The Theory Behind the Woodfin Plan

To some degree, the Mayor is correct that there is a social movement trying to displace the old neoliberal way of doing urban development, but we need to talk about what that means.

The current status quo in urban development argues that we should invest at the top end of the labor pool and that the money those people bring will develop the city, and this is true, the city is developing, but the results are not as significant as they could be if another, more salient development paradigm was implemented.

The other paradigm, the one we're pushing, argues for investing at the bottom of the labor pool because it creates higher demand.

Let me explain.

If you give $1000 to ten middle class or wealthy people, they will spend a smaller percentage of that money than if you give $1000 to 100 low-income people.  The reason for this is that low-income people spend a larger portion of their income on basic needs.  It costs the same to feed a middle class person as a low-income person, but food costs are a greater percentage of a low-income person's income.  Thus, by investing in low-income people, more demand is created, and more wealth is created for EVERYONE.

The institutional situation for low-income people that we're trying to create is commons.  There are three types of property that exist on a continuum.  To the far left is state-owned, mistakenly called public, property.  This is ownership by no one.  In the center is private property, or ownership by the few.  To the far right is commons or ownership by the many.  Thus, the institutional vehicle to marshal this new demand is the common.  Cooperatives and community land trusts are commons.

This is not even that radical of an idea.  Keynesian demand management, the theory to invest in low-income populations, created the most amount of wealth for the greatest number of people in human history, but was abandoned after the stagflation crisis of the 1970s, in which the contradictions of Keynesianism reached their peak.  Commons are promoted by everyone from Hilaire Belloc (center-right), Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom (center-left), and David Harvey (Marxist/far left).  Commons also work all over the world.  My friend Paul Rogé recently visited a 1000 year old cooperative tea farm in China, again a common.  

This is not some untested, new idea.  In fact, it is a very, very old idea pre-dating private property.  So while it may seem like our ideas are unproven and that neoliberalism works, what we are proposing is actually better for everyone involved, including the wealthy and middle class.

I would encourage voters to look critically at the plans of the two candidates and to understand that what we're proposing is an older, more proven, and better way to do urban development.  Woodfin4theWin.