The Price of Paradise: The Costs of Inequality and a Vision for a More Equitable America

The Price of Paradise: The Costs of Inequality and a Vision for a More Equitable America

The Price of Paradise: The Costs of Inequality and a Vision for a More Equitable America

The Price of Paradise: The Costs of Inequality and a Vision for a More Equitable America

Synopsis

Many American communities, especially the working and middle class, are facing chronic problems: fiscal stress, urban decline, environmental sprawl, failing schools, mass incarceration, political isolation, disproportionate foreclosures, and severe public health risks. In The Price of Paradise, David Dante Troutt argues that it is a lack of what he calls "regional equity" in our local decision making that has led to this looming crisis now facing so many cities and local governments. Unless we adopt policies that take into consideration all class levels, he argues, the underlying inequity affecting poor and middle class communities will permanently limit opportunity for the next generations of Americans. Arguing that there are "structural flaws" in the American dream, Troutt explores the role that place plays in our thinking and how we have organized our communities to create or deny opportunity. Through a careful presentation of this crisis at the national level and also through on-the-ground observation in communities like Newark, Detroit, Houston, Oakland, and New York City that all face similar hardships, he makes the case that America's tendency to separate into enclaves in urban areas or to sprawl off on one's own in suburbs gravely undermines the American dream. Troutt shows that the tendency to separate also has maintained racial segregation in our cities and towns, itself cementing many barriers for advancement. A profound conversation about America at the crossroads, The Price of Paradise is a multilayered exploration of the legal, economic, and cultural forces that contribute to the squeeze on the middle class, the hidden dangers of growing income and wealth inequality, and environmentally unsustainable growth and consumption patterns. David Dante Troutt is Professor of Law and Justice John J. Francis Scholar at the Rutgers University-Newark Law School. He also serves as Director of the Center on Law in Metropolitan Equity at Rutgers Law School.Troutt is a columnist, novelist, and the author of several works of nonfiction, most recently After the Storm: Black Intellectuals Explore the Meaning of Hurricane Katrina.

Excerpt

Let’s begin with a brazen assault on paradise. On June 4, 2010, eighteenyear-old Justin Hudson was the chosen student graduation speaker at Hunter College High School, a prestigious New York City high school for “intellectually gifted” students. He was to deliver a celebratory speech to the assembled recipients of the American Dream at its meritorious best. A half-black, half-Latino young man from a low-income neighborhood, Justin began by acknowledging that he had no right to be standing there before his classmates and their families. Blacks represented only 3 percent of Hunter’s students, Latinos 1 percent. But then, Justin went on, neither did anyone else deserve the privilege.

“We stand on the precipice of our lives, in control of our lives, based purely and simply on luck and circumstance,” he explained. “If you truly believe that the demographics of Hunter represent the distribution of intelligence in this city, then you must believe that the Upper West Side, Bayside and Flushing are intrinsically more intelligent than the South Bronx, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Washington Heights, and I refuse to accept that.”

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