Will Neoliberalism Self-Destruct? Housing For All Is The Ultimate Challenge

A distinctly European city with narrow streets
Cluj-Napoca is one of Romania's largest cities, attracted by modern 'Western' development and political management.

Those of us who are immersed in Western society may well consider ourselves as comfortable frogs immersed in slowly heating water, unlikely even to notice being slowly cooked to death.

Before it’s too late, there may be benefit from considering the perspective of more suspicious frogs, not quite sold on the warmth of the neoliberal politics that bathe us.

This is particularly true if we wish to consider the curiously uncomfortable story of housing in our so-called advanced societies. For some reason, about which most of us are too comfortable to do useful analysis, there is an all-important human right to housing — adequate housing — that seems to perpetually escape Western society’s capabilities.

That is curious because we are a part — or so we are led to believe — of an advanced society largely capable of meeting such challenges.

Even more curious, there have been societies — recently pan-global societies in fact, where a human right to adequate housing has been a bedrock principle, not some ever-receding pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We are talking about countries where, over time, a right to adequate affordable housing was achieved by all its citizens.

Why have the modern neoliberal political societies that currently dominate a successful western civilization somehow failed to provide adequate housing for all?

To answer this question, one option is to consider the viewpoint of activists who have actually experienced a universal human right to adequate housing. Or if too young, activists whose parents at least have had the experience.

We can do so in part by listening on an activist dialog currently joined in a group of societies — referred to as the CEE — Central and Eastern Europe Cities.

The following article by by Veda Popovici describes the aspiration among the CEE to become a neoliberal westernized country, or at least to somehow attain equality with Western society’s success. Today’s alternative for many of these countries — a return to hard core socialism/communism, is both passé and actively rejected. A second option is nationalism, inevitably made ugly by a number of distasteful characteristics such as racism.

Popovici believes that the current mood within the CEE is envy of Westernization and characterized by attempts to emulate its neoliberal success. Unfortunately, her perspective highlights the following thoughts:

“. . . in the name of becoming Western we must all accept evictions, gentrification, touristification, financialisation, rising rents, mass dispossessions . . .”

Have we Western frogs heating up in warm water failed to notice a fundamental flaw in our comfortable society that will be our undoing? Read a perspective from neoliberal wannabes that call into question some of the supposedly superior social successes which rain misery on some, if not all of us. Read more in LEFT EAST: Becoming Western: the story legitimizing neoliberalism, violence and dispossession in Central and Eastern European cities