The Breakfast Table

The Excluded Middle Class

Easy on the hyperbole. Giuliani’s authoritarianism is scary, but he hasn’t massacred whole populations in the name of ethnic purity. A comparison with the government of Singapore is more like it–the streets there are very safe, or so I understand, but it’s no place I would want to live.

On the insane cost of housing, I have to own up to my own failure to see the larger picture during earlier fights over gentrification. What I picked up on was the stupid populist ressentiment against artists and middle-class counterculture types (me) and their health-food stores intruding on ethnic neighborhoods and working-class bars. Middle-class people also needed reasonably priced places to live, after all, and there was nothing wrong with health-food stores except for the absurdity that you should need special (and more expensive) stores to buy food that wasn’t processed within an inch of its life. Couldn’t we all, well, get along? But now that the developers’ long-term agenda is coming to fruition, and the original gentrifiers, after having successfully “upgraded” their neighborhoods, are themselves being displaced, I feel a bit like, “First they came for the poor, and I didn’t speak up …” A lot of people did speak up, of course, and some even rejected populist mau-mauing in favor of trying to make alliances across class lines against the corporate game plan. But the populism has been very destructive, and it continues to be destructive, as evidenced by the lack of a serious fight against the deregulation of so-called “luxury” apartments renting for over $2,000 a month. In Manhattan, $2,000 a month didn’t buy anyone luxury–only space for more than one or two people. What the exclusion means is displacing middle-class people with children from Manhattan, pure and simple.

It’s true that the American poor have no serious weapons. Unfortunately, they (and we) have no serious movement, either.