El Paso’s Trickle Down Economy

Remember 50 years ago, when Trickle Down was all the rage?

That coincided with maybe the fifth time that City Government was trying to pitch us the “We have to flip the ratio of residential to commercial taxpayers,” because homeowners pay too large a proportion of the property taxes collected.

So we gave tax breaks to businesses, because, well, you know, they’re the job creators.

That was about the same time that the federal government was proposing tax breaks for millionaire businessmen, because the money they spend will trickle down to those poor folk waiting under the table for some scraps to fall.

Now it’s fifty years later, and we’re still under that table fighting for the scraps.

Those people sitting at the table are doing fine. They’re eating Chateaubriand and foie gras, and they’re so gluttonous that they don’t let many scraps fall.

I get it. Money’s easy to count. It’s easier to check your bank account than it is to spend the day contemplating your happiness.

All those capitalists pretend they’re competitive athletes, or that they’re at war. They get happy imagining all those Benjamins in body bags.

But it’s not working. It doesn’t work.

You can’t get ahead when you’re struggling to stay afloat.

Poor people didn’t used to be so poor. A middle class family used to be able to take a summer trip. Middle class parents used to be able to pay for their kids’ college education. Own two cars. Let the mom stay home and make cookies.

That’s what “middle class” used to mean.

Now middle class means that you’ve got more than a month’s rent in your bank account.

Upper middle class means that your job comes with health insurance.

But El Paso City Government is still preaching trickle down economics.

“All we need is a great downtown,” they tell us.

“All we need is one more downtown amenity,” the tell us. “A children’s museum. An arena. A deck over I-10.”

All they ever tell us is that they just need one more thing. Just one more thing to push us over the hump.

The Plaza Theatre.

Just one more thing.

The Union Plaza Entertainment District.

Just one more thing.

The ballpark.

What do all these projects have in common? They all took your tax dollars and stuffed them in someone else’s pockets, and you got diddly squat out of the deal.

Fortunately, all those developers, contractors, and real estate speculators, have cheated us out of enough money, and now they’re done.

Ha ha. Just kidding.

There are, in the pipeline, big ticket items that I cipher will cost the taxpayers at least another billion dollars.

Billion. With a B.

That arena will cost $500 million.

The deck, what? If you include MountainStar’s soccer stadium, that’s probably another half a bill.

And Tommy’s wife needs new shoes. I hear shoes are expensive.

We are staring into the gaping maw of insurmountable debt. We are at the precipice. City Council, on your behalf, is taking on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, with only minimal benefit to you.

They’re some real sports, huh?

They’re that guy that shows up late to the bar, orders drinks for everybody, and then leaves before the tab comes. Except he orders draft beer for the taxpayers, and Moet Chandon for the real estate speculators.

Because you know, the real estate speculators are only interested in the good of the community. That they make millions of dollars, and accumulate properties worth many more millions of dollars, is only a detail.

They’re philanthropists, after all. Philanthropists with one hand in the the taxpayers’ pockets, and the other hand performing shadow plays for City Council.

Things have to change. We have to rein in that rampant spending. We have to stop believing the lies they tell us.

We have to elect better candidates.


  1. Elect better candidates – How? There are no rules in EP elections, other than reporting the contributions received. No limits on how much Mr/s X can give….and the candidates keep those bucks. It’s remarkable that ANYONE who doesn’t do the Rulers’ tap dance gets onto council. Bankruptcy may be the only way out….when ALL the taxpayers’ money goes to paying for those “Just One More Things” and there is nothing left for salaries.

  2. Very powerful messaging AND imaging!
    Will post on FB.
    Thank you Rich for telling it like it is.

  3. And Foster wants all of those amenities within walking distance to his hotel. And historical buildings better not get in the way or they will have to come down.

    1. Curious, no? Given that he spent a lot of time and energy reviving some historic buildings…but apparently he’s done with that.

      1. Foster and other elites have their own definition of historic. Small, humble buildings don’t qualify, only large, grand buildings that can be used for profit are worth saving.

  4. Until El Pasoans figure out the bad deal they are getting, too few will vote and too many will vote for the “arena” or other foolishness because they think it’s “progressive.” Sadly, the media hasn’t done a good job of educating the public about the Bill of goods they’ve been sold; in fact, some of them have carried the water for the big developers.

  5. You got that right. And, Walli sums it up succinctly, with his words about “too few will vote.” That’s the El Paso I know, and have tolerated for some fifty plus years. We cannot get an apathetic public to the polls, no matter what we try. And, those few who bother voting, have little to choose from when they get there. We need better candidates, and I just don’t know how to find them.

  6. When did you first realize that you have been colonized? I took these notes in 2017 at a seminar on Permaculture while I was volunteering, studying and teaching at an ecovillage in BC back then. Yes, it might look like I’m becoming a SJW, which is not true, but I value good ideas when I hear them. Mark Lakeman is a visionary Portland architect and activist. He talks about revitalizing the city by reconnecting neighborhoods into a sense of place. Take what you like and leave the rest.

    REVILLAGING by Mark Lakeman – Notes taken by Jerry Kurtyka 5-7-2017, OUR Ecovillage, Vancouver Island, BC.

    “We have the smallest rate of social gathering spaces of all first world places. The Stone Age did better. Portland legalized intersections to be transformed into public squares. The urban grid is a form of colonization designed to separate and control.

    Permaculture is a design system that is an urge toward connection and mutuality. You will feel frustrated when you live in a colonial context because it is designed to make you powerless. In a street grid you are in a paradigm designed decades ago. When were these lines imposed upon you?
    Note the story of when this happened to you. Rediscover the patterns that are inherently human.
    We need to become a culture of YES and stop being so cynical and afraid of each other.

    There is power in reinstating the village heart. Columbus dismembered the social body. The United States is a colony that broke away from an empire to become an empire itself.

    You need to get out of the mindset that says you have to get a return on your creativity versus just being creative, just getting into the groove of the universe.

    NIMBY always shows up. People are threatened by the dynamics of change. When was the last time you spontaneously built something?

    Patriarchy says to us that over every unit there must be a male person, from God down to the individual. We have all been tricked into oppressing our own families. The grid is an expression of this because it does not provide for gathering space. It is systemic “place-less-ness.” The game of Monopoly helps us to play this system.

    We live at the community level but are disempowered by authority structures above and around us. Permaculture is about regenerating human patterns and self-empowerment. The colonial grid can be turned into the village heart.

    The edges animate and define a space. Cultural rituals are used to bring people together cyclically.
    What is the relation between public and private space? People figured out placemaking 5000 years ago with solar alignments and water temples. A being has to create its own habitat to thrive but we have become sociopathic.

    We are questioning the idea that you have to leave home to meet your basic needs for work, food, education, child-rearing, etc. We have created many of our own problems by vacating the place where we live and abandoning the idea of public space. What is your threshold to decide to make your own choices?”

    Here is a TEDX talk on this subject by Mark from 2014 when Portland was still Portlandia, before it became Aleppo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYES81Ibj4A

    1. Colonization is a modern SJW concept.

      How is it any better to take someone’s street or neighborhood than it is to take their village? If it is okay to take someone’s property today “for the greater good”, then it was ALWAYS okay to do it for any reason the taker wanted to use.

      If our ancestors were so wrong then you should be looking for who originally owned the space you personally occupy so you could give it to them. Or just abandon it. Or keep being a complete hypocrite.

      You could just pretend to care and to be smart enough to solve what wasn’t a problem until someone who had nothing wanted something, but not if they had to earn it or otherwise expend effort to obtain.

      Literally everything on this planet doesn’t belong to you, either. So shut up.

  7. El Paso is too late. While San Antonio was developing its River Walk, Austin its 6th Street, Dallas its Reunion District, Ft. Worth its Stockyards, El Paso did nothing. Why? Because the same oligarchs that are pushing downtown development now, didn’t see it as profitable. Now they’re getting old and worrying about their legacies and creating new profit streams. Has nothing to do with serving the greater El Paso community.

  8. Maybe, as an adult, a person might realize that their destiny is not so much determined by the lies of others, but more affected by their own choices and actions.

    If you are going to believe people who openly lie to your face, what is the point of complaining about their lies later?

    It isn’t just El Paso, although it is bad here. Politicians are not the answer to any problem you, or anyone else in society, may have. Government is not supposed to be the caretaker of society, it is supposed to allow society to thrive by providing certain services; police, fire and a capable military. Government is not supposed to decide if I can make a living, how I can do it or when I have to quit.

    All of you people griping about government seem to misunderstand its role. No wonder you are disappointed. Your personal situation is your responsibility, not your neighbor’s, or anyone who might be living better than you do. If you don’t like your situation, change it.

    Or move to Cuba and find out what communism is really like instead of wishing it here,

    1. City Council sucks.

      Try saying that in Cuba.

      To be fair, not all of our City Council Representative suck. But the ones who support tax abatements, Certificates of Obligation, and bigger budgets do.

      Don’t you agree?

      1. I was being facetious about Cuba. Communism has never worked for a reason. If you need an explanation, ask History.

        A level playing field requires equal treatment. If you are going to build Foster/Hunt a baseball stadium, at least build me a garage. If they get a $12 million tax abatement, at least give me a $12,000 tax abatement.

        Or make everyone pay their taxes and for their own buildings, including the Foster/Hunt’s of the world.

        El Paso City Council is populated by narcissistic personalities. O’Rourke, Ortega, Nyland, et al saddled El Paso with a tremendous amount of debt while touting how great things will be. Now none of them live here. But they aren’t alone, politicians are personality types who basically only care about themselves.

        None of them will save you. The current batch will drive El Paso further into debt with promises of jobs and glory.

    2. Typical indoctrinated USSian nonsense. Move to Cuba? Sure! As soon as Uncle Scam stops kneeling on her neck. Heck, it’s been nearly a 9 decade, not 9 minute attempt to choke the life out of that country and yet they STILL manage to beat the USA in several key metrics. If you really think Cuban, Argentine, Chilean, Peruvian, Guatemalan, El Salvadorian, Venezuelan, etc. socialism is destined to fail, then why does Uncle Scam – by way of YOUR tax dollars – spend so much time, money and effort in destabilizing, sabotaging, assassinating, coup-ing, sanctioning and embargoing them? Make up your mind, dolt.

      “All of you people griping about government seem to misunderstand its role. No wonder you are disappointed. Your personal situation is your responsibility, not your neighbor’s, or anyone who might be living better than you do. If you don’t like your situation, change it.”

      You need a remedial reading comprehension course if you see anyone in comments blaming the government for THEIR problems. They are merely saying that, in El Paso – unlike other places – the city government is in the pockets of developers and other “businessmen” who only have their own financial interests in mind when they propose and ram through parking lot after stadium after useless convention center after strip mall. What do YOU gain from it, Officer? Maybe a night stint as a rent-a-cop? Good for you!

      Go educate yourself.


    1. You say that the immigrants hold us back, but actually they contribute a lot to El Paso’s economy.

      What holds us back is the perception that we deserve better, that we deserve more, so we buy public amenities on credit. How much of the City Budget goes to debt maintenance, i.e., interest payments?

      What holds us back is the myth that El Paso is a big city. Remember when our political class was telling everyone that El Paso was the 19th biggest city in the U.S.?

      Well, we were, technically. El Paso was bigger than Denver and Miami, and a lot of other markets that are actually bigger than El Paso, because El Paso isn’t surrounded by a lot of bedroom communities.

      And we’re poor. You can’t count on poor El Pasoans to support big city amenities. If you want to measure El Paso market potential, multiply our median income by our population. Compare that with the Denver and Miami MSAs. El Paso has less market power than almost any city in the country.

      All those amenities are for the rich people on the west side, and those pockets of wealth on the east side and in the northeast.

  10. This is suggested reading for everybody, not just the indoctrinated believers that the USA and corporate capitalism are the greatest thing the Earth has ever known.


    QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE: Jerry, do you mean my grandfather’s furniture store is killing the world? Is he one of those capitalists? It’s a nice shop. He’s been there forty years, giving work to eight employees, and he pays a nice wage. With benefits. It doesn’t seem bad to me.

    JERRY: No, stores like that are really not the problem. We need to make distinctions when we talk about capitalism. The word covers too many different things. One distinction is this: Size matters! Small-scale local or family businesses, or community enterprises that make some money, pay salaries, send kids to college, and save a little, are not the problem, and never have been.

    But let’s say your granddad had somehow made gigantic profits from his store forty years ago, so he decided to partner with another store owner and invest in big real estate, converting small farms and open lands into shopping malls. And let’s say they started franchising shopping centers around the world, and were borrowing from big banks to do it, and then started buying banks, and buying other companies doing unrelated stuff, like shipping or mining or biotech farming, and then started getting their financing from Goldman Sachs. Then they “went public” and were listed on the New York Stock Exchange as SHOP AMERICA! and they became friends with congressmen, spent 10 percent of their business income lobbying in Washington to overturn zoning, dumping, and other environmental laws that were getting in their way. And they had their eye on export trade subsidies, and maybe some military contracts, and were desperate to keep their stock prices high and to keep their taxes down.

    Well, then, you’d have to say your grandfather would be operating in a different world, with different values and drives, than he does now. At the beginning, it was all about furniture for local families and businesses, not the primary needs of nonstop capital expansion, growth, stock values, and distributions. That’s the “capitalism” I worry about. That’s what’s consuming the world. Now it’s all about growth, not furniture, not sufficiency, not community welfare. It’s wealth, constantly seeking more wealth, to better seek still more wealth. That local store and those global businesses really shouldn’t share the same name. They are different creatures.

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