Thinking Unconstrained

Examining the world with a critical eye. Topics span a wide range including but not limited to, observations, insights, problems, solutions, proposals, and hypothetical scenarios.
The social ladder is a delicate precipice and a balancing act where we play out our desperate struggles in the hopes of never reaching the dreaded bottom. We climb and politic our way to achieve the next status of prestige and wealth, oftentimes on the backs of our peers and colleagues. But many people slide down, frequently to the very depths - to be relegated as refuse and shunned by many as vestigial members deemed to be forgotten and abandoned to the concrete byways and alcoves. Many nations have social nets to ensure that people don't end up in this terrible state. But what happens when the money allocated by the government to support the social net is simply not enough? Whether that's to pay medical bills, addictions, or basic necessities, the circumstances don't matter all that much. The end result is that these persons of former respectable social standing can become destitute rather quickly and will scarcely have any opportunities at getting back on the ladder even if they wanted to. Assigning more money to tackle the problem may seem like the quickest way to solve the issue, but it must be recognized that it's a band-aid solution if not backed by substance and a structured plan of action. What then is the proper way to help those who fall through the net, through the floor and into the chasm of no return? First step to solve this, I would say, is to simply ensure that the floor is present in the first place. Here are a few guiding suggestions.

1. Under no circumstance should a fellow human being be allowed to be in a state where it becomes impossible for them to seek employment and housing, should they so choose to. Opportunities must exist for bootstrapping oneself.
2. Dedicated facilities for treatment and help should exist in open areas rather than in urban centers. Ghettos and concentrated areas of poverty and drug use are not hospitable places for recuperation.
3. The person in need must have guarantee of good quality food, water, and shelter, if they so wish it. Dumpster diving is not an acceptable behavior either for the dignity of the individual or for the functioning of society.

Let me expand on why these were chosen. There are many reasons why homelessness is prevalent in large cities rather than in rural areas. But if I was to state one major factor, it's because cities provide a better means of survival due to services such as shelters, kitchens and communities that are sympathetic to their plights. If these services existed in rural areas in open facilities dedicated to healing and reinvigorating those who want to leave this kind of existence, then that would be preferable to keeping a large swath of people in squalid urban jungles. However on the flip side, the implementation of these facilities have the danger of operating like work/interment camps, ghettos, or reservations, and therefore they likely should be kept small and set up by those who are knowledgeable in homeless life, preferably by those who have experienced these conditions. The facilities should provide lodging, food, mental and medical help and perhaps even a clean supply of drugs for those who are heavily addicted and suffering tremendously (consult a substance abuse medical professional on whether this would actually help. It likely wouldn't but might be useful in some therapies). For those who wish to re-enter and start climbing the social ladder, they should be allowed to take up jobs within the communities. A properly run community would ideally be self-sufficient enough to need minimal governmental assistance. And for that to work, they would likely need their own economies and means of production and interface with the larger governmental organizations as trade partners. This would be one possible start on providing a social floor, a return to the land and nature for healing and rejuvenation.

Once the platform is in place, the second step is to bolster the social net so that most people don't hit the floor in the first place. This has traditionally been taken care of by unemployment benefits and other social structures aimed at providing jobs. The setup makes sense in a traditional capitalistic society, where a person needs gainful employment to earn a livable wage and use it to sustain a family. In the absence of a suitable wage, the person needs charity to survive, almost as a warning or an ominous precursor to the next step awaiting them at the bottom of that social ladder. To keep the system functioning, it's important to have high employment as the funds needed to pay a large number of unemployed people can quickly drain the government coffers and result in economic failure. It's certainly a fragile system, and likely there's plenty of room for improving the robustness and reliability of it. In a world of so much need for goods and services, it makes little sense to have such a thing as high unemployment, if money was fluid and circulated to all parts rather than concentrated to specific areas only.

The third step I propose is to ensure that the ladder is fair and climbable, rather than a ceremonial thing, frequently circumvented by those who use escalators or jet packs. An economic system where meritocracy is only lip service and a facade is certainly a system of bold-faced lies and must eventually fail as an incompatible inefficiency to the dream of a harmonious humanity. Therefore favoritism and positive reinforcements of mediocrity in all facets of the social ladder and society at large must be challenged and called out.

Although the proposal requires a tremendous amount of strength and resolve to bring it about, it is necessary and will become crucial for us to have a functioning society going forward. Our outlook must also transition to measuring the wealth and maturity of a nation by examining the conditions of its poorest and the most vulnerable, rather than figures and averages of various skewed and unrepresentative financial metrics. Human dignity must be upheld above the numbers, not the other way around.
The stated problem framed in this way is distinctly a western nation issue rather than something applicable elsewhere. It predicates on the existence of a social net and a structure where upward (and downward) mobility exists, which perhaps is often taken for granted as a given right in many of these countries. The "ignored" and the "discarded" as you say, can encompass many groups at the bottom of the social ladder such as prisoners, people living in reservations or apartheid, and those large swath of overlooked humanity living in all manner of desperate conditions. We've always had the poor, and this isn't a new issue facing us. The environment and opportunities available now are different though, and I believe this is the key to solving the problem for this time period.

So let us first identify the setting. The time is early 21st century. The place is the globalized western nations (aka "developed nations" that have embraced the western capitalist thought). The nations have close economic and financial relationships and share much in common, especially where monetary issues are concerned. The closely-knit global financial system gives mixed results to various participants but it works well overall in increasing the wealth of corporations, financiers, and the top-bricks at the apex of various institutions. The profits and relaxed credit allow those institutions to grow and provide more jobs, and to also invest in R&D expansion activities culminating in higher employment and wealth for the rest of the population. This has been the mantra for a while now, but there have also been much fallout from the accelerated consolidations and operational optimizations brought about by globalization. And it's those left-behind people that end up homeless - those who couldn't keep up with the rate of change, the rising cost of living and inflation, those who never had the opportunity to climb out of the hole that they were born into. Oftentimes drugs, depression, and mental anguish ensure that the homeless remain so and this isn't something that can be miraculously waived away using structural changes or by implementing draconian measures sure as "war on drugs" or the "prohibition".

People who are addicted never intentionally try to be. It starts insidiously such as needing pain relief after experiencing the wonders of subscription morphine products and then having to procure substitutes on the black market due to denied access. Or it starts with a little sip or a puff at a time, until it becomes a daily routine, and one day you're almost tearing your hair out as you tell yourself that you don't need that next hit. Therefore the problem is not of poverty per-se. It is the complete physical, mental, and spiritual destruction of the individual by the environment in which the person is mired in. It is the inability to help oneself and the lack of opportunities to get out of the chasm before it swallows them up forever.
Substance abuse treatment sounds like an integral part in trying to solve this problem. That and mental help. So whatever solution that is tried needs to work towards making progress in these two avenues. If these facets are hindered then the efficiency, measured as the ratio of successfully laddered people versus those remaining homeless, would plummet. We'd keep their bodies alive for a day, and that is a marvelous achievement in and of itself, but fatigue will eventually set in and hearts will grow callous as our patience wears out.

Although many of the homeless have substance problems and mental issues (PTSD, schizophrenia, dementia etc.), and many also fall into those conditions over time by being exposed to this environment, not all are to be clumped into the same category. It's often the case that being homeless means that there are no affordable housing available or that there are no employment opportunities. People have tried to solve these issues in both urban and rural settings. In urban areas, "public housing projects" or "subsidized housing" were deployed to provide shelters to a large number of the unemployed (migrants and the poor), but unfortunately have effectively created ghettos of criminality and would-be residents of correctional facilities. In rural areas, "reservations" and semi-independent communities with heavily subsidized governmental assistance have left those residents with limited opportunities and little room for economic growth. Stagnation then has created pockets of destitution, spurring migrants to urban centers, to those subsidized housing for lack of affordable accommodations.

In the past (and to a large extent, the present), people have flocked to areas that have higher opportunities for employment. These are usually cities but other rural places such as mining towns and the like are also included. The dynamic is a fundamental human pattern as it's a matter of survival that needs to be followed by any living creature. You gravitate towards places where you'll get food and a better chance at life. But when opportunities are no longer available, then those migrants need to pack up again and travel elsewhere. Do they and can they leave the urban settings and go back to the rural areas? Perhaps this is an option for some. But for others, they're stuck and there's no path out of the conundrum. So what is the solution here? Is there something that can be done now that our predecessors were not able to do?

I agree that one avenue is to shift the opportunities away from urban centers to other areas, effectively decentralizing and unconcentrating the economic activity from the concrete jungles. For example, this is do-able for any digitizable work by utilizing the internet and remote site setups. If economic activity is virtual, then the physical presence of the workers matter little as long as the infrastructure is in place to enable such a vision. This isn't so far fetched as the recent "worldwide social isolation experiment" has shown that many of those in software tech fields were just as productive working from home as they were from the office. Another example is the urban flight and the widespread availability of personal automobiles and public transportation that brought many city dwellers out to the suburbs in the 20th century. This created an urban sprawl with its own set of problems but it did offset the overcrowding issue in the cities. Perhaps we can learn from these implementations and figure out a way for rural economic systems to play a larger role in providing for populations.
If economic forces were to be decentralized and dispersed across a large geographical area, then that would require implementing a suitable infrastructure to support that vision. Logistics of various supply chains, electric power, gas heating, fiber optic internet to rural areas is an expensive endeavor. If decentralization was to follow the suburban model then that would be a bit more manageable and economical, but that might just result in a wider spread of the urban setup. It would also blend the lines between residential and commercial spaces and that might be messy. There should be a way to offset the reliance on centralized infrastructure first. Without this, any new community will outgrow its aimed size and will eventually become yet another city.

Consider the model for data centers, factories and the like for large tech/industrial operations. These are situated near power plants, benefiting from proximity to cheaper and readily available electricity sources. For heavy use industrial type of electrical consumption, such setups can be scaled to provide much of the necessary power for industrial needs. The dream of most operationally-oriented industrialists is for these to be heavily mechanized, automated and perhaps remotely controlled (aside: they likely should have a secure dedicated communication channel using new methods rather than TCP/IP) because paying for electricity is far cheaper than paying for labor. Having migrant workers situated around these epicenters also invoke visions of Dickensian nightmares or some other equally depressing scenarios of human suffering. But this has historically been the mechanics of city growth throughout the world, as people flock to areas of opportunity. So the key here is to provide the opportunities away from the cities.

The stretch of the American West for example was driven by European prospectors and those who sought a new life in the "land of opportunity", where the great expanse was lauded as widely available to any settler of grit and resolve. Unfortunately the existing Americans were driven off into the badlands during this invasion, a precedent that would play out over and over again for every wave of immigration and gentrification that was to follow in the centuries to come. The situation facing us now however is that there is no new frontier in a physical sense (unless we can become extraterrestrial). There's the new virtual frontier of the internet but progress there is hindered in several respects due to our unfamiliarity with navigating effectively through it without using search engines or platforms. If there was a way to funnel the opportunities and set up effective infrastructures in this new frontier then that may open new doors for us to navigate through this maze.
The frontier policies of the United States formed the American Indian Reservations (AIR). The indigenous Americans were the first to be displaced and driven into homelessness in this country. Mind you, they're not unique in this regard, as many indigenous people around the world have equally been marginalized and cast aside throughout history. But we must not dismiss this fact as a "cost of progress" or some such excuse to overlook the destructive damage that this attitude has incurred directly and indirectly on the lives of millions. Therefore, never mind the new frontier of the internet or other fanciful notions of extraterrestrial colonies. It's past high time for this pattern of impoverishment to end. We must look to other ways of "making progress" without leaving a trail of charred destruction upon the lives of our fellow human beings.

Now, I don't presume to know what life in the AIR is like, or any life in poverty stricken communities for that matter. I can only imagine that it must be a depressing existence, populated by people with little hope. But if this wrong can be turned right, then that little bit of hope has the potential to affect great change. If the most impoverished and humiliated communities stricken with addictions, crime, and societal decay can find a path to bootstrap themselves, then there's a chance for all to find that bearing again. So maybe the proposed rural facilities can start here. The AIR can potentially be the healing centers for all who are in desperate need of it, effectively becoming the new heartland of America, providing the roots to all citizens of the nation.

However, even if generations of antagonism and the almost impossible likelihood of motivating a heavily downtrodden community can be overcome, the proposal will certainly meet other difficult headwinds - most of which will be anthropocentric and less technically so in their nature. Therefore it's not a relatively quick and easy technical fix like "decentralization of infrastructure" or "remote work through internet in suburbs". It's going to require a lot of work on the ground, actually connecting with people in a genuine way. But many AIR communities may welcome a viable alternative to the "Indian casino" economy, industrial-scale resource extraction and mining operations, or in some instances, crime. Nevertheless, I believe the proposal has enough wings to fly and legs to stand on. But it needs refinement and on-the-ground contextual expertise to fine hone a coherent plan of action.
Having such facilities situated in the "AIR" and transporting homeless populations to them sounds very much like a gulag. It would be better if the reservations were built up as a community before considering converting them into "American Indian Resorts" for the poor. There's no doubt that people from all walks of life will take advantage of such a well-meaning effort. This includes both sides; the poor being sent there and the poor who are supposed to help. It's not that the project will fail but it will be wasteful and not very productive, if it's not phased and tackled using achievable milestones.

Rather than pursuing grandiose projects with unrealistic expectations, an alternative would be to take baby steps and focus on the smaller problems at hand and work through those first. For instance, shelter and food are basic necessities. Making such things conditional, as in workhouses/poorhouses of the UK would be disastrous, as would be "work camps in the countryside" for the poor. They need to be given out of charity without any strings attached. Socialist government programs would fall under that category, although having them paid for by taxation is seldom viewed as voluntary charity. Many things can be achieved however through fair taxation and efficient project operations. If those things can be done in a better way than they have been done in the past (i.e. less bureaucracy and more actual work) then that should considerably improve matters of resource allocation. Private sector market models may be apt in this setup to encourage competition and higher quality.

Robin Hood type of operations (aka rob the rich to feed the poor) can also be considered but it should be recognized that penalizing the successful people who create jobs and wealth would be inimical to achieving a prosperous society. That sort of mindset should rather be revised to, "rob the idle rich to feed the productive poor". In other words, tax the stagnant money and inject it into where it would be used to do actual things that fuel the economy. For instance, tax the top 0.01% to feed into the infrastructure and create market conditions that enable the lower tier 9.99% to run successful businesses that benefit the 90%. The numbers can vary depending on the economic model but the fundamental motive would be to have the "unproductive" money circulate into the hands of the capable people rather than passively sit in investment/prospective accounts. This would be similar in sentiment to changing the interest rates of central banks, where lowering it encourages spending (increased money flow) and increasing it encourages saving (decreased money flow). For a robust and healthy economy, the money needs to flow and translate to do real work rather than re-circulate in closed pools. The investment paradigm needs to be revised to penalize the unwanted behavior and reward the good behavior, as it is supposed to do. What that is may be the pertinent question facing us now.