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Amazon's Bezos Launches $2B Fund to Help the Homeless (bloomberg.com)
448 points by dpflan 63 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 534 comments



Bezos can keep his donations, I just want Amazon to pay tax like any other business would in the UK, pay employees NI like any other business in the UK, and pay minimum wage like any other business in the UK. It shouldn't be up to the billionaires to choose where to spend money that should be in the hands of national governments and workers. This article for instance shows homeless Amazon warehouse workers living in tents [0]. Maybe a better solution to homelessness is to pay people properly.

[0]https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/amazon-worke...


> I just want Amazon to pay tax like any other business would in the UK, pay employees NI like any other business in the UK, and pay minimum wage like any other business in the UK

I agree with you, but you can't blame Jeff Bezos for UK legislation.


> ... but you can't blame Jeff Bezos for UK legislation.

Ahh, the old 'unless it's specifically and explicitly denied, regardless of moral or ethical considerations, let alone acting contra to the spirit of the law, then it's okay' defence.

Your misdirection is correct - Jeff Bezos is not responsible for UK legislation - however how Jeff Bezos instructs his vendors and employees to act is very much his responsibility.


If you want to optimize systems, you should expect people to operate with self-interest with respect to the law. Attributing moral blame for self-interested parties not donating money to be within the spirit of the law is unreasonable.


Attributing moral blame to self-interested parties is exactly the point of moral blame. Moral blame is specifically about accusing people of going for their self-interest and little else...


You're talking past each other. Moral blame isn't wrong, just not very useful.


Moral blame and $5 will get you a cup of coffee from Blue Bottle, which just sold out to Nestle.


Why must there be anything else? If you're going to make this argument then you must have a compelling answer, specifically in the context of a corporation.


Companies follow laws and regulations, and optimize for profit and sustainability within those rules. Why would they ever pay MORE than they have to? There are no ethics or morals here. Taxes are not charity.

If you want to change the tax laws then you can do so, via the government that you take part in.


I don't have complete control over every government in the world. It is perfectly reasonable for me to criticize the way that companies act, even if it is incentivized by a government. People do not have to be mindless money maximizers. They have a choice in how they act and they are responsible for their own actions regardless of what incentives the government creates.


Nobody has complete control over any government, anywhere in the world.

Companies are also not citizens, they are abstract structures designed to deliver value to customers and make a profit in doing so. A corporation has no specific loyalty to the government beyond following the laws and paying the dues required for operating. Corporations are also not able to judge what the "ethical" amount to pay is, which is why the government sets those rules on behalf of the people it represents.

You're turning a government issue into a corporate issue because it sounds easy, but ultimately its just treating (or rather complaining about) the symptom rather than enacting any solution. Again, perhaps you should join the government and enact the change you want to see?

Also since you are talking about responsibility and actions, I assume you donate all the spare cash you have that isn't going to taxes. Or is that not ethical in your case?


This is an absolutely horrifying argument. You are basically getting rid of any notion of personal responsibility and saying that I cannot criticize anyone for doing anything that the government does not prevent.


Definitely not what I said. Your comment also doesn't seem to make much sense and I don't see what personal responsibility has to do with corporate taxes. You can also criticise all you want, that's never been the topic of discussion in this thread.


> People do not have to be mindless money maximizers.

No. They don't. Companies do.

To a degree, they DO have a fiduciary duty to maximize profit over the long haul; if Amazon didn't take all legal shortcuts it'd be at a competitive disadvantage and a competitor could put it out of business.

Optimizing every aspect of their operation gives Bezos, the person, the opportunity to act following his moral compass (space exploration, philanthropy, etc.)


You don't think that negotiation and outright bribery (oh I'm sorry in the civilized West we call it lobbying) don't drive either the laws or the uneven enforcement of them?

Amazon is so big that they can jurisdiction shop or even just shop for legislators/civil servants to help fashion the regulatory environment they prefer.


Bribery is already illegal so what's your point with that?

Everything you're saying falls under "change and improve your government" if you want to see something different. If they fail to act in the public interest then vote in someone else, or run for office and show them how it's done.

It's not easy, but it's not impossible. And it's far more realistic than posting some comments and wondering why companies don't magically just donate their money away.


Jeff Bezos has a legal obligation to Amazon shareholders. He's not really allowed to donate their money to the UK government beyond what is required by UK law.


You want companies to pay more taxes than is legally required of them? What la la land do you live in?


Step 1: Use your wealth to lobby for laws that let you do things that are unethical but increase your profit.

Step 2: Do those things.

Step 3: When people criticise you for unethical behavior, point out you are just following the rules.


I'm not blaming the legislation, I'm blaming him for ignoring it. Using sub- contractors to evade employment taxes, for instance, is illegal in the UK. Somehow Amazon (and similar others like Uber) are above that. Jo Maugham QC (tax lawyer) has aledged that there is some kind of sweetheart deal with the UK government with regards to US tech firms, and brought a related case against Uber for using a similar ruse to evade sales tax.

[0]https://goodlawproject.org/uber-case/


I feel like I can blame people who say "you can't blame [whoever]," though. What you aren't saying is "let's actually change things."


I would love to say "Let's actually change things" but can you provide a plan for that? what can we _really_ do about it?


I like your thinking but Amazon/Bezos will push the boundaries to minimize costs and to be successful.

The 2B is a start but it's up to society to make sure he doesn't go too far by putting limits where needed.

Amazon's ways would change tomorrow if customers would speak up against its abusive ways but we all love PRIME, their customer service, and the convenience.

Amazon at least has to hire people to get the job done, good or bad people still have work. Apple, the largest cap company in the world, does its work with a fraction of the people that Amazon does, 500k+ for Amazon vs 120k+ for Apple. And they minimized their tax footprint while having truckloads of externalities that cost society billions.

The criticism of Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller was highlighted by the longterm reporting of Ida Tarbell in the Saturday Evening Post. He was criticised before but Tarbell brought up to a different level in people's minds. No one seems to have the guts and long-term focus to do it for the new tech giants.


>they minimized their tax footprint while having truckloads of externalities that cost society billions.

This is what gets me. It's what they say: "privatised profits, socialised losses".


They pay the tax they are legally obligated to. You can't expect any business to pay a penny more than that. It's on the lawmakers to remove the loopholes (which they and their friends probably exploit as well, so good luck with that...)


Please see my reply above. It is alleged that they do not pay the tax that they are legally obliged to. No loophole, just special treatment.


Not OP, but OP's point stands. If they can get special treatment, someone else's might be able to. The fact that it's a possibility means they must use it or risk being at a competitive disadvantage of a less ethical player.

Before an argument of "this justifies any type of behavior such as murdering your competitors' CEOs." There's a natural limit (albeit fuzzy) to what rules is in the company's self interest to seek a "special treatment". Relationships with gov't go sour, governments change, etc. What used to be "special treatment" might quickly transform into proof of wrong-doing against the company.


But then the argument becomes rather different. It is no longer a question of "If that's the law then it is not Amazon's fault". It has moved on to "Can we get away with coercing the government into allowing us to break the law".

That is morally a lot more challenging, and there is nothing in the managements fiduciary responsibilities that compels them to break laws. Nothing. Indeed the responsibility to shareholders is more complex anyway, aggressive tax planning may for instance damage your brand and reduce the future profitability.


Yes, but they fought the headcount tax in Seattle, and they're actively seeking a low-tax jurisdiction for HQ2.


Shouldn’t Amazon shareholders expect the company to look for low tax jurisdictions to operate from? Is there a morality issue that I’m not seeing?


Yes, there is. Societies — as we know how to make them — break down if everyone figures out how to avoid paying their way.

If a hacker gets root, they’re just using the rules of the system, finding a loophole they can exploit… taxes and laws are systems that can be exploited, but even in the cases where I find them bad (and I have plenty of broad examples of things I don’t like), I think it’s worse to let people get away with exploiting weaknesses in the system.


It's not weakness, it's a commercial decision, both for Amazon AND for the jurisdiction. It's another tool the governing body has for drawing (or repelling) businesses.

There isn't a moral rate of taxation anymore than there is an absolute moral price to pay for a night at a hotel.


I’m not arguing about the absolute rate of taxation, I’m arguing about the ability to exploit different rates. Arbitrage of rules, I guess you might call it, in an environment where those setting the rules can be pressured into what would otherwise be suboptimal decisions.


Deciding it’s best to operate in a low tax jurisdiction is not “exploiting a weakness in the system”. It’s simply acting rationally in an environment when you have multiple options for where you operate.


It’s the prisoners dilemma, except Amazon etc. are acting as the interrogator.

Government shouldn’t be in the position where their own tax base can manipulate them.


I'm not participating in the conversation around the moral imperatives for corporations.

I am curious about your statement:

> Government shouldn’t be in the position where their own tax base can manipulate them.

I would like to hope by definition a democratic government is one where the tax base can manipulate the government. Going against that seems like suggesting we move to a model of "Taxation without representation".

I'm bringing it up because I'm sure you didn't intend your statement in this way. It might be worth it to re-think/phrase it.


> I would like to hope by definition a democratic government is one where the tax base can manipulate the government. Going against that seems like suggesting we move to a model of "Taxation without representation".

The tax base and the voters are not the same thing. Unemployed have a vote, corporations do not.

Additionally, in the case of tax system manipulation, it is the richest who wield the greatest power. As a relatively boring private individual, no action I personally take to move my income to regions of low tax has any noticeable impact on a government — 100% of my tax is still less than most rounding errors. Large multinationals, on the other hand… Apple International is tax resident in the Republic of Ireland, and Apple (parent company not International) has an annual revenue of 70% of Ireland’s GDP.

I can see how my language choice led to your comment.

I’m worried this is one dollar one vote, not one person one vote.


The head tax was a poorly thought out law that would have inflicted a lot of collateral damage on Seattle-based businesses without trillion dollar market caps. It was broadly unpopular here for that and a number of reasons, in spite of widespread controversy about Amazon's effect on Seattle.


Of course they did, why wouldn't they? You don't expect them to willingly pay more tax than necessary. They're a business and their job is to make money.


As they were almost certainly legally obligated too, the problem is individuals still vote in officials who bend to the whim of businesses instead of individuals.


Yes yes - how very evil if Besos & Co. to dare follow the law.

This socialistic rhetoric is all fun and games till jobs are lost & companies close down - case in point - etsy [1]

[1]: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/25/business/etsy-josh-silver...


What are you talking about? Jimnotgym is precisely asking to not screw the society and follow the law (yeah, they found some "legal" loopholes, therefore one could argue that Amazon is in the "legal green zone") pay regular taxes and treat the warehouse workers et al like decent humans.


Stop making nonsequestirs. If Amazon is breaking laws, sue them. There's no forced labor in warehouses, it's at-will. No one's stopping the unhappy from getting another job. Raise the minimum wage in territories you suspect are untenable.

Then there's the whole hypocrisy of you shopping on Amazon. How much do you save by shopping on Amazon (and equivalents). Why isn't a 100% of your shopping local and sustainable?

Just stop with the B.S


You're missing the larger point. I'll try one last time.

Labor "at will" doesn't mean you get to abuse the conditions "at will". If you can, and do have all the wherewithal in the world to make your workers lives less inhumane, why on earth wouldn't you do it? You jolly well must do it!

On your assumptions on where I shop, yes, I admit that occasionally (maybe once in 3 months) I do shop on Amazon (for the things that I can't get locally; and these are not any 'big expenses'). But I boycott them to a large extent. And I "vote with my wallet" (and end up spending more than I "should") to support the local and stay sustainable to the most meaningful extent that I can, knowing my circumstances and dependents. I am reasonably proud of how I make my spending choices.


There's no end to your moral policing of Amazon's wearhouse policies. No matter what they do, you'll find a reason to demonize them.

But just to play along with your line of attack - the answer is obvious - it would affect their bottom line. Their retail is legendary for being unprofitable, there's very little wiggle room for increasing costs. What would you rather have - a large army of employed, productive wearhouse workers, whose experience at Amazon opens up further opportunities, or an army of unemployed?

Like I cited initially, the permutations have played out before, at etsy. Etsy's flat growth, and reduction in employment, while simultaneously cutting back on previously granted generous endowments is what will result if Amazon does what the social media lynch mobs of Justice seek


Maybe they are also contributing to the budget for:

https://techcrunch.com/2018/09/13/uks-mass-surveillance-regi...

So it is a political trade-off, but it looks horrible and unacceptable to us.


Like it or not these things are done at the will of the people of the country; they could vote to change it, or vote in people who would change it but they won't. It's horrible and unacceptable to you, and to me, but not to your (technically, our, but I can't vote in the UK due to residency requirements) fellow countrymen.

Humans fear devastating but statistically unlikely things disproportionately to their chance of happening, and will do basically anything to avoid them. Terrorism is such an example, and surveillance is a consequence.

Thing is, if the people of the UK decide it's an unacceptable tradeoff they will vote to change it, and it will change. Just look at, lord have mercy, Brexit. It's in everyone's hands. That's not true of a billionaire's discretionary fund.


Exactly my point. I just was been sarcastic (sorry). We believe they will do the best for us. But all this things happen all the time under the table. What I meant is that we don't like this things happening but we wont probably do much to change it.


> It shouldn't be up to the billionaires to choose where to spend money that should be in the hands of national governments and workers.

Yeah I couldn’t disagree any harder with this statement. The property rights are an essential element of a free society. The notion that government or “workers” are somehow entitled to prescribe or direct another’s property is at odds with the principals the United States was founded on.

If you don’t like how someone else makes their money, you are free to take your patronage elsewhere and convince me to as well. Don’t try to convince me government or “workers” have a right to his property.


I dont't care if this is a PR stint to ward of recent criticism Bezos is getting from Bernie et al but if this fund goes and actually help and make a real life impact on the lives of homeless people, then I am fine and I will hold back my criticism of Amazon. I mean clearly I have not done enough to mitigate homelessness in this country who am I to question others motives trying to solve the same problem?


Looks like this was cheaper than upping the salaries of warehouse workers to get them off food stamps and provide healthcare. For Bezos this is just another calculation, nothing more.


I feel people like Jeff Bezos, who already have all the money in the world, are more interested in winning/power and money is only a way of keeping score.

Bezos is probably interested in growing Amazon into the biggest business in the world, and part of that strategy is cutting costs to the bone.

What I'm trying to say is he's looking for a way to maximize Amazon's growth rate, not necessarily pinch pennies (pinch billions?). So if he can preserve his current strategy by giving a few billion away, I don't think he cares.


That is contradictory. If money is how he keeps score than he isn't going to give any way.


Not at all; He already scored. He already got the headlines. Whatever he does with it after the fact makes little difference.


People think they have it scored when they make 10m, but some still don't stop.

The game at his level of scoring includes different variables in the profit equation. He has to worry if poor people repoduce enough, is the overall population growth expanding, etc.

He "scored" really doesn't apply.

I was told once that if you are a business, either the grow, or die.


Sometimes you give up a Queen to get to the King :/


or in this case a 1/10th of a pawn.


Using money by giving it to the right people or groups of people is a certainly a way to gain or maintain power.


He’s not giving it away. He’s spending it on power, prestige, and legacy.


When the score is 400-3 you can sit out a couple of plays.


It is really frustrating when a man makes that much and does so little.

Like, I don't think/know if it should be law. I'm not talking about being Robinhood with our taxes or whatever. I don't know any of that.

All I know is it's frustrating. Look at all the good Gates is working towards. There's just so much room for people with that much wealth to strive for.

Honestly.. I think what's most frustrating is I can't even imagine what you even do with that much money, aside from watch it get bigger, if not helping people. These people have so much money that they can't even spend it. Short of trying to personally buy a company or a country, there's just nothing you could spend it on.. it grows too fast. So it's frustrating that the human condition so easily falls towards hoarding.

And yes, I'm largely ignoring the idea of liquidity, but for this discussion I think we can.


That's the charity of Kings. The French king gave a lot to charity with one hand and created a lot more misery with the other.

This is just the return of the times of charity.


That's the charity of Kings. The French king gave a lot to charity with one hand and created a lot more misery with the other. This is just the return of the times of charity.

You’d think people would remember how that worked out for the French royalty, but I guess it’s always “going to be different this time.”


The Kings have learned - between unrestricted surveillance and a far better armed military, any hope of sending to the aristocracy to the guillotine probably ended sometime in the 40s.

Not to mention it's been learned to label those sorts of revolutionaries as "terrorists," among a lot of other social engineering tricks.

I should note - I'm not for lopping off anybody's heads. I'm just saying the shortlist of solutions for a trapped peasantry class has grown quite slim.


It's a matter of perspective. You can see a thing from afar and know what it is, but when you are in it, it is extremely hard to give it a name.


Surely a few people in the French aristocracy knew they were sitting on a time bomb. But nobody had the will, the skill, and the charisma to defuse the damned thing.


Mind you that the french aristocracy was dealing with a revolution which upheaveled the entire meaning of being a royal/noble, it's principles and the "entity" that they derived their "rights" from.

Prior to the french revolution, many royalty's (including the french) got their righteousness to rule from 'god'.

The french revolution was the first which actually abolished this ancient idea and tried to hold the nobles accountable to the state. (early revolutionaries even wanted to keep the bourbonnes, until the jacobins and Robespierre came around and ended that rather... certainly).


To be fair, there were liberal nobles who wanted to ditch their titles and make the system more meritocratic (with the subtle acknowledgement that nobles could afford education). America’s favorite Frenchman, the marquis de Lafayette, was one of them.

They just weren’t very effective at defusing the time bomb.


After centuries of a system people integrate their role in it. After a while you really feel that you are the superior or the inferior. It's really hard to get out of it.


I’ve maintained again and again, the current trajectory of American business and finance looks a lot less like capitalism and a lot more like feudalism.


FWIW, it used to be law.

Tax rate on the top-1% of earners in the US was much, much, MUCH higher until the recent four or so decades.


At this rate I'd be happy if they simply paid as much as everyone else (percentage wise). Rather, that they didn't find as many legal tax avoidance methods.

I don't know if they should be taxed more than the 99%, I'll let someone who knows economics tell me what is best.


The richest people make their money primarily from capital investment, which has returns proportional to the capital invested, which in the long run is exponential. Laborers make their money primarily from effort over time, which is linear. So it makes sense for their taxes to be different. Additionally the amount of money someone needs to live comfortably is more or less constant (regional differences apply), so it's less harmful to tax someone with more than that than someone with less.

An economist will tell you that a handful of taxes are inherently helpful and getting money is a nice bonus (externalities taxes, some amount of LVT). If you need more money than what you can get through those (and you do) then the least harmful tax is a wealth tax, but those are unpopular and difficult to administrate. Income-based taxes are less efficient but still okay. Sales taxes aren't very good at all.


It is a common misconception that high income tax rates would affect the ultra-wealthy to any significant degree. It would not, because their wealth almost never appears as ordinary income.

High income tax rates (such as we indeed used to have in the United States) affect people like dentists and pediatricians, not people like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.

Note that Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Sergei Brin, Mitt Romney, and Michael Bloomberg, among others, have all "taken a salary of $1/year" as a publicity stunt at various times, yet somehow managed to wind up billionaires in spite of that. Harry Reid never had a real job in his entire life, and never had any ordinary income outside his congressional salary, but wound up massively wealthy nonetheless.

Try proposing a tax on net worth/assets and see how many of the Pelosis, Feinsteins, Heinz-Kerrys, Warrens, Obamas, or Kennedys sign off on that.


Capital gains tax in the US is among the top in the world, and if you live in California I believe it's #2 considering the state's 13.3% addition.

You're right that net worth taxes are non-starter virtually everywhere, that's one thing both parties will always agree on.

Reid is only worth about $10M at 78 years old, not exactly massively wealthy, it brings him just barely into the 1%.


Source?

Genuinely curious.


Just do a search for historical tax brackets. The OP is correct, however he doesn’t follow up with the effective tax rate paid. In the 1940s there were a lot more tax deductions.

The effective tax rate for those in the top 1% hasn’t changed all that much and is near historical highs.


Isn't it true though that also the top 1% has far more "net worth" compared to, say, the GDP, than before?

I recall reading something similar when delving down this wikipedia hole: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_richest_Americans_in_h...


If I were Bezos, I'd do a lot more for charity.

That said, you're making the fallacy of thinking like money is a natural resource we dig up from the ground or something, that Bezos is hoarding.

No. Money is just an abstraction of barters and favors owed. Suppose Bezos pays a surgeon $100k to treat a patient. Well, the surgeon could have done it for free. So if Bezos didn't pay the surgeon, who is responsible for the lack of treatment? Bezos, or the surgeon? (An over-simplification, but the point doesn't change if you shift the money from one surgeon to a whole hospital etc.)

My vote: allow Bezos and others to operate within the law. If they're exploiting a loophole (like tax-free Amazon competing with taxed local shops), fix the law.


That's an interesting viewpoint. Though, I view it more as; if you're starving and I have 10 apples, should I give you an apple? Why shouldn't someone else?

Should the surgeon really do the work for free when 100k to him means a lot; but 100k to Bezos is meaningfully less?

By the same token, if there's someone in front of me who needs help and I can help them with 5 cents? 5 cents is nothing to me, I'd do it in a heartbeat. $10,000 I could also afford, but it would be a considerable risk for my life and long term happiness.

The point I'm getting at, is expectation of helping someone or doing something noble seems to be relative to how much excess you have. Though, another important angle is how likely it is to help someone. I don't give $25 to charitable TV advertisements because I don't trust them. Despite being able to afford $25 to help someone.

So it's definitely complex, but correct me if I'm wrong, but your barter abstraction doesn't feel right to me.


No-one eats money. Money is just how we notate that we owe each other stuff. The surgeon can operate on the patient but decides not to, because the patient is a stranger. Bezos says "Please help that patient". The surgeon says "I know you! You convinced a bunch of vendors to send physical products to me and my loved ones. Therefore, I'll help the patient if you insist."

The above dialog is unfamiliar because it gets abstracted away by money, but if money works correctly, then that's what it really means for Bezos to pay the surgeon $100k to treat the patient.

Imagine I know how to fish. I go and teach one million people how to fish. I charge them $1 each, which they gladly pay because they consider the skill worth more than $1. Now I have $1M. I hoard it. Am I greedy? By no means! It's a paradox: you think I'm greedy because I'm hoarding that $1M, but actually I have the $1M because I provided so much value!


> Imagine I know how to fish. I go and teach one million people how to fish. I charge them $1 each, which they gladly pay because they consider the skill worth more than $1. Now I have $1M. I hoard it. Am I greedy? By no means! It's a paradox: you think I'm greedy because I'm hoarding that $1M, but actually I have the $1M because I provided so much value!

Okay so I think I'm getting where you're going with this.. though I feel like it's a separate argument. Honestly it's difficult, so I'm not trying to be dense or coy and argue your point lol.

If I understand you, your saying the $1M does not denote you owe something - and that I can totally agree. You provided value, you have $1M, it was fairly acquired and you don't need to contribute back to society.

However, I don't think it matters to me, honestly. In my personal view, my 5c example still holds true. If I can give someone 5c, I don't care that I earned the 5c - providing value to the population around me. I have enough money that giving 5c away is meaningless, it's a level that I can easily help someone at - not just easily, without question/hesitation even.

Which goes back to what I said earlier, it's all about relative excess. In the $1M example, you don't owe anyone anything - you provided a service, you're better off because of it. Yet, if $1/m is all they make, your level of income os miles above theirs. To the point that, you could spend $25 for a goal you deem helpful to society, and it would mean little to you, but a ton to other people.

So yes, you don't owe anyone anything. But that's why I called it a personal responsibility. I want to be kind, and 5c for me to help someone is a no brainer. I don't owe them, I want to help them. Bezos and other massively rich people might be missing that.

I'm not saying Bezos sell some houses/cars and donate. I'm not saying you should take a loan out and donate. I'm saying we all should want to help people with a an amount that is trivial to us. If you're poor, helping people with trivial money may be of no value (in USD), time is likely more valuable. If you're mega rich however, a trivial value can change lives.


You keep returning to the fundamental fallacy of thinking of money as a fixed natural resource with its own intrinsic value.

That 5c you give doesn't accomplish anything by itself. If the recipient uses it to buy a slice of bread, the merchant could have just given the slice to him for free. Now you'll say, "The merchant needs the 5c more than I do", but again, no: no-one eats nickels. If the merchant 'needs' the 5c to buy his baby son some milk, again, the dairy could give him the milk for free.

Money is a tool for convincing people to do things. Bezos could use his fortune to convince people to do nice actions to each other, but if he doesn't, those people could still do those nice actions to each other anyway. The surgeon does not literally need the money as if he was going to use the dollar bills as a suture (lol). Paradoxically, by saying Bezos has an obligation to donate money, you're essentially saying Bezos has an obligation to dictate how people should act. Somehow I doubt that was your intention!


> That 5c you give doesn't accomplish anything by itself. If the recipient uses it to buy a slice of bread, the merchant could have just given the slice to him for free. Now you'll say, "The merchant needs the 5c more than I do", but again, no: no-one eats nickels. If the merchant 'needs' the 5c to buy his baby son some milk, again, the dairy could give him the milk for free.

I get that, though admittedly it's a very strange point. What's the tactile, real world application of this line of thought?

Ie, it sounds like you're making a random argument akin to "we could all be in a dream, why try?". I'm not mocking your argument, I'm stating that it feels oddly philosophical in a real world.

Yes, that 5c doesn't inherently do anything. Yet, why should I expect the merchant accept the work for free? I'm the rich one, not the merchant. Which is my point - I'm acting, I'm doing something with the excess I have.

And yes, I am thinking of money as having an intrinsic value. "Convincing people to do things" has a form of value to me, and I imagine is very valuable to the person who needs bread considers money to buy bread very valuable. Again, your argument feels.. weirdly philosophical.. which again, is not me bashing your argument/you in the slightest. I mean no disrespect.

> Money is a tool for convincing people to do things. Bezos could use his fortune to convince people to do nice actions to each other, but if he doesn't, those people could still do those nice actions to each other anyway. The surgeon does not literally need the money as if he was going to use the dollar bills as a suture (lol). Paradoxically, by saying Bezos has an obligation to donate money, you're essentially saying Bezos has an obligation to dictate how people should act. Somehow I doubt that was your intention!

I think I fail to see it that way, honestly. If Bezos buys a movie ticket, is he dictating how people act? He's purchasing a ticket, which is a tool to convince people to do things - but again, this seems like an academic definition.

To think of it differently, if Bezos buys 2 loafs of bread, one for himself and one for another person as charity - does it matter what definitions we use here? He can afford to buy more loafs than anyone he knows. He can buy a near infinite number of loafs, especially compared to the bread maker who didn't do the work for free. Yes, the surgeon, bread maker, etc all could have done the work for free - but they don't have as much of this "convincing tool" as Bezos has.

This is why I think this argument is weirdly philosophical. I can instead just say everything I've said with the words "convincing tool" used instead of "money" and I feel like nothing changes on my argument. Bezos has more convincing power than almost anyone in the world. Whether or not it has intrinsic value is .. imo, irrelevant. Bezos' convincing power is leagues beyond that of the surgeon. Like mine is leagues beyond that of the 3rd world homeless man. I'm struggling to see what labels matter here.

At the end of the day, we're just talking about helping people, and how many tools you have to do so. When put so simply, does any of this debate.. matter? Is this debate more than just pedantic?


>oddly philosophical

Well, I'm a logician, so maybe that's inevitable :)

>I'm the rich one, not the merchant

Saying "I'm the rich one" is appealing to the fallacy of money as fixed natural resource. Try this: instead of picturing yourself as rich, picture yourself as a renowned hero, maybe you've cured cancer. Does the fact you've cured cancer place on you an obligation to use your celebrity status to convince the merchant to give the homeless man bread?

No! If anything, people should have an obligation to give YOU bread. Why would it be an axiom that "whoever has done the most to improve the world, is the most obligated to improve the world more"? That's essentially what you're saying, except it gets all confused because you replace "done the most to improve the world" by "has the most money", and treat money like a fixed natural resource.

>If Bezos buys a movie ticket, is he dictating how people act?

Yes, on a small scale.

>He can buy a near infinite number of loafs

No, as soon as he started buying on super-industrial scale, he would drive the price way up. He probably couldn't even buy all the bread in one city, at least not all at once.

This again illustrates the money-as-resource confusion people have. If it were a video game and the bread vendor were an NPC with an unlimited amount of bread with a hard-coded price, then yes, Bezos would be able to buy a practically infinite amount. (In which case, the vendor would be more of a force-of-nature than a person, and the ability to exchange dollars for bread would be a fundamental law of nature. When you think of it this way, video games have very, very, very weird physics :)

>I can instead just say everything I've said with the words "convincing tool" used instead of "money"

Yes, now you're starting to understand :) And so, when you say Bezos is obligated to donate money, you're essentially saying Bezos is obligated to act as a benevolent king/dictator. The act of choosing which scientist to give the money to is no different than the act of a king/dictator deciding which scientist gets a royal commission, etc.


> Yes, now you're starting to understand :) And so, when you say Bezos is obligated to donate money, you're essentially saying Bezos is obligated to act as a benevolent king/dictator. The act of choosing which scientist to give the money to is no different than the act of a king/dictator deciding which scientist gets a royal commission, etc.

Not exactly. I'm saying that people naturally want to help others. To think of it differently:

If I could give 5c to help someone I'd do it in a heartbeat. If I increased my income 100fold (or some astronomical number), I would expect that 5c figure to also increase by a similar amount.

I would sincerely hope that should I obtain this 100fold increase, my desire to help people would not change. This philosophical debate seems.. odd, and entirely off mark imo. All that matters is the world around me (and each of us). I am only one man, I can only do what I can. If I can give 5c to someone directly and it helps them, great. If I buy bread for them with 5c and it helps them, great. The specifics don't matter to me, my thoughts are that I expect most people to naturally want to help others.

Yes, the bread maker also wants to help people. Yes the surgeon also wants to help people. Yes, Bezos should want to help people. No he's not obligated to, but as I said, I consider most people good. That goes back to my question of why people with so much, do so little.

And yes, I am again using money as a resource. Which fundamentally I don't want to debate, because anything you call a resource I can buy with money, so I'm trying to avoid (what I feel is) pointless philosophical debate. So if we can step aside what we call a resource or not, if we can agree that I can help people with what is in my bank account, then we don't need to debate. If we can't agree that I can help people with money.. then I don't know where to even go. I fundamentally do not understand you if that tiny agreement is not possible. At that point, I'd even question if you're just being purposefully difficult/pedantic... no disrespect meant, I said it's a hypothetical question, not that you are.


Gasp! You aren't suggesting we adhere to the rule of law and personal freedoms protected for us by the constitution?


Frustrating? I can understand why you would feel like it's a shame, or feel disappointed, or even ashamed of tech/bezos/humanity, but why frustrated? Is it that you're upset that you can't change the way someone else spends their own personal fortune?


> Is it that you're upset that you can't change the way someone else spends their own personal fortune?

I haven't thought too much about it honestly, but it seems so, yes. I'm frustrated by a lot of things. It doesn't mean I think I should be trying to change Bezos' mind, but I think being frustrated in this scenario just means you feel a level of personal responsibility for the world around you. Even if you're not immediately responsible for it.

I'm frustrated by a ton of things I'm not personally able to change. Yet it doesn't change by desire for it to be different, my desire to find a way to improve the situation, and ultimately my tiny but meaningful feeling of personal responsibility.

Anyway, take all this with a grain of salt. I chose a word (frustrated) to express my emotion towards the situation I described earlier. I don't think it's wrong, but emotions are hardly a science.


> I'm frustrated by a ton of things I'm not personally able to change.

It's a matter of perspective, which is why I asked the question in the first place. Can you personally change how Bezos spends his money? No. Can you personally help the homeless and disadvantaged? YES!


One would be using Amazon's money and would affect Amazon's ability to continue growing and employing more people, the other is using Bezos' money, and does not, except by maybe affecting the share price as he sells more of his holdings. They're not the same thing.


If that is the case, nothing stops him from creating a Bezos Amazon foundation and making every Amazon employee below a certain salary threshold eligible for grants/help etc etc. With all the accounting jugglery they have access to, I'm sure there are multiple ways to making the employees financially happier while satisfying the shareholders thirst for squeezing the last drop from the last penny.


I've never heard of any precedent, do you know of one? In any case, why should Bezos use his personal money to improve Amazon workers' salaries vs. trying to fix a problem for needier people who don't have a job at all? Or trying to make humanity a space faring species (which he spends $1B/year on, IIRC)?


Why should there be expectation of precedent? Isn't he supposed to be a pioneer (like doing things such as trying to make humanity a space faring species)? Also, charity begins at home and Amazon is his home.


Because usually when you're proposing something new, it's good to ask yourself why it hasn't been done before, or why it's not currently being done, if it has been tried. Oftentimes, there are very good reasons. Very occasionally, there's not.


I don’t get the concern around people using govt assistance when they have a low paying job.

Would it have been better if those jobs were never created and those same people were on full welfare payments?


There is a flawed assumption -that the jobs were created by it in the first place. Jobs exist from demand and the best way to do them. While labor cost influences the approach the demand creates the job. Essentially it is revenue spent on what would have been done anyway to help get the already well off for no lasting benefit. Worse it incentives lower paid jobs by passing off some of their payroll.

If jobs are being made solely through and for subsidies they are better off doing it directly usually.

If they automate more things from the rules change? Mission accomplished - we have more productive work, more private investment in research and development, and technology marches forward and people can do more productive things with their time.


That’s very possible. Altho this is from his own money and not the corp. Though I agree he should try and follow the example of CostCo and maybe outdo them and set an even better example.


Bezos owns 16.4% of Amazon. Donating $ 2 Billions of his own money costs him about as much as donating $ 12 Billions of Amazon's money, which would likely result in him getting replaced.


Another problem for another thread. This will not silence the critics of salary issues at Aamzon warehouse. Give it a few weeks and you will read it for yourself in the news.


How can you presume to know his thought process, intentions, and goals?


Great, this is just the revival of the charity of feudal masters.

Things now are so dire that charity became more than needed.

Your comment is proof that it is a good way to clean one's reputation even if you do horrible things in a daily basis.


Bad actors must be held to account even if they occasionally do good things. I see no compelling reason to withhold criticism of Amazon because of this.


The reverse is true as well. It would apparently kill people to admit that giving two billion dollars to something like this is an act of good faith because their judgment is so clouded by hate.


Whether or not it was done in good faith is irrelevant because it does not and cannot compensate for the harm Amazon/Bezos has caused.


Right, Amazon is purely net negative. Billions of dollars of wealth, the vast majority created on the backs of laborers via exploitation the world 'round.

I get the shtick. I hear it enough. It's not true, but it's a good story. Plays well on social media. The world is almost certainly better off with Amazon existing than without, even if they do some heinous stuff.


Suffice it to say you're demonstrably incorrect.


Funny, I think that about your opinion. Which is what both of our statements are, except that I actually admit it while you and others assert it as fact.


I am making an assertion of fact. If you refuse to treat it as such, that's on you.


I believe that you believe that.


Then you won't mind explaining why it's not an assertion of fact...


> I mean clearly I have not done enough to mitigate homelessness in this country

Don't know your situation but assuming you are not on the Forbes billionaires list you probably pay higher tax rate than Bezos. In that sense you did do something to mitigate homelessness.


"...but if this fund goes and actually help and make a real life impact on the lives of homeless people, then I am fine and I will hold back my criticism of Amazon."

That's precisely what Bezos is going for here.

I feel you though... I'm glad something is being done.

But let's keep criticizing Amazon as an exploitative enterprise.

And let's keep criticizing the homelessness crisis as a systemic issue which needs a systemic solution, not just a bone thrown from the table of the world's richest person.


It's not his money to use this way. He stole it from the workers he underpaid.


The workers gained an additional job opportunity because of him, one that was likely better than all other options they had at the time (or else why would they accept?)

He also has made goods generally cheaper and much more easily accessible to the world.


it isn't like Bernie has been all the successful in doing much about it anyway. Most Washington politicians only remember the homeless come election time. They are but a foil to use on the other guy, a sound bite, and not much more.

The same is true of many local politicians. They have political links to activist groups in their area who they steer funding in return for support during elections and also for intimidating developers into contributing to them.

this is not a problem that could not have been solved it is a problem that solving is not an actual goal but a means to continue the gravy train and perpetual power lock.


I think criticism of Amazon is still fair, criticizing Bezos personally is something different.


Bezos could fight a lot of homelessness directly by paying his warehouse workers a decent wage.


Finally someone realizes that there is a problem. There is no justification in the biggest economy of the world to have this much poverty and homelessness. I am amazed every time I travel to Europe, how few homeless people there are, despite their economic growth lagging the US. And it is inherently a solvable problem with adequate resources. We have $1 trillion for the military. Surely, we can spare a few billions and house the downtrodden and provide mental care for those who can't take care of themselves.


Agreed 100%. I live in California which has the same massive homelessness issues as Seattle. I also travel to Europe frequently and have noticed the same stark contrast where they seem to do much better at this.

To try to understand why homelessness feels so much worse an California than in Europe, I did some very basic research (which I also posted on a similar thread once before). The numbers are shocking:

San Francisco population: 884,363 (2017/Wikipedia)

San Francisco unsheltered population (conservative): 6,600 (7,499 SF self-reported homeless count * 88.2% HUD estimated unsheltered rate)

Unsheltered population rate (conservative): ~0.75% of residents (my calculation) - nearly 1 in 100!

Compare that with London, a city also experiencing a homelessness epidemic due to explosively rising housing costs:

London population: 8,825,000 (2017/Wikipedia)

London unsheltered population: 1,137 (homeless.org.uk)

Unsheltered rate: ~0.01% of residents (my calculation)

Homelessness rates in SF are absurdly high. In fact, there are more unsheltered homeless people in SF than the entire country of England(!):

San Francisco unsheltered population: 6,600 (2017)

England unsheltered population: 4,751 (2017)

They are not equivalent situations obviously, but somehow a country with a population greater than the state of California manages to have fewer homeless people than one relatively tiny city in California. Something is very wrong.

Homelessness is a complex issue with lots of intertwined causes and no single solution. Not only is affordable housing an issue, but mental health treatment is an equally important problem. I don't have the answers. But I do know that it is a public health crisis and we are currently completely failing to solve it. We need big changes if we actually care about addressing it and we as a country definitely have the resources to do it.


There is no political will to fix homelessness in San Francisco and it’s actually a big business and money maker for certain people. It’s just a way to funnel tax payers money to those groups. As usual, follow the money.


You really can't compare.

London is a large city.

SF is just a tiny part of a larger metro area.

Do you know what the 'homeless' rate in 'The City of Foster City' is? Probably near 0.

I think a better comparison would be Bay Area to London.


He gave figures for the city of San Francisco and the entire country of England.


He compared SF to London. Then threw in some national numbers.

SF to London is not a good comparison because SF is a small part of the greater city.


No matter how you slice the numbers (SF, Oakland, San Jose, all of them combined, etc), the homelessness numbers for the bay area are terrible and way beyond London.


I'm wondering why homelessness is not as large in NYC? The prices here are as high as in SF. Is it due to the slower rate of a price increase? Colder weather?


NYC has a homeless problem that's actually worse than San Francisco [0]: Their homeless population in 2017 was upwards of 76,000 people.

Where are you getting the information that New York's problem isn't as bad?

[0]: https://www.wnyc.org/story/more-homeless-people-live-new-yor...


This is very misleading and doesn't mean what it sounds like it means.

NYC has a homeless population of 76,501, but according to HUD, only 5.1% of NYC homeless are unsheltered. In SF, the unsheltered rate according to HUD is almost 90% - nearly the worst in the country. That means NYC actually has fewer unsheltered people than SF on the streets despite a much larger homeless population.

So while NYC has a big issue with housing affordability and homelessness, they are actually doing a much more effective job of keeping people off the streets and reducing the rate of the kinds of severe public health issues you will see everyday in downtown SF.


> Where are you getting the information that New York's problem isn't as bad?

He must have visited the city and walked around. The population might be larger, but the problem is less egregious in NYC; we don't just let them camp out in the streets and rule the city.


Places that get cold usually have less homelessness.


Or they just have a less visible homeless problem because more of the homeless are sleeping in shelters instead of on the streets.


NYC shelters nearly 95% of it's homeless population. SF only manages to shelter about 11% of it's homeless population (about the worst rate in the country). Thus there are more homeless people on SF's streets despite a much smaller total homeless population than NYC (and NYC is of course also a much more populous city).


My recollection: when I took a class on Homelessness and Public Policy through SFSU, the number of homeless in San Francisco was similar to the number in New York in spite of it being a much smaller city.

The most current stats I have indicate that California has about 25 percent of the nation's homeless:

https://streetlifesolutions.blogspot.com/2018/05/california-...?


Yes, exactly. The point is that in a warm climate there may not be more homeless people, just more visible homeless people.

NYC now shelters most of its homeless mainly because state law requires it. We’re spending a ridiculous amount of money putting homeless people up in hotel rooms because the process to get new shelters built is stalled and we can’t even build enough market-rate housing to account for population growth, let alone affordable housing.


Curious if you've accounted for issues like metro area vs. city limits. It could very well be the case that the London contains more of it's metro area within city limits than San Francisco, thus increasing the divisor vs. the numerator.


SF has more unsheltered homeless people than the entire country of England according to these numbers. So even if SF's per-capita homeless rate is lower when you include some surrounding SF suburbs, it's still absolutely terrible and far worse than London.

And if you consider the whole Bay Area (which is closer to London in size), the homelessness rate remains very bad overall because homelessness is also very severe in Oakland and San Jose. Some of the smaller cities of course fair a lot better than others, but the total numbers of unsheltered homeless is very high across the whole Bay Area region.

Even Palo Alto has a high homelessness-per-capita rate when you count people living in vehicles as homeless. It's not nearly as bad as SF, but it's not good either.


> I am amazed every time I travel to Europe, how few homeless people there are, despite their economic growth lagging the US.

This. I grew up in Eastern Europe where middle-class people would make and eat every single meal at home, but I have never seen such level of poverty as I saw in the streets of the US.


Do you really think the problem is at the realization phase?

I'd say we all know this to be true, but whether we care enough is another question. There's a fair amount of people in this country that see homelessness as "lazy".


To those afflicted by the Just World Fallacy, the agony of the homeless is a pleasing reminder of one's own moral superiority: they suffer because they're terrible people, while I'm successful because I am virtuous.


I'd say that's part of the realization phase.


I'll say "finally" if he doubles the salary of his workers and give them a decent work conditions with a lot less stress.

He can keep his charity.


Military spending is only 16% of Government spending, you'd think we could cover the homeless somehwere in that other 84%.


If you include all DoD spend include VA, it is well over 20%. Why this portion ? Because it is mostly unnecessary and just needed to foster faux nationalism


Its not like we needed bezo's to come down from the mountain and tell us all what a terrible scourge homelessness is.

You are fooling yourself if you think this 2 billion comes anywhere close to correcting the level of homelessness amazon generates.


This isn’t popular, but I’d challenge anyone who thinks homelessness in Seattle isn’t primarily an addiction and mental illness problem to go spend a few afternoons in areas with significant homeless populations (3rd Ave in Pioneer Square is a great place, if you need a suggestion).

It’s not that affordable housing isn’t a problem in Seattle. I know people who couldn’t live on their own in Seattle anymore due to rental increases, including members of my extended family. But those people either move away to more affordable areas, moving in with family or friends or into (sometimes questionably legal) group housing situations, but they don’t live on the street.


You're not seeing all the other homeless people though who were displaced by high housing prices and who aren't spending all their time drugged out in highly visible urban areas. There are many homeless people living out of cars or shelters, or in tents. Many of them even still have jobs, they just can't afford housing.

See: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-ucla-anderson-forecast...


I'm not in Seattle (I live and work on some of the most conspicuous blocks in San Francisco for homeless drug users), but I'm sure that both groups exist in both cities. I think what's important is for policy proposals to treat the groups differently, rather than bundling them together into a proposal to "solve homelessness." In my experience in SF these proposals usually only focuses on one set of issues, like minimum wage and rent prices, which are unlikely to significantly help both groups of homeless people.


> to treat the groups differently, rather than bundling them together into a proposal to "solve homelessness."

I agree. Add the absence of a healthcare system to that too. Personal anecdote: a homeless man offered to wash my car for money. He seemed intelligent and nice, so I agreed. He told me the story of him becoming homeless. Both he and his wife worked and rented an OK place in OK part of SF. His wife got into a car accident and their crappy insurance couldn't handle it, the deductibles were astronomical because, as usual, some of the "independent businessmen" who "provided care" were out of network, as if the unconscious victim had any control over who touched her.

So they had to drop their income below certain level to qualify for free healthcare. Now he didn't have enough for rent and moved to under a highway bridge and was visibly embarrassed by it.


That's a bit of a shocker really.


I agree that both are problems worth solving, but one is pretty obviously a more urgent public health problem, and unfortunately, the more difficult one to solve.

When people are talking about Seattle's worsening homeless problem, they're talking about the presence of needles and fecal material on the sidewalks, and being harassed, and sometimes even attacked, by clearly mentally ill people, not about people living in trailers in non-urban areas.


Maybe people also get mentally ill from being homeless. Then one gets physically ill from living in a physically hostile environment...


I don't think the original cause matters so much. It's the cause that sustains their homelessness which needs to be addressed. People with strong support networks can bounce back from a lot of difficulties. It's the unlucky few who end up on the sidewalk in abject despair.


I know I'd use lots of drugs.


Maybe the people peacefully living in tents outside of town should instead start being more visible and getting in people’s faces, if that’s what it takes to be a priority.


We’re not talking about “getting in people faces”, we’re talking about a situation that is extremely unsafe, for everyone, homeless and non-homeless alike. If you’re suggesting more of that, there’s something seriously wrong with you.


Wow, slow down on the insults, cowboy. All I’m saying is if you’re considering group A a more urgent priority for providing help to than group B, then you’re incintivizing group B to be more like group A.

Officials need to address the whole problem, not just the visible problem.


That's cowgirl to you.

So, if we prioritize, say, addiction treatment, more people will want to be addicts. Right.


Agreed. See also, on reddit:

/r/almosthomeless /r/homeless

even subs like /r/povertyfinance contain some people that live in their car at times.


I find it really interesting the difference in views on money between /r/povertyfinance, /r/personalfinance and /r/financialindependence.


What is the difference? I'm not going to read multiple posts in multiple subreddits that aren't esp. related to me while at work; elaborate on your point.


Living in a car is homeless.


I don't think they disagree. I think the person your replying to is writing it that way because the parent commenter are using that as anecdotal evidence for saying all the homeless they see have mental issues, without necessarily understanding a lot of homeless aren't necessarily people with mental issues living on street corners with the rest, as they imply.


What is it about the car, that it doesn't actually have living accomodation or that it is not a house and has no address? For example, does living in an RV mean you are homeless?


Under HUD’s definition, a car is not a place suitable for human habitation, so that’s clearly someone who’s homeless. An RV dweller may be considered homeless if they are in an “unstable” living situation (moved twice or more within the past 60 days), or if the RV is in such disrepair to not be suitable for habitation.

Edit: see https://www.urban-initiatives.org/reports/are-all-persons-sl...


speaking from experience, even a short gap during which you do not have an official address can create tremendous hurtles to getting housing, insurance, and employment.


There seem to be a lot of things like that in the USA, where if it happens even once or briefly, it screws up your life long term. Homelessness, poverty, seeking mental health help, arrest, prison, bankruptcy, a medical emergency. Every application form with a checkbox that says “Have you ever...” perpetuates this “gotcha” long-term punishment. Why does society insist on setting these traps for people?


Because everyone just cares about covering their ass and washing their hands. See all the comments above in the venue of "well, they're following the law, what else do you expect them to do?":


Cars, underpasses, camping tents, and cardboard boxes are not properly "homes".

Apartments, houses, yurts, and RVs are "homes".

Homes need to (1) provide adequate shelter, (2) have sufficient space, and (3) have access to water and waste facilities.


It's that they don't have a choice.


"Homeless" is a qualification metric that has a far darker history than being relevant at all to shelter or habitation. Metrics, even if not quantified, are always goal-oriented in providing an explanation or use. Even for something as "physically objective" as measuring time there is always an inherent question the metric is designed to answer, a problem to solve, or an ideology to support.

Do we define time as an anthropocentric artifact such as linking it to average modern human chronobiology markers or quirky orbital parameters of our homeworld, as a political artifact such as dividing the surface of the Earth into regions with artificial offsets to accommodate national or supranational policies such as industrial energy consumption management in resource crises or supporting coordination efforts of governance and military structures that have specific information-flow rate characteristics dependent on the availability of logistics mastery and locus diameter of projected force and interventional reach, as a capability artifact such as atomic clocks and the networking thereof with global navigation satellites and the Internet that require readily sourced technology supply chains for inexpensive manufacturing of electronics, refined knowledge of controlling engineering precision tolerances, and worldwide negotiation of protocol adoption, adherence, and upkeep in an effort for a singular master goal of providing location services at a scale relevant for the size and velocities of current weaponry?

That's just getting started on some of the ways we intend to measure the difference between one specific aspect of often fuzzy conformational states and the ever-present linguistic and cultural conflations of many competing metrics in different scenarios being erroneously regarded as the same thing.

So now, what does "homeless" mean? A better question is asking _why_ is such a metric required.

In _any_ large-scale society, the regulation of basic supplies such as shelter or food is designed (whether unconsciously emergent or not) to be artificially restricted as to maintain and stabilize certain systems through meeting goals of riot control, surveillance, profit, and inducing dependency and learned helplessness. This is a _universal_ property of any large-scale social structure although the terms I used are somewhat anachronistic and culturally-specific. If you're a competent spin doctor, you might say the goals to be met are respectively harmonization of inclusive diversity, identifying and personalizing the accommodation of individual needs in a vibrant community, allocating resources efficiently to maximize the full benefit of society, providing stability and reducing uncertainty by supporting people through difficult times and ensuring their mental health through wellness initiatives, holistic education, and self-actualizing opportunities.

Some purposes and scenarios a specific definition of "homeless" could help address:

- Criterion for administering supplies to highly specific, purposefully carved out population demographics as gerrymandered token aid in placating increasingly unruly members when systemic defects start to shine through where resources are unavailable or unwilling to be used and a cheap patch is preferred over rehauling a design that would inevitably converge back to the same problems anyways but also ensues a risk or requirement that even in a non-zero-sum outcome the standards of living for certain individuals would go down just by changing things up since an important aspect of perceived well-being in most humans is completely due to relative posturing and takes time for hedonic adaptation to kick-in while also presenting a predicted future cost and stressor to avoid in calculations of whether to allow change or persecute it.

- Identifying and targeting threats to the status quo. This could be either the traditional fear of resistive violence, but far more likely and subtle is control of members exiting from the current system into perpetual self-reliance which is far more subversive and damaging than a mob a rioters destroying some infrastructure. Opting out of debt and dependency by living far below your means without a permanent address outside of social expectations and control places a huge burden on the sustainability of traditional ways when people start to realize there are alternatives to the living plan laid out for you by someone else.

- Ensuring a proper scapegoat for "bad things". A fundamental mode of human conflict resolution is avoidance of responsibility and instead mutual externalized blame on a concept that is ill-defined, irrefutable, and circular-causative or a marginalized outsider that has no capability for either refutation, redress, retaliation, nor rehabilitation.

- Unavoidable persuasive rhetoric deficiencies in logos, ethos, or kairos that requires the pathos of either compassion or spite to be anywhere near convincing when the argument for various policies are not only self-damaging to the audience but also infeasible, intractable, ill-conceived, ineffective, irrational, irrelevant, and ironic.


Homeless, but not shelterless. Worse than apartment, better than a tent.


I'd rather live in a tent than in a car. Fortunately tents are relatively cheap, so if you have a car you can probably also afford a tent to sleep in.


I dunno. Tents have a better form factor, but cars provide better weather isolation, durability, and physical security.

They are much more expensive though.


I'm not against programs to help people who can't afford normal housing. However, that's not the specific, hugely obvious problem in Seattle.


Maybe there’s more than one problem worth addressing in Seattle?


Agreed, there are many problems worth solving in Seattle, but some are more clearly urgent public health problems than others.


The world's largest drill keeps getting stuck in the cars buried beneath the city.

Northwest Harvest's food bank lost their lease on Cherry Street, but there's still a soup kitchen under the overpass, supporting the unofficial Cherry Street Tent City.


Almost certainly, and they almost certainly need very different solutions.


These people don't tend to cause problems, much unlike the homeless population in say Pioneer Square.


A couple of things: one, there is a selection bias involved, as another responder pointed out. You don't see the non-addicted, non-mentally ill homeless, or at least when you do you might not even realize they are homeless. Unless someone is pan handling, a homeless person doesn't wear a sign saying they are homeless. You probably walk by countless homeless people on the street that you don't realize you are homeless. Only the drug addicted/mentally ill ones look like the homeless you are thinking about.

Second, your observations won't tell you whether the drug addiction caused the homelessness or vice versa. Many homeless people turn to drugs to cope.

Third, you don't have to live on the streets to be homeless. Those people who are crashing at friends and living in unstable group housing situations are homeless.


Before you draw conclusions about all homeless people based on the the ones hanging out in Pioneer Square, I challenge YOU to go to a homeless shelter like Mary's place and learn a bit about the people living there. My fiancee is a doctor in the Central District and deals with homeless people every single day. A huge number of them are working families with children who work in the city and can't afford to rent, commute, or find a job in a cheaper area.

> This isn’t popular, but...

Sorry to break it to you, but you're not the independent thinker you might believe you are:

"Drug and alcohol abuse tops the list among the general public as a major factor why some people might be homeless. More than eight in ten (85%) adults feel this is a major factor. "

"Mental illness or related mental disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder are cited by two-thirds (67%)."

https://shnny.org/uploads/2007_Gallup_Poll.pdf


Further, homelessness worsens addiction, mental illness, overall health. It becomes a downward spiral.


Resident of Seattle here, who has spent a number of years volunteering with a variety of homeless services (Real Change, Urban Rest Stop, for the other locals on here).

I think you're right that the WORST of the homeless crisis is due to addiction and mental illness, but honestly that's only about half (edited [1]) or so of the homeless population.

The majority of the homeless or near-homeless people who use the city services try to stay off the grid as much as possible as to not draw any trouble upon themselves. The unfortunate reality of this scenario is that the public typically only sees the worst of the problem, and deems it nearly impossible to fix. I understand why that is the perception, but it's not taking into account the large population of homeless people who are mentally stable. I was also plesantly surprised by the large number of the homeless who are sober as to not be spending the little money they collect on expensive addictions.

[1] - https://sunrisehouse.com/addiction-demographics/homeless-pop...


To be clear, I have volunteered with a number of organizations that help the homeless in Seattle. I don't know where you're getting 25-30% from, but that doesn't match with my experience -- I'm inclined to believe it's much higher, but it can really depend on what neighborhood you're in.


I am really confused as to how your personal experience would ever be able to figure out the actual percentage of homeless people who suffer from mental illness/drug addiction. No amount of experience would tell you those percentages, because no experience would have you meeting with a uniform sample of the homeless. Your experience is always going to have a huge selection bias.

It takes rigorous research, with properly accounted for selection biases, to determine actual ratios of the population as a whole.


I mostly agree. But, surely, you'd agree that personal experience, especially extensive personal experience, might give one an inkling about whether a particular statistic is accurate. I wasn't arguing anything more.

I've looked at a number of studies about this. In general, it's hard to find much agreement between them about actual numbers. I suspect some of that is related to how "homelessness" and "mental illness" or "addiction" are defined by the people doing the studies, but most indicate that some kind of majority are influenced by one or more of those issues.


Ah sorry, mis-remembered the stats. Here's the number I was thinking of:

25% have a mental illness 35% have a substance issue

https://sunrisehouse.com/addiction-demographics/homeless-pop...


Watch your causality.

You know what helps mental illness and addiction? Stability.

The kind of stability you get from knowing where you'll sleep each night, knowing that you'll be safe, not simply trying to survive each day.

It is a complicated problem. There are no magic bullets, no panaceas, but it's ludicrous to think that housing per se isn't a major aspect of this issue. The threat of homelessness introduces anxiety that exacerbates mental problems and leads toward drug abuse. The reality of it is no better. Don't confuse causes and symptoms; the many aspects of homelessness are tightly linked and teasing out causality is no easy task.

We can't expect everyone to have the presence of mind, at a dark and low point in their lives, to uproot their entire lives and find new housing and a new job in a completely new area. Many don't have any kind of support network to make that work, or know of the services or resources that could make that happen, if they even exist.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


Most of the addicted once had stability, but lost it because they would not give up their addiction(s).


The literature disagrees. The causes of addiction are complex, but are broadly based in factors that are reasonably considered 'instability' in the colloquial sense. These include things like adolescent abuse, SES, disengagement from 'conventional' society, mental illness, etc. There is a genetic component, but its contribution is relatively modest.

The trope of a well-functioning adult succumbing to the allure of drug abuse is a red herring.

https://sci-hub.tw/10.1080/09595239996329


'Could not' is probably a fairer and more accurate description of the disease of addiction.


I've never once in my life met an addicted person that preferred to stay addicted, have you?


I used to think this, but I live near a few encampments in Oakland and I see new arrivals regularly who start with ok cars, clean tents and tarps, who get up early (when I'm on my way to work) and clean up - very much like me car camping.

It's really sad to see, but even worse is recognizing them later after they've clearly fallen into heavy drug use.

Yes, we need harm reduction for drugs, and mental health care, but the housing crisis is exacerbating those two problems.


That is actually a very popular opinion, and also very poorly informed. Your reasoning is entirely anecdotal and a trivial exercise in confirmation bias.

Here's one article (among many) exploring why "Seattle's homeless population went up 44% in the last two years."[1] Spoiler: it's not because addiction and mental illness went up 44%.

[1] https://q13fox.com/2017/12/06/seattles-homeless-population-w...


That link didn't say anything about why the homeless population went up, other than "rents went up".

It doesn't explain what stops people from looking for jobs in other, cheaper places, which is something I'm struggling to understand


> It doesn't explain what stops people from looking for jobs in other, cheaper places, which is something I'm struggling to understan

What's hard to understand? Moving anywhere for a new job is expensive, and most people (even those with well-above-median incomes) have no savings. Most jobs don't include relocation, and the first paycheck doesn't come for ~4 weeks after starting. That means that moving as one person bringing nothing with you, you still need to house yourself for a month with no income, likely no connections (since you've moved somewhere presumably away from the family/friends in your hometown), and where you have no idea about local circumstances.


Maybe there's a difference of perspective here. My parents are both one of many, many siblings who were all born in Pakistan.

Their opportunities in Pakistan were pretty poor, so most of those siblings chose to emigrate and leave. Now most of those siblings are spread out around the US and Canada. My family moved to the US from Pakistan after his employer in Pakistan was unable to pay it's employees for months and we started from scratch here. This isn't just a new city, but a whole new country and culture.

All those siblings had to struggle like crazy to establish themselves, but it wasn't impossible.

Clearly there's a different perspective that others like yourself are seeing which I haven't understood.


Very often conservatives will tell "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" stories that worked for them. But there are literally tens of millions of people in Pakistan who cannot even afford the plane tickets yet along the other costs of moving their entire family internationally. That your family could do that indicates that it had relatively good resources. Also, you didn't mention whether your family had an immigrant community network here that could help you get started and find work. Your case is no doubt an example of hard work and struggle but it is not proof that addiction and mental illness are the primary things keeping people homeless.


There is a link between homelessness and addiction, but it's not the primary one.

Several years ago I quit a stressful job, left a stressful living situation and ended up staying with a friend. I went to social services in SF to get health insurance benefits to make sure I could continue getting medication I'd been on for years. When I applied they classified me as "homeless". If you saw me on the street or on the bus next to you, you probably wouldn't have called me homeless.

It's helpful for most social programs to have a broad definition of "homeless". It allows granting assistance before an individual actually ends up living on the street. When most people think of "homeless" they envision a person passed out on the street under a dingy blanket who's probably high or mentally ill. That definition is a harmful one and it prevents the community from getting involved in solving the problem. They don't want "those people" living in shelters that might be built in their neighborhood.

For every mentally ill/addicted homeless person you see living on the street there are probably 2 or 3 living in temporary housing because they can no longer afford a place of their own.


Lived in California for close to two years and I agree.

The streets may not be the best sample though.

There are homeless people who work and live in their cars.

Getting government and NIMBYISM out of housing policy will lead to affordable housing and is paramount to fixing this.

Opportunity Zone Investments should also help some.


>Getting government and NIMBYISM out of housing policy will lead to affordable housing and is paramount to fixing this.

The trick is getting government and nimbyism out of housing policy while getting them into drug and mental illness treatment at the same time. These days it doesn't seem like there's a political party that can handle that kind of nuance. It feels like it's either expand government on all fronts or retreat on all fronts and that's not what's needed here.


Seattle's homeless camping problem has gotten really out of hand in the last 2 years.

I moved away about a year and a half ago, when homeless tents were pretty common. When I visited recently, it was stunning how much worse it is. Almost every green space in the city (except for popular parks) is filled with tents. It's really crazy.


Homelessness is a problem. Camping is a (weak) solution.


Its an unsafe solution. There have been a number of fires in homeless camps in the East Bay and as larger camps continue to be built there will be more. Recreational camping tents are not safe for semi-permanent use. They are fire hazards.


I'm not sure where you suggest they live, they're homeless...


It's one of the side-effects of having a relatively nice climate.

Quite frankly, given how many decades Seattle has had a significant homeless population, I'm surprised the city hasn't taken point on treatment and housing programs. They have a unique opportunity to really help a lot of people out if they'd step up and do it.


Defining what you mean by the term 'homeless' is actually very important to having productive discussions about homelessness. The vast majority of people are referring to people living on the streets when they take issue with the homeless. They are not referring to people who are living in their cars or whatever.


Yes, and that's exactly the issue, because people living in their cars also need help, and ignoring them because they don't have mental health issues or sleep on the sidewalk compared to other parts of the homeless population is ignorant and stupid.


I don't disagree, but in Seattle, the streets are a huge problem.


Often the addiction comes after the homelessness as a mechanism to combat boredom and cold.

Mental illness, financial circumstance and relationship breakdowns (family or spouse) are indeed common initial causes. Especially PTSD in veterans.


Many people want to tackle homelessness by providing homes first rather than addiction help.

Without a home and some semblance of stability people can’t cope with addiction or find jobs. The approach is meant to be very effective and makes sense when you consider how difficult it would be for someone without a house to take their meds on time, show up regularly for a job, or get counseling and suppprt.


> but I’d challenge anyone who thinks homelessness in Seattle isn’t primarily an addiction and mental illness problem

It's not easy to detox from opioids if you don't have a home, or to get treatment for mental illness if you live on the streets.

We have a pretty good idea that housing first works, and is probably cheaper than other approaches.

https://www.homeless.org.uk/facts/our-research/housing-first...

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/12/homele...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Housing_First


My experience in Seattle matches yours, but I think its because other types of homeless people are generally less proud/open about their situation. I think also, for better or worse, most people in Seattle are referring to this most obvious segment of the homeless population when they talk about the crisis. Despite this, its still hard for me to overlook that almost all of the homeless people I've spoken with/met are either- struggling with serious mental health issues/drug problems, or 'urban survivalist' types who say they are on street by choice (It could also be that once your homeless its better to decide that its a choice).


This isn’t popular, but I’d challenge anyone who thinks homelessness in Seattle isn’t primarily an addiction and mental illness problem to go spend a few afternoons in areas with significant homeless populations

Chronic homelessness is at the very least, a huge confounding factor in terms of social work, combating addiction, and treating mental illness. If someone doesn't have a stable address and someone else has to go out to one of several encampments in a dry river bed just to find them to deliver treatment or services, those services are going to be much more expensive. The living conditions themselves are also going to exacerbate the problems to be treated. This is why it's commonly thought that the 20% of the homeless population which falls into the "chronic" category accounts for most of the crisis services expense caused by the homeless.


>but I’d challenge anyone who thinks homelessness in Seattle isn’t primarily an addiction and mental illness problem

Ya, there's a fraction of homelessness that's caused by that but even if it was 100% caused by that, which it's not, it is still a big problem that needs to be solved. If only not to have people living in the street. It doesn't help when a big company is not paying its fair share of the tax base and adding to the problem by attracting workers and paying them a wage that doesn't allow them to afford to live where they work or squeezing out the lower level workers out of their homes because the cost of living skyrockets.


First of all, those people are only one part of the homeless population. Not all homeless people are drugged out or mentally ill, and the ones who aren't don't want to be around the addicts and mentally ill any more than anybody else. You're more or less seeing a self-selected group of the worst elements of the homeless population.

And I didn't see any details in the article, but it'd a good thing if some of this donation goes towards helping homeless people with addiction and mental illness. They're definitely contributing factors for some people.


The chronically street homeless, are very different, and far more visible than those who experience homelessness and housing insecurity that have the mental stability to either find someone to stay with temporarily or take advantage of shelter services.

This fund targets homeless families, these aren't groups of people you see shooting heroin on the street corner yet they make up a sizable part of the homeless population.


So I'm confused; you agree that housing is a problem (people move away or move in with others/into legally gray housing situations), and you agree that substance abuse and mental healthcare are problems.

Taken together, you're agreeing to the same set of problems that are popularly agreed upon as being problems. Seems like you're just quibbling?


You're only seeing one part of the situation. I've been homeless and it wasn't apparent to anyone I didn't tell. That's what makes the issue so hard, the assumption is that you're part of that crowd who needs medical attention when all you need is access to opportunity


this sounds like really anecdotal evidence. do you have any reliable sources to back up your claim?


And because people are mentally ill or addicted means you can just ignore them?


Not to imly anything but why do you think they got addicted / mentally ill and then end up in the streets and not the other way around?


That misses all the homeless people who are living in their vans


If Portland, Oregon is any indication, you forgot the military veterans segment of the homeless community.


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Why are you assuming I'm a bro just cause I'm on hacker news? 1950s are calling you.

Get back to me when you have something logical to say, not just ad hominems...


If you have no idea how prevalent mental illness is in homeless people, and also its role as the single most important contributing cause, then you are commenting from a position of ignorance. Instead of devoting effort to virtue signaling you'd do better if you educated yourself on the problem.


If we go by these sources[1][2], homelessness is overwhelmingly an economic issue.

That's not to say mental illness isn't a contributing factor, just that the lynchpin into homelessness stems from economic factors, like insufficient income or lack of affordable housing.

[1] http://homelessresourcenetwork.org/?page_id=1086

[2] https://www.nlchp.org/documents/Homeless_Stats_Fact_Sheet


When you subsidize poverty you are going to have more of it and local bodies love these people as the establishment can always buy their votes through doles.

This actually hurts the real needy people who are trying to get by.


I tend to be fairly opposed to the do-nothing stance taken by West Coast cities with regard to homeless camping, but I don't think it has anything to do with a vote buying conspiracy. There are much simpler explanations.


> There are much simpler explanations.

FYGMism.


Yeah, or just that it's actually really difficult to take care of people who don't want to operate inside of any sort of reasonable framework.


Under that logic paying people making a billion per year would encourage more billionaires. Clearly that wouldn't help create any more of them.

While incentives are powerful they still require an actual mechanism to work.

As for buying votes that assumes so many facts not in evidence it isn't funny in addition to being flat out prejudicial - when the budget is spent on something I support it is deserved when it is on others it is bribery. Actual vote buying was solved centuries ago with the secret ballot.


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You are taking your personal anecdotes and extrapolating. No one would disagree with you that mental illness and addiction are major factors in homelessness. But your argument is like saying, anyone who doesn't believe everyone in the world is wealthy go spend some time in Medina. It's a ridiculous argument.


I've had a class on Homelessness and Public Policy and I've been homeless.

Addiction is not, per se, a major root cause of homelessness. There are people with addictions who have careers. If addiction caused homelessness, then getting addicted would land people on the street as a routine consequence.

People see homeless individuals do X and conclude "X causes homelessness" or is otherwise some inherent trait of "those people" and it's usually unfounded.


Addiction is absolutely a major cause of homelessness.


No. Addiction is rooted in the same intractable personal problems that lead to homelessness.

People on the street are often using street drugs in place of prescription medication, sometimes by preference because, for example, they have a psych diagnosis and street drugs have preferable side effects to the medication they are supposed to be on.

I knew a bipolar man somewhat well who was homeless. He smoked marijuana in preference to the prescription drugs he refused to take. He was unemployable due to his undamaged mental health issue, not because he toked. Toking was just how he got by. He wouldn't have been more functional without pot. He likely would have been less functional.

We still don't have a slam dunk cure for most mental health issues. As long as this remains true, it is problematic to act like addiction is not merely a side effect of the problem and, instead, to pretend it somehow causes the problems an individual has.

Saying addiction is the problem is a little like blaming chemotherapy for ruining someone's life and not acknowledging the underlying cancer as a problem.


I didn't say addiction is the problem, I said it was a major cause of homelessness, so I don't really understand the downvotes.

The National Coalition on Homelessness seems to agree, citing "A 2008 survey by the United States Conference of Mayors asked 25 cities for their top three causes of homelessness. Substance abuse was the single largest cause of homelessness for single adults (reported by 68% of cities). Substance abuse was also mentioned by 12% of cities as one of the top three causes of homelessness for families. According to Didenko and Pankratz (2007), two-thirds of homeless people report that drugs and/or alcohol were a major reason for their becoming homeless."

The American Public Health Association as well states, "On an individual level, persons who have a problem with alcohol and/or other drugs, and who are in marginal economic circumstances, are at especially high risk for homelessness."[1]

The road to addiction is complex, and yes mental health treatment should absolutely be better in the United States, but to claim that addiction is not a risk factor to homelessness is disingenuous.

[0] http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/addiction.pdf [1] https://www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-pol...


I was homeless for nearly six years. I did no drugs, but I had the myriad underlying personal problems that so frequently lead to drug use.

What I'm trying to tell you is people blame drug use when it is really more like a symptom than a cause. It's like saying "The pain killers did it."

The conclusion winds up being that if people wouldn't do drugs, their lives would work. The reality is more like if their lives worked, they wouldn't do drugs.

Again, it's like saying "Chemotherapy causes homelessness!" because some folks on the street are having a medical crisis. If you just stopped chemo cold, it wouldn't get them off the street and now their cancer is going unchecked.

There are things you can do that help, like improve the crappy American health care system. But "Just don't do chemo" isn't an answer but that's exactly how substance abuse gets addressed.

Think of it this way: Most people on the street are male. No one goes around saying in all seriousness "Just don't be male. Problem solved!"


I am not sure how hanging out with a particular group of homeless people is going to let you understand homelessness as a whole. It will only tell you about that particular group of homeless people.


Your argument makes no sense. "Go where the mentally ill homeless people hang out, therefore most homeless people are mentally ill." Homeless who are not mentally ill do not congregate together (why would you want to hang out with other people specifically because they are homeless?), mentally ill people and drug addicts like to hang out together.


This is selection bias of two kinds.

First, you are going to a known location which increases the concentration of one type of homeless person in space.

Second, you are looking at a particular point in time, which will increase your odds of seeing chronic homeless people versus people who have had a brush with homelessness.

Mental illness and drug addiction are absolutely a big part of the chronic homeless problem. Either as a cause (schizophrenic people are more likely to wind up homeless) or as a negative feedback loop (extended extreme stress can made addictive escapes more tempting, and can cause a psychotic break).

However drug use and mental illness are not the main things determining whether temporary homelessness becomes chronic homelessness. And programs that attempt to solve that should look very different than ones which try to help the chronic homeless.


I would say the same is true here in Toronto. Almost all the homeless I see appear to fit either of those two descriptors, either clearly mentally ill, drug users who are tweaking, or they have the signs of extreme drug use (visible scabs where they repeatedly inject), or are day drinking right there on the street. I'm not implying anything like they don't deserve help or whatever, I'm just agreeing that affordable housing or subsidies or something of that nature would have almost zero impact on homelessness IMO.


How do you know people don't become mentally ill or homeless after losing their home and their life spiralling out of control? Or perhaps that if you have a support structure you can manage mental illness?

If you don't have money or friends, what group housing would you find?

Why would you move to a different city, away from everyone you know, if you don't have a job to pay bills?


> How do you know people don't become mentally ill or homeless after losing their home

Because a substantial portion already have a history of mental problems before they became homeless, and typically they find themselves homeless because they reach adulthood and thus their primary caretaker either can't or won't be able to keep them off the streets. I personally know a couple of homeless individials that suffered from schizophrenia who found thenselves on the streets after their patents passed away.


People could also just call all homeless people mentally ill. I mean, they didn't pick themselves up by their bootstraps, right?

I think it's a cop-out to call most of the non-drug-addicted ones mentally ill, as a way of lumping them in with the drug addicts.


I don't believe these externalized 'throwing money at things' solves much.

What he can do is find innovative solutions within is own organization for the wellbeing of his own staff.

And given his power in the value chain, start to demand basic rights in the crap countries of the world where the crap he peddles is made.

Steve Jobs had so much power that literally in one, single email, in one sentence, could have changed workers rights globally. His supply chain would have had to bend to his specific requirements and it would have propagated. A simple 'charter of workers rights', you know, like the 'right to go to the bathroom' and to 'not be woken up in the middle of the night' etc. would have been nice to see.


Here's a Henry Rollins anecdote on how throwing money at tent cities might not be the best idea:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY2n4BYbgYE&t=23m51s



All hail to Bezos...

Earlier this year, under pressure from Amazon and other large employers, Seattle’s City Council repealed an employee head tax designed to provide housing and services for the homeless. In a statement, Amazon called the vote “the right decision for the region’s economic prosperity. We are deeply committed to being part of the solution to end homelessness in Seattle and will continue to invest in local nonprofits” that work with the homeless.

Oligarchy?


Speaking as a Seattle resident, and despite my dislike for Bezos, this was a stupid tax - more connected to Seattle's dysfunctional politics than solving our bad homeless problem. Among other things, it was keyed to revenues not profits (specifically to target Amazon) but it ended up burning the likes of grocers who provide decent jobs but don't have a lot of margin even with large revenues. Good riddance to it and a pox on our local Pol Pot that drove it.


Let's go back a little bit further in the history. In 2010, Washington took a shot at an income tax for individuals making over $200,000 a year. Bezos spent $100,000 to oppose that (along with a lot of other wealthy Washingtonians). Bezos also didn't support the Seattle income tax, although as far as I know he didn't spend money to oppose it.

The head tax was suboptimal and, yeah, stupid. Nobody would have proposed it if Seattle didn't have a regressive tax system. Compare us to Texas, another state with no income tax -- our property taxes are substantially lower. Seattle's infrastructure problems will continue because the city is underfunded to deal with them.

Anyhoo, I'm glad Bezos is spending this money on the homeless. I would recommend that he divert some of it to a deep dive into Seattle's problems. I think that committing to solve the problem in one city would yield insights that would be very valuable when he expands the program elsewhere.


Oh yeah, just like Prop 1 in Olympia WA in 2016/2017.

Prop 1 is an initiative to "help educate the children of Olympia", using a little tax to help pay for college tuition. So noble!

Except: it proposes a levy on households of $200K or more (not constitutional in Washington), is an income tax, also not constitutional in Washington, requires the city of Olympia to fund the administration with no enforcement clauses, and multiple groups have already announced that they intend to sue the City if it's passed (which it will, because it's a 'think of the kids' measure), and the City knows it won't win but could not get the measure struck off so is already budgeting for constitutional lawyers. Hell, the City doesn't have the authority to see these people's tax statements, so it'd rely entirely on self-reporting. It's just a mess.

So you look a bit closer, and who is pushing this bill? A group of locals just concerned about local education?

No. A bunch of multi-millionaires from Seattle who want to use this as a proving ground for their challenges to state taxation law. Of the top ten donors, not one has ever lived in the County, let alone the City, nor does any of them have any children who attended school in either. (Olympia, like most state capitals, is far smaller than the largest city in the state), which makes you wonder why they're not pushing this in Seattle/King County - probably because they don't want their own taxes going to fund the defense of a proposition that's very specifically unconstitutional.

"Think of the kids" at its worst.


> Bezos also didn't support the Seattle income tax, although as far as I know he didn't spend money to oppose it.

He did; Amazon was among the primary opposition (if we're talking about the same tax):

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/12/technology/seattle-tax-am...


The nytimes article you linked is about the 2018 head tax. There were earlier initiatives:

- 2017 - Seattle approved an income tax for high incomes, but was removed six months later after a court dispute - https://www.mossadams.com/articles/2017/december/seattle-inc...

- earlier years - there have been Washington state income taxes proposed over the years, which have been usually shut down. googling shows the last might've been Senate Bill 6559 in 2016 - https://www.theolympian.com/news/politics-government/article...

The inability to pass a city income tax or a state income tax has been part of the arguments for why a head tax was proposed in 2018 - it's not ideal, but everything else in the past has been rejected.

Yanis Varoufakis (fmr greek minister of finance) gave a talk in Seattle a few months ago talking about the head tax: https://youtu.be/Z0M24CEEMFk?t=2m16s


Thank you for this video. The anecdotes about Obama and the German finance minister are excellent!


As a Seattle resident, what do you think of the argument that Amazon greatly contributed to homelessness in Seattle?

I read somewhere that Amazon's explosive growth raised the property values in Seattle, which in turn caused a surge in homelessness. Is that true?


My 2 cents is that Amazon isn't a major cause. There's a few things going on(1):

- exploding drug addiction and related mental health issues

- Seattle does a remarkably crappy job of assigning the low income housing we build and/or contract for. Too many people get it who shouldn't qualify. Too many non-profits cherry pick their clients. Etc, etc.

- It's super hard to get coherent services out of the system. Which makes it self-selecting in the sense of concentrating the worst cases.

Amazon, to a certain degree, was/is part of running up the price of apartments and homes. Some homelessness is a consequence, but mostly that pushed people further (or totally out) of the area.

I'm not at all convinced that if we raise 2x the money, we'll spend it intelligently enough to make a difference here.

(1)My partner worked in the area homeless system and I'm getting a lot of my info from that.


> - exploding drug addiction and related mental health issues

I think cause and effect are backwards here. Low wages and high housing prices seem like they'd naturally lead to homelessness and rates of drug addiction and mental illness among the homeless, although very high compared to the general population, are nowhere near as high as people would like to think.


rates of drug addiction and mental illness among the homeless, although very high compared to the general population, are nowhere near as high as people would like to think.

Probably because nobody notices the clean, sane person living out of their car. We probably need better terminology, like functional vs. dysfunctional homeless, or something.


I feel like the reason it's so prevalent is less a question of terminology and more a question of absolution -- if, after all, the homeless have some immutable characteristic that makes them homeless, there's nothing society could have done for them.


We are talking about sentient people. Wages and housing prices may be an excuse, but they don't shove drugs down people's throats.

Mental illness - may be. But one needs to know if it's the cause, or simply an exposing factor.


I think these people are referring to those visible on the streets, and not living out of their car or in the shadows of homelessness. Oftentimes in Seattle the people who are visible are unfortunately in the worst shape, mentally or otherwise.


You don't have to be a drug addict to be homeless, the majority of homeless people are not, nor are the majority (or even a substantial minority) seriously mentally ill.


I don't think it's even controversial to say that people can turn to substance abuse due to adverse exogenous circumstances.


It is controversial by definition, because you just disagreed.


It's not controversial to say the sky is blue because you can turn up a couple people who say it is green. You've really never heard of people turning to drink or drugs because of, day, the death of a family member? You can't see why someone who sleeps rough might seek escape through psychoactive drugs?


People turn to drugs because they decide to. You might blame circumstances, but I will always blame people.


They are not literally forced to take drugs, but the idea of escaping reality is obviously more appealing if reality is unending misery.


> - exploding drug addiction and related mental health issues

Unless there's another reason we would expect mental health issues to increase I don't see why this would lead to more homelessness.

I also talked to one of the people in charge of a non profit for providing housing to the homeless and he was saying how the longer people stay homeless, the less likely it is that they will ever be able to integrate with society again.

I am much more inclined to believe homelessness is causing the mental health issues than vice versa. Or at least I don't see why Seattle's homeless problem would be caused by greater rates of mental illness than previously seen and compared to that of other cities.


As a fellow Seattle resident the arguments seem to break down this way: (From the left) 1) Amazon contributed to homelessness by increasing property values by paying too many engineers too much money 2) We don't have an income tax, so that increase in wealth does not come back to pay for services (From the right) 1) Enforcement of laws about sleeping in public spaces is very low so people feel comfortable being homeless here. 2) Increases of property taxes have increased rents leading people to not be able to afford rents (From both left and right) Housing developers are buying up as many cheap places as possible and turning them into high end houses that only the rich can afford muscling out people that could have both those cheaper places.

My take: If you isolate and fixated on one variable being the only cause of a problem, it's pretty easy to create a narrative, but the answer is probably more complicated and the solution is probably even more complicated.


What a bizarre world, when you're a villain for paying good wages.


It's a little tenuous to blame Amazon for this. Yes, the growth of Amazon raised demand, but the city's zoning laws are also to blame.

https://medium.com/@15kwhm2a/a-brief-history-of-seattles-ant... is very good. The Mises Institute has come to similar conclusions. When those guys and leftists agree, you gotta think there's something to it.


I recently moved away from Seattle but that seems correct to me.

I don't think the problem is REALLY Amazon's fault per se, since they are just paying people more than other companies in the area which I think most people would agree is a good thing.

I think the problem is more that we in the US treat housing as an investment which makes people more willing to pay higher prices and to borrow money to buy a house. When people see the housing prices increase then that further raises housing prices.

The issue is that housing prices, and subsequently rent, increasing is not a good thing for society. Even though the value of the house has changed, the house itself hasn't changed at all, and yet people now have less money to spend on other things. The only thing it really does is make banks and people who were already well off enough to buy a house wealthier.

Sadly I have no idea what we can do to solve this that isn't communist.


Homelessness is typically a mental health problem, not a property value problem


People always say this, but the problem is that it's not true. A majority of homeless people are not mentally ill.


This statement contradicts parent's. What is your source?


Here's one: http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-mentally-ill-homeless-201...

> A relatively small percentage of all homeless people nationwide — 13% to 15% — are mentally ill, but their symptoms — paranoia and delusions — draw attention and mislead others into thinking their numbers are greater, Culhane said.

> However, Los Angeles’ homeless population skews heavily to single adults who have lived in the streets a year or longer — a subgroup with a high incidence of mental health issues. Local authorities estimate that 30% of the county’s homeless people have serious mental illness.


you might want to check up on the actual breakdown of that specific head tax bill, there is a bunch of fairly neutral and level-headed discussions of it on Seattle subreddits. Tldr, it was really bad, as it hurt a bunch of small to medium sized local businesses that everyone uses, but somehow no one thought of when crafting the bill, and they were among the ones spearheading the repeal.

The only thing that bill illustrated to me personally is how ineffective and ridiculously bad Seattle government officials are. Passed with a 9-0 vote, repealed extremely shortly after with 7-2.


A head tax affects people other than Bezos too. It was not a popular tax, not surprised it was repealed.


I’m not opposed to new taxes, but that was a really poorly designed tax.


One is a decree, the other is a choice.

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