The Lust for Personal Power without Popular Support Is Not a Winning Strategy Forever

Amersfoort, Netherlands     In these days, perhaps in all days, when autocracy, as a strategy and set of tactics, seems so attractive to so many politicians and wannabe royals in their lust for power under any terms, there’s some small comfort in seeing such techniques come to wreck and ruin, even if the damage in the meantime is inestimable.

Poor Carrie Lam, the mayor of Hong Kong, is a fair example.  After almost thirteen weeks of escalating protests by pro-democracy adherents both in the streets and behind doors against her Beijing-concocted policy to extradite people to mainland China and its questionable judicial system, she was once again forced to withdraw the extradition proposal.  Of course, having refused to negotiate for weeks while protests went unabated, she has no credibility now, since even conceding seems unilateral, rather than part of a corrective process.  Protests are likely to continue.  Here is the irony.  Reportedly, Lam has been trying to resign in the face of her own impotence before the protests, but has said to associates that Beijing will not allow it.  They have not reported that Beijing told her, you make your bed, you sleep in it, but it’s possible.

Then there’s the tragic case of Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar or Burma, as some still know it, who has gone from the Noble prize-winning ranks to Mandela, King and others to become the stone faced and silent apologist for genocide among the Rohingya people of her country who practice Islam, rather than Buddhism.  Once jailed and quarantined by the country’s military rulers, she has now become their face, rather than their critic, in the midst of unspeakable horrors and the displacement of almost a half-million people.  Is this the price of power?

Globally, British television is more known for its dark crime procedurals than the humor of its comedic farces, which seem tailored more to a local taste, but now we all can witness in real time that the British origin of “House of Cards” is also more likely farcical, than fictional, as we watch the ruthlessness of Boris Johnson’s handling of Brexit, once seen as clown, now made the fool.  First, in pure Kevin Spacey fashion, he undermines Theresa May, not that any would really care, but he does so, as she did, heedless to the peril of Great Britain.  Then once he has the Prime Minister’s position, he suspends Parliament creating a constitutional crisis so he can try to ram through Brexit, the withdrawal from the European Union, without debate by running out the clock.  The opposition and some renegades from his own party, vote him down easily, since in his antics he seems to have forgotten that he had only had a one-seat majority.  He then ruthlessly throws twenty-eight nay voters out of his party to try and force an election.  But, like Mayor Lam, having no credibility, there’s no agreement to a snap election without forcing a vote to extend the Brexit deadline.

I flipped channels before collapsing in the Netherlands and got to watch one commentator after another excoriate Johnson in English, French, German, Spanish, and Dutch.  The message was unmistakable in all languages.

How is bypassing the people in your lust for power working out for any politicians today?  Maybe possible in the short run, but perhaps not for long, giving all of us hope still.

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Evictions Soar, Solutions Plummet

Greenville        New York City added a right to legal counsel for tenants facing eviction.  It made a difference with the city’s eviction rate falling from almost 29000 in 2013 to only a bit over 18000 in last year.  Nationally, it is likely that more than 2.5 million evictions are filed for tenants annually now, perhaps the numbers are even larger.  It didn’t solve anything, but it put a stopper in the problem.

Nothing new there, but here’s a real head scratcher.  Two sets of economists, as reported in The Economist, studied the impact of evictions on the poor, one in Chicago and the other in New York City.  Their conclusion:  the poor were poor before they were evicted, and darned if they aren’t still poor after they were evicted.  Their underwhelming conclusion on both cases was essentially that they were a bit poorer, but not all that much.  What are we to do with information?  Is there anyone anywhere in the world that thought that evictions were a poverty-reduction strategy?  This is when you have to wonder what economists do with their time and why?

The group that looked at New York said there was also no spike in payment of increased food stamps or welfare benefits.  Read the papers, fellas!  It’s almost impossible to get welfare now, no matter where you live, and food stamps are moving that way as well.  For welfare, you almost always need a physical address, so remember that when you were study evictions.  This group did note that use of hospitalization and homelessness increased dramatically and, being economists, couldn’t sidestep the fact that evictions were triggered by less than $2000 in back rent, but it cost the city $41,000 per homeless person annually.

This is all shuffling paper in a hurricane.  When I read that a huge trigger for the Hong Kong demonstrations is the lack of affordable housing and high rents, all I can say, is let’s hit the streets here, too.

One demand that would change all of this is not more lawyers – or more economists for godsakes, but making rental assistance like Section 8 an entitlement rather than an NBA lottery pick.  Only 25% of the eligible families actually receive a voucher, leaving 75% in the muck.

Why are the banks and housing industry not lining up with us to demand this?  The amount of new construction that would break ground overnight, if all qualified families received rent support, would jump the entire economy several notches.

There’s no comfort in discovering that the poor were only a bit more desperate by degree after an eviction.  Affordable and decent housing is in fact a poverty reduction winner.  Let’s go all Hong Kong over that!

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