What do Breastfeeding and Buses and Clarice Starling have in common?

There’s two stories this week that interest me. They’re both about power and authority and who can wield it. They look like pretty similar to me, but the reaction to each has been the opposite. Who gets to be violent towards women with children?

It seems pretty clear the answer should probably be nobody. But sometimes violence is necessary, like in Hannibal [Spoiler alert] when Clarice Starling has to gun down a woman holding a baby to save her own life. In what ways are waitresses and Bus drivers like Clarice Starling? Should waitresses roughhouse women with babies? Should Bus drivers push them about? You might ask, as she does herself, should even Clarice Starling be able to do this?

Nobody asked these questions this week. This is what made for the stark contrast between the reaction to Claridge’s banning women from breastfeeding openly and to First Bus winning a court case saying saying women with children in buggies couldn’t be forced to give up space reserved for wheelchairs.

If Claridge’s really wanted to enforce their ban it would ultimately involve either their staff violently ejecting and breastfeeding women who didn’t comply. First Bus argued that yes, the wheelchair space is for wheelchairs, but no, their drivers aren’t authorised to force a woman to move. The first of these was greeted with incredulity, especially when Nigel Farage requested an end to ostentatious breastfeeding. Of course women can breastfeed where they like. The second was greeted with outrage. Of course wheelchair users can use the space reserved for them.

But both of these questions revolve around who gets to exercise violence. Perhaps bus drivers wrestling with mothers and newly born is a good idea, but it’s not a clear cut case. The court may look callous in its decision, but it has laid out where legitimate violence may and may not be used. This is to the detriment of disabled people, if a mother can’t be reasoned with, but I can’t see a way around this because that unreason is not a cause for violence.

Few people think about what private property means, but it means excluding people, sometimes consensually, often violently. There’s lots of advantages to this system but there’s also drawbacks and these cases sit at this intersection. Private property means being able to force people to do what you want, but society places constraints on what and who you can boss about. I think Clarice Starling was right and FirstBus was right but I think Claridge’s was wrong and those positions are perfectly coherent. Violence can be put to good use, rarely though against women with children.

Sorry to say it @OwenJones84, but property developers might be our only hope

Owen Jones has a video up at The Guardian on the evils of property developers. He blames them for pricing people out of their homes, but I think he’s wrong. Sure property developers are building unaffordable housing, but that’s because land is unaffordable. When land is unaffordable it makes sense to build the most expensive property you can to make the best margin you can.

In the 1930s in the UK’s recovery from the Great Depression and terrible twenties Property Developers went wild. Just like today people responded to low interest rates by investing in housing. The problem is the 1930s saw housing built that people could afford and that people liked, today low interest rates push prices go up. It was the opposite in the 1930s. As Nick Crafts explains “85% of new houses sold for less than £750 (£45,000 in today’s money). Terraced houses in the London area could be bought for £395 in the mid-1930s when average earnings were about £165 per year.”

Why was this? Is wasn’t out of the benevolence of 1930s property developers, it was because the supply of land was far less regulated. There was no incentive to sit on land and even affordable housing becomes an attractive investment when land is easy to come by. Property Developers were just as selfish then but the system channeled that to something useful. The Second World War stopped this housing boom and the 1947 Town and Planning Act made sure it never came back.

In fact, get the rules right and property developers could go from enemies to heroes. Housing expanded so quickly in the 1930s it was the primary motor pulling Britain out of its long slump. Sound familiar? That could happen today, we just need to make it much, much easier for people to use land how they want, where they want.

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PS Owen talks about India too. Slum residents (not owners) are cleared out of their slums so they can be redeveloped as better quality housing. This really is something to be angry about. People without deed to their property getting expropriated by developers working (probably) with corrupt local government. This is awful and I don’t have a good solution to this, primitive accumulation accompanies the early stages of capitalist development everywhere. Solutions on a postcard please.