Sociological effects of globalisation and unaffordable housing

This article has a beautiful summary of Christophe Guilluy's sociology work on how globalisation is transforming French society and its repercussions.

The standard narrative of globalisation is that it makes processes efficient, making goods cheaper. The movement of labour to developed countries creates jobs at lower end of the spectrum, that provide valuable services like baby care, house cleaning, drivers etc.

All of this is true but the interaction of these phenomenon with public policies can have different effects. Christophe Guilluy describes these in France's setting as follows:

On victims of globalisation

France’s best-performing urban nodes have arguably never been richer or better-stocked with cultural and retail amenities. But too few such places exist to carry a national economy. When France’s was a national economy, its median workers were well compensated and well protected from illness, age, and other vicissitudes. In a knowledge economy, these workers have largely been exiled from the places where the economy still functions. They have been replaced by immigrants
Paris offers the most striking case. As it has prospered, the City of Light has stratified, resembling, in this regard, London or American cities such as New York and San Francisco. It’s a place for millionaires, immigrants, tourists, and the young, with no room for the median Frenchman. Paris now drives out the people once thought of as synonymous with the city. 
Further, effects of public policies 
......After the mid-twentieth century, the French state built a vast stock—about 5 million units—of public housing, which now accounts for a sixth of the country’s households. Much of it is hideous-looking, but it’s all more or less affordable. Its purpose has changed, however. It is now used primarily for billeting not native French workers, as once was the case, but immigrants and their descendants, millions of whom arrived from North Africa starting in the 1960s, with yet another wave of newcomers from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East arriving today. 
........ A public-housing development is a community, yes, and one can wish that it be more diverse. But it is also an economic resource that, more and more, is getting fought over tribally. An ethnic Frenchman moving into a heavily North African housing project finds himself threatening a piece of property that members of “the community” think of as theirs. Guilluy speaks of a “battle of the eyes” fought in the lobbies of apartment buildings across France every day, in which one person or the other—the ethnic Frenchman or the immigrant’s son—will drop his gaze to the floor first. 
....... even if French people were willing to do the work that gets offered in these prosperous urban centers, there’d be no way for them to do it, because there is no longer any place for them to live. As a new bourgeoisie has taken over the private housing stock, poor foreigners have taken over the public—which thus serves the metropolitan rich as a kind of taxpayer-subsidized servants’ quarters. Public-housing inhabitants are almost never ethnically French; the prevailing culture there nowadays is often heavily, intimidatingly Muslim.

Guilluy makes 4 important points

1.  Victims of globalisation and its sociological effects: As non-natives occupy cities, prices in functional part increase making leading to stratification, making it unaffordable for the kind of people who once used to inhabit the city.

The natives are forced to periphery but immigrants occupy the functional parts of the city, changing its character. This can be mentally difficult for natives to adjust.

This needn't be true for just immigrants and globalisation. This can be true for intra-country migration in countries like India too, in case of cities like Bengaluru, witnessing huge influx of people who speak different language.

2. The importance of housing: Affordable housing is going to be crucial with growing urbanisation. Guilluy points out that in London, the average monthly rent (£2,580) now exceeds the average monthly salary (£2,300).  This has two effects
  • High prices of housing may reflect the market demand and supply but such situation is sociologically difficult to be sustained.
  • High price localities also tend to have good public facilities like schooling etc. Unaffordable price thus has second order effects, where it creates barriers to access such facilities, thus exacerbating inequalities.

3. Ethnic conflict due to globalisation and urbanisation?: Standard models of social capital tell that inter mingling of communities help reduce the "fear of unknown" making people more tolerant of other cultures and traditions. But if this is in a resource crunched context, where there is a tribal competition for resources, ethnic fault lines may deepen instead of reducing, as narrated above.

Such conflicts deepen if public policies advantage one community over the other, like in case of French where affordable housing preferred immigrants over natives.

4. Taxpayer subsidized workers: This, according to me is a novel way of phrasing the argument. Elite can access low-wage services only if the workers stay close to the localities of the rich. The housing of localities where workers stay are either subsidized or tends to be slums.

Thus,  the low-wage services to the elite aren't possible without the subsidized workers. It would be good if the elite who scream at even the whisper of welfare programmes, realise this and be little humble. Elite are also beneficiaries of lot of unseen subsidies.

Affordable housing in urban areas is going to be a big issue in future. We need to be cognisant of not only its benefits but also its sociological consequences.


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