Academic journal article Capital & Class

Housing and Hegemony: The US Experience

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Housing and Hegemony: The US Experience

Article excerpt

Introduction

Ever since the 1930s, housing has represented an area of paramount social and economic importance in the USA. Homeownership was central to the particular model of capitalism forged in the postwar period on the prewar Fordist foundation that acquired hegemonic status through the New Deal (see Florida and Feldman, 1988). An essential component of the new social order became the strategy of coping with profitability crises through the progressive commodification of necessities of life, with housing being the generalized and overarching case. But the commodification of housing not only softened the immediate pains of accumulation by maintaining the vitality of construction, real estate, production of consumer durables, and a host of banking, financial, and legal services; the spatial reorganization of built environment and the fostering of corresponding work-life strategies have also been instrumental in the shaping of a particular form of society and in supporting its reproduction.

The 2007-? housing crash represented the first serious challenge to the hegemonic homeownership project that emerged in the course of the transition from Americanism'--the 'economic-corporate' stage characterized by disjunction between economic and social reality--into 'Fordism'--a large-scale attempt at creating a planned economy, a corresponding planned society, and a 'new man' (Gramsci, 1971). Postwar US hegemony was consolidated as a broad-based class alliance of the owners of capital, the managerial and professional cadres--'the organization men' (Whyte, 1956)--and the unionized workers in the Fordist industries, grafted onto the appeal of an asset-owning democracy, wherein the suburban, mass-produced, single-family house emerged as the main asset within reach of the aspiring middle class.

This paper examines the historical evolution of housing in the context of the wider transformation of US capitalism, with a particular emphasis on the significance and impact of homeownership as an ideology and social practice on the reproduction of hegemony in the USA. It further highlights the role of the US state in the fostering of the material and social foundations of homeownership. In addition to providing a proper legislative framework, institutional support, and an array of mortgage guarantees, the state has been heavily involved in the purposeful crafting and propagating of the allure of homeownership, hailed as the key ingredient of the American dream. The housing policies of the US state thus epitomize dialectical materialism in its purest form--they have been serving capital while keeping labour dreaming by selling ideas and commodities at the same time.

Further, the paper challenges widely held views that identify public policy errors and government regulatory failures as primary causes of the ongoing housing collapse. Its purpose is to show how the subprime solution that triggered the housing crisis organically evolved out of the growth imperative to keep harnessing the economic and social benefits of homeownership. Far from being a sole enterprise of the state, narrowly defined as the administrative and bureaucratic apparatus of the government, this project arose as a concerted effort of the American 'integral state'--a joint endeavour of government and business, of 'state and market', of political and civil society. The failure of the subprime solution signals the failure of the profit-seeking system of privatized housing provision to overcome the limits of production based on capital.

Origins of American hegemony: Americanism, Fordism and scientific management

Hegemony as a form of class dominance

Hegemony is a form of class dominance, grounded in highly specific national and historical contexts: no two hegemonies are alike. The idiosyncrasy of the American case derives from the peculiar way in which capital, methodically and organically, has penetrated in time and space every aspect of human existence--social and individual, public and private--and moulded with it, thereby transforming it to serve its reproduction. …

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