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Land and Liberty, Against the New City

Land and Liberty, Against the New City

Debt, wage-labor, rent. These are the three scourges of the modern, fully capitalist world, the three faces of exploitation that confront the proletarian of today.

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Debt, wage-labor, rent. These are the three scourges of the modern, fully capitalist world, the three faces of exploitation that confront the proletarian of today. Rent might be the least examined of these terms, the landlord all too easily conflated with banker and boss. Perhaps this is because rent is one of the most naturalized of property relations – a tax one pays for the simple crime of existing in space dimensional, of being a body not always in frantic motion, a body needing rest. The idea that space can be owned in the same way that one can own an object is so strange, if one thinks about it, that it is hardly surprising few of us actually do, that the landlord is forgotten about when we list the enemies we will send up the steps of the guillotine. In the fully capitalist world, the trinity of neoclassical economics – labor, capital, land – is often translated into the simple binary of labor and capital, since the aristocratic, land-owning class that once lived off of ground-rent has vanished and with it, at least in the majority of the world, the peasantry it once terrorized. The owners of land are now all capitalists, and so it is perhaps true that we can call Monsieur Le Capital to account for the crimes of Madame La Terre once the party of disorder takes to the streets. But if we think about what makes life unbearable today, rent is surely at the top of the list, if not in first place. The hardship of life in the metropolis derives directly from the difficulty of making rent, of finding a place to live. This is, in many regards, an effect of the developmental trajectory of capitalism, an effect deriving from its miraculous success in generating an excess of wealth that is experienced by most as an excess of misery.  One result of the massive increase in capitalist productivity has been to bring down the cost of all wage goods, food most especially, relative to shelter. Rent grows simply because it doesn’t shrink. For most proletarians in the US, the largest share of their available income goes to rent or mortgage payments, rather than food, as was the case in the past. Though hunger has hardly been eradicated, and people suffer from lack of food all the time, it is homelessness that today characterizes poverty, that marks the threat of wageless life.

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