Michael Crichton called this the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. (Presumably, this has some connection to Murray Gell-Mann, but for the life of me, I don't know what it is.)
Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.
The NYT Op-Ed page perpetually gives me G-M Amnesia. Sometimes I can fight it. I know in advance that Krugman, for one notorious instance, routinely abuses reality. I dislearn less by, instead of reading him, staring slack jawed at lolcatz videos.
Other times, though, it is harder. Having been to South America all of twice, I'm very superficially aware of societies that are very different from the US, and they have some stark problems that the US doesn't.
All on account, no doubt, of reasons.
One problem that seems to be more or less endemic south of the Rio Grande is the truly jarring juxtaposition of sumptuous wealth with grinding poverty. In Buenos Aires a scarcely more than a mile is sufficient to make the journey from first world opulence to hopeless third world deprivation*. Of course, similar trips are possible in the US. Three miles is sufficient traverse the chasm between Grosse Pointe and Detroit.
The New York Times recently carried an Op-Ed about Brazil's unaffordable homes. In it, I learned prices in São Paolo have skyrocketed over the last half dozen years, to the point where "… a 970-square-foot apartment here costs the equivalent of 16 years of an average family’s total income. By comparison, this cost-to-income ratio is eight in New York, 6.9 in Berlin and only three in Chicago." Where purchase costs go, rents inevitably follow: those earning the minimum wage spend nearly all of it renting a dantean shack in a seventh level favela.
Which can only mean one thing: Brazil has a severe housing shortage. (While that short drive from Grosse Pointe to Detroit is shocking enough, it is worth noting that at least no one is living in those Detroit tumbledowns, and they are the exact opposite of expensive.)
It’s no wonder we’re the country of favelas, urban slums built by desperate people using poor materials such as cardboard and tin. They pop up in areas without basic infrastructure or sanitation, and are sometimes vulnerable to landslides, floods and fires.
In early 2009, the government took note and began a program called Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My House, My Life). The public-private partnership aimed to reduce [the housing shortage] by facilitating credit and financing construction.
But from the beginning, it favored families that earned three times the minimum wage or more. As of 2012, after the first and second stages of the program, only 40 to 45 percent of all contracts were assigned to the poorest families. The program appeared to be more about improving the economy than helping the poor. Many critics also complained about the quality of the 344-square-foot houses destined for the poorest, which were built in remote areas without adequate infrastructure.
Highlighting mine, to indicate likely onset of G-M Amnesia.
Now as if all of this isn't bad enough, the housing industry is bound and determined to scotch any reforms because it has "… deep interests in sustaining the old urbanization model marked by segregation and inequality." What those interests might be, or why …?
[One of the strongest groups fighting these issues is the Homeless Workers Movement, which also] advocates the occupation of abandoned buildings or areas that are kept vacant by real estate companies (some of them bankrupt); the resistance of forced evictions; and the government expropriation of housing for, as written in our Constitution, “public necessity.” Its leaders also quote our Constitution when saying that “property shall observe its social function,” and that the economic order is “intended to ensure everyone a life with dignity, in accordance with the dictates of social justice.”
Unfortunately for the author, the entire rest of this Op-Ed piece drives home the contradictory point that saying so doesn't make it so. Therein lies a whiff of wet streets causing rain. But not nearly as much as the conclusory paragraph:
[The Homeless Workers Movement] claims that adequate housing is a human right and shouldn’t be ruled by market logic alone. That argument is convincing, especially when you look at the numbers: There are more than six million vacant housing units in Brazil — more than enough to cover our shortage.
Prior to reading this, I knew of, but nothing about favelas. Now, I'll bet I know even less.
*With time to kill in China, I thought I would finish this. Every time I come here, I'm appalled at how gooned up the internet is, and convinced it can't get any worse. Wrongo, wonderwings. Even getting something so simple as a map of Detroit, to fill a place name gap that, no doubt, came from reading too much Krugman, is impossible to get.
Thomas Friedman, here is a pro-tip: China's throttling the webz does not bode well for your collectivist fascinations.