As I am sure most Hampton readers know by now, socialist Kshama Sawant has been unusually successful in her progress as Seattle City Councilwoman. While it will take a good while to apply, she did succeed in pushing $15 minimum wage for the city of Seattle.
The Socialist Alternative movement continued with Jess Spear, who ran a pretty stellar campaign against Frank Chopp for the position of speaker. Nevertheless, Spear was “overwhelmed,” as the Seattle P.I. put it, with Chopp raking it 80 percent of ballots, and the explanations why are pretty storied.
Sawant’s honeymoon is over, especially among her more centrist-liberal backers. Liberal publications like ‘The Stranger’ and the ‘Seattle P.I.’ perhaps realized that when Sawant talked about “poorly paid workers and unpaid internships,” she may have been referring to organizations like their own, and not just corporations like Boeing and Microsoft, or the more conservative businesses from Eastern Washington. A lot of Seattle liberalism is a shallow cultural bigotry prepared more for looking down on the “knuckle-dragging conservatives” in the eastern side of the State rather than actually solving the real problems of social inequity. For this reason, the liberal establishment has always been at odds with socialists like Sawant.
Despite her loss, Spear’s campaign was just as impressive as Sawant’s and was run on a platform of “rent control now.” The call for rent control in Seattle was met by the same nonsensical, right-wing arguments that attacked Sawant’s $15 minimum wage platform, and were led by people who should know better. The aforementioned Seattle P.I. article regurgitated the argument that rent control has been “a colossal failure in San Francisco and New York City.” A failure for who? Certainly not poor and working-class renters.
The argument typically deployed by the Right is that, since competition drives down prices, mandating prices artificially inflates the rates. However, cities like SF and NYC are extremely dense, and the demand for housing is extreme. Profit is sought by landlords in any form of capitalist system, so the prices in an area of such demand are going to remain high even with controls set. It’s “rent control” and not “universal housing,” after all. The fundamental argument that is often missing is the one brought to the forefront by Spear, Sawant, and their Party – should things like housing and healthcare be sources of immense profit for private business, or are they human rights that should be, at the very least, affordable?
Not to mention, the Rights go-to argument is opposed by reality – more specifically, the reality that the so-called “free market” is filled with artificial controls by the state that benefit the landowning class and “private” business. For example, American fast food juggernauts like McDonald’s and Burger King got where they are with State subsidies on beef, which gave them a distinct advantage over “competitors” or chains that served healthier food, allowing them to spend much more money on expanding their reach (advertising and growth). I don’t need to tell you how much that formula worked for McDonald’s – you already know. And big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Target have relied heavily on government welfare programs like food stamps and Section 8 housing to supplement their workforces, which are paid poverty wages.
Rent controls wouldn’t work for property owners, a group of people who contribute nothing to society except manipulating property built by others in order to extort the people who only need a roof over their heads. It’s unfortunate that the Seattle P.I. wasn’t more receptive of Spear’s message – after all, their own operation is now “Internet only” as a result of no longer being able to afford a print newspaper. Their staff should know very well how oppressive and uncompromising the “free” market really is.