Chicago and the banality of capital accumulation


After a visit to Chicago, I have become convinced that a capitalism that has no, or very little institutions governing its own degree (lets call it neoliberalism) – is an ideology that borders on fascism when it comes to social issues.

Fivehundred words are not enough to sum up all the evidence that I have observed to support my claim, so we’ll have to make due with two. The first is an example of how the only true neoliberal capitalist incentive – obtaining money – uses racism and fear and the other is an example of how it uses legalized swindling to perpetuate disadvantage and poverty.

On Wednesday April 14th, Rob Breymaier (director of Oak Park Regional Housing Center) mentioned that during the 1950s, it was common practice for developers to hire African American people to walk around neighborhoods that were dominantly white. The reason developers paid good money to hire these actors was to install fear in the hearts of the white populace. The blacks functioned as living road signs that spelled the invasion and with that invasion, the plummeting of the value of their houses.

A developer knew the value of the house was $20,000. After the black actors had paraded around the neighborhood he would offer $17,000 on the house on the premise that if the owners waited until after the African Americans had moved in they might not even get $15,000 for it. After the whites fled to the suburb, the developer would then sell the house to a black family for $23,000. Profits were not just big, they were huge.

This form of money making may not be illegal, at best I find it immoral.

The second example happened Saturday afternoon on the eighth floor of a Macy’s in the Water Tower Palace, a mall right in front of the Hancock Tower. I wanted to check out a great deal on a suit. I am not much of a suit wearer, but my best friend is getting married and I am best man so I guess I’d better look good.

‘The suit is a teaser we put online sir”, the salesman told me flat out. “We want to get people into the store, so we sell bad suits for a low price online. When they come in because they don’t like the product, we give them their money back in store credit.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Macy pretends to give a great discount on a suit, full well knowing that it is an inferior product so that, when people who have need for a suit but cannot afford to buy full price (perhaps because they are unemployed and want to make a good impression on their next job interview) return it, are forced to spend more on a far pricier one.

I could have chosen other examples of how amoral capital accumulation impacts Chicago – big themes like displacement and gentrification, small themes likes the individual struggle of small business women in a globalized consumer market or the problems a young Hispanic woman has getting her father treated for alcoholism because his insurance is insufficient – but I chose these because of their banality. Among the blatant obviousness of immoral capital accumulation – they’re not even trying to hide it! – it is hard not to become cynical.


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