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Housing Shortage and Economic Imbalance

Housing Shortage and Economic Imbalance

Barry Phegan, PhD, author Conflict, Meetings, and Difficult People, Ambience Press, 2018

“So, periodically, the concentration of wealth becomes extreme, and gets righted by taxation or by revolution.” — The Story of Civilization: Part Two, The Life of Greece, page 598, by Will and Ariel Durant.

“. . . domination by a narrow elite that have organized society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast mass of people.” Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson

It seems that since the beginning of civilization nations collapsed for similar reasons. Time after time power and control accumulate to a small group that believes it has special rights. By shaping the rules, regulations, taxes, and other privileges, this small elite group increasingly benefits from the production of others. While the masses initially only grumble and complain, at some point they find the ruling class morally unacceptable — illegitimate. The disenfranchised masses may then overthrow the ruling group (though often an outside group, sensing the weakened society, moves in and takes control, often with little resistance).

Increasing taxes on the rich is not a radical idea, it is conventional. The rich, those with privilege and power, almost inevitably move to accrue wealth at the expense of the majority. Accepting this growing imbalance as legitimate is a radical notion. Complaints against taxing wealth come from those who might be taxed. While nobody denies an individual’s right to wealth, that wealth should be taxed. It is right and fair.

When people sense the social system is not fair they experience rightful moral outrage. That is dangerous. Violent outrage, leading to social revolution, almost invariably brings a demagogue leader.

We must be vigilant of any moves by elected or appointed officials to transfer democratically elected power and control to special elite interest groups. We are watching this attempted transfer today with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, MTC.

MTC proposes stripping democratically elected communities of certain rights — in this case land-use zoning controls. MTC’s rationale is that the Bay Area region needs more housing and (supposedly) the only way to get it is to hand over zoning controls to the financial, construction, high-tech, and real estate industries. While this blame/claim is patently absurd, those in power seem to be successfully selling this storyline as conventional wisdom.

It’s the currently accepted public narrative.

Everyone likes an enemy. MTC has erected a bogeyman, NIMBY. In our current era of alternate realities (fact-free) there seems to be no open public exploration of the roots of our housing shortage. Notably absent is any discussion that might implicate those who will benefit from the proposed zoning power transfer — the financial, construction, high tech, and real estate industries. These are the very groups that profited by creating the current massive imbalance between commercial and residential construction.

Once again, the rich get richer.


housing, MTC, zoning, NIMBY, elite, taxing wealth