Can Capitalism Survive Homelessness? Blog post by David M. Boje, Ph.D. Aug 20 2015

Joseph Schumpeter asked, “Can Capitalism Survived” and responded a resounding “No!”

My great grandparents grew up on a depression, my grandparents grew up in another depression, and my parents in yet another one. So I have to ask if we are in yet another depression?  And if so, is homelessness, once again the result of depression?

Can Capitalism Survive Homelessness?

The homelessness statistics are everywhere: “averages, rations, means, modes, medians” not too many with “tests of significance” (Gephart, 1988: 5). Statistics are part of the everyday-ness of homelessness discourse, what we hear at City Council, and meetings of the Homeless Coalition of New Mexico, and all throughout the world of Global Capitalism. These statistics have the weight to bury us (IBID.). There is a proliferation of homelessness statistics, and they have weight in federal and city policy, in how social welfare agencies, the Veterans Administration, and the American Legion address problems.

Researchers of the homeless, and homelessness — routinely produce statistics, display them in tables, and use storytelling rhetoric to persuade readers about the homelessness.  There is another level of statistics, the record keeping at social welfare agencies, city, county, state, federal HUD, and VA offices across the land.


  1. The National Student Campaign Against Homelessness and Hunger says “In the U.S., more than 3.5 million people experience homelessness each year.” And lists some facts such as over 45% of homeless have a job(s) while homeless. Often the homeless jobs pay less than living wage, and some others:
    • Fact: Most Americans are one to two missed paychecks away from homelessness
    • Fact: 35% are families with children & 20-35% are single adults
    • Fact: 25% are homeless children under age 18
  2. BUT National Coalition to End Homelessness reports “On a single night in January 2014, 578,424 people were experiencing homelessness — meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program.” In New Mexico, a 2.6% reduction in homelessness over prior year is reported.
  3. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates 49,933 veterans are homeless on any given night” up to 62,000 one night in January it does not include the hidden homeless veterans couch surfing, ling out of cars, etc.; Fact: 23% are military veterans are homeless, and that means closer to 805,000 if we use the 3.5 million total homeless estimate, rather than the HUD estimate, which is far more conservative.[1]

If you compare the two homelessness in the USA statistics, there is a three million person difference. If you compare the HUD estimate of homeless veterans and the National Student Campaign, then homeless veterans is either 49,000 or 805,000.

Three Common Myths about Homeless

Homelessness can’t happen to you. Fact: 37 million people in USA currently living in poverty, and most are 1 to 2 missed checks away from becoming a homelessness statistic. Fact: Another 1. 5 million other veterans are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans).

Homelessness will never end. Fact: homelessness can end and will end once it is no longer acceptable in our society for another human being to be sleeping outside, in their car, in an abandoned building, or in a tent or dorm shelter. Fact: after World War II, by 1950s homelessness had ended in USA, and in 2015 its at 3.5 million US citizens:

  1. Why? 1976 Federal Government withdrew $$$ from low income housing; Now it is 50% what it was in 1976
  2. Why? For a 2 bedroom dwelling, it takes a HOUSING WAGE of $15.37 an hour
  3. Why? Cost of health care has risen for USA family to $8,000 a year

Homelessness is easy to get out of. Fact: it is not. It takes a lot of work for a person to move from homelessness to home-full-ness and obtain access to gainful employment based on a living wage; housing, healthcare, and networks of support are imperative.

Another commonly quoted statistic (from VA’s 2012 report) is there are 22 veteran suicides a day, which is 8030 a year, or 56,210 in 7 years of latest wars, slightly higher among veterans who never deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.  But another source says, No, its only 1 veteran suicide a day.

These discrepancies are why my colleague Robert Gephart Jr. invented the field of Ethnostatistics. Ethno means ‘the study of the actual behavior’ in this instance the people who produce, use, make policy from statistics.

Ethnostatistics has three moments:

First-order Ethnostatistics is concerned with how the numbers, variables, statistics are produced.

Second-order Ethnostatistics is about the assumptions involved in producing the statistics, the technical assumptions of the statistical packages such as regression, t-tests, and the most popular, structural equation modeling. And lets add what constitutes ‘evidence based research’ for HUD, DVA, NIH, etc.

Third-order Ethnostatistics is about the rhetoric, the assertions made about the numbers in the table, the study implications, the next steps practical policy makers need to take.

Let’s start with the first-order, how are homelessness and suicide numbers produced? And this, by the way is an antenarrative question, as I blogged yesterday, pointing-out, the characterizing, and the communication.

We can use Ethnostatistics to study the antenarrative-process producing numbers, their analysis assumptions, and the communicative rhetoric of their interpretation.

Antenarrative, the accounting for numbers of homeless and veteran suicides is an “ontological problematic” about Interpreting the ‘is'” and what is getting interpreted in the language that “is discourse or talk” (Heidegger, 1962: #161).

There is something said-in-talk about the homelessness, the veteran suicides, using numbers, antenarrative process of coming up with and defending such numbers and that “which is grasped in principle existentially” Heidegger, 1962: #162).


Vietnam veteran ‘Dother Sykes’ seated at right in the cap, and in the caption in the Sun-News, he is accounted for, included among those in ‘permanent housing.’

In a previous blog (15 Aug 2015), I challenged the news information that one of our Veterans Theater actors, was in ‘permanent housing,’ part of the ‘Functional Zero’ count of homeless veterans, of our city. Vietnam veteran, Sykes, is not counted in the number of homeless veterans, yet in existence, is sleeping unnoticed in his car, ineligible for even a tent in Tent Camp for homeless.  There is a “privative” mode of “not-hearing” not seeing, and “turning away” from Sykes (Heidegger, 1962: #163). Not only is the reporter not-hearing, that Sykes is indeed a homeless veteran, has fallen through the cracks, was once in day shelter (a founding member of its community), and was once in HUD section 8 housing, but is now, in none-of-the-above, yet is counted in the Functional Zero statistic.  Another example is the DIAL 311 Sign, Albrqueuque’s solution to the problem of an increase in panhandlers, after the homeless’ folks tents were put in the garbage truck along with all worldly possessions, and the sites covered by the city workers, in rocks. Yet, like Sykes, these people do dwell Being-in-the-world and already alongside the hoe-full within-the0world, an Flying the Sign (need job, food, money) flies alongside the DIAL 311 Sign. The two signs harken very different existential possibilities, two ways of listening, two ways of talking, two ways of “keeping silent” (Heidegger, 1962: #165).


I had the pleasure and honor of working with Harold Garfinkel, when we were professors at UCLA.  The Ethnostatistics of Gephart (1988) is deeply rooted in the Ethnomethodology of Garfinkel (1967).  In Ethnomethodology, we study the practices, and these for me are definitely antenarrative practices.  The “storyable” all those “glosses” (Garfinkel, 1967: 33) comes out of the antenarrative.

Garfinkel tells of a study of the UCLA Outpatient Clinic of who was counted as a patient, as eligible for services, in a psychiatric clinic.   From first contact, through the Intake interview, the Testing, the Intake conference, right to the In-treatment, there were these paths of ‘termination’ in the career of a patient seeking services.  There was this ongoing negotiation of a “Clinic Career Form” where clinic personnel would apply rules to the coding of keep-going to get service, or be ‘Terminated’ and these coding practices speak to the problems of coming up with homelessness and veterans suicide statistics (IBID., p. 19-20).  There is something Garfinkel and his researchers discovered, called “ad hocing” (p.21). In the transactions of staff and patients, the staff had to limit their marks to the available codes on the Intake Form, but often there was not a code that fit. And the patient, aware of this, had to act like they fit an existing code. Ad hocing is part of the practices of a VA clinic, a social welfare agency, as the form coder tries to fit in with the organized school of economic and social arrangements


Career Paths of US Veterans Seeking Treatment From Department of Veterans Affairs

As we showed in the VETERANS THEATER play of April 30th 2015, there are ways in which Veterans seeking service, are TERMINATED, and without getting services, and 19,400 die while waiting for those services.


To get an Intake Interview, homeless veterans, and veterans long out of the service, have to get a DD214, and then they can be tested, often while an Intake person reads questions off a Computer Monitor, ‘ad hocing’ to fit the veteran into the authorized categories to receive, and to keep receiving services, and determining a statistic, at what percent is a disability such as TBI or PTSD, to be allowed, for how long, etc.

We are proposing a study of the VA’s coding procedures, its ways of ‘ad hocing’  and ‘glossing’ that occurs in the negotiation of services.

We can study the same antenarrative process, of coming up with the numbers, their interpretation by the case workers, in most every social welfare agency dealing with the homeless.

Time to answer the question: Can Capitalism Survive Homelessness?

Homeless and suicides by veterans who went to war to defend their country, are statistics that answer the question, ‘Can Capitalism Survive’ posed by Joseph Schumpeter (1946: 1). These are statistics about the “pleasantness of human life” and the “Satisfaction of Wants” by capitalism (p. 12). We are evidently in a cycle of homelessness and increased veteran suicides, and that is part of the economic order. Suicides and homeless are now “inherent in the capitalist mechanism itself” and its “decreasing efficiency” (p. 3, 19).

For Schumpeter, entrepreneurs are part of the “process of creative destruction: (p. 38).  Can capitalism bring an end to homelessness, and rein in the veteran suicide rate?  Entrepreneurs are said to be the agents of creative destruction, to make a Wall Mart, send Sears the Mail Order Company, and K-Mart to retail store, and Albertson’s the Supermarket, into disarray. We live in a city of 200,000 that has 3 Wal-Marts applying the principle of creative destruction, and Wal-Mart does give its excess food to help the homeless, and its permission for American Legion bikers to collect money on three Saturdays, coming up this year. I will be riding my motorcycle there, and getting some donations to the homeless veterans, and doing my own ethnostatics, to make sure there is accountability.

Can homeless veterans become entrepreneurs and join in the “gale of creative destruction (p. 49)? Veterans Theater is an entrepreneurial (ad)venture in creative destruction, bet get something going that helps a more Caring Capitalism emerge and become sustainable.  There are other entrepreneur ventures that the homeless and homeless veterans are engaging in, to enact creative destruction of Uncaring Capitalism.  As Schumpeter ends his book, he says something beneath the old forms of capitalism, is lurking, beginning to emerge, beginning its career of creative destruction, to make way for what, a Caring Capitalism, perhaps!


We are willing and ready to go to Albuquerque with some TENT CITY SOLUTIONS and engage in Capitalism of Creative Destruction of a mindset that is not very caring to homeless. About 25% of homeless are veterans, and half of those are Vietnam era veterans. But, can we trust that statistic, given this blog. Tent City Solutions is a dialogue between any City and the Homeless community, where in theater, we make space for their stories, and do some problem solving with the audience, using Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed.

We want to do those Veterans Theater plays there, and in cities that treat animals with more care than humans, and to raise money for a ranch, where there are cabins instead of tents, lots of horses and many other animals, and the homeless of Albrqueuque, can get a break from the stoning, can come to decompress. We call it Legacy Ranch, a project of the ANTENARRATIVE FOUNDATION.

What you can do? Please make a donation here and now so we can get a van to travel from Las Cruces to Albrqueuque, put on Veterans Theater there, and get that Legacy Ranch property. Thank you for your support!


[1] See Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, prepared by HUD, estimates there were 62,619 homeless Veterans on a single night in January in the United States. (Cortes, Alvaro, Meghan Henry, RJ De La Cruz, and Scott Brown. “2012 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.” Housing and Urban Development: Homelessness Data Exchange) – See more at: