Weekend Reading

Mac Donald chides the literary disciplines for losing “timelessness” in favor of contemporary critique. Timelessness? Anyone who has taught Dante’s Inferno (as I just did to my freshmen) knows that every canto contains some now-opaque reference to Dante’s personal enemies, or Pope Boniface VIII, or that timeless political party the Guelphs.

In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (which I also just taught to my freshmen), much of theWife of Bath’s Prologue is devoted to rousing debate about Jovinian, whose views on marriage got him excommunicated from the Church in that timeless year that everyone remembers: 393. And do you know what play was written largely to placate his audience’s new fascination with all things Scottish? Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Because listen. No literature, if it’s any good, is timeless. Ever. It is of its time—and, in order for students to be at all interested in reading it, it is of ours as well. That does not make it “timeless.” That makes it nuanced.

The fallacy of trickle-down gentrification also highlights the complications of the term “affordable,” used to describe housing priced below market rates. Affordable housing, often built by community development corporations like the one I work at, has largely supplanted government-funded public housing since the 1970s. Many units are paid for by Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), while some are covered by project-based Section 8 vouchers and other subsidies. But while public housing is home to people with incomes below 30 percent of the median, LIHTC units typically use 30 percent of median income as a floor. This means that while affordable housing is affordable to certain low- and moderate-income people, and plays an important role in allowing those people to remain in gentrifying cities, it is often unaffordable to the working poor.

If affordable housing is only sometimes affordable, and public housing construction has stalled, then how will luxury condo development keep cities affordable for poor and working-class people? It won’t, of course. But the idea that the crisis can be solved by letting the free market build penthouses masks the need for government intervention through massive construction of new housing.

If you’ve never experienced it, “free” just seems like a lower number on a slider that has “half-price” in the middle. But free is not a number.

If you paid for your education, you’re likely to understand education in transactional terms. In straightforward economic terms, it means that if you charge some money, you can have some stuff. With more money comes more stuff, higher quality stuff.

But “free” is something different than “less.” And free is not less than cheap. It’s something else entirely.


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