I live in Toronto. It’s a vibrant economy and culture, but there’s plenty of simmering conflict here. The tech, finance, and film/tv industry are the major drivers of the city’s economy, but there are plenty of people left behind.
Rent control and housing affordability is a crushing pressure on people all over the city. There’s pressure on the middle classes. People now able to afford a condo’s mortgage are locked out of a townhouse market with not enough supply, and a detached home market whose value has ballooned ridiculously.
High demand entices building owners and property managers to raise rents beyond what many in already run-down buildings can afford. Elected political leaders in city and provincial offices are no longer interested in subsidizing low-income housing directly, which pushes more disadvantaged people out of housing and into cars or parking garages with few security cameras.
Both Ford brothers – alive and dead – have given lip service to affordable housing. Former mayor Rob would visit the city’s public housing to highlight its unsavoury character.
For the most part, the Ford brother who has a good chance of becoming Ontario’s next premier has taken a Not-In-My-Neighbourhood attitude toward disadvantaged people.
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Toronto’s housing pressure is a function of a very basic process of capitalism, one Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari explored in Anti-Œdipus. It’s a social / economic system that’s remarkably durable, which is strange.
There have been plenty of economic crises in capitalism – 47 major recessions in the history of the United States alone. The system was unstable enough that a union activist turned social scientist could write an analysis of capitalist economics describing it as a system heading inevitably for self-destruction.
The contemporary left doesn’t take Marx’s ideas at face value anymore. At least the intelligent ones don’t. Anti-Œdipus was another generation’s updating the basic idea of Capital to unexpected, contingent, new conditions.
* As long as the size of some people’s shares of the pie grows at a greater rate than the size of the pie. That’s how an oligarch’s class is created.
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Toronto’s high-pressure real estate market is one of those systems squeezed by affordability crunches. Profiteering people and organizations – property owners, investors in new condo developments – build these massive structures for middle class and professional class renters and homeowners.
Protests of these developments happen when people worry that they’ll be squeezed out of their homes – squeezed out of any homes at all – by the pressure of ubiquitous development that leaves them behind. That’s the injustice of property development – growing supply of middle class housing can stabilize the pressurized prices, but force those of more modest means away.
Gentrification’s irony. We all know it. A neighbourhood is filled with people of modest means who are all somehow marginalized from the mainstream. Working class. Artists. New immigrants. Marginalized people, whether by ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or some other racial or caste marker. Home of the minorities of a society.
Contemporary Toronto has its equivalents. Refugees from all over the world live in the Toronto area, as well as immigrants who come to Canada having to rebuild their entire lives. They’re the disadvantaged of our economic system, where we most value people who are already rich.
Yet a culture of entirely rich people is boring. It’s dull. It’s creatively dead. All this class knows how to do is commodify – invest for a higher return. But if you need sources outside your own class to invest in, you need to find difference-makers – new trends, new businesses, new ideas.
The minorities of our societies are the creative classes – they’re already mixing and realigning cultural codes and traditions in their own identities as they adapt to their new social worlds. Capitalism as a social system needs such people – hustlers, artists, new people – because the elite of a capitalist system don’t have the capacity to think anymore.
The margins of a society bring the energy to the next growth and creative process in a capitalist economy. Yet the very success of those processes force marginalized people out of a society, since the prosperity of an unrestrained capitalist system tends to cluster in oligarchical shapes.
Oligarchs hate those filthy poor people, and they aren’t smart of worldly enough to know how profoundly they depend on them.