What I found interesting though, is the fact that the article never seemed to get into the question of whether he was right. Is that because the author considered it too obvious to warrant discussion, or because he didn't think it was relevant?
The tone of the piece feels like it's intended as a takedown, but the only actual criticism I noticed was here:
> we have decades of real-world evidence that demonstrates the disastrous costs of the “counterintuitive” anti-welfare agenda
But this came immediately after a section tracing this line of thinking back to some of the 20th centuries most respected thinkers, and after stating that this was now the default mode of analysis for policy wonks.
It reads like the author thinks they're administering the final blow after building up a damning case, and yet...
Keep the model's assumptions in mind when making decisions based on it.
Always remember that it's a model, and consequently always wrong (as measured against reality).
All models have to be fine-tuned over time, especially dynamic models (where the system being modeled is itself subject to change in structure, consequently invalidating the model).
If you emphasize that the model is just a model, and its assumptions (both for excluded factors and included ones), then you can make reasonable decisions guided by the model. If you fail to do that, you'll start to believe the reductionist model and make flawed decisions.
"Expert knowledge, of course, has an important place in democratic deliberation, but it can also cut people out of the policy process, dampen the urgency of moral claims, and program a sense of powerlessness into our public discourse."
> To Forrester, low-income housing was an especially egregious example of a “counterproductive” urban program. According to the model, these programs increased the local tax burden, attracted underemployed people into the city, and occupied land which might otherwise have been put to more economically healthy uses. Housing programs aimed at improving the condition of the underemployed, Forrester warned, “increased unemployment and reduced upward economic mobility” and would condemn the underemployed to lifelong poverty.
Where's the data to suggest this is false? In fact it seems to me like something that may hold true in data, even if deeper causes are at fault.
> but we have decades of real-world evidence that demonstrates the disastrous costs of the “counterintuitive” anti-welfare agenda
... with no evidence provided?
Overall they actually seem like pretty reasonable theories at face value and calling them crap without evidence doesn't seem like a good solution if there's a problem with them.
As I understand it, this article is implying that Forrester's model incorporated those as base truths, without particularly rigourous evidence to support them - hence the comment about his lack of social science credentials. (Whether Forrester actually had evidence to support his model I do not know, as I have not dug deeper.)
Note: I'm pro social housing as I have anecdotal evidence for how well it works, however that's in a completely different system than the US, where urban planning puts high importance on mixing up low-, medium- and even high income areas to create opportunities for social mobility.
Being that this is an internet forum, where people come to discuss things, there is no harm in preemptively presenting evidence to show why Forrester is wrong. There is nothing at stake here.
If he is wrong, it should be fairly trivial to find evidence showing why. I personally await this evidence because I find Forrester's model to be sound.
Why on earth would that be trivial? The social sciences have existed for a hundred years, yet there are few - if any - non-trivial law-like generalisations about the social world.
That's not really how models work. A model is a prediction about how the world works; you can't prove them true. Even if my model of wheat harvests or global warming or city growth, or stock mark volatility works for the past 10 years in backtests, and worked this year, it doesn't mean it'll work next year.
It's like machine learning; you can't prove it's going to give you the right answers going forward; all you can do is see if it gave you the right answers so far, and hope for the best.
If that basic piece of math is wrong, it needs to be proven - how do low income households contribute more than their fair share of city revenue for example? Does homelessness cause law enforcement issues to increase to a greater amount than low-income housing? Do low-income households produce more future earners that add up better for the city?
We need some data here to show that the basic economics of this don't actually add up if that's the claim being made, because from a basic economics perspective the argument logically and mathematically follows.
No doubt locating the actual sweet spot is impossibly complicated and it depends on the region but naive logic will not solve this problem, only experience and data will.
Not necessarily. It could cause/allow people to stay who would otherwise have left, to much the same effect.
You also have the opposite problem, because the same land could have been used for market rate housing, so you've prevented entry by new middle income people who could have brought more resources into the community.
A very large assumption lies here:
>Housing programs aimed at improving the condition of the underemployed, Forrester warned, “increased unemployment and reduced upward economic mobility” and would condemn the underemployed to lifelong poverty.
and completely ignores the benefits that public housing in a city can provide.
That is, housing can provide security and meet a basic need for those who may be struggling with many basic needs (food, employment, education, health).
Having this need met allows recipients to focus energy and money normally spent on housing on other issues, potentially reducing other costs and allowing them to progress out of poverty.
I think we can see the evidence there are benefits in examples at the furthest end of poverty - homelessness. Many cities found that it is cheaper to house the homeless and provide them social services, than to ignore them and treat the effects of homelessness issues (police and jail time for crimes, from desperation or untreated mental illness, emergency medical services for treating overdoses etc).
This is not even getting to the question of the purpose of government - it is not a business trying to achieve maximum profit, so why should it be seeking to drive out low-income residents?
Can I move somewhere that is run like a business trying to maximize profit? I think I'd far prefer it to my wasteful city...
Obviously poor people must move somewhere, so the end result is society has just conspired to make their poverty and misery government's permanent goal.
I think this attitude is fairly common in the US. Look how many people think punishments or burdens need to be attached to welfare, without any proof of fraud reduction. Things like mandatory drug testing, work requirements, restrictions to what TANF and SNAP and be spent on.
Instead we see cities without any sort of optimization, repeatedly trying failed ideas, flushing tax dollars down the toilet. "This clearly isn't working, let's just keep doing it" ought to be the slogan for many midsize cities.
We wish these systems were optimized, but they're not. If they were, we'd at least see pushes to get people to live closer to work, the rejection of NIMBYs in favor of multiunit developers in central areas while in distant areas we'd see rejection of developers in favor of improved transit.
Many areas in my city have terrible access by car or public transit because the city has kept pushing back road and transit improvements while allowing developers to keep going. It's gotten so bad a few developers were offering to do road widening for the city on an interest free loan as their property values were taking a hit due to a reputation for long commutes - unfortunately that fell through even, it's a mess, a completely unoptimized mess.
What he's referring to here is the poverty trap created by means tested assistance programs. You give someone housing provided they don't have hardly any income, but now they're stuck. Even if they now have more time to look for a job, they can't actually accept it or as soon as they do they're no longer eligible to live there and it causes them to become homeless again. And just because the job pays enough to disqualify them from the assistance program doesn't mean it pays enough to afford market rate housing there.
Especially when the job comes with costs -- you have transportation costs to get there and back every day, if you have kids you now have to pay for childcare because you're working instead of taking care of your kids yourself, you may lose eligibility for other government programs like food assistance at the same time, etc.
At best it means taking a $10/hour job would in practice net them something like $2/hour, which isn't much incentive to give up half your waking life commuting and working. At worst it actually costs more to take the job than it pays. So they don't take the job, never get any experience or contacts that could get them a better one, and are stuck in poverty indefinitely.
To get rid of that you have to get rid of the means testing, but giving everyone money exclusively for housing would only inflate housing costs for everyone. So what you need is for it to be unconditional all around, i.e. a UBI.
> I think we can see the evidence there are benefits in examples at the furthest end of poverty - homelessness. Many cities found that it is cheaper to house the homeless and provide them social services, than to ignore them and treat the effects of homelessness issues (police and jail time for crimes, from desperation or untreated mental illness, emergency medical services for treating overdoses etc).
It's important to distinguish between poverty and mental illness. If you have someone who is incurably mentally ill and has no family to care for them, it can make sense for the state to put a roof over their head rather than have them assaulting random people in the street all the time, because their situation isn't likely to change. What to do with people who can't ever be productive members of society is a hard problem.
People who are in poverty only because they're unskilled or unemployed is a completely different situation. What they need is economic opportunities, not assistance that gets cut out from under them as soon as they clear the first rung of the ladder.
And government housing is especially nefarious because it raises the price of market rate housing, so when you lose eligibility you're dumped into a market you can afford even less.
> This is not even getting to the question of the purpose of government - it is not a business trying to achieve maximum profit, so why should it be seeking to drive out low-income residents?
There is a case to be made for people living where they can afford to live. If you require government housing in Manhattan, it makes housing in Manhattan more expensive for everyone else, which prices out middle income people. It's also a crap use of government resources, because they're paying Manhattan housing costs to house lower income people that the people paying the taxes to fund them can't even afford themselves. And what's so wrong about having the people who can't afford to live in Manhattan just live in New Jersey? If that's what people at the 30th percentile income have to do, why shouldn't people at the 3rd percentile as well?
I'm sorry but that's arrant nonsense. Nothing follows from anything else independent of complex empirical assumptions about what people are doing and why they are doing it, and how to conceptualise the economy and social relations in the first place. It is not given by the ether of pure logic.
I don't see why this wouldn't also apply to low-income housing demand in this case - it's a fairly well proven economic model and if you want to say it's false in this case, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect at least a semblance of evidence.
Given that this model demonstrates the issue as well as the lower tax contributions based on property taxes and higher demand for social services in low income areas, well, it seems like a reasonable model.
"To Forrester, low-income housing was an especially egregious example of a “counterproductive” urban program. According to the model, these programs increased the local tax burden, attracted underemployed people into the city, and occupied land which might otherwise have been put to more economically healthy uses. Housing programs aimed at improving the condition of the underemployed, Forrester warned, “increased unemployment and reduced upward economic mobility” and would condemn the underemployed to lifelong poverty."
This involves six claims.
The creation of affordable housing would, per the quote:
1. Increase the local tax burden
2. Attract underemployed people
3. Foreclose a more profitable use of the land
4. Increase unemployment
5. Reduce social mobility
6. Condemn the underemployed to lifelong poverty.
You seem to be focused on only one of them, the least contentious and consequential - (2).
That would do nothing to support the claims you made in your last post, about the entire model following - "logically and mathematically" - from basic economics.
As for 5 and 6, yes, I agree those absolutely would demand more evidence, but it also seems like they're tertiary to the usefulness of the model here.
I'm not intending to defend it so much as I'd like to see why it should be struck down. As someone else pointed out here, some cities in higher tax areas attract more people than cities in lower tax areas - factors like that are what I'd like to have seen more of in the original post.
Point 1: Increase the local tax burden
Your response: "I don't think it's particularly contentious to say that a low-income person paying less in property tax means that a higher income person must pay more in tax to offer the same level of services".
This depends on the assumption that there is a zero-sum competition between rich and poor people. Every X number of poor people in a city, represents a subtraction of an equivalent number of rich people. Because rich people are presumably in a higher tax bracket, they pay more per person that do poor people. But there's no reason to think that there is a zero-sum competition between rich and poor people. That depends on complex empirical questions like the division of labour in the city, the availability of land and housing, if low-skill labour will attract businesses, and so on. And the fact that a poor person might not pay as much in taxes as a rich person does not make them a tax "burden" in any sensible use of that term - they may be net contributors.
> Every X number of poor people in a city, represents a subtraction of an equivalent number of rich people
No such logic like this is required - the more people who live in a city but don't contribute their share of taxes, the higher the taxes are for everyone who does. I'm talking strictly about people who are not net contributors - I think you'd be hard pressed to find people in low-income housing projects who are, the housing alone has significant cost and upkeep of it often falls on the city.
That's not to say it has no benefits of course, bringing people out of poverty can be powerful and useful economically, but if I were to state the opposite is true - that we should be decreasing taxes by building more low income housing, you'd look at me like I'm crazy unless I presented some seriously compelling evidence.
Instead they seemed to critique it with no data...
The final paragraph spells out, I think, what the subheading hinted at with "dangerously influential". This is ultimately a political polemic.
This is one of the most interesting sentences to me. I have long been convinced that the efforts to reduce behaviour and models down to pure numbers, and disregard the human element - whether willfully or through ignorance or naivety), are more harmful than we think.
I think we are seeing similar things with how the attempt to 'personalise' services like news by crunching user behaviour into 'predictive' algorithms has led to the rise of echo chambers and fake news.
Or, I suppose you could consider the attempts to reduce bundles of derivatives to simple algorithms, that largely led to the 2008 financial crisis.
It seems a particularly human thing to assume we know far more about what's going on than we actually do.
I haven’t played the game, but I always thought of the pollution/conflict dynamic and renewables being more safe (but harder to get right) as a statement on environmental policy.
The real benefit of solar in the game is frame rate.
Also, solar is the easiest energy source to get right. Just add solar panels if you brown out during the day, and accumulators if you black out at night (or lookup/compute the solar/accumulator ratio; and lets face it, if you are playing Factorio, you probably already did). Burning fuel for power has all of the logistics problems of keeping your fuel supply saturated (plus boiler/generator/pump ratios). And nuclear can get as complicated as you care to make it.
So I wouldn't say the mechanic doesn't work, for me it made a lot of sense.
The core argument (which is alluded to in the Logic Magazine article) is that in the 1960s when computers were beginning to be integrated into companies and governments, there was a strong desire to have the computer solve all the world’s problems. Of course, the problems were not well understood (and still often aren’t), while at the same time the computers were woefully underdeveloped. Therefore simplifications were made so that the computer could calculate something that looked somewhat reasonable. Of course the models were symplistic, and the data encoding symplistic and biased as well. But hey, the computer “solved” the problem, and as we all know, “Computers don’t make mistakes.” Eventually (and Forrester encouraged) the simplistic world was confused for an actual complete description of the real one. Most damningly, industrial leaders and politicians, started trying to make people and society fit the simplistic model, instead of improving the models to better fit society. Why? Well, there was a computer model made by Very Smart Men(tm), and it gave cover for what was already decided, so it must be right.
It’s as if the proverbial dairy farmer that received the report that begins, “Suppose you have a spherical cow...”, started selective breeding and cutting his cows to optimize for sphericality, as opposed to milk production, because the report says “spherical cows.”
It’s a similar pattern we’re seeing play out with ML, where the assumption is that the classifier is correct regardless of its actual performance.
I think this line in particular really demonstrates the resistance to ideological debate on the left (to say nothing of resistance on the right which I think has a different character). It’s like, these ideas that aren’t already part of your ideology are discredited because you assume they come from a place of bad-faith.
If you refuse to engage with someone’s ideas (who supposedly wants to solve the same problems you do!) because you’ve already assumed they’re evil- that seems like a pretty dangerous mindset to me.
But the real question is: does it simulate what we know or what works best?
Ofcourse I think it simulates what we know which might not be the best for people.
When you read the works of Christopher Alexander you will get the feeling that we need to redesign our areas. And this is not what a sim simulates..
The better model may be intractable to fit (so complex that we lack enough data to train it). Or, it may be fittable but not easy to understand, e.g. a neural network model.
Why is this controversial, or, for that matter, an assumption? There's plenty of studies demonstrating correlation between income and fertility... or are they implying that the correlation is only meaningful nation-wide, not within any particular city?
Meadows provides lots of food for thought, and I think I could make my workplace better if I figured out how to apply some of the ideas she expresses. I'm not convinced that all of her reasoning is very rigorous, and I suppose that matches the feelings of the author of this article, not that I think he does a great job of rigor either. Once the fine article extended its ideas from city planning to no platforming, without apparent irony, or data, I got the yawn.
Just look at the mayhem easy to obtain government backed student loans have caused in "higher" education - skyrocketing tuition and a bachelors degree being worth about the same as a high school diploma was in the 80's. But now with crippling debt for new graduates.
Yeah! But we are improving things!
This is a problem that, as far as I can tell, exists mostly in America. I doubt this is a problem in European countries where tuition is mostly free or extremely low cost to begin with.
Maybe the key for effective social programs is not to apply a bandaid but to fix the root cause.
The problem with anything is when you choose something you choose it's benefits and it's detriments. The other problem is that everything has benefits and detriments. So, no matter what you set the knobs, dials, switches and sliders to you always make things simultaneously better and worse. Sadly there isn't a solution to this problem, instead we just politic about things in and endless tug of war so that we are occasionally not on the losing end.