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Kerry Howley reviews Off the Books, the exposé of blighted communities full of entrepreneurs who can't catch a break.

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    In Off the Books, Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh posits that if a transaction occurs in the ghetto and no one writes it down, it still counts as trade.

    Since government officials never miss an opportunity to steal, it would seem the only persons who do not believe such transactions are "trade" would be those completely lacking in common sense or with no comprehension of the English language.

  • ||

    Kerry,

    You do a good job of poiting out the difference between "poor" and "dead" at the beginning of your column, with lines like:

    "The implicit definition of ghetto reflected a popular conception of the least privileged Americans. Polls consistently show that Americans think the poor are more likely to be African American and unemployed than is actually the case...but those stock images of the Superdome reinforced a vision of the ghetto as a sloth-filled dead zone. It was a warehouse, not a community; it was packed with black Americans waiting to be saved."

    But whoever wrote the blog entry did exactly the opposite by using the term "blighted."

    Blighted does not mean poor, or crime-ridden, or troubled. It means vacant, abandoned, inactive, and suffering from an absence of economic and human activity. And empty apartment house can be blighted. A parking lot that is 3/4 empty at peak hours and functions as a trash-strewn "no man's land" can be blighted. A four-family building where three of the units are empty because they're unsafe and the landlord never repaired them can be blighted. But a full apartment house can't be blighted, even if it is ugly, or the occupants are criminals, or there is trash in the yard.

    The neighborhood described in the book sounds like exactly the opposite of blighted.

  • ||

    Love that photo of Avon Barksdale on the front page.

  • ||

    This work sounds similar to a previous article about budding economies in India's poor neighborhoods. It is refreshing to see that free minds are markets are the natural order of things, and it takes great coordination and effort by those with muscle to shut them down.

  • dhex, multiverse, nothingness||

    the book is quite good and worth reading unless you're one of those ENGINEERING IS THE ONLY TRUE MAJOR types in which case go fuck yourself, nerd.

  • Bre||

    (He describes the neighborhood's hookers as "selling their bodies," a dated and condescending euphemism for sex work.)

    Problem for your libertarian purism? You hamstring yourself in the middle of a decent reviewing job.

    Venkatesh interviewed dozens of whores during research. Maybe they described themselves that way. Maybe he had first person knowledge of the degradation and desperation they experience.

    How often do you talk to whores, Kerry? I'm sure they're really all "independent contractors" like you imagine.

  • VM||

    *starts building statue in honor of Dhex*

  • ||

    (He describes the neighborhood's hookers as "selling their bodies," a dated and condescending euphemism for sex work.)

    Problem for your libertarian purism? You hamstring yourself in the middle of a decent reviewing job.


    If I could get paid for donating my cadaver to a medical school after I die, that would be selling my body.

    If you pay me to have sex with you, that's my selling a service.

    The "selling their bodies" line is an implicit allusion to the idea that the value of a woman is in her virginal state when presented to her husband - and that she's "damaged goods", otherwise.

  • ||

    The disfunction of the ghettos is mostly caused by the free market being forcefully suppressed by the state.

    Blacks did not have a whole lot of political power back in the 1960s, and so the black community was the perfect guinea pigs for white elite to use for social experimentation.

    The white elite forcefully suppressed black-owned buisnesses to promote black dependence on government social programs, undermined home ownership in order to move blacks into government housing, and launched campaigns to stop drugs that were targeted almost exclusively towards black youth. The purpose wasn't to destroy black community, but to turn the black community into a shining beacon of social democracy that would get white America to finally see the light and realize how great socialism is. It of course, totally failed.

    The modern urban ghetto isn't the product of ideological racism, like the rural poverty of southern blacks in the last two centuries, it is a product of paternalistic racists who wanted to "free" blacks from the free market and usher in an age of socialist utopia - but didn't want to actually mess with their own community or trust fund. Places like Detroit were not run by some sinister cabal of capitalists looking to keep down the black man: They were turned into capitalism free zones by politicos who were commited to that end.

    If China, or India, are such hotspots for outsourcing, industrial production and an exploding free market because of their relative poverty, then what is stopping that from happening in American ghettos? It is not happening in American ghettos, because of an ideological commitment to not allow it to happen!

  • ||

    Here is the elephant in the living room:

    In what ways does black culture differ from white culture?

    (There is only one race: the human race. Any idea to the contray is the very foundation of all racist thought.)

  • ||

    Whites do not have as many "nappy hoes"

  • ||

    If China, or India, are such hotspots for outsourcing, industrial production and an exploding free market because of their relative poverty, then what is stopping that from happening in American ghettos? It is not happening in American ghettos, because of an ideological commitment to not allow it to happen!

    In part. There is a big political component in this, but there is also an even bigger component, and that is P-R-O-T-E-C-T-I-O-N-I-S-M, the idea that certain industries must be protected from competition (via licenses, patents, permits, et cetera). In the article, many times it is mentioned that all "underground" businesses are unlicensed, meaning that they do not possess the Letter of Marque granted by Big Daddy Government. Such licenses are nothing more than protectionist schemes to limit the number of businesses open to compete. They increase the cost of entry to a market. They are designed for that purpose only (only demagogues would say that such licenses "protect" the buyer.)

    Hindrances to the market will create these problems for many entrepreneurial people, especially those in inner city ghettos - people that WANT to get out of their situation by working hard, but that are put down by anti-market politicians and ideologues.

  • Derrick||

    Yes to what Gamito said. Notwithstanding any of its possible benefits, licensing creates legalized cartels in certain industries. Notice how the most vocal proponents of licensing - and of restricting the number of available licenses - are those who already have their licenses.

  • ||

    This reminds me of the illegal poker scene in Atlanta...it certainly lacks some of the desperation that I'm sure occurs in the Chicago ghettos, but it is the most compelling argument that anarchy can work that I've seen. Everyone abides by the decision of the house even when there is $1000 or more in the pot because they know that if they don't they wont be allowed back. Most people were willing to follow agreed upon rules and act civilly to each other despite the fact that they had a large monetary incentive not to and no real security beyond a skinny white kid and a middle aged woman.

  • ||

    "If China, or India, are such hotspots for outsourcing, industrial production and an exploding free market because of their relative poverty, then what is stopping that from happening in American ghettos? It is not happening in American ghettos, because of an ideological commitment to not allow it to happen!"

    Rex,

    Good observation sir! Your comment makes me see outsourcing in a whole different light. I wonder...

    Have the Revs Sharpton and Jackson, et al and the rest of the poverty pimps overlooked the glaring discrimination, that is outsourcing) in light of the outrage over a few words uttered by an over the hill white guy?

    Maybe I just answered my question. Nothing to see here, move along.

  • ||

    Rex Rhino,

    Like some of the more conspiratorial war opponents I've read (Bush deliberately caused the civil war in Iraq in order to...uh...), you seem to be reading a philosophical and strategic cohesiveness into a series of historical bungles.

    To the extend that the government suppressed black businesses, it did so through Redlining practices, later adopted by banks, which were intended to shore up the banking system. In fact, the original Redlining standards discriminated against mixed-race neighborhoods, and favored segregated black neighborhoods above them.

    The undermining of homeownership brought about through urban renewal was the result of an effort to address a set of problems which were wholly unrelated to the advancement of socialism you assume - housing shortages after World War 2 and genuinely deplorable conditions in many urban areas. To the extent that political ideology came into the process, it was in the effort to create an understanding of these problems, and solutions to fix them. The motivation for it, however, was far from the socialist activism you assume, as the widespread support for urban renewal by the political right at the time demonstrates. As a matter of historical fact, the socialists of the 50s and 60s were often involved in the resistance to these efforts.

    And the Drug War as a social democratic effort, untainted by ideological racism? Huh? That's just absurd on its face.

  • John in Nashville||

    If I could get paid for donating my cadaver to a medical school after I die, that would be selling my body.

    If you pay me to have sex with you, that's my selling a service.



    Wouldn't it be renting your body (for short term occupancy)?

  • Marc||

    Loundry,

    It's a little odd, then, that you use skin color (black and white) to describe cultures.

  • Marc||

    In fact, here is another elephant in the living room:

    In what ways does geriatric culture differ from youth culture?

    (There is only one age: the modern age. Any idea to the contrary is the very foundation of all ageist thought.)

  • ||

    Wouldn't it be renting your body (for short term occupancy)?


    If you were a voodoun loa, sure.

  • ||

    We need a Marshall Plan for America's poorest areas not some banter about ghetto capitalism. If American government policy was good enough in helping put Germany back on its feet, then it should be good enough for all disenfranchised Americans. Enough of celebrating crack dealers and whores.

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