Saturday, March 25, 2017

Did you have a happy 'trep week?

The "recovery" period is over.
For the first time since Hurricane Katrina, more people moved from New Orleans to other areas of the United States last year than came to the city from other communities, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Thursday.

While New Orleans continues to grow slowly thanks to births and international migration, the reversal of in-country migration is a milestone for a city that has added thousands of new residents from areas across the country during its long recovery from the 2005 flood.

If the estimates are correct, and 2016 does not prove to be an aberration, the new figures may also be a turning point in the continued growth of the city.
It's fine, though.  No need to add any more residents at all, really.  As long as we can "fight blight" by rehabbing empty houses into STRs where nobody actually lives, it makes for smoother governance, anyway.  That Census estimate has New Orleans at roughly 390,000 or so residents. By comparison, there were 10.5 million tourists here last year.  They so greatly outnumber us that we might as well not even be here at all.  A predominantly tourist population is easier to deal with. It isn't going to bother you about better services, schools, transit, etc. Crime might still be a problem. But if you keep a close eye on the places where visitors are likely to hang out you're probably OK there too.

In general terms the "New" New Orleans is smaller, whiter, more expensive, more dominated by tourism than ever. It's what the city's elites always wanted before the flood. The "recovery" has been an exercise in wish fulfillment for them. And now the mission is accomplished.  All that's left to do are the congratulations.

The mayor had plenty of those to hand out during this most recent "Entrepreneur Week." This is an annual event created by Idea Village which is now an interlocking directorate with NOLA.com consisting of the same crowd of boosters and tech bros who once upon a time foisted Ray Nagin upon us.  They're just as happy now with Mitch, though, who is himself always too happy to promote the con that all our city's social inequities can be solved, not with politics, but with apps.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu's Twitter account provided snippets of his address to open the Civic Innovation Summit Tuesday. "#NOLA is the definition of a resilient city. Catastrophic events provide an opportunity -- out of necessity -- to transform a community," he said. "All of the progress we've made continues to be threatened until we all move forward together."

The Landrieu administration last week launched the Digital Equity Challenge to come up with ways to connect New Orleanians who are underserved -- including low-income, minority, elderly and disabled residents -- to technology. The city is seeking proposals for the best ideas for solving the technology gap. "Connecting New Orleans' low-income residents to technology is an important step to connecting all our residents to new opportunities," Mayor Landrieu said in announcing the effort.
It's this sort of nonsense that delivers the Potemkin village we've built here. All the houses are actually hotel rooms. All the streets are movie sets. The oligarchic landowners are the wealthiest in the state. Meanwhile, the standard of living for most of its residents is poor and steadily declining. The tourism industry that feeds the fortunes of the ruling class runs on the desperation and cutthroat competition among those who create its "cultural" product and those who provide the support services that help deliver it.

Here's a look at what "entrepreneurship" means for  musicians scraping by from gig-to-gig on Frenchmen Street, for example.
Musicians are responsible for the crowds and the drink sales on Frenchmen Street. In an environment where each club has live music from 4 PM until closing time (which may be 4 AM), bands encourage the traffic. The musicians who keep the city’s culture and tourism operating year-round deserve to be paid fairly. Yet the standard pay for bands at Frenchmen Street venues with no cover is 20% of the bar plus tips during a three- to four-hour time slot. This amounts to a starvation wage, as bars pay out as little as $200 total for four- to eight-piece bands. It is common for musicians to walk away from a three-hour, no-cover gig with less than $50, including tips. Musicians must be compensated not only for the time they are performing but also for the countless hours of training and preparation that are required to play well. Music is skilled labor, and demands a high wage. With rising housing and living costs, musicians are left struggling to make a living while spending has rapidly increased at Frenchmen Street venues over the last decade.
Here also is a quick commentary on the "gig economy" writ large. Despite the speeches and presentations and editorials coming out of Entrepreneur Week, the more salient point about the app and 'trep craze is the work environment it fosters for most people just trying to make it.
Fiverr, which had raised a hundred and ten million dollars in venture capital by November, 2015, has more about the “In Doers We Trust” campaign on its Web site. In one video, a peppy female voice-over urges “doers” to “always be available,” to think about beating “the trust-fund kids,” and to pitch themselves to everyone they see, including their dentist. A Fiverr press release about “In Doers We Trust” states, “The campaign positions Fiverr to seize today’s emerging zeitgeist of entrepreneurial flexibility, rapid experimentation, and doing more with less. It pushes against bureaucratic overthinking, analysis-paralysis, and excessive whiteboarding.” This is the jargon through which the essentially cannibalistic nature of the gig economy is dressed up as an aesthetic. No one wants to eat coffee for lunch or go on a bender of sleep deprivation—or answer a call from a client while having sex, as recommended in the video. It’s a stretch to feel cheerful at all about the Fiverr marketplace, perusing the thousands of listings of people who will record any song, make any happy-birthday video, or design any book cover for five dollars. I’d guess that plenty of the people who advertise services on Fiverr would accept some “whiteboarding” in exchange for employer-sponsored health insurance.

At the root of this is the American obsession with self-reliance, which makes it more acceptable to applaud an individual for working himself to death than to argue that an individual working himself to death is evidence of a flawed economic system. The contrast between the gig economy’s rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear. Human-interest stories about the beauty of some person standing up to the punishments of late capitalism are regular features in the news, too. I’ve come to detest the local-news set piece about the man who walks ten or eleven or twelve miles to work—a story that’s been filed from Oxford, Alabama; from Detroit, Michigan; from Plano, Texas. The story is always written as a tearjerker, with praise for the person’s uncomplaining attitude; a car is usually donated to the subject in the end. Never mentioned or even implied is the shamefulness of a job that doesn’t permit a worker to afford his own commute.
As always, the fundamental problem is the imbalance of political power between capital and labor. Or between the owners and the chronically underemployed now euphemistically encouraged to think of themselves as "entrepreneurs." NOLA.com and Mitch Landrieu and his app aren't going to do anything to correct that.  But they are quite good at dazzling and distracting audiences from it.  And that's what this week has been all about.

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