Close window  |  View original article

Nothing but Palaces 1

Why don't we have as many homes as people to put in them?

By Petrarch  |  September 8, 2019

Your humble correspondent is blessed to live in one of the wealthiest counties in the wealthiest large country in all of human history.  Teslas, rare in most places, are commonplace here, though far outnumbered by Mercs and Beemers; Maseratis are a daily sight.  There's even the occasional Rolls.

The same is true of midtown Manhattan, but that's different: when you have millions of people crammed into a small area, you'll be able to find some of everything.  Here, in contrast, from a plane it looks more or less like an ordinary boring suburb, as I've observed many times.  There aren't many obvious palaces, but there are plenty of well-paying jobs, and in this the best economy of most of our lifetimes, there's certainly some sort of job for anyone sober enough to want one.

And yet, our intersections are increasingly plagued by panhandlers harassing motorists for a handout.  Now, these aren't the bums you'd see on a downtown sidewalk, reeking of booze and what booze becomes.  These more resemble ordinary lower-class people; no prizewinners perhaps, but you wouldn't expect them to be literally penniless.  McDonald's would not hire a bum, but there's no obvious reason why these folks couldn't at least flip fries.

Once upon a time, the great attraction of America wasn't merely freedom in general, as important as that is: it was, specifically, the opportunity to achieve economic freedom.  Anyone willing to work could head out into the wilderness, stake a claim, build a farm, dig a mine, or whatever.  They might die from disease or hostile Indians, but barring ill fortune, an ordinary person with no particular means could and often did make a solid life for himself and his descendants.  Most importantly, the "American Dream" included a home of their own, their own private property, built as they pleased and defended with deadly force when necessary.

There are more homes in existence in America than ever before, but we seem also to have more homeless people than in time past.  Now, America has always had drifters and hobos; in the Great Depression, throngs of the dispossessed "rode the rods" underneath night freight trains hoping to find a place somewhere.  As Jesus said, "The poor you always have with you"; there will always be the mentally-ill or the drug-addled to stoned to shelter themselves.

What's new, is the phenomenon of the working homeless: people who can and do hold a job, but still cannot afford a place to live.  In Los Angeles alone, 16,000 people live in their vehicles.  Many others who can't afford cars sleep in makeshift tents and put so much poop on the streets that age-old diseases such as typhus and bubonic plague are returning to California.

Obviously the vehicular folks aren't entirely without resources - it takes money to keep a vehicle legally operational, the more so in over-regulated California.  They have jobs, mostly, which requires at least a minimum of personal responsibility and good sense.  Yet they are unable to meet that most basic of human needs, a roof over their head.  Why?

The left has a mathematical answer they like to put forward: minimum wage is too low.  Consider the map at this website, which illustrates the statistical fact that just about nowhere in the United States can a full-time minimum-wage-earner afford to pay for a two-bedroom apartment.

Well, if all you are worth is the minimum wage, you don't really deserve a two-bedroom apartment of your own.  But how about one bedroom to rest your personal carcass in?  Nope, not that either:

Only in 28 of the country’s counties can a 40-hour-a-week minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom.

Now, it's easy to look at the underclass and consider that they contributed to their own life problems by making bad decisions, generally involving substance abuse, lack of education, and lack of abstinence.  And that's true, as far as it goes.

It's not the answer, though, as another even more sobering statistic demonstrates:

Out of 473 U.S. counties analyzed in a report, 335 listed median home prices more than what average wage earners could afford...

While average earners nationwide need to spend only about one-third of their income on a home, residents in Brooklyn and Manhattan must shell out more than 115 percent of their income. In San Francisco, residents must spend 103 percent, and in Hawaii's Maui County, it takes 101 percent.

Obviously, spending more than 100% of your income on housing is not sustainable, if it's even possible in the first place.  A few years back we all made fun of New York-based perennial candidate Jimmy McMillan of The Rent is Too Damn High Party - but he wasn't wrong.

If you stop and think about it, though, this situation seems bizarre: In a free, capitalist country, how is it even possible for there to be "not enough" homes for all the people?  It's not like we're Hong Kong and there's no physical place to stack them anywhere.  It seems like a violation of the laws of supply and demand, a puzzler that would have Adam Smith scratching his head.

Which makes it a perfect topic for a Scragged series!  So, let's delve into the bizarre mess that surrounds an availability crisis of that most important of American icons, your very own Home Sweet Home.

In the next article in this series, we'll look at some commonly-given explanations for the problem, and discuss why they don't really cover the issue adequately.