Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Economy, Inequality and the Dilemma of Cities

This Saturday former Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley told the nation on the occasion of declaring his run for the presidency that "the economy is upside down and backwards".

As Martin Luther King had already observed, injustice, whether urban or rural cannot be overcome by philanthropy alone. Let me add: Or by urban planning.
 “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” (Martin Luther King)
Peter Dreier, a professor of politics recently took this one step further in an article about  "Philanthropies Misguided Ideas for Fixing Ghetto Poverty". Dreier says in it as the Atlantic CityLab summarizes it:
What government and philanthropy should focus on is system-wide reform of the market system that perpetuates economic inequality. Neighborhood revitalization projects are trivial when what’s really needed is an extreme makeover of capitalism. 
Published May 2015
This is also what my brother, Dirk Philipsen concludes in his new book: "The Little Big Number", a history about the GDP, the metric of the Gross National Product, which became the indicator of all indicators in capitalism, published at Princeton Press. His book begins with a quote from Einstein: "The significant problems we face cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them". My brother then writes:
[...] as a measure, GDP is both primitive and dangerous and should be abandoned. It is a delusion that jobs, the good life, or progress itself depends on GDP growth. (p. 208) Sustaining and expanding human well-being, which should be our goals, are not the same as promoting growth or income.
Fixing Baltimore City cannot wait until capitalism has been reformed or abolished, not even until the GDP has been replaced with more meaningful indicators. Still, it needs to be realized that [for us] "Baltimore is the country and the country is Baltimore" (O'Malley). In other words, what ails the urban ghetto cannot be resolved within one neighborhood or one city alone. It is a function of the national economy which, in turn is a function of international markets. This is why it is so incredibly difficult to affect real change, even as President  of the United States, let alone a city mayor or his police or housing commissioner.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

My brother is a professor of economic history, a Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics and a Duke Arts and Sciences Senior Research Scholar. He was educated in Germany and the U.S., and holds degrees in economics and history. His work and teaching is focused on sustainability and the history of capitalism.
His first book is titled "We Were the People"

[Dirk] Philipsen argues that not only is GDP a flawed statistic in need of replacing—but the whole notion of open-ended economic growth needs to go, too."
He estimates that since the 1950s there’s been enough global wealth to “provide food, shelter, education, health care, and a decent living environment for every man, woman, and child on earth.”  --Kevin Hartnett, Boston Globe

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