One bill hopes to repeal the crime of selling sex and expand social services; the other would legalize the entire sex trade.
Although incorrectly labeled the world's oldest profession, prostitution has been on the minds of lawmakers for as long as extant laws allow us to track. The Code of Hammurabi, the most complete of ancient Babylonian laws, doesn't deal with the sex trade directly but does distinguish between the inheritance rights enjoyed by "devoted women" versus prostituted women.
A few centuries later and across the Mediterranean, the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations regulated a legal sex trade depicted on frescos and black-and-red-figure vases in exotic and highly idealized terms. However, the courtesan's life was hardly a high-minded exercise in sexual liberation. Freeborn wives and daughters did not participate in the sex trade. Instead, these societies filled their brothels with slaves and infames and allowed them to suffer in abhorrent living conditions. The ashen evidence from Pompeii reveals that prostituted women and young men were immured within dark, stifling cells barely large enough to house their stone beds.
In the United States today prostitution is entirely illegal, save for a few counties in the state of Nevada. Yet, trafficking persists across the country. One study from the Field Center for Children's Policy, University of Pennsylvania, interviewed vulnerable youths across 13 cities and found that roughly a fifth were victims of sex trafficking. Many said they were approached for paid sexual acts during their first night of homelessness.
Opponents of the full-criminalization model argue that these regulations only aggravate such problems, driving prostituted people further underground, where harm and violence may be inflicted upon them without recourse. In recent decades, European countries have introduced new prostitution laws, leading U.S. advocates to raise their voices for decriminalization. And two new bills introduced in the New York State Senate hope to make that change.
The Equality Model asks, criminal or victim?
Advocates stand outside a courthouse to protest Ghislaine Maxwell, former girlfriend to Jeffrey Epstein, for her role in his sex-trafficking ring.
Credit: Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images
The most recent of the two is the Sex Trade Survivors Justice & Equality Act. Set to be introduced by Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan, the law would repeal the crime of prostitution in the state but would maintain punitive measures against buyers and pimps. The penalty for buying sex, for example, would be a sliding-scale fine based on income. The bill also aims to strengthen laws against trafficking and eliminate the so-called ignorance defense, which affords buyers legal cover if they did not have "reasonable grounds" to assume their victim was underage.
The Sex Trade Survivors Justice & Equality Act is based on the Equality Model, first introduced in Sweden in 1999. Under the Swedish Sex Purchase Act, the country decriminalized prostitution and began targeting buyers and suppliers with the goal of lowering demand. As demand decreased, the thinking went, Sweden would witness a subsequent reduction in violence, trafficking, and the trauma associated so strongly with the illicit sex trade. And a 2008 report did find that the strategy manifested some of those goals.
After the law's introduction, costs increased, fewer men sought to purchase sex, and the number of women in street prostitution halved—though the burgeoning internet scene likely influenced that metric as much as the law.
As for Sweden's prostituted population, the report was mixed. Fears of the law driving prostitution further underground weren't realized, nor did the risks of physical abuse or dangerous living conditions increase. However, while people who sought to leave the life favored the law, those who wished to stay in the trade denigrated it for hyping the social stigma.
After the report's release, countries such as Norway, Iceland, Canada, and Israel adopted the Equality Model, and today, many U.S. advocacy groups champion for states to institute similar laws.
"We who have been in the human-trafficking policy movement for a long time have been advocating for years that people in prostitution should not be criminalized for their exploitation," Alexi Meyers, director of anti-trafficking policy at Sanctuary for Families, told Big Think in an interview discussing the New York bill. "It's the only law where the victim is arrested. Instead of handcuffs, [people in prostitution] need services, need housing, need support."
Critically, the Sex Trade Survivors Justice & Equality Act does more than decriminalize prostitution. It also bolsters social services such as housing, job training, and mental health care. To help finance these services, money collected by the aforementioned buyer fine will go into a victim-compensation fund. The bill also expands protections for minors arrested under safe harbor and would vacate victims' prior convictions so they could more easily find jobs.
"When someone has had no family support, have been abused their entire lives, and they haven't gotten the services they need, at the age of 18, they haven't magically transformed from a victim of trafficking into a consenting adult," Jayne Bigelsen, vice president of advocacy for Covenant House, New York, said in our interview.
Bigelsen grants that not everyone engaged in the commercial sex trade may view themselves as a victim, but she notes that a large portion of the population remains vulnerable nonetheless. To treat such people as criminals, as so many contemporary laws do, does no one any favors. The fear of arrest actively discourages victims from seeking an "off-ramp" to the life and strengthens the coercive hold their pimps and traffickers maintain on them.
"[The law helps] reframe the understanding that this is not a crime. It is a form of gender-based violence and exploitation. I think, over time, people will have a greater understanding of that," Bigelsen adds.
Prostitution, an occupation like any other?
Sex workers in Amsterdam's famous red-light district, where window prostitution is permitted.
Credit: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
But critics of the Equality Model believe it's disguised paternalism that robs women of the right to choose. Worse, they argue, it further stigmatizes sex workers within society and drives the sex trade further underground, where exploitation and violence can continue to fester from prying eyes.
A second New York Senate bill, currently in committee, would decriminalize the entire sex trade within the state. Called the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, the bill would keep penal laws related to minors and sex trafficking but would make sex work between consenting adults a legal, regulated trade.
"Sex work is work and should not be criminalized by the state," Senator Julia Salazar, who introduced the bill, stated in a press release. "Our current policies only empower traffickers and others who benefit from keeping sex work in the shadows. New York State needs to listen to sex workers and make these common-sense reforms to keep sex workers safe and empower sex workers in their workplaces."
Like the Sex Trade Survivors Justice & Equality Act, Salazar's bill draws inspiration from European laws, namely those from the Netherlands and Germany. Both countries legalized the sex trade a few years after Sweden introduced its Equality Model—though laws and regulations vary between the countries and even districts within them. For example, Germany has passed a law that requires any business offering sex services to apply for a permit "that will only be granted if health, hygiene and room requirements are met," while Amsterdam limits window prostitution to specific city zones.
Full-decriminalization advocates hope such laws will facilitate freedom of choice, access to social services, improved health and working conditions, and the decoupling of the occupation from criminal enterprises. They also argue that full decriminalization closes the unintended consequences created by the Equality Model.
An Amnesty International report notes that in Norway, sex workers are routinely evicted from their homes because landlords fear rental agreements will expose them to prosecution for promoting sex. Similar liability concerns deter third parties, such as security, from working with sex workers, too. As a result, sex workers themselves may not be prosecuted but their lives are no less secure nor more firmly established within society.
"What we have isn't working. The current model of criminalizing sex work traps sex workers and trafficking survivors in cycles of violence. The new proposed legislation referred to as the 'Equality Model' conflates sex work with sex trafficking, using the logic of broken windows policing to address trafficking by targeting sex workers," writes the advocacy group Decrim NY.
New York State to lead decriminalization
Of course, Equality Model advocates have their arguments against full decriminalization. Even in countries that have legalized prostitution, the sex trade retains strong ties to criminal activities. Prostituted women continue to be viewed as pariah—or, in the case of Amsterdam, tourist attractions. And like the legal sex trades of the ancient world, contemporary examples have witnessed a surge in human trafficking to meet the demand. More often than not, poor women from poor countries.
"If you decriminalize people who buy sex, you're removing any legal barriers or social barriers, and the number of people who buy sex will exponentially increase, and you'll have to fill that new, legal demand with supply. And that supply is human bodies, and there aren't enough willing participants to fulfill that need. That's when trafficking occurs," Alexi Myers said.
A report commissioned by Germany's Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth looked into the effects of the country's 2001 law. It found the intended impacts to be lacking. According to the report, the Prostitution Act did not create measurable improvements on social protection, working conditions, reduced crime, or the means for leaving the business. The report did assuage some fears, however, by finding that legalization did not make it more difficult to prosecute sex traffickers or related violence when they occurred.
All told, data will never point to a perfect solution to this or any social concern. In the case of prostitution, emotions and moral instinct run at the redline. Often, the solution one proposes comes down to one's answer of this question: What is prostitution? Is it a violation of another human's rights and dignity? An occupation like any other? Or a moral offense old as the law itself?
Whatever your answer, you'll likely find current U.S. law lacking. It's for this reason that many states are reanalyzing and revamping their prostitution laws to protect victims, usually with more robust safe harbor laws. Whichever law New York State chooses, its successes and failures will likely serve as a bellwether for the United States moving forward.
A photo showing two Alabama police officers bragging about a "homeless quilt" made from confiscated panhandling signs raises questions about the constitutionality of panhandling.
- In a photo posted to Facebook, two Alabama police officers can be seen holding a collection of signs that police had ostensibly taken from homeless people.
- By Monday afternoon, the photo had been shared thousands of times on social media, where some people were calling for the officers to be fired.
- The incident raises questions over an unclear legal question in the U.S.: Is nonviolent panhandling a form of protected speech?
Several Alabama police officers sparked online outrage after posting to Facebook a photo of two cops holding a "homeless quilt" made from confiscated panhandling signs.
The officers smiling in the photo, Preston McGraw and Alexandre Olivier, are recent graduates of the Mobile Police Academy, according to Al.com. Two other people are mentioned in the Facebook post, but it's not clear who they are, or whether they work for the Mobile Police Department. In the Facebook photo, McGraw and Olivier hold signs that display pleas like, "Trying to make it, anything helps, god bless you." The photo caption reads:
"Wanna wish everybody in the 4th precinct a Merry Christmas, especially our captain. Hope you enjoy our homeless quilt! Sincerely, Panhandler patrol."
By Monday afternoon, the photo had been shared thousands of times, with reactions being almost universally negative.
Officers from @MobileALPolice made a "quilt" out of signs they apparently confiscated from homeless people as a gru… https://t.co/H7H5Hhjy4L— Gretchen Koch (@Gretchen Koch)1577715741.0
It takes real effort to do something this callous. Someone spent time on this. https://t.co/cjgDMY5t3e— Jane Coaston (@Jane Coaston)1577728838.0
There is a case for enforcing vagrancy laws. But this is just awful. https://t.co/jfOYKmU4IV— PEG (@PEG)1577728945.0
In a Facebook post published on Monday, Chief of Police Lawrence Battiste offered the department's "sincerest apology for the insensitive gesture."
"Although we do not condone panhandling and must enforce the city ordinances that limit panhandling, it is never our intent or desire as a police department to make light of those who find themselves in a homeless state," the post reads. "Rather, our position has always been to partner with community service providers to help us help those faced with homelessness with hope to improve their quality of life."
The photo clearly raises questions over the department's relationship with the local homeless community, and over the officers' general fitness for duty. Some Twitter and Facebook users noted that it seemed like an especially cruel thing to do, considering the timing of the photo and the "Merry Christmas" caption suggests the signs were confiscated over the Christmas holiday.
But the incident also highlights a broader legal question: Is panhandling protected by the First Amendment?
The constitutionality of panhandling laws
Should panhandling be a crime? Should police have the power to confiscate panhandling signs? To answer those questions, you have to consider how the courts have viewed panhandling in the framework of the First Amendment.
For decades, many U.S. cities have passed — and have been sued over — panhandling laws. Supporters of these laws generally frame panhandling as a public safety issue. Meanwhile, opponents argue that the laws infringe on free speech rights. In any case, panhandling laws vary. For example, ordinances that ban aggressive panhandling (solicitation that includes menace or intimidation) aren't controversial. But more restrictive laws are — such as those that ban panhandling in certain areas: subways, airports, state fair grounds.
The courts have generally recognized that "solicitation for money is closely intertwined with speech" and that "solicitation to pay or contribute money is protected under the First Amendment," as the Supreme Court wrote in Schaumburg v. Citizens for a Better Environment (1980). The key constitutional question among these cases is whether panhandling laws are content-neutral — meaning they don't ban a specific type of speech or message — given that content-based restrictions are considered to violate the First Amendment.
In 2015, the Supreme Court ruling reaffirmed this content-based interpretation. The ruling, from Reed v. Town of Gilbert, found that laws can't treat signs differently based on their content. That case dealt with church signs, but the ruling has since been cited to help strike down numerous panhandling laws across the country.
"[The Reed case] has placed literally every panhandling ordinance in the United States at least under risk," First Amendment scholar Enrique Armijo, associate dean for academic affairs at Elon University School of Law, told NPR.
The case has led some cities to try other ways of criminalizing panhandling. In April, for example, a federal district judge struck down an Arkansas city's law that banned physical interaction between pedestrians and vehicle occupants. Judge Robert Dawson wrote that the law infringed upon speech.
"The Court can think of no reason why a pedestrian would intentionally attempt physical interaction with a motor vehicle or its occupants other than to communicate a message."
However, unless the Supreme Court issues a clear ruling on the constitutionality of panhandling, it seems these kinds of laws will remain legally contentious, given that they're currently on the books in hundreds of cities across the U.S.
It's a victory for homeless advocates on the West Coast, who say criminalizing homelessness is cruel and ineffective.
- The Supreme Court let stand a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which deemed homeless anti-camping laws unconstitutional.
- Opponents of the ruling argue that local governments need more power to manage homeless populations, which are growing, especially on the West Coast.
- Homeless advocates argue that criminalizing homelessness does not solve the root issue.
When the shelters are full, should it be a crime for homeless people to camp and sleep outside in public spaces?
The Supreme Court on Monday effectively said it shouldn't be a crime by declining to hear an appeal of the case City of Boise vs. Martin. That case, filed in 2009, involved 10 homeless people suing the city of Boise after they were ticketed approximately $150 for doing things such as resting near a homeless shelter, sitting on a riverbank with a backpack, and putting down a bedroll in the woods.
The plaintiffs claimed that the ordinance violated the Eighth Amendment, which protects against excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment. In 2018, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and ruled the ordinance unconstitutional. Now, the Supreme Court is letting that ruling stand.
It's a blow to state and local governments in nine western states who hoped that the high court would have given law enforcement more power — not less — to manage or eradicate homeless encampments.
Image source: The Washington Post / Contributor
"I think a lot of jurisdictions were hoping that the Supreme Court would enable a much greater level of enforcement activity around the unsheltered homeless, and that won't be the case," said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who is co-chair of California's task force on homelessness.
Homeless advocates hope the ruling will spur governments to create more shelters and housing programs.
Image source: Portland Press Herald / Contributor
"Our hope is that communities won't be nickel-and-diming this decision and figuring out the bare minimum so they can be legally compliant," said Eric Tars, an attorney with the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, who represented several plaintiffs in the initial Boise case. "We hope they take this opportunity to alter a completely unsuccessful way of dealing with homelessness."
But opponents of the ruling claim it leaves governments unable to manage a public safety problem.
In court documents, lawyers for Boise said: "Public encampments, now protected by the Constitution under the Ninth Circuit's decision, have spawned crime and violence, incubated disease, and created environmental hazards that threaten the lives and well-being both of those living on the streets and the public at large."
Image source: Smith Collection / Gado
It's unclear exactly how cities covered by the 9th Circuit Court will change their approach to managing the homeless population. Las Vegas, for example, recently passed a law that makes it illegal to sleep on downtown streets only if there are beds available at local shelters.
What's uncontroversial in this case is the fact that homelessness, especially on the West Coast, is a significant problem. In Los Angeles County, as many as 60,000 people are homeless on any given night in 2019, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. In San Francisco, the homeless population has soared by 30 percent since 2017. Sacramento reported this summer that its homeless population is the highest on record. And across the U.S., about 500,000 people go homeless each night.
As more American cities are starting to pass anti-camping ordinances, homeless advocates argue that these kinds of laws fail to effectively address the root issue.
"Housing, not handcuffs, is what ends homelessness," Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, told NPR.
Are tiny homes just a trend for wealthy minimalists or an economic necessity for the growing poor?
- The tiny home movement has been popular on social media sites, often portraying an idyllic lifestyle that's cheaper and better for the environment without sacrificing aesthetics.
- But tiny homes may become the answer to a growing population and growing inequality.
- As the movement continues to build up steam, one has to wonder whether it's a housing crisis solution with a new coat of paint.
Tiny homes. They're the watchword of the Home & Garden network, at once an Instagrammable, envy-inducing lifestyle and an unfortunate necessity for a generation struck by a recession, historically high inequality, and loans taken out for an ostensibly necessary education that's failed to really net any benefits.
But the question is, which are they? A symbol of a smarter, more environmentally-conscious, humbler generation — or a symbol of one that's had to make do with less than its predecessors? (See: "Millennials buy the things their parents did — but they're much poorer.")
Downsizing housing and hubris
Will tiny homes look like this in the future -- smaller and more efficient but still beautiful?
Image source: Mike Morgan / For The Washington Post via Getty Images
In the U.S., things are just bigger, and houses are no exception. The median size of a single-family home in the U.S. peaked in 2015 at 2,467 square feet. Compared to other parts of the world — particularly Europe — this is a massive figure. There's a variety of reasons for this; one, for example, is that Americans began driving early and often, which transformed the design of their cities and suburbs. Developers could build outside of urban centers where the land was cheaper and more plentiful, enabling bigger houses to be bought.
In addition, the idea of having a lot of space seems to be an appealing one to the former European colonies — where Europeans have often lived in more cramped, repurposed older buildings, Australians, Canadians, and Americans had the opportunity to seize land (despite it already being occupied) and build new, sprawling settlements throughout it. The prosperity that the America saw in the 20th century didn't hurt, either; why not build big if you've got the money to spare?
But a considerable amount of this space is wasted. A UCLA study found that the majority of people spend their time in the kitchen or around the television and very rarely use the living room or porch. As a result of these extra, unused spaces, more resources are wasted on construction, and energy consumption is double what a family would need if their house only had the rooms that they actually use.
Smaller, more energy-efficient houses are appealing to a growing population of minimalists and resource-conscious individuals. In 2017 alone, the sales of tiny homes increased by 67 percent. Coming in at under 400 square feet on average, these houses are also understandably cheap — for tiny homes on wheels, the average cost is $46,300, while those with a foundation cost on average $119,000. As a result, 68 percent of tiny homeowners don't even have a mortgage.
Downsizing out of necessity
A community of tiny homes for homeless people known as "Nickelsville" in Seattle.
Image source: George Rose/Getty Images
On the other hand, the group of people drawn to tiny homes isn't just homogenously composed of wealthy minimalists looking to reduce their consumption while still appearing trendy. In 70 percent of the U.S., the average worker can't afford a home, one-third of adults are a $400 bill away from financial difficulty, and a quarter have no retirement savings whatsoever.
Under these conditions, downsizing may be the only viable method to survive. Consider, for instance, how cities such as Seattle, Detroit, and Denver are constructing tiny homes as emergency shelters or transitional housing for the homeless. There are also the many retirees that had their savings wiped out by the Great Recession who now live nomadically in RVs and modified vans. This tiny-living trend also has its Instagram cheerleaders, but the reality of it is less idyllic. Journalist Jessica Bruder and author of Nomadland related an anecdote to MarketWatch illustrating the nature of nomadic tiny living:
"I talked to one couple, Barb and Chuck. He had been head of product development at McDonald's before he retired. He lost his nest egg in the 2008 crash and Barb did, too. One time, Barb and Chuck were standing at the gas station to get $175 worth of gas and the horror hit them that their account had $6 in it. The gas station gentleman said 'Give me your name and driver's license and if you write a check, I will wait to cash it.' He waited two whole weeks before he deposited it."
This might become a reality for more people in the future as well. Inequality widens when the rate at which wealth grows — say, your stocks or the price of your house — grows faster than the rate at which wages do. Research suggests that wealth is growing at a breakneck pace, keeping in line with economist Thomas Picketty's prediction of a dramatically inequal future.
Solutions for this will need to be found, and many municipalities or private individuals may find such a solution in constructing tiny homes. Homelessness is a powerful, self-perpetuating force, and having shelter is an obviously necessary step to escape poverty.
Regrettably, if tiny homes are being driven primarily by resource-conscious but fundamentally economically secure individuals, we can expect the trend to remain just that; a trend. In a few years, fewer and fewer tiny houses will be constructed and sold, and eventually there will just be a small contingent of diehard proponents of the lifestyle. If, however, the tiny home trend is being driven primarily by economic inequality, then we can expect it to stick around for a while.
How can Innovation Central not manage to solve its own sprawling homelessness?
- The housing crisis in California has reached new heights, with more than 100,000 people without homes.
- To some, the dichotomy between the innovation the state is known for and its denizens ongoing inability to solve the problem is boggling.
- A couple of famous philosophers can show us how this problem isn't actually as odd as it seems.
In cast you haven't been paying much attention lately, there is a bit of a housing crisis in California. Homelessness is skyrocketing alongside the cost of even modest homes.
There are nearly 130,000 homeless people in California. Unlike other states where most of the homeless can be deemed "sheltered," meaning they have someplace to stay, such as a homeless shelter or transitional housing, in California 70 percent of the homeless population is considered "unsheltered," meaning they live in places like boxes, the street, or cars.
The number of people in question is also spiking; the number of homeless people in Los Angles County alone has gone up by 16 percent since last year. The state overall sees similar figures, with a 15 percent increase overall from 2015 to 2017.
The irony of all this is that the Bay Area is Innovation Central — California is supposed to be full of bright entrepreneurs that make billions turning dreams into reality. So then, how can it be that such a state filled with creative energy and cash can also be so apparently powerless to solve its problem of sprawling homelessness?
Philosophy to the rescue!
The go-to thinker for when something seemingly contradictory happens in capitalism is Karl Marx, the father of modern communist thought.
In his book Das Capital, Marx discusses what he sees as the two values of commodities, their value for use and their value for exchange. He suggests that capitalism is unique in that people will use capital to transform commodities into others which can command a higher price in exchange for the sake of a higher profit.
Thus, for Marx, there is no contradiction in a place being innovative and not being able to serve the needs of the poor. He would see it as a feature of capitalism. The fact that the people there are considered innovative doesn't change this at all. In fact, it might lead them to create stupid products that are both useless and quite profitable while total ignoring a social problem that offers little profit if solved.
Since housing demand far outpaces supply in California, landlords can keep raising prices and still find people willing to pay that much for a place to stay. Since it is more profitable to do this rather than keep rents low forever, they do so. It doesn't matter how innovative your landlord is, they are still going to act this way if they can. Marx, being a commie, sees these features of capitalism as unsolvable.
His solution would be to toss the whole thing out. If you don't want a revolution tomorrow, one could also look into decommodifying housing in general and remove the profit motive entirely.
Which philosophers have passed the test of time?
If you'd like another opinion from somebody who isn't a communist, that's fine; we have liberal capitalists, too.
John Rawls, the most celebrated American political philosopher of the 20th century, was less concerned with the question of who owned the means of production and more with what happened with the money created as a result.
As a liberal thinker, Rawls accepted that some inequalities were going to exist in any society and even argued that some of them could be beneficial. However, his principals of justice demand that any inequalities that exist in a given society must be demonstrated to improve the condition of the poorest as a justification for their existence.
If that doesn't make sense to you at first sight, here is have an example.
Suppose that a small, poor, isolated community has no doctor living there and that the residents of that town must travel large distances at great expense to get basic medical care. One day they find a doctor who is willing to move there, but only if they are paid a very high salary. To pay him so much would create much income inequality in the community, but it would also improve the condition of the poorest, as they would now have ready access to health care.
In this case, creating the inequality — that is, paying the doctor a high salary — makes the poorest people in town better off; they would then have health care. In Rawls' theory of justice, all inequalities have to meet this qualification.
For Rawls, the problem in California, or the rest of the United States, for that matter, is that while it has excellent ways of producing wealth, the institutions we have to distribute that wealth — or to make sure the adverse side effects of inequality are minimalized — are ineffective. They allow for the creation of vast inequalities that have made the condition of the poor worse as newly-rich tech workers drive up housing costs.
That many people in California are high-earning tech innovators isn't entirely relevant here, despite their work streamlining people's lives (see: there's an app for everything). This said, since California possesses both high-earning individuals and, judging by the homeless community's exponential growth, a still lackluster system in place for the needy — the current crisis can be said to be, in this philosophical lens, an institutional failing. However, it's such a one that can happen anywhere. Poverty is nothing new.
Nevertheless, a Rawlsian solution to the housing crisis might be to charge a surtax on all ultra-high incomes or on the sales of luxury homes to finance the construction of low-income housing, as it would continue to allow high salaries to exist while helping to assure that any income inequalities benefit everyone.
Though, given that California has had a significant housing shortage since the '70s don't hold out for an innovative solution that abolishes the problem of excessive rent prices any time soon.
All of this philosophy is great, but what are we doing right now to fix this?
California lawmakers have just implemented a rent cap to try and control the skyrocketing costs of housing. One of several around the country in place to try and correct the housing crisis through price controls, it limits yearly rent increases to inflation plus five percent for millions of units of housing and increases tenet protections against eviction.
"Rent control," the name for this kind of legislation, works by limiting how quickly rents can rise on certain units of housing. Expert opinions on it are mixed. Economists of both the left and right agree that it can reduce the amount of housing available in the long run. One study even found that it might cause gentrification as innovative landlords turn less profitable rental properties into owner-occupied housing. Many economists suggest, instead that longer-term options that will increase the housing supply overall be considered.
Proponents of the policy argue that it is effective in preventing evictions in the short run. While that may seem short-sighted, remember that people don't eat in the "long-run" — they need solutions to current problems now. Creative ideas to help increase the affordable housing stock have been tried with some success, but more is needed.
For a place so filled with brilliant people, piles of money, and a creative energy that has earned the love and ire of the rest of the country, California has had a difficult time solving its homelessness problem. While different philosophers can offer us insights as to why this is, they can only point us in the right direction. We have to go about fixing the problem ourselves.