Why Solutions Begin Locally, Not at the Top

“The Firs” is the name of a close community of trailer home families in a Seattle neighborhood. They rent the land for the trailer homes that they own. Their modest homes answer a need for working class housing in a city of soaring rents and home prices.

However, this land offers more material value as a site for a hotel and apartment complex. The owner of the land wishes to profit from such a proposed new development and so has told the residents of the trailer park to leave.

He says, “They want to stay there forever . . . why should I solve the problem? I already gave them a lot of notice.” He offered to give $2,000 to each owner after they leave. (“A Mobile-Home Community Fights Development,” The Seattle Times, January 28, 2018, Erika Schultz and Christine Willmsen)

It’s doubtful if residents of The Firs can find communities as affordable as their present one. Some of the trailers are too old to be moved without destroying them. Plus, their close knit neighborliness would be lost.

Yet costs of homelessness are not usually factored in when affordable neighborhoods are swapped for condos for the more well off. Nor are the emotional costs of those who barely hold on in a constant fight to balance housing with food and medical care.

Capitalism is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. It is the soul of efficiency: the best use of resources—farms, mines, land—for making money for owners. This best use for owners, however, may conflict with the best use of less powerful citizens.

Yet, for both capitalism and democracy to survive, ordinary citizens must reap their benefits, not just owners and the wealthy. Capitalism must be made to serve, not treated as a god.

“Power is directed at the top. . . . Actual work can start only at the bottom, at home and underfoot, where the causes and the effects actually reside.” (Wendell Berry, The Art of Loading Brush)

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