[Plura-list] The Rent's Too Damned High; Highway to Hell

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Mon Jun 14 11:26:09 EDT 2021

Today's links

* The Rent's Too Damned High: A podcast of my Medium column on the long
con of asset appreciation.

* Highway to Hell: The infrastructure "compromise" is just funny accounting.

* This day in history: 2001, 2011, 2016, 2020

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading


☄️ The Rent's Too Damned High

This week on my podcast, I read my Medium column "The Rent's Too Damned
High," an essay about the economic incoherence of making home-ownership
the path to economic security and a middle-class life.


Obviously, home-ownership does allow for intergenerational wealth
accumulation (simply compare the wealth accumulation gap between Black
families who were excluded from home subsidies like the GI Bill and
white families who weren't), but that's not the whole story.

Owning a home is a good way to insulate yourself from a landlord's whims
and a good place to stash gains from the labor market, but when a nation
turns to asset appreciation - not labor - to increase prosperity, almost
everyone loses within a generation or two.

Without strong labor rights, guaranteed pensions are replaced with a
mandate to pump your savings into the stock market casino, where you
will always be the sucker at the table. The insufficiency of America's
401k-based retirement savings is grimly comic.

When workers surrendered employment-based security for asset-based
security, we lost the bloc that fought for adequate Social Security and
affordable tuition. That means that your parents' house needs to fund
their retirement *and* your college tuition.

It's likely not adequate for both, but even it is, it's not going to be
enough to pay for your own downpayment, which you'll need if your
parents are going to liquidate their sole major asset to keep themselves
from burdening you while you enter the labor market.

That means homeowners' kids are overwhelmingly likely to end up tenants,
and that's the second whammy. You see, the most reliable way to increase
the value of owning a house is to make tenancy *worse*.

The fact that the home your parents bought for $30k is worth $1.5m today
can't be explained by the new roof, the finished basement, the cool
neighborhood boutiques or the people who want to move to your hometown
for work.

The main driver of real-estate appreciation is that being a homeowner is
better than being a tenant - so everything that makes tenancy worse
makes homeowning better, which makes houses worth more.

It's not just tax-advantaged shelter (homeowners can write off half
their monthly shelter bills, tenants can't). It's also the fact that
every time a house sells, the market rate is set by bidders who are
buying the house as "income property" - that is, to rent it out.

Just as in labor markets, shelter markets are zero sum. When you have
the income security that comes with the right to a regular shift, your
boss has the cost-insecurity of having to pay you when business is slow.

Likewise, if you have the right to force your landlord to fix the roof,
the rental is worth less. If your landlord can quickly evict you when a
better tenant comes along, the rental is worth more. If rent increases
are set by law, the rental is worth less.

If your landlord can charge usury interest, or force you to use an ISP
that pays a kickback, the rental is worth more.

Everything that's better for tenants is worse for landlords - and the
worse things are for landlords, the less they're willing to spend on
income property.

The more a landlord is willing to spend to buy a house, the more
everyone else has to spend to outbid them. Everything that makes life
worse for tenants makes homes more valuable.

Convincing America that home ownership would increase the middle-class
also created a large constituency who'd simp for landlords in order to
increase the value of their single major asset.

The joke was on us. Now that Wall Street is using the trillions the
Trump stimulus pumped into the financial markets to pay 15% above
asking, in cash, for every single-family dwelling that hits the market,
everyone who doesn't have a home won't ever get one.

All those home owners' kids will be tenants, and will be subject to
every depredation that home owners backed in order to protect their
kids. Karma's a nasty thing.

America once had strong labor markets, whose dividends were turned into
sturdy homes. When we threw in our lot with our bosses on labor rights,
we walked into a trap that would cost us our homes, too.

Here's the podcast episode:


and here's the MP3 (hosting courtesy of the Internet Archive, who will
host all your stuff for free, forever):


Here's the RSS for my podcast:


and here's that original article:



☄️ Highway to Hell

The infrastructure bills are working their way through Congress, and
Republicans are indiscriminately blocking them. Take the surface
transportation bills: $547b over five years, that passed with only one
GOP vote in favor.

That might seem like a lot, but it's just a re-authorization of existing
spending. It doesn't authorize a single cent of new maintenance and
upkeep - it just continues the existing level of spending. Without it,
America would stop maintaining its infrastructure altogether.

In other words, the *entire GOP caucus* (except Brian Fitzpatrick, R-PA)
voted to zero out America's infrastructure maintenance programs for the
next five years.


But don't get too smug. Congressional and Senate Dems are *also* playing
games with infrastructure, voting to let America's rail, highways and
bridges continue to crumble.

Take the bipartisan "Problem Solvers Caucus," composed of Republicans
who think they're still in power and Democrats who wish Republicans were
still in power.

They've announced a "compromise" infrastructure bill worth $1.125T - but
it's a scam.

That sum includes the existing budget for infrastructure (the inadequate
sum that the GOP just voted against), bringing the true total down to
$761.8b over five years.

This pattern - inadequate sums that are even lower than they seem at
first, thanks to deceptive accounting - is repeated in every
"bipartisan" effort to create an infrastructure budget.

The Senate "gang" of 5 Dems and 5 Repubs claim they've agreed to $1.2T
in spending, but only $579B of that is *new* spending.


That Senate deal is such dogshit that it would be laughable, except that
it's being treated as serious. For one thing, it claws back covid money
that's been allocated to the states...for infrastructure spending, and
it imposes a tax on electric vehicle drivers.

To top it all off, McConnell has said there's "no way" the GOP will
support it. To sum up: it's a wholly inadequate sum that confiscates
state infrastructure budgets and depends on taxing people for switching
to electric cars, *and* it's got no chance of passing.

And they call us unrealistic!

There is no chance of getting the spending America needs through
Congress with "regular order." If the agenda Americans voted for is to
be realized, Dems will have to abandon bipartisanship.

Unfortunately, the Dem establishment are basically Republicans. As AOC
told CNN, the betrayal is coming from inside the House (or rather, the


"I do think that we need to talk about the elephant in the room, which
is Senate Democrats blocking crucial items in a Democratic agenda for
reasons that I don't think hold a lot of water."

"Do we settle for an infrastructure package that has been largely
designed by Republicans in order to get 60 votes, or can we really
transform this country, create millions of union jobs, revamp our power
grid, get people's bridges fixed and schools rebuilt?"

AOC singled out Joe Manchin for taking positions that align with the
Koch network and dark-money priorities: "There's a reason the Koch
brothers are really doing victory laps about Joe Manchin's opposition to
the filibuster."


☄️ This day in history

#20yrsago ORBS spam blocklist goes dark

#10yrsago WIPO boss: fair use is a "negative agenda," rights for blind
people are a distraction, let's make more copyright!

#5yrsago Steeplejack: diverse YA fantasy driven by expert plotting

#5yrsago Appeals court: FCC has jurisdiction to impose net neutrality on
ISPs https://www.vice.com/en/article/8q85n4/net-neutrality-appeals-court

#5yrsago Cable industry wants you to know that competition is bad for
its customers

#5yrsago Goldman Sachs bribed Libyan officials with sex workers, private
jet rides, then lost all their money

#5yrsago Peter Thiel’s lawyer threatens Gawker for talking about Donald
Trump’s “hair”

#5yrsago Air Force loses access to database tracking fraud
investigations to 2004

#1yrago LA schools returned grenade launchers, kept assault rifles


☄️ Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/).

Currently writing:

* Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. Friday's
progress: 264 words (5483 words total).

* A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation.  PLANNING

* A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written
with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown."  FINAL EDITS

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism (Part 06)

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

* Darts and Lasers podcast:

* Nicole Sandler Show:

* Fireside Chat with Beatriz Busaniche (Rightscon)

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
(print edition:
(signed copies:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics,
Beacon Press 2022

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