Posts Tagged ‘ trend

Home ownership and the recession

I’m a big fan of renting my home. I’m not tied down, it’s fairly cheap for what I get, and I don’t have to worry about fixing stuff or doing yard work. I know there’s cons (I can’t itemize my charitable deductions or write off any money spent on housing, and I have neighbors I clearly hear on either side of me), but the pros outweigh those cons for me.

Along with those major pros, I also believe that real estate is an unstable and scary investment and that buying a house is an inflated, falsified American Dream (TM). I’ve been saying this for years, occasionally spotting articles to lightly back up my argument, but I’ve finally found the real deal.

The March issue of The Atlantic includes a highly readable article about how the American landscape will change after the recession. Near the end of the artcle, author Richard Florida provides some ideas on how to wade through the economic mess.

His solution begins with increasing the number of people renting.

So how do we move past the bubble, the crash, and an aging, obsolescent model of economic life? What’s the right spatial fix for the economy today, and how do we achieve it?

The solution begins with the removal of homeownership from its long-privileged place at the center of the U.S. economy. Substantial incentives for homeownership (from tax breaks to artificially low mortgage-interest rates) distort demand, encouraging people to buy bigger houses than they otherwise would. That means less spending on medical technology, or software, or alternative energy—the sectors and products that could drive U.S. growth and exports in the coming years. Artificial demand for bigger houses also skews residential patterns, leading to excessive low-density suburban growth. The measures that prop up this demand should be eliminated.

If anything, our government policies should encourage renting, not buying. Homeownership occupies a central place in the American Dream primarily because decades of policy have put it there. A recent study by Grace Wong, an economist at the Wharton School of Business, shows that, controlling for income and demographics, homeowners are no happier than renters, nor do they report lower levels of stress or higher levels of self-esteem.

And while homeownership has some social benefits—a higher level of civic engagement is one—it is costly to the economy. The economist Andrew Oswald has demonstrated that in both the United States and Europe, those places with higher homeownership rates also suffer from higher unemployment. Homeownership, Oswald found, is a more important predictor of unemployment than rates of unionization or the generosity of welfare benefits. Too often, it ties people to declining or blighted locations, and forces them into work—if they can find it—that is a poor match for their interests and abilities.

The author hits the nail hard, hopefully loud enough for 20 and 30-somethings to hear before they buy their first place.

You might ask, “But what about families with four or five kids – how can they live in apartments?”

I would respond with “Don’t have so damn many kids” and ensure condoms are freely distributed in more places. But Mr. Florida has a more suitable idea:

Instead of resisting foreclosures, the government should seek to facilitate them in ways that can minimize pain and disruption. Banks that take back homes, for instance, could be required to offer to rent each home to the previous homeowner, at market rates—which are typically lower than mortgage payments—for some number of years. (At the end of that period, the former homeowner could be given the option to repurchase the home at the prevailing market price.) A bigger, healthier rental market, with more choices, would make renting a more attractive option for many people; it would also make the economy as a whole more flexible and responsive.

I feel more than justified. I feel RIGHT.

It’s official

I finished reading Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography late last week, and I am now officially obsessed. After I was done, I missed reading it before bed. Luckily I had queued up a bunch of his films on Netflix. I watched “City Lights” early on Sunday and basically never stopped watching or reading Chaplin-related stuff the whole day (turns out there’s tons of obsessed fans who create YouTube mashups or compilations. Today has felt incomplete without being inundated with the Tramp.

One of the YouTube compilation vids featured what appeared to be Chaplin in drag. The author kindly sent me all her pics of Charlie dressed in high flapper gear. Here’s a couple.

close-up

with a suitor

I think the biggest reason (beyond his pure genius) I love him is because of his politics. The fact that he was driven from America shortly after he began his talking pictures proved what a powerful political voice he could have become. In some ways I feel like he was born slightly too early. That if he’d been born 10 or 20 years later, he could have been the old guy amongst the hippies chanting for peace. But he certainly wouldn’t have the comic talent he had if he was born later. He was very old-fashioned, and lagged behind the times in Hollywood in many ways. He was more innovative in his politics and comedy than in his directing films.

He reminds me a lot of John Lennon. Both are English, spent much of their adult lives in America, slept around and didn’t really settle down until late in life, followed by the FBI because of their strong leftist leanings, led their field in terms of talent and popularity, and made daring art for their time.

Trend Update

It’s time to once again list off the stuff I’ve been into lately.

  • Vampire Weekend: I’ve totally fallen for another New York band, something I usually avoid. All the hype is true — their look, their sound…it’s all so fresh and new. The lyrics could use a little help, but hopefully that will come with time.
  • Magnetic Fields – “Distortion”: Another fine album by Stephin Merritt and gang. I like it just as much as “i” and even more than any of the “69 Love Songs” because it brings a totally new texture to Merritt’s gloomy lyrics. The irony is gone.
  • “American Experience” on PBS: Every episode is crafted like a full-blown documentary. Nothing is spared in terms of technical or research achievement. Often the subject is a person who touched American history in the 20th century, but sometimes it’s an event or thing. No matter what, you’ll be glued to your set for an hour.
  • “Pioneers of Television” on PBS: I am incredibly interested in pop culture history, so this special series is like a goldmine for me. Unlike many lesser tributes to old TV stars, this series has new interviews with the old stars themselves or industry insiders. The analysis by way of the narrator about the impact of “Your Show of Shows” or “The Dick Van Dyke Show” got me really excited about really old TV. The series also focused on minorities in early TV, something I’ve never heard much about until now.
  • “Jeopardy!”: Of course I’ve always loved the show, but I started Tivoing it lately. Turns out it’s actually on twice a day here in the Twin Cities, so I’m twice as happy to spurt out phrases at my TV during 10 half-hour segments per week. They were advertising for Jeopardy try-outs online, so I signed up and took the test tonight. I’m pretty sure I completely failed. It was annoying because you had 15 seconds to read the category, the answer, then type in an answer (no “what/who is” at least) and click submit. I missed quiet a few just because I wasn’t done typing in time. Which leads me to my final trend:
  • White Whining: This blog has haunted my conscience for a couple days now. It’s really brought everything into perspective for me. I know it’s a joke, but it’s one of those sad jokes where you go “Damn, I’m totally the punch line here”. A story about Haitians staying alive by eating dirt a friend called to my attention really brought the point home. Will I stop whining about stupid, privileged stuff? I highly doubt it. But hopefully a moment of clarity will hit me more often than not. Here’s my fave white whine:

“I really wish the Wings DVD’s would get here… I’m almost done with Mad About You.”

Music makes the people come together

Isn’t music great? It will never cease to amaze me how much music can move me and get right under my skin. Here’s what I’ve been listening to obsessively lately:

The National: This is my new favorite band. “Boxer” and “Alligator” make me wonder how I went through life without those two albums. I’ve rewound two or three songs in particular from each album fervently. From “Boxer” (the latest album) these repeatable songs are “Fake Empire”, “Slow Show” and “Apartment Story”. “Slow Show” nearly turns me into one of those obsessive fans who thinks the singer is singer directly to them:

You know I dreamed about you
for twenty-nine years before I saw you
You know I dreamed about you
I missed you for
for twenty-nine years

And from “Alligator” I’m addicted to “Karen” and “Mr. November”. The later includes the mantra “I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders”. Who thinks of that? I’m impressed.

Paul Simon’s “Graceland”: I downgraded my cable to Standard/Basic only after I finally recorded the Classic Albums episode featuring this album. The album as a whole is not something I crave, but “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”, “The Boy in the Bubble”, “You Can Call Me Al” and of course, the brilliant “Graceland” are enough to designate this as an album classique. I even rewound the ten or so minutes Paul and others spent discussing the origins and recording of the song “Graceland”, how “I’m going to Graceland” was a throwaway line through most of the recording session. The riff always gives me chills which are amplified by this line,

She comes back to tell me she’s gone/As if I didn’t know that/As if I didn’t know my own bed/As if I’d never noticed/The way she brushed her hair from her forehead.

That line is absolutely perfect to me, and is indicative of Paul Simon’s casual, yet perfectly phrased, style. He says it’s his best song, and I agree.

My senior year of high school was soundtracked by Simon & Garfunkel’s greatest hits (and “Jesus Christ Superstar”), particularly “America.” That song and “Graceland” are very similar to me, not only because they are about roadtrips in the USA (and the metaphors that go with that kind of story), but they showcase how Paul Simon is one of the best songwriters for telling the truth. He simply says it like it is, and it turns out to be poetry.

What have you been listening to lately?

Who knew?

Who knew Eddie Izzard was hot?

Stand-up transvestite Eddie:

Very Liza Minnelli circa Cabaret. Attractive, but is it just the makeup?

Eddie as Wayne Malloy on “The Riches“:

Hot in a surprisingly butch way. Plus he and fellow Brit Minnie Driver show off their rather good American accents (Minnie’s very Southern while Eddie’s is just plain American). Well done!