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The Compelling Case for Rent Control with Nathan Tankus
Episode 198th June 2019 • Macro N Cheese • Steve Grumbine
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Rent control, redux. Back in 2017, Steve interviewed Nathan Tankus, of the Modern Money Network, shortly after the 1st MMT conference where Nathan spoke of the heterodox approach to planning housing affordability. With renters now the majority in major US cities, and homelessness on the rise throughout, we are re-releasing this as a podcast to introduce it to a whole new audience.
 
The US is plagued with problems of housing insecurity, gentrification, and rents that are too damn high. Nathan guides us through the ins and outs of the faux rent control laws in urban centers like New York, where landlords avail themselves of more loopholes than a crochet needle.
 
Modern Monetary Theory allows us the policy space to deal with unemployment, public health, and student debt. But how do we navigate the labyrinth of federal, state, and municipal issues that affect the cost of housing? US cities and states cannot literally create dollars but they can come surprisingly close by creating monetary value through zoning policies that can elevate or reduce trillions of dollars of land value overnight.  
 
Peering through the lens of MMT, Nathan lays out the two major types of obligations that governments impose. The first is familiar to fans of this podcast: the direct monetary obligation to pay taxes, fines and fees. The second is the obligation to respect property rights. In the US this refers almost entirely to private property. So, if the lack of sufficient federal spending and planning are responsible for both joblessness and homelessness, then the government has a dual obligation to the public. Just as a job guarantee will eliminate unemployment, using the public planning and regulatory apparatus can eliminate housing insecurity and homelessness.
 
Nathan Tankus is Research Director at the Modern Money Network and Research Fellow at Clarke Business Law Institute at Cornell.
 
https://modernmoneynetwork.org/

Transcripts

Macro N Cheese – Episode 19

The Compelling Case for Rent Control with Nathan Tankus

Nathan Tankus [intro/music] (:

The higher rents are relative to that the more that people are willing to tolerate abusive relationships when they think the alternative is extreme housing insecurity. And that the same thing is when they'll tolerate abuse on a job.

Nathan Tankus [intro/music] (:

The public library is the last bastion. It's a place that you can go as soon as it's open and you can spend your time on a cold day where it's warm. But the public library closes, and you can still freeze to death on the street that night.

Geoff Ginter [intro/music] (:

Now let's see if we can avoid the apocalypse altogether. Here's another episode of Macro N Cheese with your host, Steve Grumbine.

Grumbine (:

Hey, everybody. It's Steve with Real Progressives, bringing Nathan in. How are you, sir?

Tankus (:

I'm all right.

Grumbine (:

Well, I tell you what, it's been a while since we've had you on, so I'm really excited about having you back. You came today with a subject that I am not as familiar with as I would like to be. So I'm excited because I'm going to be learning. This is all learning for me. The subject tonight is really rent control and you know it's an extremely important topic, obviously.

I feel terribly neglectful not having at least had some understanding of it. Why don't I allow you a moment to tee this subject up for the audience and we'll go ahead and dive in.

Tankus (:

So as some of the people who are more avidly following every possible drip of MMT news out there might be aware, one of the presentations I did at the MMT Conference was about housing, about affordable housing. And what I said there was, you have the crowd of all the people in the Modern Money Network, people like Rohan, people like Raul.

And we talk about the usual topics. We talk about money and credit. We talk about finance. We talk about the job guarantee. We talk about all these issues, but the thing that we talk about that's closest to what's going on in our every day to day lives, especially as predominantly people in New York City, is the rent.

How many bedrooms in the apartment, what the rent is, are rents going up, rent increases because as anyone who's living their lives knows housing is the biggest cost that they face. And despite this wild importance, housing doesn't get as much attention as it deserves. And it's especially unfortunate because housing is one of the places where the ideological apparatus of economics, the push - where the propaganda that gets put up - is most forcefully applied to economics.

And there's the most effort in making sure that there's ideological conformity on rent control among economists. If you poll economists some 92 or 93% of economists say that rent control is, by definition, horrible, has no positive effects whatsoever, and yet the evidence for that, at best, is incredibly weak.

And so to me, I think this is, especially since we're thinking in terms of starting talking about guaranteed right to a job and getting that to the basics that you need to live a life, we need to start dealing with housing and how housing works in the United States and other societies today.

Grumbine (:

Okay. So, you know, in looking at this, one of the things that you had raised to me was basically the textbooks that our students are taught from, if you will, completely and utterly destroy the concept of rent control. They absolutely butcher it. Can you address the standard fare and then what the reality is?

Tankus (:

Yes. So as you might think, looking around your city or your community, that real estate, that rent, that housing is a very complicated topic that needs specialized understanding, data, skills, to understand. But in actuality, the way it's approached in economics textbooks, it's treated as just any other market.

You know, the beauty of mainstream economics is you can draw a sideways cross, you can draw an upward sloping line and a downward sloping line. And they intersect at one point and say, "This can explain what's going on in any market." And they do that also for housing and rent control is the textbook example of basically how, you know, bleeding heart liberals don't understand how markets, how money works, and real counterproductive things.

So the idea is that it's so bad that what they call rent control has no connection to any actually existing rent control in any place on the planet and hasn't for decades and decades. In the textbook rent control is that suddenly a city decides to cap the rent at a certain level or even lower the rents that landlords can charge, and they just keep it there.

ies to buildings built before:

And it's not a cap it's, "we are limiting how fast you can increase the rent on a yearly basis," at a rent control board and yada yada. But the way rent control - what's called the second generation of rent control - works has no relation to any of the economists' discussions, were mostly implemented in the sixties and seventies, if not earlier, and the textbooks, you know, normal Intro Microeconomics textbooks, act as if none of this history exists and have blanket denunciations of rent control.

Grumbine (:

Let me ask you then the next question. Why do you suppose that the concept of rent control is important as like an economic policy? Because honest to God, Nathan, I could be wrong, but my guess is based on the people that come to Real Progressives, most of them are living in a life that is directly impacted by rents going up, they're directly impacted by cost of living going up, so this subject, at least at a personal level, I would think would resonate with them.

Why would it matter to economists? Why are economists not doing more to talk about this?

Tankus (:

Well, there's multiple . . . One, the sort of more cynical reason is landlords are extremely powerful and have extremely powerful organizations. And of course, land and home ownership is also deeply connected with the financial system. So there's a lot of very powerful interests that are interested in housing.

And we talk a lot about financial assets and financial assets are important and they're important contribution to net worth and understanding financial net worth as financial assets minus financial liabilities is important. But corporations, businesses, even banks also have nonfinancial assets. And the most important nonfinancial asset is buildings and land.

Buildings and land at their market price are worth wildly more than any other category of nonfinancial assets combined. And so there's a ton of wealth riding on this, and it would be interesting to have a study on this, on how much of the housing research is directly or indirectly financed by FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate.)

So one is that there's a much more direct and immediate interest to having everyone following specific ideological lines in this area of economics than almost any other. And the less cynical or class reason that I would say is because if there's so few areas in society where there seems to be a direct repudiation of what economists say is appropriate economic policy, that it "triggers," for lack of a better term, economists intellectually and creates a very strong response from them.

aul Krugman has an op ed from:

m on Rent Control" written in:

The conclusion is nevertheless, the case against second generation rent controls is so weak that economists should at least soften their oppositions to it. A degree of revisionism is certainly in order. And this is from a mainstream economist who's very much inside the tribe, just looking around and saying just from what the evidence that we have, the way we see the evidence, the arguments against currently existing rent control is so weak.

Grumbine (:

I want to ask you a question. You know, I was reading Romanchuk's "Bond Economics." He was talking about Bitcoin and so forth. And one of the things that jumped out at me, that has nothing to do with Bitcoin whatsoever, is the idea that our country used to sell bonds, that people could buy these bonds, and they grew at a fairly stable or increasing inflation rate that allowed them to have money later in life.

It was one of the things that any of our parents grew to, you know, use as a survival tool and, you know, in looking at non-sovereign entities like New York City, Los Angeles, wherever, the places where there is extremely high rent, San Francisco, Miami, whatever. These are places where I would think that the state, where the locality, could invest in types of bonds to offset the costs.

What are local communities doing to assist regular people to overcome these issues?

Tankus (:

implemented in many cities in:

The issue is that the response is very market-friendly, to use the favorite phrase. So one of the biggest things is something that Mayor de Blasio is famous for, but goes back to Mayor Bloomberg before him in New York City and other places is while you can build your nice, fancy high rise building at a rent at whatever you want and have luxury rents, but we want 10, 15, 20%.

You know, basically we want you to have a chump change of apartments that you rent at quote, unquote, "affordable rents." And this is, you know, kind of the burden that we place on you in exchange for giving you a permit to construct. And, you know, that's better than nothing, but it is chump change in the larger context of affordable housing. And often rents are so high - market rents are so high - that what's called affordable rents is not something that a family making say $70,000 could really afford.

And so the definition, especially in places like New York City, of what is affordable housing get crazy in and of themselves.

Grumbine (:

Okay. So I guess this kind of leads us to that next question, which is what is the second generation of rent control? It seems like you're kind of touching on it now already.

Tankus (:

So especially around World War II, but also World War I, there was a more immediate response that we need to stabilize housing, right, right now, and imposing rent control, just straight up caps. There wasn't as much time spent in actual design; or at least that's what I've seen. Admittedly, I do think that quote, unquote "first-generation rent control" needs a reassessment too, but let's take that as given.

So there were all sorts of arguments about negative effects that had landlords, especially small landlords, not having enough for maintenance, not having enough to do the sort of basic things that they need to do, then they would have these negative impacts. So when it came around in the late sixties, when there was a real push about housing, again, and in the early seventies, what they did is rather than having wholesale, the rents can only be this maximum for this square foot or some kind of, sort of thing that's supposed to apply to all housing, it only applied to preexisting housing.

And the reason that's important is if I construct a building now I have a ton of upfront costs and essentially I'm supposed to be recouping that cost either by selling it to someone who then recoups those costs through rents over the years, or I just recoup it through rents over the years myself. So the idea is if you impose some, or lower, rents by essentially government fiat on newly constructed buildings, that you have sort of an impact on construction, but if you impose rent control on a building that is preexisting and essentially established that any building won't have these kinds of controls, beyond, say, the first 20 years of construction, then it doesn't necessarily have an impact on future construction.

And then a lot of the arguments that economists make against rent control are based on rent control de-incentivizing, building new housing and thus creating even more housing security. And the second piece is, rather than just having these fixed caps, they're more like profit control rather than a straight up price control in that they allow the rents to be increased for certain upkeep and maintenance costs that can be documented by the landlord as actually increasing.

So the idea is that between actually providing incentive to have a certain quality of housing and allowing them to increase rent for upkeep and maintenance costs and not having it apply to new housing, that you weren't having an effect -- that you were lowering rents for people and ensuring that a certain group of people had a stable access to these older apartments without disincentivizing new construction and without letting the older housing deteriorate faster than it would otherwise deteriorate.

Grumbine (:

I want to ask you a question that's out of script here real quickly, obviously 'broken windows policing' was a big deal throughout the New York City area in particular, it kinda took on a life of its own and then it kind of went around the nation. You know, you see the over-militarization of our police forces and the over-policing and so forth.

What do you suppose the high rate of rent does to crime in these major metropolitan areas where it becomes too expensive to live on the up and up?

Tankus (:

I just think that the biggest effect is people's lives in the workplace and people's personal lives, that there is some evidence that, from a common sensical point of view, if you can potentially leave an abusive relationship, or leave an abusive household, and potentially get a job or get some part-time gigs and be able to afford to split an apartment with some people, there's only a certain amount of abuse you'll take, not always but often, and that's not a universal statement, but that applies to a lot of situations.

And the higher rents are relative to median income or just the income you can typically realistically get, especially as a single mother, or a single person, or someone who's been out of the workforce for awhile, that the higher rents are relative to that. The more that people are willing to tolerate abusive relationships when they think the alternative is extreme housing insecurity.

And that the same thing is when they'll tolerate abuse on a job, especially what they think of as a decent job. These kinds of pressures - and since rent is just so central to that, especially rent - they have all these effects on these kinds of interpersonal things. I do think, of course, to the extent that rent increases and a lack of access to affordable housing impoverishes people who wouldn't otherwise be impoverished because of their unemployment or because of their low wages, wages relative to what to the extent that it increases poverty, poverty can intensify those kinds of criminal actions.

But I think the more pernicious thing is the things that people tolerate in their personal lives from other people and from bosses when leaving an apartment and leaving, you know, someone else's economic support just seems completely unimaginable and high rents are essential to that.

Grumbine (:

So where am I going to find the most affordable housing in an area like this? If it even exists, how do I find that? Where is that going to be located?

Tankus (:

So, one of the important things to think about in terms of housing is because housing is mostly long-lived construction. It's something you build that you might be planning on getting a return over 20, 30 years, but it could exist for 75 or 100 years. They've been renovated for the most part, but plenty of 75 and a hundred year old apartments in New York City.

And as a result to the extent that, we won't necessarily say affordable housing, but the lowest rent housing tends to be old, unrenovated housing. So the main source, especially in the United States where public housing construction basically hasn't happened in decades upon decades, upon decades, for the most part, the main source is just kind of aging into housing.

That housing gets old and more decrepit, and someone's already recoups their capital costs; and you get some new speculator who is willing to maintain the apartment building on their own, on the cheap, and they buy in, and it's this older building that someone else is selling out of them. And it becomes a source of lower rent housing, when it was newly constructed it was more likely rented to high-income our higher income people.

the height of luxury into the:

So whatever incentives you put into construction, unless it's building public housing right now, under the current regime basically has no direct effect on the supply of affordable housing. And it's very debatable, whether it has any indirect effect at all. And if it has an indirect effect that might even be negative.

Grumbine (:

Let's peel back the onion here. Because right now, obviously we're talking about local and municipal type laws. How could we address this at a macro level to provide micro incentives or to in fact, subsidize? Is there an MMT solution here at a national level that bypasses the normal local... I mean, what do we have here? I mean, we've got a lot of options. I would imagine. Have any of them been explored?

Tankus (:

So one thing is of course is just straight up building mass public housing. And that can be a wider debate about the advantages or disadvantages of public housing, or at least say public housing construction, if nothing else. That that is the main direct way to deal with housing issues, especially the federal government dealing with those housing issues.

You can do it in a Job guarantee. You can say federally funded, locally administered. But you know, I live - as I think I've talked about it a little bit on this show before - I live in a limited equity co-op, which had public financing involved; but it's technically owned by the people who occupy apartments and they own the right to live there and they own the right to sell that right back to the co-op at an administered price.

I can't sell this apartment on a market. You can provide public funding for those kinds of structures. And that's kind of the ideal in terms of what the federal government could do, but the thing is you still need access to vacant land to build that public housing. And in the United States context, it still involves dealing with municipal and state authorities.

Other places have federal planning systems for dealing with housing - in places like Germany - which I think have a lot to speak for them. The federal government also owns a lot of vacant land that is adjacent to cities in which they can use to expand public housing. But I think that federal funding is of course the most important, but it has to be tied with local political initiatives for affordable housing and an organized constituency of local people interested in having clean, accessible housing and ensuring the quality of that clean low-cost accessible housing.

Intermission (:

You are listening to Macro and Cheese, a podcast brought to you by Real Progressives, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching the masses about MMT or Modern Monetary Theory. Please help our efforts and become a monthly donor at PayPal or Patreon, like and follow our pages on Facebook and YouTube and follow us on Periscope, Twitter, and Instagram.

Grumbine (:

Very, very good. All right. So let's go back to one more thing. I understand the vast majority of individuals think with their own pocket book and these policies may seem out of line, if you will, with the way they understand economic narrative. How does a place like Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, or Philadelphia, or anywhere else like that, how do they institute these kinds of policies?

They're strapped or trapped through a tax dollar, a bond, something, right? I mean, for them to achieve anything, they've got to have some sort of funding and what happens, at least the way I've seen it, when you raise the taxes in these local areas, people flee to the suburbs. And then all of a sudden your tax base is gone and you're left with the poor carrying the weight.

Somewhere like New York City, obviously that's the epicenter of finance and, you know, and so forth, the people are not going to flee there. Maybe they do. What do you do with the flight of the wealth when you raise taxes to achieve these things? It seems like there's gotta be a better way.

Tankus (:

specially white flight in the:

And yes, there were some people who were leaving, but there were structural factors and social factors in addition to their technical, personal pocketbook factors that pushed for flight at those particular times, especially of course preserving their capital value in their housing. And there was a systemic apparatus to take advantage of people scared by housing, desegregation, even just slight small incremental housing desegregation.

I don't think that is quite the context that we are in right now. But the second piece I would say is that it's true that local and municipal governments can't create the United States dollar, but zoning is power, and the power of zoning and deciding what gets built where and what you can rent in the area, how rent is determined in the area is extremely powerful.

Land values are tied to the expected future income that you can get from that land or building something on top of it over some short time horizon say three, four, five years, maybe even a little bit longer. And zoning has a powerful impact on those land values. And so local governments don't have the ability to create US dollars, but they do have the ability to create monetary value in the sense of that their zoning policies can create, especially in a place like Manhattan, trillions of dollars of land value overnight, and they also take away land value in those zoning policies.

One thing is my more technical presentation on an overview of housing issues from the MMT Conference, 'Planning for Housing Affordability: Sketches of a Heterodox Approach.' And in that, the main thing I discussed, which is more a provocation policy than anything else is what I call rent control zoning.

So one of the biggest issues with rent control is what's called economic evictions. The idea that there are difficult, but available legal mechanisms and also some not legal mechanisms of scaring people or getting people out of rent-controlled or rent-stabilized tenants out of housing in order to be able to sell the housing to some developer, to knock the buildings down, or simply to just rent to clientele who can afford much higher rents and economic evictions are one of the big things that undermine the benefits that rent control can provide.

But the reason that that's possible is the fact that they still have a property right, they have a legal right that if the apartment is vacant, they can rent it to a new person and a new uncontrolled base rent, or even just a new uncontrolled rent altogether, or that they have the right to sell the apartment to someone who's going to live in it.

They have all these associated property rights that give them a strong incentive legally or illegally to clear someone out. That's referred to as economic evictions. Now, because the price of the housing has gone up or the rent has gone up, the market rent, if I could just clear out the rent-regulated people, I can make a quick buck.

Well, if you zone in such a way that there's a maximum rent per square foot, however you want to determine that, and that's only adjusted for some index of maintenance or some proven documentation from the landlord of maintenance cost increases, or upkeep cost increases; there's not anything else that they could do with it since it's the area, it's the underlying land.

And it's actually had its rent controlled rather than the actual building or just for the tenant or occupant, you've strengthened the renter, essentially you've strengthened the renter property rights for the area that you zone. And that can go a long way of being able to create affordable housing without having to go on a big construction.

And then the flip side is that you can use your zoning powers to create pockets of luxury real estate, where the attraction is that you have access to these only limited areas in which we allow luxury real estate. And then you apply some sort of land value tax on those areas or some sort of capital gains tax, so that you can create an environment that is amenable to luxury housing and to the rich, but use it as some place where you can siphon off value to do whatever further spending increases you need to do on the affordable housing side.

That said, what I'm talking about is budgetarily much different than 'tax the rich to give subsidies to housing insecure people.' But it's also much more politically contentious because striking much more deeply at what property holders and real estate holders believe are their fundamental rights. So you can't do that kind of thing without a huge political movement.

But I think to me, that is a plus not a negative that we need to be having these kinds of conversations of what actually are the rights of property holders, of real estate holders. And to the extent that the current distribution of rights, you know, leads to mass housing insecurity, and of course, tens of thousands of homeless people, do the property rights that currently exist and the trillions of dollars of land value in places like New York City or San Francisco, those mass amalgamations of monetary value, do the rights to that really outweigh the rights of everyone else in those societies?

And I feel comfortable or at least happy to be having that kind of a debate rather than a debate about how necessarily any form of rent control will necessarily kill the supply of housing and cause mass maintenance, you know, spending cuts that makes things worse for the poor and then to focus that it literally it actually is the maximum amount of property rights we give landholders and building owners that is actively disrupting the livelihoods of everyone else in cities, which of course are the dominant place of living conditions for most Americans.

Grumbine (:

Let me ask you this question. You know, we talk about healthcare as a right, we talk about water as a right - water is life. We talk about all these things that should be rights. And I mean, there just should be these rights, the 'shoulda's' and, you know, I would consider shelter to be one of those type of things that should be a right.

We should have it as a right. And yet at the same time though, municipalities are not, I mean, maybe they're trying not to compete with the private sector, so to speak, but why in the world, wouldn't we take rundown buildings that have long since given up their ghosts, maybe they're condemned that we could renovate, et cetera.

Why are we not going out there and doing that sort of thing? It seems like that is as much a right as healthcare, is it not?

Tankus (:

Absolutely. I think fundamentally it literally is that anything that seems like, that comes across as any kind of incursion on private property rights and business property rights, is seen as a fundamental violation. So for example, why do we grant indefinite deeds? Why would we grant someone the ability to own a piece of land for theoretically thousands of years and beyond into the future, but practically over hundreds of years?

Well it's because if a land deed or owning your house was some 30 year thing, renewable up to some other consideration that wasn't just purely your decision-making, it would seem, you know, outrageous like a fundamental encroachment. And the idea that property owners, if they buy property or buy housing that they don't plan to live in, the idea that they should be able to own that stuff infinitely in the future, it creates a stability and cultural power to property rights that wouldn't exist if say, when a developer builds a high rise building, they own that building for 30 years and then the ownership reverted to the tenants of that high rise building.

There's no economic reason why that wouldn't still create incentive for construction. You'd still get 30 years of uncontrolled rents that would get to you, but it would just be at the end, these are going to revert to communally-owned or some sort of ownership structure where it becomes directly affordable housing.

But if you're limiting me to 30 years, what's going to stop you from limiting me for 20 years, what's going to stop you from limiting me for 10 years? What's going to stop you from appropriating my property right now without any compensation? And that's communism. So when you make any discussion about any marginal abridgment to property rights, it becomes about the logical extreme of that.

And of course, you know, especially in a place like the United States where it's a home ownership society, just like people are temporarily embarrassed millionaires, they're also temporarily embarrassed landlords. And anyone who owns their own apartment, even if it's heavily mortgaged, you're thinking like, but maybe, maybe like, you know, something happens, something's better at work, I get this promotion, maybe I can afford a second mortgage and buy another apartment.

And now I'm a quote, unquote "mom and pop landlord." And so it's part of that sort of ideology. And of course, in other places where the property rights of renters is much stronger and the property rights of other owners of lands and buildings is less, or at least where renters have property rights of homeowners - places like Germany - the people who rent is a much higher percentage of the society.

Grumbine (:

All right, I'm going to try and build something here real quick. And tell me if I'm crazy. So understanding MMT, the government by imposing a tax has in essence created unemployment quote Mosler. As you weed through the hierarchy of that, you go into the fact that our government still uses NAIRU to keep people unemployed, to create scarcity, to keep inflation down, whatever.

So if government created unemployment through taxation and then it still tries to keep a certain number of people unemployed, when you have rents in these areas that are too damn high, all of a sudden you've created a situation you're guaranteeing crime, you're guaranteeing people are going to suffer and it's purposeful, and it's driven by our government. Am I in any way, shape or form off here? Or have I scratched the surface of something?

Tankus (:

One thing that I think Modern Money Network has pushed and Rohan and Raul have pushed, and that we've been expanding as a narrative is there's two major types of obligations that governments impose. They impose taxes, they impose taxes, fines, and fees, these direct monetary obligations. And they also impose the obligation to respect someone else's property rights.

And it's really those two together that create unemployment. In other places, you know, when there were all series of public property rights, most famously around enclosure, well, you were saved from the labor market to a certain extent, maybe not the whole extent because of monetary taxes, but to a certain extent, because you had access to subsistence through your public property rights.

Once those are taken away and you move to a system of pure private property rights where you don't have any sort of direct legal rights to subsistence, that much more forcibly drives people into the labor market and makes them permanent workers rather than sort of seasonal workers or temporary workers.

So I would say that the broader MMT position is that it's the imposition of obligations and the lack of sufficient spending and lack of sufficient planning for housing creates homelessness and unemployment. And that the government has a dual obligation through creating a job guarantee, but also through its public planning apparatus that affects land property rights in all sorts of ways to eliminate unemployment and also eliminate homelessness at the same time.

And that these two things go together. And that the big difference is simply that - especially in a way that the United States government works with its local/state/federal system - that eliminating homelessness is going to involve much more involvement and much more direct involvement in planning of local municipal and state governments than a job guarantee necessarily will, although it will still involve some planning from municipal and state governments.

Then that really. . . It's that difference, and that difference is really just a matter of emphasis and a matter of administrative responsibility.

Grumbine (:

You know, one of the things - we're coming up on time, so I don't want to take you too far over - but I do want to ask point blank: in a situation where we've got people who are obviously incapable of taking care of themselves in a non-regulated, dog-eat-dog world, especially in an area like New York City, what, if any, recourse do they have today?

Forget all the economic implications. What, if any, legal implications do they have today to demand survival or are they just like out on the street?

Tankus (:

Currently they're - under the current legal system - they're out on the street. And I would recommend actually that you check out a new movie called "The Public" that I think deals with these issues very deeply. To the extent that there's any support provided and any major support besides, you know, the limited capacity of homeless shelters that are provided to people with extreme housing insecurity, it's the public library.

The public library is the last bastion left. It's a place that you can go as soon as it's open and you can spend your time on a cold day where it's warm. But the public library closes and you can still freeze to death on the street that night. And that movie has that plot at the center of it. The movie is powerful, but that's really the reality of what we're talking about.

MMN and All Ends and Associated Lawyers Around Us are interested in pushing for legal doctrines in terms of the demands that you can make; but in terms of the current concrete, realistic reality that you're facing, the only legal right you have is, basically, especially at night at 1:00 AM on a cold night, like it was yesterday, is to freeze.

Grumbine (:

I want to be real clear. I, as a guy who gets the opportunity to interview a lot of different people and is trying to start an organization to address things exactly like that, my breath is taken away because you know what, there's no joke, our movement is so full of people that just want to gather groups up and hang out at some local latte shop and talk about the resistance.

That right there, my friend is what we're fighting for. And that's why we talk economics, this program, this group, so goddamn often, and I'm so goddamn bitter at the shallow, thimble-deep, beautiful people, lots of makeup, lots of glitz and glamour, and very, very low on the actual usefulness. And it's gotten to a point, it's gotten to a fever pitch with the beautiful people trying to guide this goddamn revolution.

And I'm watching that. And I am enraged, enraged that they are the ones that get the front and center because there's still the beautiful people. I mean, this just disgusts me.

Tankus (:

I wouldn't quite put it that way. I would say that there's multiple things. There's what's happening on social media, there's what's happening in the mainstream media. And of course especially, you know, TV is a visual medium. So it's going to be more about who can present well in a small concise period of time.

And, you know, frankly also looks good on the camera, especially on short notice in terms of what you're talking about - guests - but in a lot of ways, you know, we should try to make interventions in those conversations. But that is a little bit of a tangential, a little bit of a distraction in that there's a ton of people, you know, in concrete organizing tenant unions, organizing things at local level, at the state level, you know, some on the federal level, some on congressional that are, you know, putting the work in and you don't see them even just on the social media tours because they're working on other stuff.

And also there are people who haven't had the time that the community around MMN has in terms of exploring things from - and I don't mean this in a negative sense, I mean this in a very positive sense - the theoretical aspects of this. So to me, when you have a particular person and you have a particular thing where you think they're saying something that is wrong and is dangerously wrong, that they're representing themselves as liberal and leftist, you know, go at them.

But in terms of how you think about how you're presenting what we're talking about generally, you know, especially as someone who's lives in New York City and interacting concretely with groups, especially as DSA is starting to do a big push on New York City housing organization that especially that kind of concrete, you know, municipal, city, your community organizing, you have to think in terms of, I have been lucky enough to spend the time on a theoretical apparatus and in a way of approaching these issues in a holistic way, and I can catch someone up to speed very quickly.

And I have to see myself in the way MMN very much sees itself - Modern Money Network sees itself - as an intellectual wing, able to provide support. And over those last couple of years especially, there's more and more local or left wing organizing groups who recognize us as such all the time. And I think we're in a period of growth and where we're getting more and more recognition and more and more attention to what we have to say on these various topics.

And I think we should just be thinking in terms of focusing on that growth when we're making general statements about what's going on in these currents. And, you know, sometimes you just have to take someone down, whether it's on Twitter and Facebook, but that's, you know, a particular isolated thing.

There is a way to tell the story where those things are important, and in some ways they are; but my focus, I think MMN's focus, is on the organizations that we're becoming more and more attached to.

Grumbine (:

You guys are doing god's work. You guys are an integral part in a growing future of literacy. And you take action. You guys don't waste time. You guys really are in the mix and I applaud you. I salute you. You guys are my heroes. I really appreciate the effort. And I want to tell folks that don't know about you all enough, you know, that come to our program; you guys are volunteers and you guys do when you say you're going to do something.

There are a lot of volunteers out there who take this as very, very blasé. They just sort of show up when they want to. You guys literally deliver every single time you say you're going to do something, you guys actually do what you said. And I have so much respect for you all. So much.

Tankus (:

We appreciate that a ton. And we appreciate your side of that. Especially the MMT Conference was especially, you know, just on a concrete level and access to things in an immediate way that took a while to have access in any other venue.

Grumbine (:

Awesome. All right, buddy. Look, I'm gonna let you get outta here, man. Thank you so much for the time.

Tankus (:

Of course.

Grumbine (:

I look forward to our next opportunity to talk, buddy. All right, folks. Thank you so much for tuning in. We'll see you soon.

End Credits (:

Macro N Cheese is produced by Andy Kennedy, descriptive writing by Virginia Cotts and promotional artwork by Mindy Donham. Macro N Cheese is publicly funded by our Real Progressives Patreon account. If you would like to donate to Macro N Cheese, please visit patreon.com/realprogressives

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