Why Tent Cities Won’t Go Away

Builds Upon: Breaking the Iron Law, A Game of Social Arbitrage

The emergence of tent cities across the industrialized world has been met with outrage and confusion. The inhabitants of these impromptu towns have been repeatedly dismissed as “dirty hippies” and “troublemakers.” Yet neither this shaming language nor the intervention of law enforcement has done much to reduce the appeal of these encampments.

The tents should come as no surprise.
Tent cities are a reaction to the shrinking buying power of wages in proportion to basic living expenses such as rent.

Presently, paying even the cheapest of rents can easily devour over half of a month’s earnings.
The cost of being able to camp in a 12×12 box without being beaten up or jailed strips people of most of the fruits of their labor.

So why is it surprising when people begin to camp in parks for free under the threat of being beaten up or jailed? The threat of force hasn’t changed.

Until basic living expenses are reasonably proportional to wages, we can expect that increasing numbers of people will opt out of rent-paying situations.
Criticisms such as “Occupy a Job!” fall flat because there is now a much higher payoff for people to support each other in a park than to slave away in isolation for their respective landlords.

The public outrage at these encampments is to be expected. Paying for a box to live in is a standard part of the SPT(Social Participation Tax). Those who dodge this tax are not members of society.
People understand in their gut that avoidance of SPT expenses such as house and car are outright rebellion.

People who do not pay SPT:

-Cannot as easily be coerced into desired social roles. The mass society is stripped of its leverage without these enormous expenses. People are afraid of those who cannot easily be kept in line. The cycle of dependence required to maintain a social order is broken.

-Those who have spent decades of their life dutifully bleeding themselves dry for a box to live in are given a slap in the face by the very existence of “freeloading” campers.
Their rage arises from a sense of unfairness that lies deep in human nature. On some primal level they think: “I suffered to hold down this house like I was expected to without complaining! It is only fair that they do the same!”
They do not recognize that it makes no sense for others to follow their example.

As it is, there have been strong incentives to flee rents for most of history, but flouting the SPT in most cases meant ostracism, punishment, certain death. So people had to pay up no matter how impoverished it left them.

Now, better communication technologies have allowed a critical mass of people to abscond from rent paying situations at once and support each other in the process.

The prevailing social order is faced with a grave threat and indeed, this explains the degree of force used against these encampments.
On some gut level, those who are invested in the present order understand well that where there is a ragtag camp today, tomorrow there will be free houses.

As a final note: We can likewise expect an explosion in the number of squatters across the nation. If hordes of people coordinated across social media do it all at once, the authorities cannot respond as effectively. This is the same principle that has made the encampments particularly difficult to eradicate.

7 responses to “Why Tent Cities Won’t Go Away


  2. You can usually cut the rent in 1/2-1/3 if you’re willing to shack up with other people. Of course having roommates is a pain in the ass but it’s what a lot of younger people do. If you have a big family (takes up extra space) or pay the rent on time (no one wants to room with a dude who can’t pay rent on time, they usually make you pay for one month plus one or two in advance) then you’re shit outta luck.

    On a side note, it disturbs me that there is such a gap between the official 99% literacy rate of the US and the actual one. And I’m not just speaking in terms of limited ability to use vocabulary and spell.

    Read these studies by the US Department of Education…
    About 25% of Americans are too stupid to send a package via certified mail:
    A larger study:

    That’s 25% that cannot grasp how to operate in a modern economy that is constantly changing and adapting (I.E. information is valuable and manual labor is mostly automated). Roughly 90 million Americans have trouble figuring out a bus schedule or writing a letter. The 25% above them may or may not just barely make the cut, they are still grist for the mill. Without a guaranteed minimum income social safety net most of the people in the world are going to be broke, hungry and pissed off.

    • Like you said rooming with other people is a pain in the ass. If you’re the fool holding the lease, they can skip out on you at any time. If you’re just staying there, like I’ve done, lease holders have a funny habit of asking for extra ‘help’ with the tacit threat that they will ask you to leave if you don’t give in.

      Even divided 1/2 or even 1/3 it’s still going to cost hundreds of dollars per month.
      With lower paying jobs, you’re still barely making it even doing the roommate thing.

      What you said about many people being barely able to read or think for themselves: this is in part why I write about the self-interest and incentives here rather than noble causes or high flung philosophy.
      I believe you have to understand the economics to really ‘get’ what’s going on right now.

  3. http://www.skilluminati.com/research/entry/notes_on_ows_occupy_media_team/

    “So few people, both in and outside the movement, appear to know about the off-site media operations center that when journalists are granted access, they are blindfolded with a maroon scarf and told the precise location is off the record.”

    There is some hierarchy within the movement, though you would expect that from any group of humans, and the secrecy that comes with it. Just like in Anonymous.

    Being a man with a one track mind, I view the entire movement as a group of consumers that need to have the proper angles and benefits presented to them in order to convert them into loyal advocates of the cause. I still see the movement as being scalable to a larger size, and the cost of protesting versus the cost of policing is still heavily in favor of the protesters.

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