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Jennifer Sherman: “Gentrification in Rural Washington”
On October 12, WSU professor of sociology Jennifer Sherman gave a talk on tourist-driven economies in Washington State, and how this contributed to a crisis of any quality based on gentrification.
Sherman detailed how small cities in the countryside of Washington experienced job loss in the mid-twentieth century because of deindustrialization. Those most hurt by deindustrialization were the industrial mining, logging, oil, and small-scale agricultural sectors, all of which fostered a decent middle-class lifestyle for the towns that relied upon them.
Sold as an alternative to these towns for the return of a middle-class lifestyle was the prospect of amenity-based tourism. Towns would incentivize resorts to set up shop in their area, attracting droves of wealthy urbanites who would theoretically share their wealth with the town by purchasing at local businesses.
Sherman argues that while these towns did see a positive impact from amenity-based tourism, the overall middle-class lifestyle enjoyed by those who had lived in the town for generations did not return, and was actively prevented by the presence of these newly-arrived urbanites. Instead of allowing for new economic opportunities in towns that rely on tourism, different economic challenges and increasing prices for their inventories have created tougher living situations for the middle class of those towns.
To mitigate some of the problems caused by gentrification, Sherman suggests strong minimum wages, universal childcare, and housing support to ensure workers keep up with a higher cost of living caused by gentrification.
Aaron Borbow- Strain: “Immigration inequalityat the US-Mexico border”
In his talk on October 5, Professor Aaron Bobrow-Strain, professor and Baker Ferguson Chair of Politics and Leadership at Whitman College, discussed the issue of immigration and inequality.
Drawing from his recent book, The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez: A Border Story, Bobrow-Strain talked about two border towns, Douglas Arizona and Agua Pietra that were one community divided by the new border wall. Aida Hernandez moved to Arizona at the age of 8, living as an undocumented resident until she was 20. Aida struggled with typical coming of age challenges, her status played an omnipresent role in her life, yet she was able to move forward in day to day life. Then everything changed.
After a brutal strike lead the Phelps-Dodge company to close its vital copper mine in Douglas, much of the towns economic security vanished and crime surged. Economic insecurity led to fears of immigration and of Douglas Arizona’s undocumented community. To satiate these fears politicians from both political parties levied plans that intentionally made the US Mexico border more dangerous by blocking off easy access points and granted huge funds to homeland security and ICE, weaponizing the southern border in the hopes that it would help protect jobs in the United States.
Bobrow-Strain argues that the presence of border patrol created a cyclical loop where towns became economically dependent on funds from Homeland Security, thereby perpetuating a need for a constant border crisis so the towns could receive more funding and stay afloat.
James Gibson: “Judging Inequality: The Role of Courts”
September 29, 2021
On September 29, James Gibson, the Sidney W. Souers Professor of Government at the University of Washington in St. Louis, gave a talk on the overlooked role state supreme courts play in exacerbating inequality in the United States.
Gibson categorized ‘equality’ and ‘anti equality’ by three categories based on workers’ rights, protecting minorities, and access to the law. Gibson and his colleagues analyzed over 6000 state level supreme court cases from 1990 to 2015 and found that state supreme courts ruled in favor of inequality roughly half of the time. Gibson found that the judges’ ideology played a role in determining whether the judge ruled in favor of or against equality, though the correlation was not as strong as predicted because 70 percent of supreme court cases were decided unanimously.
Gibson argued that one of the strongest indicators of state level supreme court’s rulings was the entrenched political cultures of each state. State level supreme courts rarely rule against the status-quo beliefs of each state which also promotes inequality by consistently siding with the powers that be of each state.
According to Baltodano, Bolivia is attempting to address the systematic unequal treatment of indigenous peoples. These take form in the exploitation of artefacts and history, the leftovers of the encomienda system of forced labor, suppression of indigenous culture, unequal access to democracy, and continuing economic neglect rooted in colonialism.
Bolivia is focusing on decolonizing its political systems, recently passing a new constitution that enshrines basic land and voting protections for native Bolivians. The Jilakatas elections created by these reforms are run by indigenous communities and select pairs of leaders via direct voting, and are an important element in establishing election rights for indigenous communities.
Near the end of his talk, Baltodano noted that self-determination is a keystone of democracy. Democratic nations must acknowledge the denial of self-determination to indigenous people and equalize systems of democracy that perpetuate colonialism and inequality.
Angus Deaton: “Inequality in America: The deaths of despair”
September 7, 2021
On September 7, Nobel Prize winning economist Professor Sir Angus Deaton, Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of Economics and International Affairs Emeritus at Princeton University, discussed how income inequality and the decline of the American working class has caused a surge of deaths in the past 30 years. His talk focused on the root causes of inequality with a specific focus on the inequalities between people with or without a bachelor’s degree.
He discussed how over the previous 30 years there has been a surge of deaths from accidental overdoses, suicides, and alcohol related liver diseases, or otherwise deaths that are the result of an environment of despair. Deaton noted that those without a college degree are much more likely die from a death of despair than a person with a college degree, which attributed to the lower standards of living and economic prospects working class Americans experience. These lower standards of living for working class Americans have complicated origins, but appear to be rooted in the declining social esteem in which blue collar workers are held, in addition to the loss of many blue collar jobs that has created a tailspin of social degradation and isolation that can ultimately result in a suicide or drug related death.
In closing Professor Deaton noted that while he was still a big believer in the fundamental structure of capitalism where entrepreneurs are rewarded for their ideas “the point at which you have to stop is when you’ve got a very large number of Americans who are completely shut out of the political process…you’ve make sure that you don’t stifle the next generation of innovators who are going to come along afterwards.”
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