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Does anyone have a concise analysis of the connection between capitalism and homelessness?

+1 vote
In particular I mean homelessness as it is experienced by the majority of homeless people in North America, as opposed to, say, anarchist squatters & travelers. A friend is working on a project around this, and while I feel comfortable laying out my own analysis of the connections, I had a hard time finding other material and sources that actually draw them out. It seems that mostly we've skated by with sort of, "capitalism creates and necessitates homelessness and poverty, duh!" sort of critiques.
asked Feb 3, 2012 by ingrate (21,970 points)
edited Feb 3, 2012 by ingrate

2 Answers

+4 votes
Capitalism requires elite ownership over the means of subsistence, including land. Capitalism over the last several hundred years dispossessed most people, as the various histories of Enclosures will show, as will the important development of the industrial revolution where mechanized capitalist production outcompeted rural artisan/peasant economies. Rural people who had some control over land had to leave for urban centers to rent out their bodies and the landlords and real estate marketers prevailed, meaning some people became unwilling vagrants for lack of money.

Land rents in a capitalist market have no cost mechanisms accounting for human survival or dignity, only for profit to legal owners, therefore homeless people will exist under capitalism because private property laws enforce ownership-without-occupancy-and-use plus legal deeds and rent contracts and financially marginal people do not accumulate monetary value for owners, or at least they cannot compete with businesses and wealthier people.

In capitalism the cost of allowing very poor people with likely unstable work situations into buildings can become more of a financial liability than an income, and the poorest people will never compete successfully for space against powerful interests even if the rentiers have to wait for awhile. Homeless people are then forbidden with force from directly providing for themselves, once again because of the institution of private property as it exists.

Capitalist landlords prefer overpopulated situations because then the people have to compete with one another for the space they need, meaning the landlords make more money, which naturally leads to too many people and too little space, or some people winning (becoming housed) and some people losing (becoming houseless).

Homeless people also provide a useful bogeyman for capitalists because people will not risk their jobs struggling for better situations if they fear becoming the dispossessed class.

"There is one kind of prison where the man is behind bars, and everything that he desires is outside; and there is another kind where the things are behind the bars, and the man is outside." -Upton Sinclair.
answered Feb 4, 2012 by AutumnLeavesCascade (8,890 points)
wow I always love reading your responses. Feel like it helps me learn a lot. Quote at the end wow. :)
–1 vote
Capitalism involves buying and selling houses. Those who can't afford buying a house, or renting from someone who owns a house, do not get houses.

Are you looking for deeper or more complicated connections?
answered Feb 8, 2012 by hypocrite (310 points)
as much as i enjoy a good terse, hypocrite - capitalists could argue (and have) that capitalists want people to have money so that those people will give it to them. ie poverty doesn't do anybody any good (is the argument). (so the brevity of your answer works if we take for granted the assumptions that we already hold dear, but not necessarily if we don't.)
I'm not sure how many assumptions are necessary for my answer to work.

There has never been a capitalist economy without a certain portion of the population being unemployed. The most ardent capitalist would not dispute this; whether capitalists, or anyone else, "want" an inherent, base level of unemployment is irrelevant.

I don't see any assumptions open to dispute that are necessary for the connection between unemployment and homelessness: those without income cannot afford to buy access to housing. Thus, homelessness in inherent to capitalism.

This line of argument certainly does not exhaust an exploration of the relationship between capitalism and homelessness. Large sections of the homeless population is actually employed, but lacks access to housing affordable to their level of income. Such a discussion probably makes for juicier analysis, but I believe my original answer more clearly highlights homelessness as an inevitable characteristic of a capitalist economy.
you're right. "connection between" is more where the issue lies. i was reading the question as being more loaded -- ie, how does capitalism enforce or encourage homelessness, why is homelessness something that capitalism doesn't just cause, but requires. i may not be putting that well still, but it's a bit more the line i was thinking along.
i like the conciseness of hypocrit's answer, but it leaves out the role of the state in the equation. some - maybe many, not sure, but fanny and freddie are the biggest lenders on the planet i think - people without the financial resources to rent/own a home get assistance from the state (a huge and requisite part of the overarching capitalist domination of the planet) which does enable them to rent/buy a home.  or at least provides the illusion of such.
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