The Immiseration of Labor: Capitalism, Poverty, and Inequality in Philadelphia | Arturo Castillon

Analysis | March 20th, 2019

The concept of immiseration is usually associated with Karl Marx, as he insisted that the nature of capitalist production resulted in the devaluation of labor, specifically the decline of wages relative to the total value created in the economy. For Marx, this meant that the proletarian class, or working class, was fundamentally defined by precariousness, i.e. material instability, uncertainty, insecurity, and dependency. This theory stems from Marx's analysis of the changing organic composition of capitalist production and the reduced demand for labor that emerges as technology develops and labor becomes more productive. With increasingly productive machines, less labor produces more commodities at a faster rate, leading to the gradual replacement of labor by machines. Marx observed that the realities of capitalist competition necessitated this tendency towards mechanization and rising productivity. If a factory in the South restructures production to raise its productivity - allowing it to sell more commodities, at a faster rate, and at a cheaper price, while employing less labor-while a rival factory in Philadelphia does not, then after a while the factory in the South will run the factory in Philadelphia out of business. In order to protect their market from more productive competitors, therefore, capitalists must reinvest part of their capital into increasing productivity, or perish in the long run.

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The Working Class, the Election, and Trump: An Interview with Sean Posey | Brenan Daniels

Interview | January 12th, 2016

Trump honed in on what he called "forgotten Americans," largely working class people in "flyover country," as it's often derisively called. Somehow Trump understood the enormous malaise that exists in wide swaths of America where local economies-and cultures-have disintegrated. He tapped a vein of populist rage and channeled it back into his campaign. It seemingly took everyone by surprise, especially the media and the political elite. It's important to remember how concentrated the media is now-mostly on the coasts around Washington, New York City, Boston, places like that. So it comes as no surprise that many journalists are deeply puzzled by Trump's rise. It's far less surprising to those of us rooted in what you might call "Trump Country."

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Why There Will Be Another Trump: Focusing on the Cause, Not the Symptom | Sean Posey

Commentary | July 12th, 2016

June was not kind to Donald Trump. After a brief bump in the polls when he secured the status of presumptive nominee, The Donald's numbers began their march to the basement. He now finds himself in a deeply unenviable position. An increasing number of pundits (and, judging by the numbers of them avoiding the upcoming party convention in Cleveland, politicians) are suggesting Trump's candidacy could be a disaster on par with Republican Barry Goldwater's landslide defeat in 1964 or Democrat George McGovern's in 1972. Writing off Trump might be presumptuous at this point (since the media and other experts missed almost every salient facet of Trump's seemingly improbable rise). Yet even if his campaign encounters electoral bankruptcy in November, the specter of another Trumpian figure emerging in the future remains highly probable.

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The Gathering Storm: Donald Trump and the Hollowed-Out American Heartland | Sean Posey

Commentary | April 13th, 2016

Formerly a sparsely populated farming community, Austintown grew as a working-class suburb in the decades after World War II. Steel and autoworkers could commonly afford vacations and college tuition for their children; the community, in many ways, symbolized the working-class American Dream. By 1970, Austintown, along with the neighboring township of Boardman, was part of the largest unincorporated area in the state. [1] The township's population peaked in 1980 at 33,000. Today, however, it's a very different place. Job losses in the local manufacturing sector and the graying of the population led Forbes to label Austintown as the "fifth-fastest dying town" in the country in the midst of the Great Recession. The township's poverty rate had already reached nearly 14 percent in the year before the meltdown of Wall Street.

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Russian Monotowns: Tinderboxes for Unrest | Joseph Kusluch

Commentary | April 13th, 2016

In late February 2016, renowned economist Vladislav Inozemtsev delivered a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies where he argued that there is little chance of large-scale demonstrations across the Russian Federation in the next few years. Although this is a popular belief, there are an estimated 25 million Russians currently living in localities where one or two industries sustain the city - industries that are at risk of closing suddenly from economic strain. These cities, often referred to as "Monotowns," were constructed during the Soviet Union to take advantage of remote natural resources with Soviet planners caring little to diversify the cities' economies.

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Unionizing Workers at Intel Confront Anti-Homeless Sentiments from Tech Community | Shane Burley

Commentary | March 16th, 2016

Collective outrage reverberated from the heart of San Francisco's Mission District and across the country when a hail of media coverage descended on what one Silicon Valley import had to say about the homeless people share his neighborhood. Justin Keller, who is colloquially referred to as the 'tech bro,' is the founder of the start-up After living in San Francisco for three short years, he wrote an open letter to Mayor Ed Lee demanding that the homeless were moved out of his neighborhood so he does not have to "see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people" going to and from work.

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The Roots of the Modern Housing Crisis | Sean Posey

Analysis | February 26th, 2016

Americans today face a dual crisis: rising rents and increasingly unaffordable housing markets. The housing crisis, far from being over, has metastasized. This new set of problems is confounding economists, who are left to view the situation through the narrow lens of mainstream orthodoxy-one that is highly colored by the ever-present notion of the American (Delusion) Dream. If the country is to deal with this new normal, it must embrace new economic tools and question the veracity of a system that swings from one crisis to the next-a system that is proving incapable of providing individuals and families with affordable housing, a basic need.

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Portland Tenants United Leads a New Call for Organizing Against Evictions and Displacement | Shane Burley

Commentary | February 2nd, 2016

During the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday holiday, cities around the country used it as an opportunity to build on Dr. King's legacy for racial and economic justice. For renters in Portland, Oregon, this meant driving at part of social life that has become scarcely sustainable in recent years: housing. In Portland, like in many other "hip" urban areas like San Francisco's Mission District or Brooklyn in New York, the cost of living has skyrocketed as tech and creative class jobs move in and developers force old communities out. This has caused what local housing non-profit the Community Alliance of Tenants has labeled a "Renter S.O.S.," with a recent Zillow study putting the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment at over $1,500. To find the city affordable according to HUD guidelines, this would mean residents would need to make more than $16.00/hr, while the minimum wage remains at only $9.25.

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The New Left and the City | Sean Posey

Analysis | May 28th, 2015

The political and cultural trauma of the 1950s brought about the beginnings of a monumental evolution of the American Left. A decade after the end of the war, the long-feuding AFL and CIO merged. A subsequent purge of leftists from the old CIO ensued as entrenched labor bosses sought to eliminate dissidents, ingratiate themselves to the political elite, and gain cover against charges of communist collusion. In 1956, the Red Army roared into Hungary to eliminate a grassroots revolution against the Stalinist government in power. Marxists in the West began to have their eyes opened to the reality of Soviet Communism, while the purges of American McCarthyism eliminated real and imagined radicals in nearly every institution of American life. The old "Labor Left," having achieved many of its bread and butter issues, appeared to be incapable of dealing with an insurgent Right. In 1960, sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote an open letter to a new generation of radicals. Entitled "Letter to the New Left," Mills' manifesto called for a rethinking and reorganizing of the America Left.

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Forgotten Cities: Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery, and the Lessons of History | Sean Posey

Commentary | March 12th, 2015

This past weekend, a host of activists, historians, public figures, and even President Obama himself, descended on the small city of Selma, Alabama, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of "Bloody Sunday." On that day in 1965, six hundred people attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery to protest the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson-an activist murdered by state police-and to call attention to the widespread human rights violations in Alabama. The ensuing police riot and the televised beating of public protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge spurred the introduction of the Voting Rights Act of 1965; it also made Selma the symbol of the American civil rights movement.

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I Wish I Was In Dixie? Culture, Planning, and the Future of the Southern "Boom" | Sean Posey

Analysis | February 26th, 2015

In addressing the growth of sprawling, low-density, autocentric communities around much of America, Joel Kotkin, a 'New Suburbanist,' states the case for a new outlook: Rather than reject such cities, we are committed to their improvement. All of our analysis of current and likely future trends reveals that sprawling multipolar cities with overwhelmingly auto dependent suburbs will continue to enjoy economic and demographic growth over the next several decades. Despite what many New Urbanists might want to believe, Kotkin - though a sprawl apologist - is likely correct. Polycentric cities will continue to grow, and they will continue to attract new residents - for now. Much of that growth will occur in the South, now the most populous region in the United States. Ultimately, however, this is an unsustainable trend.

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From Rust Belt to Blue Belt: Water, Climate Change, and the Reordering of Urban America | Sean Posey

Analysis | December 20th, 2014

Taking a drive down State Route 224 through Northeast Ohio is in many ways akin to taking a trip back through time. At one point, before the interstate highway program, US 224 was an all-important route for truckers. Small towns and farms thrived along its edges. The construction of the expressway ultimately diverted much of the economic lifeblood of 224. And though much has been said about the subsequent decline of the small communities on the route, much less talked about is the disappearance of the farms. Vast stretches of fallow farmland are a common sight, not just around 224, but also around cities and towns of all varieties in Ohio Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan.

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Learning From the Cleveland Model: Notes on the Next American Revolution | Sean Posey

Analysis | November 12th, 2014

In 2009, during the depths of the Great Recession, a small laundry opened in one of the most depressed neighborhoods in the poverty-stricken city of Cleveland. This seemingly obscure event proved to be a large salvo in what is slowly becoming a national dialogue on the future of wealth democratization in America. The Evergreen Cooperative Laundry-itself one part of Evergreen Cooperatives-is a "green" industrial laundry rooted in Cleveland's historically challenged Glenville neighborhood. Evergreen Cooperatives mission: to create worker-owned cooperative enterprises connected to a larger concept of community wealth building. Evergreen's economic experiment is part of what is called "The Cleveland Model" by its ideological father, the political economist Gar Alperovitz.

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Raking In On Rents: The Housing Crisis Begins Anew | Devon Douglas-Bowers

Analysis | October 7th, 2014

Wall Street wrecked the economy in 2007 due to dealing in shady mortgage securities that were given dubious triple-A ratings and put the entire global economy on the brink. Do you think those big banksters learned their lesson and decided not to dabble in overly complex financial instruments and to stop deceiving people? The answer is, of course, a resounding no. Not only have the bankers escaped punishment for nearly destroying the economy, along with millions of lives, they are now involving themselves in the rental arena and may create another financial crisis in the process.

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Rotten Apple: How New York Symbolizes Inequality in America | Sean Posey

Analysis | September 4th, 2014

There are few more fascinating stories in American urban history than the rise, seeming fall, and gold-plated rebirth of New York City. At the beginning of the twentieth-century, the Big Apple was growing by leaps and bounds. Forty percent population growth rates proved to be the norm. Even Chicago and Buffalo-the then rapidly growing "City of Light"-couldn't outpace New York. Masses of poor immigrants poured through Ellis Island every year, passing the copper visage of the Statue of Liberty and into the dense grid of Manhattan. Names were made and financial empires built in those days as monstrous curtained-walled skyscrapers sprouted up, reshaping the city's landscape as much as its brokers and financial barons reshaped the economic landscape.

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The Failure of the Futurists: Picturing the Cities of Tomorrow | Sean Posey

Commentary | June 11th, 2014

America has long had a problematic relationship with the city. A country weaned on romantic notions of Jeffersonian agrarianism and rugged individualism didn't take well to the rapid urbanization of the nation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yet it was urbanization that turned America into the industrial colossus of the world. Still, American futurists alternatively have rejected the city as the habitat of tomorrow and dreamed of a future urbanism couched in the idea of continued technological progress-and ultimately, utopianism.

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The Life and Death of the "Great" American Mall | Sean Posey

Commentary | April 3rd, 2014

For a country with a historical memory as short as ours, the mall might seem like it has been a permanent fixture in American life. In the churn'em and burn'em world of corporate consumer culture though, everything has a shelf life. And these cavernous and tacky monuments to conspicuous consumption that we call shopping malls have reached theirs. The mall occupied a central place in America for nearly fifty years: It provided an outlet for socializing for generations of bored teenagers; the mall served as a place of bonding for overworked adults and their children on weekend trips; and perhaps most of all, for a time, it served as an insufficient replacement for the vacuum suburbanization created in the communal life of some many areas of the country.

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Is Pittsburgh America's Most Livable City? | Sean Posey

Commentary | February 8th, 2014

American news coverage of the meteoric rise of Chinese industrial might invariably focuses on the soot and smog ridden manufacturing cities of the Middle Kingdom. Photographs of cities like Shenzen and Harbin flash across televisions screens looking like stills from some level of Dante's Inferno. While this might promote some smugness among Americans, it was only a few generations ago that American manufacturing cities resembled hellish nightmares, where the environment and the working class were abused in equal measure. Most notable among those was Pittsburgh, America's "steel city."

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