Gated Worlds

A few years ago I traveled with the Brazilian film director, Hector Babenco outside of Rio to a gated community to visit a cinematographer. We had to go through two layers of gun toting security guards past razor-wire topped 15 foot concrete walls to arrive in the relative tranquility of a walled city. Just outside the walls was a favella of tin shacks with 100,000 slum dwellers ruled by local drug lords. This morning the Times tells the story of similar walled cities going up all over India, where the chauffeurs and the maids live just outside the walls in hovels with no running water.

India has always had its upper classes, as well as legions of the world’s very poor. But today a landscape dotted with Hamilton Courts, pressed up against the slums that serve them, has underscored more than ever the stark gulf between those worlds, raising uncomfortable questions for a democratically elected government about whether India can enable all its citizens to scale the golden ladders of the new economy.

“Women and children are not encouraged to go outside,” said Madan Mohan Bhalla, president of the Hamilton Court Resident Welfare Association. “If they want to have a walk, they can walk inside. It’s a different world outside the gate.”

It does seem to me that our discussion of Laissez Faire Capitalism in the last couple of weeks needs to take into account of what happens when the wealthy totally opt out of the public sphere and the “social contract” for the sake of a private protected city behind walls. I worry about rising inequality in America–about an underclass that has no stake in the society and no real hope of advancement because they are imprisoned in the kind of schools Hugo rails against. The ultimate trajectory of that sort of society can be seen today in Rio and Bangalore. As I drive up to my house every day I pass by two gated communities, with armed security guards. I know we are not in Bangalore–but we need to make sure we are not headed in that direction.

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0 Responses to Gated Worlds

  1. Morgan Warstler says:

    Obama shows his stripes. Liking him more everday!

    “Way back in the primary, Wal-Mart was a bogeyman. Barack Obama, you may hazily recall, even attacked Hillary Clinton for sitting on its board.

    So there’s quite a lot of grumbling in labor circles today about his bringing on Jason Furman as his chief economic policy advisor, because Furman wrote a key, 2005 defense (.pdf) of Wal-Mart from the left, titled, unironically, “Wal-Mart: A Progressive Success Story.”

    The piece makes two arguments. The first is that Wal-Mart lowers prices, so low-income people (and others) can buy more. The second is that Wal-Mart’s low-wage jobs are consistent with the Clintonite philosophy of making work pay, and that the right fix is to have government subsidize the low-wage workers’ salaries and help provide them healthcare. He denies that Wal-Mart lowers local wages.”

  2. Morgan Warstler says:

    And finally, you can see a bit under my skirt:

    “When Americans take over a business in Britain, the business becomes significantly better at translating technology spending into productivity than a comparable business taken over by someone else. It is as if the invisible hand of the American marketplace were somehow passing along a secret handshake to these firms.”

  3. Morgan Warstler says:

    For for fun:

    “Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King – indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history – were not only motivated by faith but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. To say that men and women should not inject their ‘personal morality’ into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

  4. Ken Ballweg says:

    I’m sorry I would like to give correct credit, but I can’t seem to find the post where Dan or Rick (sorry if I got that totally wrong) linked to Bill Moyers responding to an O’Reily Factor Producer who was trying to pull off an ambush interview. While satisfying in it’s own right, the real jewel was the link on the same page to Moyer’s Keynote for the National Conference for Media Reform. Here’s the You Tube link….

    Basically the old war horse came out of retirement and made a case for the consolidated Fourth Estate being the lap dog for the wealthy (something Hugo has often voiced as well) and that Laissez Faire Capitalism has slowly but consciously replaced the press with a propaganda machine that is very effective.

    The resonant image he uses is that of a “plantation mentality” of the rich; the mind set that seeks to make such sharp divides between the very rich and the rest of us.

  5. STS says:


    That was me. I was recommending folks study Bill Moyers’ manner of confronting his troll ambusher.

    I also watched Mr. Moyers’ keynote address and completely agree with you. It was a good old fashioned sermon and far more edifying than his run-in with O’Reillyism.

  6. STS says:


    You may be correct that Obama will take his rhetoric — and even perhaps the substance of his program — somewhat to the right of the adoring crowds. For more traditional liberals like me, that may be a bit of a challenge to accept. Nevertheless a politics big enough to meet our challenges will require us all to give some ground.

    What often makes the most profound difference between Obama and most of the politicians you appear to prefer is simple: it’s TONE. I suspect even W could have carried liberals along with more of his program if he hadn’t been such a ‘poke in they eye’ 50%+1 vote guy. A man who would call a marginal victory ‘political capital’ and behave as if he was FDR in 1936.

    If handsome is as handsome does, perhaps we can also say: troll is as troll talks.

  7. Ken Ballweg says:

    Austan Goolsbee is more apt to be the go to economics guru for Obama. Read George Will’s profile of him here….

    Then allow for the source. But to see how Goolsbee’s mind works, see his review of Sicko in Slate…

    Morgan’s right that Obama is probably more “centrist” than a lot of his supporters expect him to be. The grim reality is to get this country back to something better than walled principalities surrounded by slums, we will have a long journey back from the extremes President Cheney took us to. So extreme in fact that the trip will have to take through an artificially moved Center, to get back to what once was the political Center.

  8. Morgan Warstler says:

    STS, for me Obama is pretty great – nothing like 1992 when I was LOATHE to have to wake up every morning to Clinton – with Obama there are all kinds of upsides (I was young, and this was before I found out the fed runs everything). Knowing about the crowd around Obama, I’ve been sure he is a centrist somewhere in between Bill and Hillary, and I know that is “a challenge to accept,” and it isn’t meant to “troll,” it’s just if you read his policy advisers it is hella different than his “hold your nose to get them votes” associations.

    Like Reagan, I think MAYBE Obama has the tone, but we won’t know if he eschews the 50%+1 approach until October. Again, I’m not trolling, but I pretty much assume Obama will continue to refuse to have the debates, meet ups, town halls McCain is unafraid of – that’s disappointing and undermines your “tone” idea. so we’ll see.

    More on the one thing: Obama verbally cheats sometimes (so does McCain), as an example mis-characterizing “100 years” war – which I also find disappointing. All of Jon’s silly angry blather kind of amazes me because if I were you (a traditional liberal), I’d be honest – like I am about Obama – that McCain is perhaps the most acceptable alternative you have on Democratic side of the fence. Lastly, liberals have to admit, McCain also seems to have dropped the 50%+1 approach. His tone is actually quite stunning.

  9. zestypete says:

    If McCain wins in November, I expect the shock will be such that he’ll stop mid-vow of office, clutch at his chest and collapse in a spectacular end to a campaign. But maybe that’s just me.

    As for Obama, the more I hear him, the more familiar he becomes: he reminds me of Tony Blair in 1997. Like Blair, he’s tried to revitalise his party (Blair rebranded it “New Labour”). Like Blair, he’s comfortable in the middle ground (Blair’s “Third Way”). And as with Blair, my biggest worry about Obama is that if he wins with a landslide, he’ll will start to believe his own hype.

    In Blair’s case, this meant 10 years of economic growth and good international relations of course – no bad thing. It also meant the invasion of Iraq, which he backed for no other reason than he believed it was “the right thing to do” – and remember, this was well before the 7/7 bombings in London and conducted despite the fact that the public launched one of the largest marches in protest the city’s ever seen. He considered himself to be a man with the courage of his convictions and was prepared to follow them through. He just wasn’t able to admit he was wrong.

    Clearly, the world’s in a different place now and Obama can’t expect four or eight years of economic growth, much less stability. He may be the best man for the job and goodness knows that something needs to change in the US right now, but I worry that the seeds of megalomania are there. I’m waiting for the moment when he admits – convincingly – that he was wrong about something. Until then, I’ll hold off lavishing him with too much praise.

    Then again, I’d choose his megalomania over George W “Doing God’s work” Bush any day.

  10. Rick Turner says:

    We were all waiting for Billary to admit-convincingly-that she was wrong to vote for the war. As for Obama, he’s already told us that like us, he’s imperfect. That’s not exactly megalomania.

  11. zestypete says:

    That’s what all the megalomaniacs say. Their professed imperfection doesn’t mean they think they’re wrong, it’s just that their delusions of grandeur force them to claim humility. Otherwise it’s just bragging.

    And again, I’m not saying he is a megalomaniac, just that the potential is there. And if I had a vote, I’d still vote for Obama, just like I voted for Blair.

    As for Billary, well… the megalomania is clear for all to see, no argument there.

  12. Dan says:

    We have a Walmart a few miles down the road from us. It’s an extreme eyesore. The building and the grounds are dirty, faded, cracked, chipped, peeling, stained and rusty. Big barrels of some kind of liquid sit outside in a muddy field. Other businesses around it have closed, and nobody else wants to build anything near this place because it’s a festering eyesore.

    My wife served jury duty on a murder trial a few years ago. A local drug lord ordered a brazen daytime hit on a rival gang. This meant that he sent his 19- and 20-year-old goons over to an apartment building where they smashed down doors and opened fire cowboy-style, killing a couple of people and wounding others, and then strolled out as if this were the Wild West. They were all arrested about two minutes later.

    At the trial, my wife learned that nearly every one of these gang members, including the leader who ordered the hit, held no jobs (had *never* held jobs), owned no cars, owned no homes, rented no apartments, in fact had virtually no public records of any kind. They lived in apartments that their girlfriends rented, they drove cars whose titles the girlfriends held. Their girlfriends were their links, their only links, to society–except for the criminal justice system, of course.

    Every one of the girlfriends–EVERY SINGLE ONE–worked at this eyesore Walmart.

    So when Ivy League-educated policy analysts publish PDF files on Walmart being a progressive success story, I think about my own local community and my response is:

    Not here.

    The local Walmart is a symbol of the kind of thing Jon is talking about above. An emerging underclass in which social success means working at Walmart, and social failure means living with and depending on someone who works at Walmart while you spend your time working for a drug lord enough to support your and your girlfriend’s drug habits.

  13. Ken Ballweg says:

    Good link Rick. One of the key lines is “In Britain for example, the liquid wealth of the bottom half of the populace has fallen from 12 per cent in 1976 to just one per cent in 2003… Wage earners have coped with this structural shift by taking on unprecedented levels of debt”

    This is the key to the unsustainable Ponzi scheme element in the current imbalance. How long can you count on your buyers to sustain unrealistic growth rates demanded by Wall St., have it sustained by credit, and not have a catastrophic collapse? At some point, just as the US will have to face as a nation, the debt servicing will take too much discretionary capital out of circulation to allow individuals to attend the market. The notion that the rich and super rich will pick up the slack doesn’t seem viable. How many super rich need their dry cleaning done at the corner cleaners? How many buy low end Chevys at the strip mall? The whole chain has to contract except for essentials.

    Our favellas are run by war lords already and they are increasing. As they do, certain cities face bankruptcy as the tax base flees. Once the infrastructure reaches a certain point of decay, it isn’t economically feasible to repair it.

    Those business which spend more on lawyers and lobbyists to avoid taxes through legal means than they they actually pay may be surprised to see what happens to the bottom line when market places they have created have too few customers to sustain their business plans.

    A depression is an ultimate market correction that usually comes when too much capital and power gets tied up by too few people who are too intellectually inbred to see the consequences of strangling their own markets. Globalization has delayed this, but as rising fuel costs cut the profits of selling to distant countries, that is going to have to face a dramatic shift too.

  14. Rick Turner says:

    It’s a good time to invest in railroads…trains get great “gas” mileage.

  15. Ken Ballweg says:


    The old Walt Kelly line “We have met the enemy and he is us.” is so apt these days.

    A suggestion; start one entry which consists of a challenge to post suggested viable actions national and local governments can enact to restore confidence in government.

    Please make ground rules of no personal attacks, no snide judgements, no kicking, biting or eye gouging allowed. Each poster gets to propose two or three laws (constitutional or statutory) they would propose if they were a congress critter. Moderate, and enter a tag saying “Ken Ballweg needs to edit his post to meet the ground rules.” and hold to it until they conform. Each poster gets one shot for this particular forum, so better be good. Then you can follow up with a gage match post that allows people to reference the prior posts and address the viability. I would love to see a list of what people think would restore confidence in the body politic, and how many suggest similar ideas.

    The moderation aspect for this one post would make for a work load, but it would be interesting to see ideas stripped of all the tribal posturing.

  16. Ken Ballweg says:

    Er, “cage” not “gage”

  17. Rachel says:

    ZestyPete, my fears are your fears.

    On a slightly diversionary note on the theme of Blair and New Labour, there’s a lovely little documentary about Britpop and Blairism called “Live Forever”, which is quite hilarious, and really evokes the period very well. My favorite moment is when the singer from the band Elastica goes from talking about where Tony Blair became disappointing to the moment where British Pop music died: she puts it at the time she first heard the song “Angels” being recorded by Robbie Williams in the studio next door to hers.

    Iraq really was Blair’s fatal flaw. It’s really the only *big* mistake he made. But it’s such a huge mistake it’s forever tainted the way people remember him. If you’re going to pitch hope, people are going to be really, really pissed off when you disappoint them with same old same old.

    I have hopes for Obama being better than this, but then I’ve had more than one love in my life, too.

  18. Jon Taplin says:

    RT -Fabulous link to the Phillip Blond piece.

    KB- I accept your challenge, and will try to put up such a post for everyone to contribute to. Thinking about the link Rick provided and your writing about the increased indebtedness of the working class, I am reminded of Erich Fromm’s notion that societal power stuctures create an “infantile” situation for those at the bottom of the ladder. They experieince the rich and powerful in a way that rebellion seems pointless and seek their protection and goodwill instead.

    The other fact is that they begin to believe that their lives are a matter of luck, spending $60 billion a year on state lotteries. I’m going to write on this today.

  19. Hugo says:

    Gated cities?

    What then is a gate? What’s a street? And what is a city after all?

    In planning theory, especially as it concerns the field of Urban Design, the architects and planners and social historians would note that urban gates aren’t merely barriers, but are also (and even most prevalently) significant markers of belonging—pillars or archways that connect people to their neighbors, to the past of the place and to its present, collective aspiration. So not all gateways are exclusive and anti-social; many, if not most, urban gateways have been inclusive and social.

    Most of the world’s streets are a city-dweller’s most immediate, and ubiquitous, pedestrian experience of the commons, and are in no way like the kind of automotive thoroughfares in which children are shot at random and 90 year-old men are run down with impunity while bystanders intervene only by interrupting their cell-chats with a change of subject. Had a certain street in Hartford been gated from auto traffic, it might become a street again, but the real gates still would be the cell-phone cuccoons that are even more alienating than the vehicular ones.

    Historically there are several types of cities; e.g. fortress cities, trading cities, sacred cities, etc. But they have in common their city-ness, in that all cities are, as the Austrian-born American architect Christopher Alexander wrote decades ago, “mechanisms for sustaining human contact”. Were you to ask Prof. Alexander, or any of the normative theorists, what Rio and Delhi and Hartford are doing wrong, my guess is that the answer would be, “Everything.”

  20. Dan says:

    I was daydreaming earlier today about what it could be like for a town or village to allow zero vehicle traffic in it, apart from delivery vehicles that could reach businesses during certain times of the day, and of course emergency vehicles.

    There would be a lot of problems to get around. Bringing groceries home would be quite a chore. And reaching my place of work, 33 miles away, would require a non-vehicle commute to the edge of town, and then mass transit to work. The way mass transit works around here, that would take about 90 minutes.

    But many of my reasons for hating so many of my fellow residents and frequently wishing they were dead would disappear.

  21. Pete Wolf says:

    Ken – I hope Jon puts your thread suggestion into action, I’m sure it would be most interesting.

    Rachel – It’s easy to think that Iraq is Blair’s (and as such New Labour’s) only big mistake, but I think that lets them off the hook for a lot of the other more subtle but nonetheless awful things they’ve perpetrated. George Monbiot has a very succinct list, including Iraq, but with much more.

  22. Another Jon says:

    Dan, if you worked in a town that had no roads, and you lived 33 miles away, then you would not live and work in the same town. My advice would be to either move, or get a job IN town. Either way it is an existential excercise that is not worth undertaking unless you decide you are an island unto yourself. Although that may solve your bouts of misanthropy. It works for me sometimes…..

    Anyway…as it seems to happen a lot, ( for me,anyway) Ken nailed it with this quote: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Walmart is not the problem. Or….I am Walmart. I am the woman supporting those faceless and anonymous murderers mentioned in Dan’s anecdote. I am confortable with this. I look forward to the thread Ken has suggested.

    And Hugo…sometimes you are my hero. I found myself going to the same place as you…wondering what it is about “The Gateway” that is inherently wrong. Now. In Our cities. And I came to the same conclusion…it is about an essential disconnect between people and classes of people. The reasons are numerous and almost too complex to understand. But you are right….everything is wrong. If you were next to me I would shake your hand.

    So my first piece of legislation in Ken’s little game would be this.

    You have to live closer than 33 miles to the place you work unless you have a webcam. And if you do not, then it is illegal (and punishable up to 5 years in prison) to complain about Walmart.

    …i kid.
    I promise not to make light of the real thread.

  23. Dan says:

    An existential exercise that is not worth undertaking? What is? Not wanting to live a drivethrough road rage heart disease lifestyle? Or daydreaming about not wanting to?

    You just Hugoed me.

  24. Jon Taplin says:

    Zestypete- One more note on your worries about Obama’s ego. Here’s something he told David Brooks about the work of Rienhold Niebuhr:
    “I take away … the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away … the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism.”

  25. Morgan Warstler says:

    He “Hugoed” me too Dan, I think he is saying, either get a new job or a new house?

    Why does everybody hate Wal-Mart again? Is it the low, low prices? Is it the $3 prescriptions? Aren’t they just the perfect collective buyer? Have you read about how they are squeezing down environmental costs from thir producers?

  26. Another Jon says:

    I did not mean to Hugoed anyone.

    All I meant was that daydreaming about utopian cities, where roads do not exist, is a useless excercise if you are thinking of them with the same mindset that built them. I did not mean to be obtuse.

  27. Hugo says:

    Obtuse? OBTUSE? Now just wait one minute here, you bunch of greedheads, Deadheads, fore and aft heads! That is an outrageous ad hominem attack on someone who blogs in good faith. I may not be much more perfect than the Union Barack Obama heralds, but I am NOT obtuse. I am NEVER obtuse.

    I’m abstruse.

    And don’t you forget it.

  28. Ken Ballweg says:

    It’s an easy mistake to make Hugo, I also assumed you were one of the last of the Obtusies. But you will have to admit, it’s remarkably easy to mistake the Abstrusies for the Obtusies. Good field anthropologists have been knows to be confused by the two I’m told.

  29. Hugo says:

    We anthros were the Abstrusies; the Obtusies were the ones under observation. Or so we thought. To say nothing of tragic cultural contamination evident in the distressing but memorable spectacle of Hutus dancing Hula in tutus. But then, perhaps they were simply the original Alt-usies.

  30. Hugo says:

    The reason why some of us find it useful to observe that cities are preeminently mechanisms for sustaining human contact, is that it points to a higher and better use for cities: to engender human development. Spaces teach, and so does human interaction teach, and so does almost all human experience. Cities are places where all these phenomena are quickened. They can be planned better to conduce to the accelerrated growth of residents who can master change, master themselves and their vocations, and master the New Economy. Great cities are endlessly enriching.

    And then there’s Hartford.

  31. Another Jon says:

    I apologize for being duplicitous Hugo. I just missed you and wanted to hear your voice. So I picked the one word I knew would elicit a response. Abstruse has nothing on you.

    As for your musings on cities….you are preaching to the choir.

  32. Morgan Warstler says:

    Hugo, do you support local currency? Heard of Ithaca hours?

  33. Rachel says:

    Hugo – you can’t call Hartford a city. Not in a proper sense. In other nations they’d call it … damn, I don’t know what they’d call it. But if you’re going to slander a boring place, you should have started with Fort Worth. :)

    Pete Wolf, thanks for the link to the Monbiot piece. I was being too lenient on Blair – probably because I was thinking in a Bush/Cheney frame of mind, and only Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Ill, Than Shwe and Robert Mugabe come out close to matching them in recent history.

    I nevertheless stand corrected.

  34. Dan says:

    The Walmart just down the road from me–not the entire corporation, the one just down the road from me–is a festering dump. It’s the worst retail building I’ve ever seen outside of a ghetto.

    The one they want to build abuts DIRECTLY against my neighborhood. It will be open 24 hours and have truck traffic at all hours, and they want a lot of zoning variances so that they can have enormous signs and 60 foot tall light poles, among other things.

    Water studies show that a giant parking lot right there will increase the already very bad flooding in parts of the neighborhood after heavy storms.

    A traffic study paid for by Walmart rated every intersection along the road it will be on as D or E now, and they will be rated E or F (the worst rating) after the construction, right through at least the year 2017.

    And they’re building three other superstores within six miles of this store, so it’s practically certain that at least one of them won’t make it in the long run, so the odds are at least 1 in 4 that we’ll end up with an unprofitable festering dump like our neighboring town has. But first it will probably drive one or more other local businesses, some of which are already teetering, out of business (they all also have other stores not far away) so we might end up with a whole bunch of derelict buidlings.

    Increased traffic, increased crime, increased flooding, increased pollution, lowered property values, reduced sales tax.

    That is why “everyone hates Walmart.”

  35. Dan says:

    If my daydreams are useless, then I won’t bother mentioning them again.

    I had forgotten that we were focused strictly on entirely practical, real-world, what-we-can-accomplish-today stuff here.

  36. Rick Turner says:

    Most of WalMart’s stuff comes from China. It’s not going to be cheap for very long…

  37. Hugo says:

    Wal-Mart’s a schitzy organization. I don’t trust any profile that doesn’t capture the company’s contradictions. There really is something like The Good Wal-Mart and The Bad Wal-Mart, and frankly I think that the good guys are winning at corporate. (Bear in mind that Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the World.)

    The company’s recent unveiling of low-cost health-clinical-services aimed for delivery at every store site—remember their four-dollar generic pharmaceuticals—this excites me through-and-through. Also, the Waltons are good people, and they do listen.

    It’s true, Rick, that the preponderance of their stuff is now Chinese-made, but their archrival Target’s stuff is even more China-exposed, and Wal-Mart, like Levi Strauss, held out the longest before caving to Sino-facture. Only Target’s top execs are big-ticket Democratic funders, and the Haas family more or less IS the Democratic Party in Northern California, so criticism of those two huge corporations is seldom seen.

    Personally I admire the Haas record the most, but I do also admire the Waltons and I do actually have confidence that the company Sam built can have tremendously positive effects wherever it goes. I’m serious about this—and I do think I know more than my share of horror stories.

  38. Hugo says:

    Wal-Mart’s a schitzy organization. I don’t trust any profile that doesn’t capture the company’s contradictions. There really is something like The Good Wal-Mart and The Bad Wal-Mart, and frankly I think that the good guys are winning at corporate. (Bear in mind that Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the World.)

    The company’s recent unveiling of low-cost health-clinical-services aimed for delivery at every store site—remember their four-dollar generic pharmaceuticals—this excites me through-and-through. Also, the Waltons are good people, and they do listen.

    It’s true, Rick, that the preponderance of their stuff is now Chinese-made, but their archrival Target’s stuff is even more China-exposed, and Wal-Mart, like Levi Strauss, held out the longest before caving to Sino-facture. Only Target’s top execs are big-ticket Democratic funders, and the Haas family more or less IS the Democratic Party in Northern California, so criticism of those two huge corporations is seldom seen.

    Personally I admire the Haas record the most, but I do also admire the Waltons and I do actually have confidence that the company Sam built can have tremendously positive effects wherever it goes. I’m serious about this—and I do think I know more than my share of horror stories.

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