Saturday, December 14, 2013

Getting Beyond Homelessness: Property Edition

Homelessness consists of many related experiences, which go well beyond taking one's chances in the elements outdoors. Once anyone has experienced some aspect of homelessness, life never feels or looks quite the same, even if only a short stretch is involved. While I suffered from a symbolic (identity) form of homelessness in recent years, that's hardly the same magnitude as being on the street with no house to sleep in. Identity homelessness is more a result of no meaningful employment, or too little work and social related engagement with others. Even so, involuntary solitude may be reminiscent at times of the solitary confinement in a prison cell.

Indeed, the only time I experienced the somewhat scary outdoors version, was a couple of nights back in Los Angeles in the early eighties. Plus, that's an experience which people from many life circumstance have had, upon moving to that area. So long as you had a car to spend the night in, things would generally turn out alright and you could return to the demands of whatever temporary job one was able to "scratch up", the next day. (in my case, selling pots and pans and the like, from the trunk of the Volvo)

The physical aspects of homelessness are a lot more unsettling when they're not short lived. What's more, an overall social dynamic is gradually shifting towards a reluctance to allow homeless people to remain in nearby areas. Yes, people still worry about the well being of the homeless, but there is a lot of uncertainty involved. Even though homelessness statistics have been reasonably contained in recent years (partly through imprisonment and suicide, no doubt), the root problems have yet to be addressed. Plus, in order for society to be able to face up to homelessness, also means owning up to some basic aspects of societal identity, unemployment and property use dynamism in general. Ideological and political discussions don't really get at that core. Homelessness is also a lack of understanding re the diminished capacity of property utility, in general.

Look at most any element of society today and ask, how dynamic is this particular social function or environment? There is a city block nearby where one of the elementary school buildings of my youth once stood. All that remains is a tree or two, some grass and a no loitering sign. I get the no loitering sign by the train tracks but hmm, this is not someone's parking lot or driveway...What's up with the warning, especially given the fact that local property taxes easily take care of spots like this? What could have been going on, at this small unassuming piece of property which would cause anyone to say, move on?

Certainly when we pay the price for private property, we deserve privacy. But when arbitrary decisions are made to just keep people off public properties of all kinds, my radar goes up in a hurry. Expectations to "stay away" from numerous public properties had already been a sore spot with me in the last decade. Worst on that list were too many neglected forests on supposedly public lands, in poor shape from lack of any maintenance or public engagement whatsoever, on the part of anyone. Is this the best we can do, because we can't figure out how to utilize public properties in ways more agreeable to everyone involved?

When I began my studies regarding lack of economic access,  something that really stood out were ill defined expectations for continued economic dynamism, regarding both public and private property most everywhere I looked. Some logic, if it could be called that, had holes that were big enough to drive a semi through. Indeed, the most egregious destruction I observed of private property, came from a place where few expect. Plus, even talking about it is apparently off limits for some elected officials: the sad results of convoluted familial laws. Some states are probably are a bit more adept at problem solving and actually useful in legal terms. But others have legal arrangements which do not give parties any true means of negotiation for property, in spite of billions spent for nothing and people going into poverty in their attempts to problem solve.

Unfortunately, the lack of ability to effectively negotiate with family members regarding property, has destroyed far more residences, landholdings, businesses and communities than the pitiful forests I observed. If one were able to measure such destruction, it would probably be greater than the destruction of many wars, but there is little impetus from the legal profession that I know of, to offer services to clients which actually help them. That is one of the reasons I believe that people need simple legal alternatives for property use, in which parties agree not to destroy one another and their jointly used properties, upon separations. Gridlocked legalities and a lack of ability to effectively negotiate with one another, diminishes both public and private property utility in multiple dimensions over time, and homelessness is just of them.

While I still don't understand appropriate taxation for land holdings, this much I do know: people need options in both public and private property dimensions that are much more dynamic than the limited purposes both serve in the present. Even though commercial private property is supposedly more limited than public property: at the very least, when it is successful, it serves many purposes and creates pathways by which many individuals can get things done.

This post is not intended in any way to be an argument against public property, but to suggest that public property be reconfigured to provide more meaning and purpose for society than much of it now serves. What's more, it could be capable of multi-purpose and local wealth generation in ways similar to private property, but for all citizens of community to access and maintain responsibly. While private property often gets needlessly caught between opposing parties, public property more than anything is simply suffering a crisis of imagination. We need more property of public designation, but even so, such designations would be pointless if they aren't capable of contributing to overall community well being. And presently, too many public designations don't really do so.

Consider why Hume believed in an unequal distribution of property. As indicated in Wikipedia, Hume felt that perfect equality would destroy the ideas of thrift and industry. He believed that perfect equality would thus lead to impoverishment. My question is why, then, do we observe steady legal impoverishment of properties in general? Once, our legal system made it easier for the marketplace to prosper, just as Hernando de Soto wrote in "The Mystery of Capital". But since the start of the Great Recession, the hopefulness expressed in his book has been diminished by a developed world which has forgotten how to continue the dynamism it once believed in.

Some of my strong feelings about property came from witnessing first hand, what turned out to be a decades long war between others over property. Those years of struggle which I could hardly extract myself from, impacted my own life with a homelessness identity which I am still learning to overcome. That experience is one of the primary reasons I strongly uphold the ideal of flexible property components and land holdings which can be separated as needed for business, individual and personal reasons.

What's more, dynamic and flexible components will only become more needed in decades ahead as crazy ants, for instance, take over the Texas countryside if this article is to be believed. Let alone global warming swallowing cities, hurricanes - argh, how many more reasons do I need for flexible snap together building components to become a reality?

And those flexible building components would do a world of good for the homeless now. Granted, I know that there are lots more issues at stake than innovative building components for the homeless. Trust issues are paramount, and this is where getting to the heart of more productive economic activity could really make a difference. These things really need to be accomplished soon, because not enough people are presently able to make the vital connections between technology, the benefits of mass production and a relative current state of wealth which remains fragile as a result.

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