Does Focusing on Systemic Issues Create a “Victim Mentality”? — Millennial Money with Katie

Nope. We didn’t address any of that. We just said, “Shoot for 28% of your net income and hope for the best, toots!”

This is the difference between individual advice and “systems thinking” (as Caroline calls it) in personal finance and economics. You can confine your scope of concern to individual advice (or, at least, try to), but you will never be operating outside the bounds of objective reality. The vote at the zoning meeting affects you whether you’re aware of it or not, because we #LiveInASociety.

Caroline points out the way awareness of these issues increases personal autonomy, not the opposite. That is, if you understand why your landlord is permitted to raise your rent by 15% each year and why there’s a shortage of supply in your area, you’re less likely to view your housing strain as reflective of some personal shortcoming. You’re also more likely to recognize that there are probably others—maybe even those in your same building or neighborhood—who are experiencing the same thing.

When individual autonomy meets systems thinking, you are empowered to create collective action.

When tenants in a working class Minneapolis apartment complex were faced with negligent ownership and rising rents in 2019, they started talking to one another about it. They realized that while they were no match for their multimillionaire landlord individually, together, they could financially overpower him. When a single tenant doesn’t pay rent, it’s the tenant’s problem—they get evicted. But when an entire building refuses to pay, it’s the landlord’s problem.

The renters—who called themselves United Renters for Justice—alleged in a class action lawsuit that their landlord had denied timely and reasonable repairs and was hiking rents. (Terrifyingly, the owner of the building had actually been disallowed from renting to others for past offenses.) 

Until the matter was settled, they agreed not to break solidarity: They weren’t going to pay rent. This was a common tactic in the early 20th century and during the Great Depression to protest price gouging and rent hikes, but you rarely hear about collective bargaining from the renter class today.