Over the weekend, 60 Minutes did a profile on west coast U.S. homelessness, specifically in the Seattle area. Here’s that link. Homelessness is a big problem, and, regardless of how you feel about the quality of 60 Minutes journalism, the fact is that most of their pieces are 14 minutes or so. It’s very hard to unpack an issue that big in 14 minutes, but damn if Anderson Cooper wasn’t going to try. In the context of Seattle, these “big three” reasons emerged →
- Developers are greedy and we need more affordable housing.
- Wages are stagnated and we need better-paying jobs.
- Most homeless are addicts and they can’t get out of that rut.
All have some validity, but let’s go one-by-one here.
“Developers are greedy”
No shit. As the title of this post indicates, America is broadly about getting your nut. In 2014, The New Yorker even called America “an oligarchy,” and that’s before Trump even declared for the Presidential election. Now it’s almost 2020, and the oligarchy research has only gotten more drastic.
But look, if you’re going to develop big buildings or condos — and you’re going to do it in a city where many Amazon employees reside — then obviously you’re not doing it to help homeless people. Maybe you catch a tax break if you offer 20% of your building to Section 8 housing or whatever, and that’s great. It’s still 1 in every 5 units. On the other 4, you want some Amazon middle manager making $125,000/year overpaying for your bullshit amenities. Real estate is 100 percent an industry about doing deals and getting your nut. That’s it.
Years ago, a couple of my friends and I were in a bar along the DC waterfront. We’re having typically generic male early-30s conversation about kids and buying minivans and how we don’t deadlift as much and all this other crap, and there’s this massively drunk guy near us who starts creeping over. It was about 6pm on a Saturday. He gets into the convo. Pretty entertaining overall, so we’re talking about work, as people do. He’s asking our professions. Finally he says: “Boys, there’s only one real profession left in America.” I waited three seconds for a beat and said “What’s that?”
“Bankrupting the middle class.”
We all laughed. But it’s not far off, man. There’s a high level of wealth that wants to do projects that get their nut. You’re never going to change greed with legislation, in part because greed is embedded in human consciousness at a certain point, and in part because those same politicians need those rich people to give them money so they can run re-election campaigns. As such, they will kiss the asses of the rich people while claiming they want to “end the homelessness crisis.” Thing is, homeless people don’t contribute and probably don’t often vote. And at some point, a politician needs to get their nut too.
What’s a more important meeting for the Mayor of Seattle? Jeff Bezos, or a family living in a tent? Onward.
“Wages are stagnated”
This has been true for a few years now, with some people arguing 2–3 decades. The bigger issue is companies paying insurance to you, I think, but broadly-speaking, companies do not want to compensate well unless you are an executive or in a key coding/engineering role. That’s it. Beyond that, they want to pay you as little as is humanly possible and keep the rest for the top dogs, the shareholders, and to reinvest within the business. This is part of why ageism got to scale — younger people cost less, and if they eventually want to get paid more, they can simply leave. Company executives usually don’t care about your “living wage” or “mortgage” or “aging parents” or “child care” costs, because all that stuff is fine to them. They don’t broadly think about it, so they assume no one else does. Honestly.
“These people are all addicts”
Not all homeless are addicts, although many long-term homeless are addicts. Now, look, as someone with addiction in their family and quite possibly addiction themselves, I can tell you this is not an easy bag/topic to handle. You cannot snap your fingers and say “Hey, you should like cocaine less.” It doesn’t work like that. So saying that “homelessness is a problem” because “the homeless are addicts” is essentially victim-shaming. Being addicted is a state of victimhood; you are a victim of a substance and you cannot control your relationship with that substance. So we can’t say the problem of homelessness is that. Does addiction exacerbate homelessness issues? Yes. Is it the problem? No.
The two Americas issue
You’ve really got 450 different Americas by geo, but … what I mean by “two Americas” is, at a 35,000-foot level, you have →
- People slaying it and investing and taking vacations.
- People scraping by.
There used to be something called a “middle” class — HA! — whereby you slayed it on some things and scraped by on others, but that seems increasingly less and less. In big urban areas, like Seattle? There isn’t really a true “middle class.” Sure, there are people who own nice houses but aren’t Gates and Bezos, and I guess that’s “middle” somewhat. But broadly it’s the very rich and everyone else. The tent cities are just the lowest end of “everyone else.”
This comes about because the goal of America is not freedom or democracy or equality or beauty or whatever. The goal for most is to get their nut and move on. And we actually protect inequality by virtue-signaling all the time about how “get your nut” means “that person must work 100 hours/week!”
The true reality: most great empires, from the Egyptians to the USA, to Amazon … they were built on free/cheap labor. That’s often the goal. Get your nut at the expense of everyone else, and protect your family. Your friends? Sure, until they’re a threat to your nut. (“Tom is adding onto his house? That bastard.”)
Is this a cynical view of humanity? Sure. But is it also probably somewhat true? That’s what the numbers and experiences say.