bag of money for evictions

Cory Doctorow writes about evictions and skewers a right-wing talking point about "people who don't want to work" (quoted at length to get the whole crux of the argument):

When it comes to delivering aid to the wealthy, conservatives hate red-tape. When it comes to preventing working people from starving or becoming homeless, conservatives put on a paperwork parade that outshine the pettiest Soviet commissar.

This contradiction arises from a cornerstone of conservative ideology -- the idea of "learned helplessness." Learned helplessness is a real thing that psychologists can induce in lab animals, discouraging them to the point of fatal listlessness.

But that's not what conservatives mean by learned helplessness. For them, learned helplessness is the evidence-free conviction that if you give a person a "handout," they will lose interest in "hard work."

Think of all the fast-food "entrepreneurs" whose signage proclaims "no one wants to work anymore" because of "government handouts," conspicuously failing to mention sub-starvation wages, irregular shifts, and abusive working conditions.

In conservativism, wealth is providential. Markets reward virtue, so the wealthy are inherently virtuous. They know the value of "hard work" and aren't at risk of "learned helplessness" so they can get "bailouts" (not "handouts") without risk of "perverse incentives."

But conservativism contains a contradiction: because capital -- by definition -- earns its returns from someone else's labor, any bailout is also a potential handout. If you save a locked down "heroic small business" with payroll support, you also "pay workers to stay home."

And if you bail out landlords by making up their tenants' missed rental payments, you also let the tenants "live for free" (ignoring for the moment that landlords whose mortgages and living expenses derive from tenant payments are literally "living for free").

So here we are, about to endure a gaping, generations-long self-inflicted wound [mass evictions due to covid -- tm]. We're about to cost millions of renters their homes and potentially put their landlords in default because evicting a tenant doesn't get you a nickel in back-rent.

You couldn't ask for a neater demonstration of the extent to which "conservative business acumen" is a LARP -- a set of culture-war performances rather than any kind of meaningful attention to profit and loss.

Because saving millions of your fellow Americans from destitution and homelessness isn't merely the right (and, you know, Christian) thing to do -- it's also the smart business move. Homelessness is infinitely more expensive than rental assistance.[1]

State conservatives are refusing to hand out $41.3b in order to create a decades-long cycle of public liabilities that will easily cost a hundred times that amount, and they're not just hurting poor people -- they're euthanizing a whole shit-ton of rentiers[2]!

As David Dayen writes in The American Prospect, it's the kind of thing you'd expect from a party[3] with "two primary core talents: selling quack supplements and lowering taxes."

After all, if you campaign on eliminating government due to its incompetence, then governing incompetently is a feature, not a bug. But for the nation (and the world) which needs its government to manage climate, pandemic, etc, this is a serious bug.

Meanwhile, Dayen has a great suggestion for how to dispense with all the red tape and save landlords and tenants.

Just station a federal official with a "big bag of money" in every eviction court.[4] Every time a judge hears evidence that a tenant is behind in the rent, the official makes them whole out of the big bag of money, and the eviction is cancelled.

This is literally the worst way of doing it, a monumental waste of court resources and an inhumane way to treat tenants (and landlords, too). The only thing worse would be to allow that wave of looming evictions to wash millions of our neighbors onto the streets.

1. Note what Doctorow is doing here: switching from talk of a business budget to a government budget. The cost of homelessness doesn't affect an individual business' bottom line, except perhaps in raised taxes. As for the mega-corporations, Amazon showed great opportunism in subsidizing trailer parks for its homeless workers.
2. Rent-seekers, an increasingly common species of capitalist that adds nothing to the economy and lives off a stream of payments --tm
3. Both parties --tm
4. For budget-balancers: The bag of money could come from, say, closing several hundred military bases we don't need, especially ones in Syria. -- tm