitalism” to describe the conservative economic agenda, but it is surely in the spirit of his argument. Skimming through the book shows that, to a degree, cronyism is in the eye of the beholder. For example, Baker takes aim at copyright and patent protection, expressing a view of intellectual property very different from mine…Because my textbooks are copyrighted, I suppose that I am a crony, using the power of the “conservative nanny state” to enrich myself as the expense of poor students around the world. Although I disagree with Baker on a wide range of topics, I will give him credit for one thing: He is not a hypocrite. Baker is distributing his new book free over the internet. As for me, if you want one of my books, you will have to fork over the cash.”

— Greg Mankiw, Harvard University

“Dean Baker has done us all a great service by exposing the counterfeit language pundits and politicians use to hide who really gets what in our economy. The biggest welfare chiselers, it turns out, are the corporate rich. This excellent book convincingly shows that the fundamental issue about government is not its size, but whose side it is on.”

— Jeff Faux, Economic Policy Institute

“More good ideas than a dozen Center for American Progress symposia. New America Foundation, this should make you feel old. If a million Kossacks typed on a million keyboards, eventually they would duplicate it. Eat your heart out, Hamilton Project. 113 pp. and a free download.”

— Max Sawicky, Max Speak, You Listen!

“Dean Baker is an innovative political thinker and has a gift for presenting economic issues in a clear, coherent way. He is particularly good at unmasking the hidden assumptions built into the political discourse about economic issues, and demonstrating how those assumptions, if unchallenged, will continue to put progressives on the defensive and, in the process, inflict economic damage on the country as a whole.….The book provides a handy guide to exposing conservative reliance on government intervention into the market economy.  It may well change the way you think about economics, markets and the like.”

— Daily Kos

“Baker had me from the preface…Writing for the layman, he puts the last 25 years of economic policy into a framework that cleverly repositions the terms of debate. Once one can point out that the so-called free market does not exist, and in fact is being warped and twisted by the right far more than by the left, one becomes much more potent on the ideological battlefield. So next time you feel like picking a bar fight on the topic of inflation, read a chapter or two of “The Conservative Nanny State” first. You’ll be well armed.

Andrew Leonard, Salon

“My favorite economist, Dean Baker (I want his rookie card!), has just put out a free PDF of his latest book, The Conservative Nanny State. I would urge everyone to read this book — it’s not all directly related to environmental causes, but some of it is. More broadly, there’s an obvious moral: The system we live in is, to an enormous extent, determined by government policies. Understanding that, and understanding how the apparatus of the state is tilted towards the already-wealthy, is crucial to any progressive cause.”

—  John McGrath, Gristmill