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Archive for the ‘Individual Rights’ Category

This recent lecture by Louis P. Masur is pretty fascinating.

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The Times editorial page expressed its support for a strong Mount Laurel doctrine, as Governor Christie continued seeking to dismantle New Jersey’s Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). Christie also vetoed the latest incarnation of the foreclosure land-bank for affordable housing, but he seems open to a possible reworking of its objectives through new legislation.

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Sexist, Union-Busting Creeps

Erin Hatton, a University at Buffalo sociology professor, makes a compelling case that the temp industry played a disproportionate role in creating the American dystopia of the white-collar office:

“For example, in 1971 the recently renamed Kelly Services ran a series of ads in The Office, a human resources journal, promoting the “Never-Never Girl,” who, the company claimed: “Never takes a vacation or holiday. Never asks for a raise. Never costs you a dime for slack time. (When the workload drops, you drop her.) Never has a cold, slipped disc or loose tooth. (Not on your time anyway!) Never costs you for unemployment taxes and Social Security payments. (None of the paperwork, either!) Never costs you for fringe benefits. (They add up to 30% of every payroll dollar.) Never fails to please. (If your Kelly Girl employee doesn’t work out, you don’t pay.)”

Never Never Girl - KellyOh, how nice. I worked as a temp paralegal in New York City for a while after college, in a workplace that my friend Adam accurately described as a white-collar salt mine: 12-hour workdays, no benefits, rules against speaking (supposedly, a firable offense). On one occasion, a seventy-some-year-old man (presumably, unable to retire) threw up all over himself and his workstation, rather than risk going to the bathroom or (God forbid!) miss a day of work when he was sick. All this occurred in the Midtown offices of a white-shoe corporate law firm. Of course, even temp paralegaling in Midtown had a set of perks that wouldn’t be offered to temps at, say, a billing office in Toledo: We got free little glass bottles of Sanpellegrino, passable comped meals at the firm cafeteria, black-car service home to the suburbs on late nights, and a 34th floor view of Manhattan — not to mention what seemed (as a recent college graduate) to be good compensation for our time. But when the case we were working on looked like it might settle, they fired us all by phone, and cancelled the key-card privileges to the building. No “thank you” from the firm. No offer of a reference letter. In fact, we were curtly informed that we were not to contact the employer for any reason after leaving, and that we could pick up our belongings from the office of the temp agency. So, I should probably express my gratitude to the partners at the firm where I worked for providing me an early object lesson on why big corporate law sucks. And it’s not hard for me to believe that the temp industry, and the lawyers who work with it, have been central to replicating degrading working conditions for people across the U.S.

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It looks like Israel may be in for its own version of the Mount Laurel experience. A year and a half ago, the government there ostensibly addressed the public’s demands for more affordable housing by adopting some reforms that included incentives for the construction of new rental apartments. Recently, after the fires had died down, Ha’aretz reported that the government began claiming (in response to a lawsuit) that its plan, as written, is ineffective; that it has no power to really accomplish much of anything.

I feel like I’ve read this story before. In New Jersey, it took a decade of toil in the courts and political branches to get from acknowledging the need for affordable housing (Mount Laurel I, 1975) to the development of a framework that could even plausibly begin to address the shortage (Fair Housing Act of 1985). And New Jersey is still one of the hardest places in America in which to find decent, affordable housing. The Mount Laurel cases represent an important legal principle, but it’s one that was drawn from the New Jersey Constitution, and whose footing in other common law jurisdictions remains unclear. These things are maddeningly slow.

My faith in the legal and political systems’ ability to solve the crisis of metropolitan housing affordability is not strong. First, the incentives aren’t there: Property owners, who benefit from high land values, tend to stay and vote and contribute to local politicians; people who can’t afford housing tend to move away. Second, the land market itself is too much of a moving target to lend itself to legislative interventions that will yield predictable results. We’ve seen evidence of this in all of the well-intentioned planning debacles of the 20th century. Given these problems, it’s hard to imagine all of those Israeli kids, who were out in the streets in 2011, now waiting for this to work its way through their country’s version of the system.

If I were there, I would support the litigation and press for policies that would yield more housing — obviously. But I would also re-read Herzl. A limited-equity (LE) model was central to his vision for the country, and it has also worked (at times) to create affordable housing in America. The most promising aspect of the LE model is that, when it works, it truly frees its participants from depending on the sluggish and often capricious actions of the state, and allows like-minded individuals to autonomously pursue their interests outside of the system. Some have even sold their own demand to initial investors, paying out modest distributions to capital investors in exchange for their relatively low risk profiles.

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Morgan Freeman narrates a new documentary called Breaking the Taboo — the latest to take on the Drug War. In other news, the Greenleaf Compassion Center is now open in Montclair, New Jersey.

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Interest.com has a sobering study, showing that– even at this nadir of the American housing market– the cost of housing remains stratospherically detached from actual personal incomes. The spread was found in about half of all US housing markets, including in nearly every market that contained high concentrations of dynamic industries, educated populations, and existing wealth. Not surprisingly, the disparity was most pronounced in the housing markets around Northern California, Southern California, and New York City.

This is troubling news, because it tracks a phenomenon that LT has covered, and which has been written about in depth by writers at Forbes, the Economist, and elsewhere: That is, there is a growing body of evidence that entrenched, restrictive land use policies are strangling our best cities, creating high barriers to entry in their housing markets, and excluding the very people who would most benefit from the opportunities of their labor markets. Presumably, the same policies are also dampening potential growth in the same regions by excluding a large number of potential economic participants from the local pools, and draining disproportionate shares of local moneys into non-productive real estate acquisition costs.

My fear is that that the hopeful signs that we’ve lately seen of a nascent real estate recovery could be dampened by the structural obstacles posed by a blanket of misguided legal devices that prevent the market from reaching anything like a healthy equilibrium. That is to say, we can’t have a sustained and sustainable recovery in residential real estate until the supply of real estate products begins to actually match the critical mass of demand that exists. And right now, that demand is for smaller, cheaper, and more energy-efficient units in the regions where economic opportunities exist. Instead, what we have is a massive supply of empty McMansions in car-dependent regions like suburban Phoenix, and abandoned houses in urban nightmares like Detroit and Buffalo.

The problem is that individual local land use policies, as determined by local governments, block the kinds of development that might begin to meet this demand. And the voters in a lot of communities have a vested interest in maintaining the stranglehold up to a certain point, because their home values are exaggerated by the overall shortage of units. It’s a vicious cycle, and a dangerous one if we intend to continue to place home-ownership at the center of our economic model for the US economy.

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The New Jersey Department of Health is now signing up patients for the state’s newly minted medical marijuana program. The state law that established the framework for the program (N.J.S.A. 24:6I-1, et seq.) was signed by Gov. Jon Corzine in the last days of his outgoing administration, in early 2010. As LT has noted, the program has since been implemented with painful slowness by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, and has also been subjected to a broad array of land-use obstacles from municipal authorities, as well. (Viz., although six dispensaries have been approved, in theory, only two have yet secured retail space: one in Montclair; and another in Egg Harbor, which is near Atlantic City.)

Update, 8/26: A third location has been secured on U.S. 1 in Woodbridge.

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