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Home > Politics
Colorado Springs' Panhandling On Medians Ordinance
by Bob Powell, 1/31/17
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This article is on the 1/24/17 City Council Meeting on the Ordinance regarding the use of medians to put what's happening in a larger context. It contains my extended perspective on the economic context in which this issue arises and my reactions to the presentations and comments at the meeting.

Those who work for a wage in this nation have a tough time. Six councilpersons and the mayor asserted that "this is about safety". If it were, the city would be taking more actions to protect and provide for the homeless. That "it's about safety" is a veneer on what it's really about: penalizing poverty and homelessness.

It's poorly understood how greatly our economic system is rigged against those who work for a wage ... or would like to work. I explain how and why. I explain why it's so difficult to recover from setbacks: path dependence and economic policies that drive people into poverty. I explain who the "takers" are: the Top 20% and especially the Top 1% showing data on "Tax Expenditures", aka, "Tax Entitlements". I describe the negative effects on our economic and political system: Oligarchy, Plutocracy, and Corporatocracy. I describe how economic development can be effective, not destructive.

People need help, not policies and penalties that make life more difficult.

 

To All Council and Mayor Suthers.

Regarding: A new Section 112 (Use of Medians) of Article 18 (Pedestrians’ Rights and Duties, Drivers to Exercise Due Care) of Chapter 10 (Motor Vehicles and Traffic) of the Code of the City of Colorado Springs 2001 ...

 

My Remarks: My remarks at City Council Meeting on 1/24/17 on the Ordinance on the use of medians. I only had a short 3 minutes to make selected comments among these. Those comments are at 2:04 into the video. What's included here expands on them with data and links.

 

My Reactions to the Council Meeting:

My reactions to the City Council Meeting on 1/24/17

- Those Voting For and Against the Ordinance
- The Fine is excessive; arrests a likely outcome
- Cost of Signs Not Considered
- Data on Pedestrian Deaths Not Connected to Persons on Medians
- The Purpose of the Median Ordinance: Not primarily about "safety"
- On Retaining the TABOR excess and economic development

 

Remarks Summary

- Those who work for a wage in this nation have a tough time.
- Our economic system is rigged against them. I explain how and why.
- I explain why it's so difficult to recover from setbacks: path dependence and policies that drive people into poverty.
- I explain who the "takers" are: the Top 20% and especially the Top 1%, showing data on "Tax Expenditures", aka "Tax Breaks", "Tax Entitlements".
- I describe the negative effects on our economic and political system: Oligarchy, Plutocracy, and Corporatocracy.

 

My Remarks

Fact: There are always more people who need jobs than there are jobs. Always! This is policy at the national level designed to suppress wages.

Why too few jobs?

Two factors determine the number of jobs: The Federal Reserve's NAIRU target and aggregate demand. The NAIRU (Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment) target purports to be the level of unemployment below which inflation rises.

Compensation has been flat since 1980.

People are not "Taxed Enough Already".

They're paid too damn little.

In GOOD TIMES: The Federal Reserve, when it considers unemployment to be "too low", applies its NAIRU theory to "cool" the economy to prevent an potential inflationary wage-price spiral, by eliminating jobs.

The stock market "knows" that when unemployment goes "too low" or employment increases "too much" -- in the Fed's estimation without actual data -- it will raise interest rates or reduce the money supply.

From the testimony of Chairman Alan Greenspan to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, February 26, 1997:

... although I do not doubt that all these factors [I have reviewed] are relevant, I would be surprised if they were nearly as important as job insecurity. ...

To be sure, an acceleration in nominal labor compensation, especially its wage component, became evident over the past year.

But the rate of pay increase still was markedly less than historical relationships with labor market conditions would have predicted. Atypical restraint on compensation increases has been evident for a few years now and appears to be mainly the consequence of greater worker insecurity. ...

Given the lags with which monetary policy affects the economy, however, we cannot rule out a situation in which a preemptive policy tightening may become appropriate before any sign of actual higher inflation becomes evident. ...

But never fear. on July 22, 1997 to this same U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Greenspan said:

... the perceived quicker pace of application of our newer technologies ... has brought with it a heightened sense of job insecurity and, as a consequence, subdued wage gains. As I pointed out here last February, polls indicated that despite the significant fall in the unemployment rate, the proportion of workers in larger establishments fearful of being laid off rose from 25 percent in 1991 to 46 percent by 1996.

Technology "saves the day" to maintain job insecurity. Yea!

So, if workers get "uppity" and want a larger share of the economic pie, then the Federal Reserve enacts a less "accommodative" monetary policy -- higher interest rates and reduced money supply -- to slow the economy by reducing demand to increase unemployment. Because more people don't have a job, there's less demand and increased worker insecurity; this suppresses wages.

The Federal Reserve does this no matter what the source of inflation ... as was done after the oil shocks in the 70s when gas prices exploded.


In BAD TIMES:
When recovering from recessions, and especially from a Great Recession, aggregate demand is too low and there are fewer jobs than needed.

 

Therefore: At ALL TIMES: This nation's economy is in a constant state of wage suppression either from a Great Recession or from Federal Reserve policies putting people out of work. There are always more people who need jobs than there are jobs in the United States.

This manipulation means there is no "free market" for labor; this interference that suppresses wages should not be allowed. That said, I explain at this link why labor should not be a market commodity.

 

What does this mean?

Wages are depressed to between zero and subsistence level. That's what Game Theory tells us. This is why a minimum wage is absolutely necessary.

If it's desired to improve the economy of Colorado Springs, raise the minimum wage. Those who object to this on the basis that "there'll be less of anything that costs more" apply microeconomic principles to a macroeconomic issue. Simple "common sense" does not apply in this case (and in many other cases).

That wages have been suppressed for decades is obvious from data showing compensation for the lower 80% has been flat since 1980 ... even as productivity has steadily increased.

 

Other reasons those who work for a wage have a tough time:

Wage Competition from

Offshoring: Offshoring of all kinds of jobs -- low-tech & high-tech -- does not affect the number of jobs, but depresses wages by putting Americans in competition with foreign, extremely low-wage labor and slave labor.

Colorado Springs has lost over 50% of manufacturing and IT jobs and 72% of semiconductor-related jobs since Jan - Apr 2001.

And wages are also low because those who work for a wage are in competition against prison labor, slave labor, automation technology, undocumented workers w/o labor protections (who could be paid incredibly more with minimal increases in produce prices), importing lower-paid high tech workers, and corporate cartels that prevent high-tech workers from changing jobs for higher pay.

Shocking fact regarding the undocumented who pick U.S. crops: For tomatoes and Granny Smith apples, paying 10 times as much would raise their prices by 16 cents/lb and 12.3 cents/lb, respectively. What would 10X wages be? ... $125,000/yr and $192,000/yr, respectively! Yet, we're told it's unaffordable to pay them more. And we're told that Americans wouldn't do that work; nonsense. they would at half that rate.

"No one knows precisely how many instances of wage theft occurred in the U.S. during 2012, nor do we know what the victims suffered in total dollars earned but not paid.

"But we do know that the total amount of money recovered for the victims of wage theft who retained private lawyers or complained to federal or state agencies was at least $933 million — almost three times greater than all the money stolen in robberies that year.

"We know this because EPI canvassed the state labor departments and attorneys general, consulted the U.S. Department of Labor’s annual budget, and relied on research for NERA Economic Consulting by Denise Martin, Stephanie Plancich, and Janeen McIntosh on civil litigation settlements."

Wage Theft:

Shocking: Wage theft is TWICE theft from bank robberies, convenience store robberies, street and highway robberies, and gas station robberies combined: $280M vs. $139M.

Or more, much more, because "most victims never report wage theft and never sue. The real cost of wage theft to workers is much greater, and could be closer to $50 billion a year":  
Wage Theft Costs American Workers as Much as $50 Billion a Year, Economic Policy Institute Press Release, 9/11/14.
Video: Wage Theft - How Employers Steal $50 Billion A Year From US Workers, The Young Turks, 1/28/17

Question: Why aren't those people and corporations arrested and in prison for this theft?

Compassionate Conservatism:

So-called "compassionate conservatives" say, "Don't give them free stuff, because it makes them "dependent."

This attitude purports that giving money to people who are down and out makes them dependent. Some even say, "Don't feed the animals because you'll make them dependent". Or: "The bottom line is that if you give people stuff for free, it will never give them an incentive to go out and earn those things."

They ignore how the system is rigged against workers. Instead, "conservatives" invoke "Personal Responsibility"

Of course, many people are irresponsible and their behaviors result in them being poor. Pointing out that the system is rigged does not deny that. Pointing out that many fail because of systemic failures (e.g., the Great Recession bank failures & bailouts) through no fault of their own does not deny that. It's "both-and", not "either-or".

Path Dependence

Once someone makes a mistake, or fails because the economic system fails, so-called "conservative" U.S. policies make it extremely difficult for them to dig themselves out; those policies put what's known as the "path dependence" dynamic on steroids. For an overview of some of these, see Policies that drive people into poverty and keep them there and make the wealthy even richer.

Path dependence: This concept in System Dynamics is known as the "rich get richer and the poor get poorer" dynamic in systems thinking. Because of this dynamic, disparities in wealth happen even when everyone starts out with equal ability and resources.

While it's true that some people are irresponsible, once someone gets behind it's very difficult to recover because being in debt very often leads to even more debt. Somehow we live in a nation where corporations and Donald Trump can go bankrupt many times, but students cannot.

Inequality

Wealth inequality has sky rocketedi. t's obscene and deadly:
- Richest 62 people as wealthy as half of world's population
- 20 People Now Own As Much Wealth as Half of All Americans
Eight men own same wealth as poorest half of world's population, Oxfam reveals by Penny Timms, The World Today 1/14/17

As Nobel Prize Economist, Joseph E. Stiglitz, wrote, American Inequality Didn't Just Happen. It Was Created. It was created n part by the policies I list at the link in the previous section.

This has warped our society in horrible and antidemocratic ways: politically and economically.

The U.S. has hit the trifecta:
- Oligarchy is rule by the few.
- Plutocracy is rule by the wealthy.
- Corporatocracy is a society governed or controlled by corporations.
We have all three.

It's totally obvious: Trump's Cabinet picks have more wealth than third of American households combined BY JENNIFER CALFAS, The Hill, 12/15/16

Along with vast wealth, the U.S. has poverty and homelessness.

The Takers

This clearly illustrates that "food stamps" (SNAP benefits) are hardly a problem.

Tax Expenditures (Tax Breaks) are 10% greater than all Discretionary Spending. And we wonder why there's government debt and many swallow the lie that Social Security & Medicare are the problem.

That Tax Breaks for the top 20% are larger than Military Spending is a result of capitalism and its lobbyists.

This makes it clear that "Capitalism" is exactly "crony capitalism" that caters to capitalists and the wealthy.

Self-described "conservatives" say those on food stamps (SNAP) and other welfare are the "takers." They're "on the dole", lazy parasites.

But let's look at who does the "taking".

- Federal Tax Expenditures (Tax Breaks) are 10% greater than ALL Discretionary Spending

- Tax Breaks for the top 20% exceeds Military Spending

- Tax Breaks for the top 1% are ($203B) are 2.7X SNAP benefits ($74.1B)

- Tax Breaks for the top 1% are more than twice those for the bottom 20%

While budgets for Discretionary Spending must be voted on every year, unpaid-for tax breaks in the tax code are not voted on every year. Because of this, former Federal Reserve Board Chair Alan Greenspan has referred to Tax Expenditures as "Tax Entitlements".

Federal Tax Expenditures are not all of them. State and local governments also award what's called "Economic Development" tax and other subsidies to "attract" corporations to the city and state.

Somehow though, it's the Social Security & Medicare programs, into which people have paid over their working lives to build an enormous surplus, that are painted as "unjustified entitlements" that must be cut. Republicans want to steal this money by cutting benefits.

So I ask ... Who are the real "Takers"? It's obvious.

 

Bottom Line: Help Mitigate Poverty; don't Criminalize it.

People need help, not policies and penalties that make life more difficult.

Don't criminalize Poverty and Homelessness. Please.

Different categories of spending compared.

My Reactions to the Council Meeting

Video of City Council Meeting, City of Colorado Springs, Tuesday, January 24, 2017:

Those Voting For and Against the Ordinance

For the Ordinance [against the amendments]: The six who voted for the Ordinance Creating a New Section 112 on Use Of Medians and against reducing the fine to $50:

Larry Bagley; Merv Bennett, President; Don Knight; Helen Collins; Keith King; Don Knight; Andy Pico.  Mayor Suthers promoted passage.

Against the Ordinance [for the amendments]: Thank you.

Jill Gaebler; Bill Murray; Tom Strand.

In commenting after the vote on the Ordinance, Bennett said "That's approved on a 9 to 0 vote." (2:34:15) That is false.

[Note: I may be wrong about this. After the final vote, rather than stating that vote, he may have be referring to a previous vote ... which seems strange. The votes above are for and against amendments that would soften the Ordinance.]

The Fine is excessive; arrests a likely outcome

The fine was explained to be $500. A motion to make it $50 was voted down by the six.

If someone is homeless, a $500 fine might as well be $50,000; even $50 would be difficult. Many (most?) traffic citations do not involve a fine as high as $500. This is clearly punitive against the homeless. That the fine for smoking in parks is as high as $500 is also outrageous.

Though it was asserted that the ordinance would not involve arrest, there was equivocation about what would happen if the fine isn't paid or if there are multiple tickets. If someone ignores the ticket and stays there, Police Chief Pete Carey supplied euphemisms that the police would have to "square that away" or "dealt with it". He avoiding saying the word, arrest, because Council does not admit that as being a potential effect of this Ordinance.

Will there be debtor prison for those who do not pay the fine, multiple fines, or continue to violate the ordinance?

Costs of Signs Not Considered

There was no discussion of the cost of putting these signs at intersections on all medians on affected roadways with posted speed limits of over 30 mph. No mention of how many signs will be required for the indicated "double posting" so signs can be seen in both directions.

If 1000 signs at $100/sign, that's $100,000 to do this at a time when city revenue is under serious strain with discussion (in this meeting) of the need to use taxes collected over the TABOR limit.

So-called "conservatives" portray themselves to be focused on limited spending and limited government. That there was no mention of cost is amazing and irresponsible.

Before a final vote on this, citizens should be advised on what this will cost them.

Instead of spending for signs, how about pitching in with homeless advocates to support a project like this: Temporary shelter from the storm of homelessness in Oak Park.

Data Presented on Pedestrian Deaths Not Connected to Persons on Medians

There was a presentation on the number of pedestrian deaths in previous years. There was no mention of how many of these were because of careless motorists vs. careless pedestrians. There was no indication at all that the deaths had anything to do with panhandling on medians.

The Purpose of the Median Ordinance: Not primarily about "safety"

This Ordinance is presented as being a safety issue. Several council members asserted this.

Helen Collins gave an angry recital of several anecdotes about those panhandling on medians in an unsafe manner.

I could similarly cite many dozens of, if not a hundred, cases where I regularly see people on the medians with no problem. Anecdotes are not data.

In a larger sense, this is not a safety issue. That's because potential panhandler deaths are seen as a potential problem when on medians, but not when their deaths are from being out in very cold, and even sub-freezing, weather.

This is, to me, instead another effort targeting the homeless and criminalizing poverty. From all appearances this city has a war on the homeless ... to keep them out of sight. It is a callous attack.

On Retaining the TABOR excess and economic development

The mayor maintained that the need for funding needed stormwater improvements "Was not a problem that I -- or any of you up there -- created. This is a problem we inherited, but we have it." Merv Bennett made a similar comment.

Nonsense. This problem and Colorado Springs budgetary woes were created by the mentality that the mayor and others have had ... and still have.

That mentality is "Don't impose impact fees on new growth."
That mentality is "Sell a product (new growth) at a loss and make it up in volume."

Not internalizing the costs of growth into the cost of new housing and new business development is not only theft from the public, it does not allow market forces to properly guide economic choices.

This I explain in:

Colorado Springs: A Broken Region, 10/26/10. [My Your Turn column in The Colorado Springs Independent]

While it's true that Colorado Springs government is broken, it's worse than that. The whole region is broken; its policies are structurally unsound. Here's why.

Oppose 2C sales tax increase: Pay for Past Sins; Sin No More 10/26/15 [my letter to The Colorado Springs Independent]

The Initiative 2C sales tax increase should be opposed, not because we should avoid taxes, but because it doesn't tax at all the entities that should be taxed. Everyone must pay for the sins of the past, but going forward it's absolutely necessary for taxes/fees to also be levied on new growth.

This article is a "liberal perspective" on why to oppose 2C. It examines the structural problem driving infrastructure backlogs and how to correct their root cause. It illustrates that "liberal" is actually "responsible conservative", instead of the irresponsible, what's-referred-to as "conservative".

If there's a goal to improve the Colorado Springs' economy , I explain how in this article based on an expanded economic model similar to that used for years by Rocky Scott, past President of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation (now that function is a part of the Chamber of Commerce).

Economic Development: What to do locally? 5/29/09. This article uses an economic development model to describe what can be done locally to respond to massive regional manufacturing and IT job losses. The same principles apply to the U.S. economy.

 

 


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