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The Price of Paradise

The Costs of Inequality and a Vision for a More Equitable America

David Dante Troutt

Publication Year: 2014

Many American communities, especially the working and middle class, are facing chronic problems: fiscal stress, urban decline, environmental sprawl, failing schools, mass incarceration, political isolation, disproportionate foreclosures, and severe public health risks. In The Price of Paradise, David Dante Troutt argues that it is a lack of what he calls “regional equity” in our local decision making that has led to this looming crisis now facing so many cities and local governments. Unless we adopt policies that take into consideration all class levels, he argues, the underlying inequity affecting poor and middle class communities will permanently limit opportunity for the next generations of Americans.             
Arguing that there are “structural flaws” in the American dream, Troutt explores the role that place plays in our thinking and how we have organized our communities to create or deny opportunity. Through a careful presentation of this crisis at the national level and also through on-the-ground observation in communities like Newark, Detroit, Houston, Oakland, and New York City that all face similar hardships, he makes the case that America’s tendency to separate into enclaves in urban areas or to sprawl off on one’s own in suburbs gravely undermines the American dream. Troutt shows that the tendency to separate also has maintained racial segregation in our cities and towns, itself cementing many barriers for advancement.  A profound conversation about America at the crossroads, The Price of Paradise is a multilayered exploration of the legal, economic, and cultural forces that contribute to the squeeze on the middle class, the hidden dangers of growing income and wealth inequality, and environmentally unsustainable growth and consumption patterns.
 David Dante Troutt is Professor of Law and Justice John J. Francis Scholar at the Rutgers University-Newark Law School. He also serves as Director of the Center on Law in Metropolitan Equity at Rutgers Law School.Troutt is a columnist, novelist, and the author of several works of nonfiction, most recently After the Storm: Black Intellectuals Explore the Meaning of Hurricane Katrina.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-14

Let’s begin with a brazen assault on paradise. On June 4, 2010, eighteen-year-old Justin Hudson was the chosen student graduation speaker at Hunter College High School, a prestigious New York City high school for “intellectually gifted” students. He was to deliver a celebratory...

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1. Mutuality: The Thief, the Preacher, and the Late-Night Lawyer

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pp. 15-40

When my youngest was two years old she used to point to any American flag she saw and say, “There’s that Obama thing, Dada.” That alone, I realized, is why some people fear the future. Yes, a president is often seen beside the flag, but for so many children to learn about...

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2. All This I Made Myself: Assuming That Middle-Class Lives Are Self-Sufficient

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pp. 41-61

The story of our assumptions about place begins in the suburbs, not our big cities, as you might think. For many of us, the city is a place to find yourself, to discover your identity like some unsolved mystery, and to prove yourself. But that quest is traditionally for the young. Soon...

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3. Keep Your Distance: Assuming That Middle-Class Status Requires Distance from the Poor

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pp. 62-90

The assumption that maintaining one’s middle-class status requires keeping distance from the poor may be the hardest one to overcome. This was explained to me in calm and thoughtful terms by a stranger with whom I argued as we rode a train from Washington DC to New...

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4. The Promise Half Empty: Assuming That Segregation Is a Thing of the Past

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pp. 91-122

If you took a poll to see which of three subjects Americans would prefer to have a ninety-second discussion about, and the three choices were segregation, slavery, or irritable bowel syndrome, I’m pretty sure irritable bowels would win going away. If the mere mention of slavery...

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5. We Renamed the Problem and It Disappeared: Assuming That Racism No Longer Limits Minority Chances

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pp. 123-148

I live in a very old house, which is a good thing (until something breaks). On the first cold days of October, when you turn on the thermostat, you must wait for the heat to slowly rise up from the basement. It seems to climb from Reconstruction through wood and coal to the...

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6. Islands without Paradise: Assuming That Poverty Results from Weak Values and Poor Decisions

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pp. 149-175

Most Americans have ambivalent feelings about poverty in our country, their views teetering somewhere between the folkloric formative poverty of the past and the gangster-rapping underclass of the present. For policy folks this fulcrum distinguishes deserving from undeserving...

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7. Raceless Wonders: Assuming That Racial Labels No Longer Matter

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pp. 176-200

Mutuality would be easier to embrace if our racial identities did not routinely separate us. The sharing and trust intrinsic to the idea of linked fates and common interests would come more readily if just our humanity mattered. Racelessness, or being undefinable by race, would...

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8. The Costs of Inequality and a Vision for a More Equitable America

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pp. 201-226

If the last several chapters explored the imperatives for overcoming our erroneous assumptions about place, class, and race, this chapter attempts to point the way toward beloved communities of opportunity.* Books like this one must take care not to promise too much, because the...


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pp. 227-228


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pp. 229-252

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 253-258


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pp. 259-274

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814724897
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814760550
Print-ISBN-10: 0814760554

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2014