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U.S. house prices are rising exponentially faster than income (realestatewitch.com)
507 points by MrWiffles 28 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 834 comments



When you make housing an investment, by definition, it has to become less affordable in the future.

Until a country decides to stop making policy to support this notion that a basic need should be an appreciating asset and not a depreciating one like food, transportation, etc, this completely unsurprising trend will continue. It is a strange world we live in where we collectively believe that a basic need should increase in price over time.


I think it's not a coincidence that, over in the metaverse threads, there is discussion about creating intentional artificial scarcity in a world of natural abundance, as the basis for a new economy.

Even when there's plenty to go around for everyone, it seems we'd rather not let that happen.


It's not that new idea. See Intellectual Property in its many forms. For some reason, when we try to figure how to manage abundant resources, only solutions we come up with are to make them artificially scarce. Which makes really little sense. But then, economics is a "science"[1] of scarcity, not abundance, and somehow economics is the main science used to solve how the society should be arranged.

[1] I have a strong feeling that economists have missed the memo from Popper regarding what is modern science. There seems to be quite a lot of unfalsifiable assumptions lying at the bottom of economics, starting from the utility maximizing agent.


> But then, economics is a "science"[1] of scarcity, not abundance, and somehow economics is the main science used to solve how the society should be arranged.

I have an economics degree. I'm not claiming to be an economist here at all, but I'm mentioning it because it's relevant to what I'm about to say here: What I learned throughout my undergraduate education is that economics is a social science built upon the _presumption_ of scarcity.

Classical economics doesn't apply if you break that invariant. We need something else if we achieve post-scarcity, and I'm not sure that it'd be another existing mainstream economic school of thought.

Note that I'm not disagreeing with you - your point is valid. I'm agreeing on the "create artificial scarcity" response that you're observing. I suppose what I'm trying to say is, whatever other unfalsifiable assumptions you're pointing at in economics shouldn't matter because the broken scarcity invariant breaks the rest of it. Trying to use an economic argument in a post-scarcity scenario is, to me, applying the wrong tool for the job in order to preserve a specific interest. That's my opinion, anyway, and I'm sure someone else who has more experience or education in the field beyond my 4 year degree 20 years ago could tell me I'm wrong.


There will always be scarcity of time.


And intelligence, skilled labor, organizational capacity, and especially wisdom.


...and, as long as we don't revert our 'farming' practices to pre-industrialization means, lack of soil health.


> There seems to be quite a lot of unfalsifiable assumptions lying at the bottom of economics, starting from the utility maximizing agent.

That and other elements of rational choice theory are not unfalsifiable. In fact, some of them were from the outset not merely falsifiable but known false but tentatively held as useful approximations over large populations. In fact, in the scientific part of economics (and other social sciences; rational choice theory has wide impacts), the debate has long been over whether the rational choice model is a still even useful reference point against which to mark variations, given the extensive degree to which it has proven false. (OTOH, a number of higher-level phenomenon predicted by they model have proven predictively useful even though the lower-level model is known false.)

Of course, some of economics (e.g., the Austrian school) is overtly driven by a normative ideological agenda rather than pursuing descriptive, empirical science.


>That and other elements of rational choice theory are not unfalsifiable.

>Of course, some of economics (e.g., the Austrian school) is overtly driven by a normative ideological agenda rather than pursuing descriptive, empirical science.

This is actually one reason the Austrian school criticises the neoclassical school. The neoclassical school is just as much founded on ideological assumptions as the Austrian school (main difference is cardinal vs ordinal utility), as it's impossible to have a "theory of value" without some underlying philosophical notion of value. However the neoclassical school hides this value system under so many layers of maths in an attempt to convince people it's a real, objective science like physics or chemistry.

There is a form of economics that makes testable predictions with a reasonably high degree of accuracy, and isn't based on any underlying ideology: it's called "quantitative finance".


> as it's impossible to have a "theory of value" without some underlying philosophical notion of value.

But mainstream empirical economics, including (but not limited to) the neoclassical school, does not have a theory of value. It makes predictions based on hypotheses of how individuals act given the existence of individual subjective value systems. There are plenty of valid criticisms to be made, but this is just projection by the Austrian school.

You can layer an infinite number of possible idealized value systems on top of any mainstream economic theory to get a policy theory (and there's almost as many of those that have been layered on it as people making policy recommendations incorporating mainstream economic analysis, but that is a separate layer.

> There is a form of economics that makes testable predictions with a reasonably high degree of accuracy, and isn't based on any underlying ideology: it's called "quantitative finance".

QF is to economics as meteorology is to climatology.


>But mainstream empirical economics, including (but not limited to) the neoclassical school, does not have a theory of value.

It does; it assumes utility exists as some concrete thing that can be compared between individuals. The fact you weren't aware of that just shows how good mainstream economics is at hiding this. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utility#Discussion_and_critici...


> That and other elements of rational choice theory are not unfalsifiable

Can you give an example what could you do to prove me that you do not maximize your utility? I mean, regardless how stupid thing you come up, I can always say "but that's what you chose to do, so that obviously was your preferred course of action and obviously you were then maximizing your utility"

I really hope there is discussion whether rational choice is useful, but the problem is that that discussion does not (yet) descend to the level of MBA economics and below. And that is unfortunately the level where politics are made.


Lots of times.

Sometimes I oversleep accidentally, as an obvious example.

Or when I make short-term decisions like being lazy and laying on the couch watching trash, that hurts my long term utility and prevents me from maximizing it.

Or all the times where I'm not smart/awake enough to choose the option that will maximize my utility.


> For some reason, when we try to figure how to manage abundant resources, only solutions we come up with are to make them artificially scarce.

There are other solutions that have been seriously considered or proposed. For example in copyright one idea is to allow things to be freely copied and have some rich entity pay creators. This was how it was done a long time ago, with the rich entity usually being a king or a ruler of a city-state or a wealthy lord.

Another idea is to pay creators via some tax on something that is roughly correlated with copying. An example would be a tax on blank tape.

A problem with these approaches is deciding who gets paid and how much. In the tax approach not many people seem to like the idea of the government deciding which artists should get funded. The usually way to avoid that is to have it based on how many copies are made. But then you need some way to get that data.

You could do it via some kind of polling. That was probably the only way back when copying was mostly physical, such as copying a record to a cassette tape. Nowadays when it is mostly digital you could do it by server side monitoring on download/streaming sites and/or device-side monitoring of playback--but then you are getting into areas that will worry many people for being an opening to more general surveillance.

For ordinary physical goods we don't have these problems--a free market (even the poor approximation of a free market that we have) works pretty good for determining what to produce. But that only works if the goods have certain properties, which copies of art do not have. (If anyone wants more information, look into excludable vs non-excludable goods and rival vs non-rival goods).

The approach of current copyright law is to legally give copies those properties so that the market can determine what art gets produced and how much the artist makes. This is a tradeoff, because it does mean that the consumer pays more for copies than the "correct" free market price (marginal cost of copying).

The other approaches mentioned above tend to make the tradeoff the other way--the consumer pays marginal cost of copying, but less art gets produced than consumers would like.

There's not really any way to avoid having either underproduction or underutilization when it comes to easily copyable art. Once you realize this things make a lot more sense.


If you implemented a Land Value Tax, all of the surplus value provided by something would be captured by that tax, and you could then subsidize a part of the positive externality using that tax.

One way to do so with IP/information/open source software, would be to give everyone access to just about all IP, but then when a surplus value is not known and needs to be accessed, you give people an option of what they value it. Get a statistically significant sampling group, then pick some percentage of the sampled group should get access, say 95%, and then query them using a Vickrey auction system what their true value is. The people who have the lowest 5% value don't get access to that item for some period. For everyone above 95%, they all pay that bottom 5% price for access to it, not their bid, like a Vickrey auction.

In this way only 5% of the sampled group, which may be 1% of the population lose access, and yet you still get to figure out the range of values throughout the population for that thing because Vickrey auction's incentivize that you bid your true value. Take some weighted average of the bid values and subsidize the IP owner with those funds.


I wonder how people would value openssl...


> The other approaches mentioned above tend to make the tradeoff the other way--the consumer pays marginal cost of copying, but less art gets produced than consumers would like.

This is what proponents of IP claim. Many even think it is so obvious that there is no need for evidence, but anyway, I'd be keen to see some evidence for the claim.

I can think of a handful of immaterial goods that are not under IP (e.g food recipes and financial innovations). What is common on those is that I am quite happy with the amount available of those immaterial goods (what comes to financial innovation, one might argue that there have been a bit too much of that at some point of our history)


> The other approaches mentioned above tend to make the tradeoff the other way--the consumer pays marginal cost of copying, but less art gets produced than consumers would like.

One can infer a smaller supply of art, assuming standard economic assumptions. Some human activities seem to me not to be driven by these assumptions. Stories of artists who create what they seem to be driven to create, not what potential customers want at that moment.

Time is a scarce resource, both for creators and consumers. Some of us get more time than others, but we each get 24 hours per day; in that respect there is equality.

Under what conditions or assumptions might there be "enough" art created and copied?


Problem is your entire argument is based on assumptions with absolutely no scientific base. Why do you assume there is an economic problem in producing content? Why does it need solving? I call bullshit, there is no inherent trade off to balance. My theory is that we could remove all intellectual property laws and once the dust settles only objectively good things would come out of it.

It’s not a bit more scientific than your argument. I do believe it’s true. But that is precisely my point. Whatever theory underlies IP and it’s benefit to society is entirely based in speculation.


> This is a tradeoff, because it does mean that the consumer pays more for copies than the "correct" free market price

Important to keep in mind that it's not just a tradeoff because it increases marginal cost, it's a tradeoff because it outright restricts the creation of new content.

In creative industries, it means that creators are sometimes unable to build on or adapt creative work to apply to new situations or to expand on artistic ideas. Many market consequences extend from this restriction for better and for worse -- there's a reason why Nintendo games don't work on PCs or have certain accessibility features, there's a reason why backing up save data for many of their games is still a giant pain in the neck, and it's because it's illegal for other companies to create those features for Nintendo games.

IP law also has the consequence of drastically raising the barrier of entry to creating new IP, since assets and universes can't be reused or repurposed without contracts.

And of course, this also has the consequence that certain utility innovations can't happen -- E-Readers in particular have been hobbled for a long time, not just because of patent law but because existing platforms are allowed to make it illegal to transfer legally purchased books into different ecosystems. This reduces market competition in the space, artificially driving up the cost of not just the content itself, but also much of the hardware used to consume that content. There are a lot of things we could build in the E-Reader space around universal annotations, accessibility features like live-reading, etc. IP law restricts a lot of that stuff, you may not build a competing E-Reader that reads EBooks purchased on Amazon.

This obviously has consequences for the market itself; by embracing IP law, we have chosen to effectively kill off and completely eliminate competition in several areas of the free market, while making it illegal to build some meta-layers on top of platforms without enormous amounts of capital and negotiation power.

But it also obviously has cultural consequences since building on top of existing work and sharing cultural experiences (including stories) is something that is basically built into our DNA as human beings.

So we can debate whether there are advantages to IP law and whether they're wortwhile, but I do want to push back a little bit on the idea that marginal cost is the main consequence of Copyright. It's not, Copyright is a choice we've made to artificially eliminate certain parts of the market and to make certain projects and innovations practically impossible to build by anyone other than the biggest players in the market. It's not just about books getting more expensive, Copyright is a system with real tradeoffs, it increases the production of a specific kind of art at the tradeoff of drastically reducing the production of other kinds of art, and at the cost of shaping how art gets distributed and consumed and what things we can do with it, even privately.


I've seen socialists advocate for a "public Spotify" that offers free streaming for all music and pays artists itself, likely with significant subsidies; lots of governments want to subsidize the arts, and such a service would be an excellent way to do so.

It doesn't seem like that bad of an idea, if we take as given that a government service could actually provide as a good of a product as the modern streaming platforms do.


Stream count fraud would be much more offensive if the money being paid out was taxpayer money.


18F would kill that!


The "value" that economics maximizes is wealth-weighted (in the sense of who gets to determine what is valuable and what is not).

Understanding this fact has led me to a thousand and one horrible "that's a feature, not a bug" realizations.


In my mind resolving this is the next level for democracy.


> For some reason, when we try to figure how to manage abundant resources, only solutions we come up with are to make them artificially scarce.

If resources truly do not have scarcity, there is no need to manage them. The need to manage a resource comes about only when it is scarce.


This strikes me as diluting the point to irrelevance. The vast majority of resources are abundant only provisionally when they are well-managed.

In fact, I can't think of any resources so abundant that they need no management. Even the oceans and the sky must be managed now, eh?


> In fact, I can't think of any resources so abundant that they need no management.

Digital data.


Ah, good point.

> The vast majority of resources are abundant only provisionally when they are well-managed.

That's not abundance at all, its just scarcity.

> In fact, I can't think of any resources so abundant that they need no management.

Yes, scarcity is universal, which is why the idea of “post-scarcity” or resources that need managed in a categorically different way because they don't experience scarcity are nonsense.


There's a huge subfield, called behavioral economics, in which economists study the ways human behavior deviates from utility maximization. It's been around for 70 years or so.


I think this thread is correct on the artificial nature of the scarcity. I had an epiphany that this is what we are doing in the stock market (via tax codes and retirement plans), and something similar in the housing market via credit schemes (typically govt backed).

In the stock market, there is an evergrowing pool of securities getting sequestered away into pension schemes and RRSPs. You can change what security you are in, but people/funds seldom get out of the market. When you cash our of your retirement (before actual retirement), there are huge tax disincentives to do so. For housing, people generally have a progression as they move to larger houses (as they have more kids, or kids get older). If all houses continue to get expensive, you just always stay in the housing market (well, until you go to a retirement home or expire).

Both seem to remind me of the classic definition of a ponzi scheme, except housing is a basic necessity. We are basically saying there is an evergrowing mountain of wealth - you just can't spend it till you retire.


Fundamentally, if you boil any growth based asset down its going to be a “ponzi scheme” in architecture but not in intent.

Growth is natural, given that there are more people born, more money is printed and the economy expands to add jobs to meet those needs.

So yes, if tomorrow, no one else was born, a lot of systems would fall apart. Because growth would stall and liquidity would soon disappear as the last sellers find the last buyers.

There are disincentives around divesting your retirement funds because at that age you probably won’t have the physical capacity to work anymore. So encouraging investment into a vehicle that has shown generational abilities to generate growth and returns and beat deflationary effects seems only logical. The government creates this behavior by agreeing not to tax some income if you invest in your retirement.

However, this isn’t scarcity, stock markets are probably one of the most liquid assets on the planet besides literal cash.

If an economy is inherently inflationary then asset prices will literally always have to increase. In my mind this is less about house prices rising and more about the centralization of well paying jobs within specific economic hubs. There are millions of homes and hundreds of thousands of acres of lands that are practically worthless, but aren’t actually viable candidates because until recently you had to commute and the land lacked investment into the necessary infrastructure to support those jobs.

I’ve seen some arguments that no one wants live in small towns. And I don’t necessarily disagree, because the centralization of talent, competition and investment is often what makes large cities attractive. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the fundamental aspect that all large cities were once small towns.

If companies or individuals aren’t willing to take a risk and move to underdeveloped areas, then it seems only logical that scarcity will be created in centralized pockets and prices will be driven up doesn’t it?

Lastly, this idea that an object that for most people will be the most expensive purchase they ever make should be a static or deflationary asset is not something I understand. Home ownership isn’t cheap between maintenance and property taxes. Ideally those costs should be recouped somehow.


> I’ve seen some arguments that no one wants live in small towns. And I don’t necessarily disagree, because the centralization of talent, competition and investment is often what makes large cities attractive.

I prefer small town life, and I'm sure many others do too. One upside of the pandemic is that with more companies getting comfortable with remote work, centralization of talent is not quite as big a deal as before.


Its a great point, I wasn't taking a pot shot at small town life. :)

Just if everyone wanted to live in a small town, there would be a ton of medium size towns instead.


There are a lot of newly medium-sized towns, they're just in suburbs proximate to Salt Lake City, DFW, Jacksonville ... that don't frequently intersect with the HN interest space.


Good comment. Also, density of people makes a very big difference in quality of life. If you upzone the popular western US cities to fit everyone in the world that wanted to live there, it would inherently change the quality of life. Obviously, whether or not people that already own land there should have some type of priority on deciding who and how many people get to live there is a political problem probably as old as the human race.


Denser cities seem to be even more expensive than less dense cities (eg New York, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Melbourne, etc…). So my guess is that denser cities already provide higher quality of life that people are bidding up.

Eventually the government can only intervene with middle class public housing (eg in Singapore and a lesser extent Hong Kong).


It is more nuanced than simple denser cities are more expensive than less dense. Some parts and some dwellings of denser cities are more expensive, but it also depends on other available options for the population.


Ya, the slums of Manila and Mexico City are pretty affordable compared to the formal housing market. But I’m not sure that we s a good thing. Most developed countries also don’t allow for such places (anymore?).


If they own their land they have a massive amount of control in regards to what gets done on that land


Obviously. But they also have an interest in controlling how many people they run into on their trails and how long the lines are for the ski lifts at Tahoe.


They have an interest in the same way that people that are trying to move there do


Yes, which is why I said giving them political priority on distributing this limited resource is a very old political problem.


> Growth is natural, given that there are more people born, more money is printed and the economy expands to add jobs to meet those needs.

Yes and no. Does that mean houses have to get bigger? Cars more "luxurious" and complicated (read: expensive)? Or higher education - for the same degree - also disproportionately more expensive?

Or are all these "givens" simply bad assumptions that have been nomalized?


Houses/Condos are actually getting smaller in most cities to accommodate newer entrants and add density. Yet prices keep rising.

Honda and Toyota built an absolutely massive market building low cost, reliable cars that have sold by the millions. Low end cars get more complex, because we find ways to make them safer which requires more technology.

You won't find an argument from me on education. I'm a firm believer in public education and that education is a cornerstone to providing economic mobility in any society. I wish our public universities were the crown jewels of the country and provided a low cost tuition to any student.

My only push back on the first two, is that it's not just growth in terms of the absolute size or quantity. It's just growth in terms of the monetary system which results in "growth" of the asset price.


>... a vehicle that has shown generational abilities to generate growth and returns and beat deflationary effects ...

The stock market? "Appears to show" - FIFY. I'm reminded of the periodic 401(k) presentations at our company before I retired; the pitchperson would always put up the same, tired, old, vague graph of the stock market rising at a 45-degree angle from the Great Depression to the present time. But that's not really true, is it? Indexes like the DJIA are mathematical models that get reformulated periodically and the suite of companies included in an index also changes over time. I believe this is called cherry-picking the data.

Actual investors in individual stocks or mutual funds have no guarantee of generational growth, of course. In NYT's Justin Fox's book about the stock market, IIRC, he said that equity mutual funds had an annual average growth rate a little above 2% between 1984 and the early 2000s, while the S&P 500's annual growth rate averaged about 12%. (Dates and growth rates are approximate as I don't have the book at hand). 401(k)ers didn't exactly make out like bandits.


> he said that equity mutual funds had an annual average growth rate a little above 2% between 1984 and the early 2000s, while the S&P 500's annual growth rate averaged about 12%

That certainly sounds wrong, but even if it isnt, its a weird comment. Pretty much every 401k or other investment program will have the option to invest in a SP500 fund, or some other broad market US equity fund. If you want the returns of SP500, you can buy SP500. Maybe it was more complicated than that in 1984, but its not now.


Oh, wait, you are claiming that the retirement bubble is correlated with the stock market bubble, and you are making a pretty good point for it.

That's scary.


Did someone say ponzi scheme?

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27585207


Interesting point! And in fact, since you can pass along most assets to your heirs without taxation, even your death won’t prompt a sale.


People don’t want to pay for things that are infinite. People who make digital things want to be paid. You end up either with drm or tokenization.


The entire early stage internet raises its hands and says "w'oah there!!! we could have been paid for all that?"


Most of them were CS researchers funded by DARPA, so they were paid for it.


Nah, I'm talking about the rest of us dossers ... who spent years creating on the early internet for absolutely no reward.

Creativity was its own reward.

Just need the AI robots to feed us and we can stop worrying about the monetisation of digital assets.


This is, and has been the cost for early-adoption in practically all successful inventions / products.

The reward was the fact that something you did had permanence in a way that allowed others who knew how to see or interact with "it".

Now anyone with a phone can create and consume (and acknowledge). Taking that for granted was the 2010s. I suspect the 2020s will be about getting paid for it - and what better fuel than a COVID imposed lockdown to stoke the young blaze?

I'm waiting for those robots too!


Isn't it the other way? We're creating artificial abundance (requiring the currency to unboundedly grow) in a system with real and artificial limits (construction capacity, labor capacity, permitting and zoning drag) that forces people into either doing something individually wise but socially stupid (turning a need into an investment) or fall off the devaluation treadmill


Greedy and already rich people at Facebook would rather not let that happen. There are plenty of 'we' that do not like or want artificial scarcity.

When my kids want Robux I try to explain that they are paying real money to see their screen light up in a certain way and nothing more.


Does your Robux argument extend to e.g. digital movie rentals? App purchases?

All software and media purchases can boil reductively down to "paying money to see a screen light up in a certain way".


How we define value is a great question. To your point I'm, and my kids, the answer varies. I guess personally I do not value buying the latest outfit for my avatar in the same way I value Excel.


So buying a book is paying real money to watch black ink on paper? I don’t think so.


Why use 'we'? What is it that you did?

If you have Blackrock and Vanguard buying up 20% of homes in the US at above market rates, that would do it.


Owning houses is a ridiculously profitable opportunity. Ridiculously profitable opportunities don’t get left lying around. That’s rather the point of capitalism.

What “you” did is oppose higher-density construction, which means the homes that exist today are the homes everyone in the future has to compete for, if they want to live near population centers. NIMBYism makes the profit that attracts the sharks.


My understanding is these types of investors own less than 1% of homes in the US. Is that not true?


As others have said, our entire way of thinking is predicated on lack. Or, as it was said by The Watchowski Sisters in The Matrix:

> Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.


> creating intentional artificial scarcity in a world of natural abundance

Which is essentially what Bitcoin does. There is a natural abundance of numbers but crytocurrency protocols make some more scarce/valuable than others.


Same as any other system of fiat money or company stock.


Neither of those are scarce, or artificially so for that matter.

1. A company can create more shares but the number of shares has nothing to do with the value of your holdings. The shares are not scarce, but the supply is controlled by the company in response to its need raise capital. It's not arbitrary.

2. Fiat money, by definition, has value by decree. It serves to provide liquidity to loans and other obligations within the economy. The amount of money relative to demand for payments, loans etc. in the economy determines how much a $ is worth. It's not scarce or printed willy-nilly, but rather to keep the economy going and maintain relatively stable prices. Again not arbitrary and therefore not artificially scarce.

Bitcoin is scarce because the number in existence is arbitrary/predetermined and doesn't change in response to demand, hence its extreme volatility.


Someday we'll invent cheap 3D printers that make food from dirt, and then half of humanity will starve to death.


That's a different Neal Stephenson novel.


you mean plants? this guy is doing cool things with hydroponics https://ezgrogarden.com/backyard-garden/sage-mind-homestead-...


> over in the metaverse threads, there is discussion about creating intentional artificial scarcity in a world of natural abundance, as the basis for a new economy.

Which isn't new (neither is mistaking a clear case of natural scarcity in an unfamiliar structure for natural abundance; the metaverse is limited by all the traditional dimensions of computing/information capacity—energy, processing capacity, storage, etc.—and it won't take long, if it actually exists in a usable form, before exploiting the superficial abundance results into usage running headlong into the real natural scarcity; artificial scarcity will be superfluous.)


Land, near where the jobs are, isn't in abundance. And were it, resources like freeways will constrain unbounded growth with horrendous traffic patterns.

I don't think anyone is intentionally putting their finger on the scale when it comes to real-estate prices.

Maybe, and this is not from any data I can pull up, it is those with deep pockets buying additional properties as investments/rentals. And now we have huge corporations flipping, building rental homes on a massive scale.... The only solution I can see is to tax the living hell out of 3rd, 4th properties (etc.).


Local NIMBYs and landlords love constrained supply. They leverage zoning codes, claims about aesthetics, parking and traffic concerns, and worst of all affordability percentages to constrain local supply so that their home values and rental incomes will rise. This happens with so much political strategem that the only obvious thing about it is how vested and deliberate it is.


Tijuana doesn't have those problems, and yet for some reason people that can afford it prefer to live in San Diego. Maybe ultra high density isn't that great? It certainly isn't if you want to swim anywhere near the Tijuana river.


Only one of those places has rule of law.


Yet when we look at ultra dense cities around the world where parking or traffic aren’t concerns (because of good public transit), the housing prices become even more crazy.


They are. Single family zoning and minimum lot sizes make it illegal to respond to market signals for more housing supply.


> Land, near where the jobs are, isn't in abundance.

Sure it is, because the jobs are everywhere internet is.

Semi-rural and rural property values should roughly follow fiber and Starlink rollouts.


There are many jobs that require physical presence. The whole world isn't made up of IT workers...


And they have to be performed all in a city center?


They don't have to but it's more efficient to do so.


They have to be performed near where other people are, yes.


> the jobs are everywhere internet is.

How many jobs in the U.S. can be done from the internet?

We should recognize from time to time that not everyone is an "information worker" like us and all our co-workers. In fact, we are few and are among an elite.


> Sure it is, because the jobs are everywhere internet is.

How does an ICU nurse take care of a patient over the Internet? How does a cashier ring through groceries of a shopper over the Internet?


Uhm yeah not everybody wants to live in the country side.


Every city used to be countryside once upon a time.


wealth prefers a zero sum game, in order to gain something, you have to take it from someone else. But we've been in a positive sum society since industrialization where each person can add to our collective innovation. Sadly keeping people in squalor keeps wealth happy, where we could be so much farther ahead if people weren't forced into poverty. I say it that way, but we only see a huge growth in everything when more people add to the pot. Like stone soup.


Fun fact: whenever you see digital assets that are sufficiently "land-like", you tend to see digital land/housing crises!

https://www.gamedeveloper.com/business/digital-real-estate-a...


We'd rather not? Or "they'd" rather not? They as in the status quo, their power, and their tools (e.g., waving the carrot as the rats run on the wheel?).

There's plenty of we who want to see change. But not enough of us. There are still too many who buy into the web of the narrative spun by The They.


This is literally how “difficulty” in crypto mining works too, and it’s why PoW systems are so asinine/inefficient.


there are multiple ways to achieve consensus, but yes POW sucks.


This is essentially one of the same points Marx made. Capitalism is often really good at dealing with shortages but it will also perpetually create its own unless kept in check by countervailing forces.


Didn't Marx think that Capitalism would end once we were near or at post-scarcity? Seems we'll never be there, because capital will just find ways to artificially create scarcity.


Marx would certainly be surprised that we have so much more abundance than he dreamed of, while ordinary people still say "the economy must continue to grow". He expected people to demand basic food and shelter in such a society.

He would look at our weak but non-zero safety nets and say, "You can do so much better," and note that if they didn't exist then Capitalism would have ended a long time ago.

So I don't know what he'd predict from here. We're in a semi stable state, looking at a potentially more stable one but very afraid of it and even more afraid of upsetting the status quo. But if things got worse -- and they keep threatening to -- that would turn the semi stable state real unstable real quick.


I doubt he'd be too surprised at the state of modern day America.

He might be surprised at the extraordinary high level of false consciousness given the relative freedom of access to information (belief in the American dream, etc.) but he likely wouldnt look at it and think "there's a country on the verge of communism" just because of the high level of material wealth.


I don't think he'd be surprised at America either.

He wrote about America at some length, and accurately pointed out that America's ties to Europe would only last as long as there was free land west of the original colonies to take and give to its growing population, after which America would develop a factory working proletariat just as Europe had after the decline of feudalism, and then be far less welcoming of European immigrants as it sought to preserve the wealth the existing residents had built for themselves. In that respect his theory was proven true. Capital, not any sort of continental or feudal allegiance or concern for the future, would be the driving ideology.

"Money, then, appears as this distorting power both against the individual and against the bonds of society, etc., which claim to be entities in themselves. It transforms fidelity into infidelity, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, servant into master, master into servant, idiocy into intelligence, and intelligence into idiocy.

Since money, as the existing and active concept of value, confounds and confuses all things, it is the general confounding and confusing of all things – the world upside-down – the confounding and confusing of all natural and human qualities."

-- Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, "The Power of Money"


No, he though capitalism would end because of its "internal contradictions" which, in his opinion, led to an ever growing divergence between the haves and have-nots.

In a post-scarcity world capitalism would make no sense, because there would be no need for an economy, since everything would be infinitely abundant.


But the law is always too slow, so capital owners have the advantage. Perhaps this should be the other way around.


I get what you mean, but I think this might be too prone to error.


There will always be error. The erring will just be in the other direction.


Yes you're absolutely right, housing cannot be both a good investment and affordable by definition. Time to give up the narrative. It doesn't make sense.

I've mentioned this before but it's worth saying again: 1 square foot of housing is approximately the same price - adjusted for inflation - as it was in the 1970s, on average. [1] There's a few caveats however.

(1) New houses are 2x bigger on average than they were back then, and the average American family is smaller [1].

(2) City councils, and by extension zoning rules, in major metros preclude construction meaning that supply cannot meet demand. This benefits existing landowners to the detriment of both the next generation and renters. San Francisco is a prime example [2] - SF needed to build 6X as many houses as it did between just 2012 and 2016 just to meet the job growth in the area. This pushes the price per square foot inside metros up way above what they would otherwise be.

(3) Zoning rules outside of major metros, including setback rules and minimum size rules, parking rules, etc, make houses outside metros much bigger. Also, expectations have shifted. This pushes the square footage of suburban homes up - and with it the total price.

(4) This applies mostly in the last few years - but lower interest rates make houses that are more expensive much more affordable on a monthly basis, which is totally fine as most folks end up with a 30 year fixed rate mortgage. A drop from 3% to 2% makes a house about 25% more expensive cost the same amount per month. Yes, it increases down payments, but down payments tend to be up to 20% of the price - so an increase not of 25% but 4%.

So what can we do? Easiest thing is state-wide or federal zoning rules. Build up. Allow smaller homes. [edit](Stop with the mandatory parking.) In Japan, supply and demand meet, and a new 3 bedroom house in Tokyo is like 400K USD [edited for current data] - right around the cost of construction. This is thanks to their federal zoning rules. [3]

[1] https://fee.org/articles/new-homes-today-have-twice-the-squa...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_housing_shortage

[3] https://marketurbanism.com/2019/03/19/why-is-japanese-zoning...


SF board of supervisors just voted unanimously against turning an old barely used church into 300 small shared-kitchen studio apartments, because it’s not “family friendly” enough. https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/S-F-supes-say-no... (This will of course instead force 300 people who would live in those to awkwardly pair up and live as unrelated roommates in 150 scattered 2-bedroom flats, taking them off the market and contributing to high rents throughout the Bay Area.)

The board also just voted against turning a parking lot into a 500-unit apartment building, citing the recent Florida condo collapse as justification, and worrying that it will “gentrify” the corner of 6th and Market (!). https://www.sfchronicle.com/sf/article/State-investigating-S...


For those unfamiliar with San Francisco: 6th and Market is a very bad neighborhood, and the idea of "gentrifying" it on any timeline you will live to see the end of, is laughable.


Why is it even a bad idea? I would have thought that if it's a "very bad neigborhood", as you say, improving it is desirable.


Improving a "very bad neighbourhood" in the sense of "poor person's neighbourhood" tends to be undesirable for the people who are priced out as a result. Owners will do ok financially, but rents will rise, forcing many to leave the place they are settled in, may have grown up in, and often where their extended family lives.


If the alternative is to keep it a "very bad neighbourhood", I don't see how how the situation is not at least even. (Unless "very bad neighborhood" was an exaggeration. "Poor person's neighbourhood" certainly wasn't what I imagined, but I live in a place where most "poor person's neighbourhoods" are pretty good...just poor, that's all).


Yes, I am in favor of improving it. It's just that if we're talking about 6th and Market, getting it anywhere close to what we think of as "gentrified" is a long, long game, especially in San Francisco. It's a legendary corner.

But as others pointed out, the spot in question might not actually be right there, I was just commenting on the area mentioned by the parent, to add context for the non-SF people.


Uh, while many places in SF are indeed bad, the “sensitive” place the BoS claims to be protecting - Mint Plaza - is surrounded by apartments that already rent for $5500-$6500 per month.


In that case, it's even weirder -- for further context, Mint Plaza is at 5th and (more or less) Market, and there is a huge difference between 6th Street and 5th Street.

Ah, SF, sometimes I even miss it. :-)


Yes! The sharpest neighborhood difference I've ever seen is between 5th and Howard (Intercontinental Hotel, Pivotal, tech offices) vs 6th and Howard (reallllly sketchy area). (Howard is one block south of Mint and two blocks south of Market St.)


I used to work at 5th and Howard back when Tempest was an anarcho-syndicalist bike-messenger journalists' coke den.

We never exited towards 6th even then.


I did too! We went for lunch weekly :) Tempest has great food out of the Box kitchen, and they seat you inside at lunch during the week.


Yeah the project was to have been on Stevenson between 5th and 6th. At the closest point this lot is less than 100 meters from Mint Plaza.


Imagine what has to be going on in your mind that you believe turning non-housing into housing will gentrify something.


They can’t possibly believe this stuff. They have a financial interest in keeping prices high. That is the simplest explanation.


Asking as someone who lived there until the first dot com crash: Does anyone actually need to live in San Francisco anymore?


I'd say since the pandemic not really I guess, most companies accept remote, however since 10 years or so SF really became the center of the Silicon Valley (while it was more south bay/peninsula before).

It's going to take some time until tech workers stop flocking to SF and price become less ridiculous, if ever. I don't see it dropping below other world big cities like NYC however.


Lets get more meta, does anyone ever need to live anywhere in particular /s


Well, it might not be true for the tech workers roaming HN, but there are still people who are forced to live in a big city to get a job!


No alarm intended, but does anyone need to live anyway? Once you understand that simply perceiving reality is the most wondrous thing we can do, simply being present in the universe is enough.


I'm inclined to think a lot of people only live near cities because 1) they work in it and have no choice but to live nearby, otherwise suffer a nightmarish commute and 2) it's the only city near them. Why isn't building new, smaller cities a viable option? Surely building something from scratch also comes with advantages, like being able to plan and build infrastructure optimally from the start, rather than trying to retroactively update ancient infrastructure piecemeal. If we're going to go with a state or federal level approach anyway why funnel the money into existing cities?


> why funnel the money into existing cities?

Among other reasons, we should because the existing cities are the most resource-efficient and lowest-environmental-impact living places we have at scale, and typically subsidize the infrastructure of other places.


Cities are resource efficient and low environmental impact only if you count the tight core/downtown and exclude all of the suburbs and sprawl surrounding nearly every big city in the US. Everyone driving an hour to get to everywhere is not resource efficient or low environmental impact.

Small cities/large towns are actually more efficient on average in the US since everyone is a 10-15 minute drive of everything.

Rural areas can be very inefficient.


When people say cities, they talk about them in the global context with functioning metro systems, not the sprawling monster american 'suburities' that require you to drive everywhere. If you want less suburities with their shit traffic, you'd support getting rid of zoning laws that force this form of city.

I don't like US 'cities'. I do like cities elsewhere in the world.

More about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxykI30fS54


I agree, and I've loved the European cities I've visited, but this is an article about US housing prices and the parent was talking about "existing cities" and how they "are the most resource efficient we have", which is plain wrong. I am all for making them more resource efficient by making them more like cities in other parts of the world.


Sure, but based on how it’s current done it’s a huge drag on the economy when people pay $1.5M go houses that are worth $300k in other cities.

Seems like taking a short term hit in resource efficient and environmental impact in order to have people live elsewhere would be overall positive.


This. It seems like cities in America now are a great dumping ground and tax shelter for offshore wealth, but virtually useless for actual Americans to work, live or play.

Eventually, even American multi-millionaires will get bored of buying $7M houses in LA and go fuck off to Phoenix, so who needs to live there and service them?


Cities or suburbs?

I believe a majority in the US lives in a metro area of at least 100,000 people, but only about 30% appear to live in a city of at least 100,000 people.

I think the difference is the suburbs, and I don't think that is a recent thing.

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

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


These is no definition of "suburb" just as there is no definition of "downtown". A suburb is just a part a city with less dense housing.

You have:

1. Legal boundaries of cities, which are dependent on the state. Each state has a constitution that determines what the requirements are to be a city. Maybe it's only 10 signatures and filing fee. Maybe it's much more. There is also a well defined process for extending the boundaries. Outside the city you have unincorporated areas, but that's like places where you have to get water from a well and use a septic tank. That's not suburbs, it's country.

2. Because 1) is so random, government statistics office come up with their own definition of "statistical areas". There are metro-statistical area, and micro-statistical areas, and even these depend on which agency made the list.

3. Realtors keep their own definitions.

4. Things like advertisers and business have their own definitions depending on industry (e.g. media markets)

5. locals have their own definition.

At the end of the day, you have to pick a list and work with it, knowing the pros and cons and how that affects your methodology.


Also, in New York State, it seems like places outside cities are generally part of "towns" which are corporations?

I think it's easy to overestimate how much you know about other states.


I can tell you first hand well water and septic tanks do not always go together in my part of the US. Nor do natural gas service and cable TV lines.


I'm from LA. We refer to the entire metro area as "LA" or the "city"; basically, from Six Flags in the north to the Orange Curtain in the south, and from the beach to Pomona. And that whole area has been ballooned with speculation to the point where no one can buy a house on a normal salary. I still see no reason anyone needs to live there at the current prices. I encourage everyone I know who still lives there to just get out.


In the US almost all residential areas count as cities. For example there are tens of cities in just the Bay Area alone.


Right... we call these little suburbs "cities". City of Palo Alto. City of Berkeley. But we also pretty much consider the Bay Area as one big city, or maybe 3 if we're old school. If you say "Bay Area" anywhere, everyone knows you mean that giant beard that runs all over the bay.


Lol Berkeley is a suburb? It contains 120k people in only 10 square miles. It is twice as densely settled as San Jose.


Agreed, but that’s more a legal definition of a city. What most people think of as “living in a city” they don’t think of places like Belmont.


The US is not California. Have you ever been to New Jersey or New York?


For example the New Jersey has 52 cities - in a state with a population of just 8.8 million, so each 'city' only has on average 170k people - and that's if they all lived in a city! Many have populations in the low four-figures.


I'm not an expert on New Jersey, but there are signs everywhere for "Twps" which I guess are "townships". I'm guessing probably a lot of people live in them.

In New York State, a "town" seems to be not exactly a town, like a stereotypical "small town".

I've lived here most of my life and never really realized, but according to Wikipedia, a "town" in NY is more or less the equivalent to a "township" and within it are "villages".

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

"every piece of land in the State is part of a city or town, which, with the exception of the city of Geneva, is part of one and only one county. Not every piece is in a village or city. A village is part of a town; cities are not part of towns, but have the powers of towns. A village can be a part of more than one town. A village cannot be part of a city."

So more like a division of a county that's not part of a city than an actual town.

And where this is going, is that I think this is where a lot of people live, rather than cities per se.

An administrative division, where a lot of people live, that's neither a city nor a village, but has water and sewer and so on, sounds to me like almost a definition of suburbs.


The reason people want the $1.5M houses rather than the $300k houses is likely because they're nicer places to live (ameneties, greenspaces, schools). If you build a new nice city 30 minutes from San Jose (apologies but I don't know how far you need to go out of SJ to have more space to build) you don't inteoduxe 300k housing, you just introduce more $1.5m housing.


I think it's more a lack of imagination. I gave up renting in LA and moved to a place where I could afford a great house with great local amenities for under $400k. I tried to convince my brother and his wife to move here but, although they can barely afford their condo fees, they're stuck in the mindset that anywhere outside LA is the "sticks". So it would mean losing their big shot at bigger career opportunities... even though they really only want to raise their kids and have no serious ambitions about that. Meanwhile they're in a tiny place while everything around them falls apart. It's frankly incomprehensible to me that people can't adjust to changing circumstances and re-evaluate their situation, and tack a different course. But my point is, you have to credit a lot of inertia to the reasons why people continue to live in places that are not affordable. Given the choice and if they knew they had job security elsewhere, I think most people would spread out to smaller towns, $300k houses and build the communities they want. They're just paralyzed by having to break with familiarity.


LA is, however, building more condos than most other areas. They tear down an old 1950s or early single family and put in four ~$1m units... that's better than the Bay area that refuses to do that. This is of course neighborhood by neighborhood so it may not be at the necessary scale to provide relief.

I love LA though but the housing situation really does suck.


It’s $1.5M because of limited supply, not because it has to be that expensive.

You’re ignoring two things: 1) many people don’t care about city living just access to jobs, thus a cheaper city with jobs is a good substitute and 2) sure there is a price premium, but $600k seems more reasonable than $1.5M.


And you're ignoring that many people _do_ care about city living.

> sure there is a price premium, but $600k seems more reasonable than $1.5M.

So now you've built $600k houses, not $300k houses. And if there are desireable jobs in the area, that pushes the demand for thouse $600k houses up to the amount that is paid in the area.


And you also need to bear in mind that a 2x increase in house price means much more than a 2x decrease in the number of people who can afford it.


I lived in San Jose from 2015 to 2020 and I can't possibly fathom how anyone would consider it "nice". It's extremely crowded, traffic is a nightmare. You can't actually enjoy any of the amenities because they are always jam packed. I think the real reason someone buys a $1.5m house in the San Jose area is because it enables them to take a very high paying job.


No teacher can afford to live in the neighborhood if the house prices are that high. Why would the schools be better?


All else being equal, if you have two neighboring school districts, one with good schools and one with bad schools, people will be willing to pay more for houses in the good school district.

So higher house prices will tend to correlate with better schools.


The causation will be more like if you have two neighboring school districts, the one with higher house prices will tend to be the good school district because the kids’ will be coming from houses with educated and financially successful parents like doctors, engineers, lawyers, business owners, etc.


The secret about good school districts is it's mostly about good student & parent populations. It makes people angry when you say that out loud.


It's a highly cyclical thing. Schools that perform well are generally in rich areas, because that's how they're funded. Well funded schools have better facilities, more programs, and can hire more teachers, so have better student to teacher ratios. People want to send their kids to those schools, but need to live in those districts, so move there. The property value of those areas go up, which leads to more funding to the schools, etc.

Schools that perform poorly are usually in poor areas. They get less funding because the property is worth less in that area. They have more students, because it's cheaper to live in those areas, but have worse facilities, fewer programs, and they can't hire as many teachers, leading to even worse teacher/student ratios. People who can afford to move to better school districts do so, or find a private school they can afford.

People get angry when you say that because it's taking a complex issue and trying to simplify it in a way that's only true from a surface level.


The performance of a student is mostly dependent on the student's ability themselves, their social groups and how much their parents are able to give a shit, especially in today's age of the internet where access to information is not a limiting factor. A good school district that performs well is mostly a function of how much of the population is composed of that kind of student & parent combo and safe environment.

Beyond a bare minimum service level of functioning buildings, adequate nutrition, adequate medical care, adequate psychological testing, some basic school supplies and semi-competent, non-abusive teachers the finances do not matter.

If a classroom has a 1:10 ratio or 1:40 ratio or a 10 year old building vs a 90 year old building, big fancy gym vs an empty field, cool robotics lab or none at all, that barely matters in comparison and that what shows up as the difference in a well funded district vs a badly funded one.

A well funded good school district causes a shift in the student population, it's not the money that causes improvements in outcomes compared to population shift, so it is easy to mix the two.

Because the USA has a history of the above statement also being used for crypto-racist segregative bullshit, everyone thinks this really saying racist shit, but this applies the world over, including places without a long history of racism.


> A good school district that performs well is mostly a function of how much of the population is composed of that kind of student & parent combo and safe environment.

And that's tied to the school district, and is partially a function of how well funded the school is. People will money aren't going to send their children to poorly funded schools.

> Because the USA has a history of the above statement also being used for crypto-racist segregative bullshit, everyone thinks this really saying racist shit, but this applies the world over, including places without a long history of racism.

Outside of the US, funding for schools is often centrally planned, so most schools are relatively similar in funding, so you can't really properly compare.

Yes, this is tied to racism (white flight, segregationism/desegregationism), but this also applies to communities that are white and poor too.

Really, though, you're not very well educated on this subject. Your arguments don't reflect studies on the topic. You're making bold claims based on surface level thoughts; this is why people get angry when you say things like this.


People often don't live in the neighborhoods they work in, and people often can't afford to own in the neighborhoods they live in. A teacher who bought a house 20 years ago might still be able to live there, for example.


The quality of the schools depends more on the amount of parental support the students receive than the quality of the teachers.


I don’t understand the logic here. Schools are funded primarily through local property taxes. The town with the higher priced houses collects more property tax and can therefore allocate more funding to their school. This means they can pay higher salaries to teachers which means they can select for the best teachers. This attracts teachers that can’t afford to live in the town they teach in.


True, though US "cities" are generally asphalt hellscapes. Design something like Houten, or let Culdesac loose to build a whole city, and now you're talking.


I suppose a single example can't contradict "a lot of people," but I am one such person. I live in the city, because I like cities.


Same here. I pay a premium to live in NYC even though I work remote. I love the vibe and culture.


>Why isn't building new, smaller cities a viable option?

What's "smaller"?

It appears substantially more than half the country lives in a metro area smaller than the Columbus, OH MSA.

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


Are you making a point about Columbus (the biggest city in the 7th most populous state in the country) that I'm missing?

MSAs can sometimes be rather small in area -- for instance, the Bay Area is split into 9 MSAs, all but one of which (SF-Oakland-Berkeley) are less populous than the Columbus MSA. So, everyone in the South Bay lives in a MSA smaller than Columbus (San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara).

If instead, say, you opted to take all CSAs with > 1 million people (per the 2020 census), you'd cover just over 2/3 of the population.

(Even so, affordability isn't purely a function of city size. Chicago is eminently more affordable than DC or SF despite being larger than either, whether you consider the CSA, MSA, or just the urban core.)


>Are you making a point about Columbus

Not really, I was fishing for context, for whether someone who says we need small cities considers Columbus small, large, or negligible.


That's how White Flight happened

So to answer your question, because there's an enormous attack surface for elites to abuse the planning process to self-segregate, consume publicly funded infrastructure, and stick someone else with the responsibility for urban social problems


No need to build new. There are plenty of existing underutilized cities with infrastructure in place to handle much larger populations : St Louis, Detroit, South Bend, Decatur, Buffalo . . . the list of places large and small goes on and on.


No good jobs there, which is why it's cheap. Cities arise as socio-economic hubs, it's not just about the housing price and a place to exist and store shit. The book order without design goes into good detail about this.


What jobs are in brand new greenfield cities suggested in parent post?


> 1 square foot of housing is approximately the same price - adjusted for inflation - as it was in the 1970s, on average.

Average over what, though? I'd assume that 1sq in a dense metropolitan quarter in high demand goes for a lot more than 1sq in a poor neighborhood or in the middle of nowhere.

The global average doesn't really mean anything except "somewhere in the US there is still affordable housing".

Most critics of rising housing prices that I know of aren't arguing that housing is becoming unaffordable everywhere but that it's becoming unaffordable in high-density places where housing would be needed.

You acknowledge this in:

> This pushes the price per square foot inside metros up way above what they would otherwise be.

Also shouldn't actions include at least having a look at building speculation in high-density areas?


>> the middle of nowhere.

So as a tech worker who's lived in the "middle of nowhere" and worked remotely for 20 years, why the hell is anyone paying a premium to live in San Francisco now?


Different lifestyles and requirements. No everyone is a tech worker who can work remotely.

Maybe covid now changes this now, but the ability to have stores and RL venues without having to drive will stay in demand, I' pretty sure.


Yeah, RL venues and stores will always draw people to the cities. This should be actually a cheap, cool thing for young people like it was in New York or San Francisco in the 60s, or the 80s. It probably will be like that about 20 years from now, when it becomes "cool" to live in a city again. We were so close to an urban renaissance... the period from 2000 until covid was the best time for urban centers and downtowns since the late 19th century, before trolley lines and buses and cars moved everyone out. I thought we were centralizing and going to a walkable, car-less future. Covid did change all that, because without office workers there's no lunch crowd; with no lunch crowd there are no restaurants; with no restaurants there are no hipsters wanting to live downtown (they alone can't sustain the restaurants). Then you have the riots and the meth population and everything boarded up. We're in for 20 years before downtowns recover as a "hip" zone.

The thing is, RL venues are important, but they do exist outside of San Francisco. Increasingly, very little exists in the urban cores, and yet the prices for rent are still insane.


If you spend $100/month on a thing and I, in a city, spend $500/month on the same thing it could still make strictly logical financial sense to live in the city.

Suppose you and I both save 30% of out net income. If I'm making far more in a city then my 30% savings will go very far in a not city location.

We can also assume if you spend 100/month on rent and I spend 500/month on rent it's the same "percentage" of the pay we make.


Yeah, I was looking for a job pre-COVID, and REALLY wanted something remote since I hate living in a big city.

No matter how hard I looked or negotiated, I couldn’t manage to get any remote offers or jobs in small towns in the USA that’d pay over about $140k. Meanwhile, with my experience it was EASY to get an offer for $300k in the Bay Area.

That means that even paying $3300/month to rent a run-down shithole and $6 per gallon for milk, I’m saving $120k a year vs the $40k I’d save in a small town.

The numbers get even more insane if you buy property in one of these hideously overpriced Bay Area cities. I haven’t done it yet, since a downturn could leave me holding the bag and trapped in this nightmarish place for 5 years, but the financial incentives are incredible


> That means that even paying $3300/month to rent a run-down shithole and $6 per gallon for milk, I’m saving $120k a year vs the $40k I’d save in a small town.

Exactly this. I hate the highly populated areas of the world but I'm working in one with hopes that I can buy a house with high speed internet within driving distance of a medium sized family-oriented town with a shopping + restaurant district. If cost of living is 1/3rd then your 120k savings just got you a whole bunch of slack.


Me too. My numbers are higher, and I’m probably older, but as retirement looms on the horizon, the goal is simply to make hay while the sun shines.

The exit strategy is to sell the ridiculously overpriced house, fully paid off, which has doubled in price in the last 8 years, and sod off to a lower COL area. Since I’m a Brit, a small castle with grounds in Scotland ought to be on the cards, for less than my 1500 sq ft ranch-style house here.


One piece of advice, the sun can shine a lot long than you think it would.


> The global average doesn't really mean anything except "somewhere in the US there is still affordable housing".

Friend, that's not what average means.

It means that more than half all houses cost less than X (because average => median). Not "somewhere in the there exists something less than X".

> "high-density places where housing would be needed."

Well you got half the country (actually much more - closer to 2/3, given that average >> median in housing).

This has been brought to you by your local RUMIA (Responsible Use of Math In Arguments) league.

Stay frosty out there, people.


Average doesn't necessarily mean that, often the mean is used and often that's not equal to the median. If housing prices are left skewed then the median is going to be greater than the average so more than 50% of people would be paying more than the mean.


I think the point was that it is true specifically when it comes to housing (also income and wealth for that matter)


Good point. Still doesn't say where that half is - probably not in high-density urban areas.

But it doesn't even have to mean that. It could also mean that certain undesirable neighborhoods cost far below the median, pulling the average down.


Well, we assume the bottom half of housing, or say, the bottom 60% of housing, would be in the bottom 60% of the nation in terms of desirability. But that doesn't mean it's undesirable or bad housing -- certainly it's not viewed as bad by all those people living there -- that's like 170 million people.


> lower interest rates make houses that are more expensive much more affordable on a monthly basis, which is totally fine as most folks end up with a 30 year fixed rate mortgage

Absolutely false in the long term due to feedback, although it is true in the short term.

With lower interest rates, people bid up the price of houses because they can afford to spend more on their mortgage. The amount spent on mortgage repayments trends towards the same figure as always (approximately as much as your wages allow).

I believe houses are a prime mover of the middle class economy, because it is something most people are willing to “invest” a lot of time working to achieve owning the property they want (often status driven).


I think we might be in agreement on this - I didn't mean that a house 25% more expensive was more affordable period. I meant it was almost equally affordable after it normalizes. This is a fact a lot of articles and graphs gloss over when they compare simply the top-line numbers.


> In Japan, supply and demand meet, and a new 3 bedroom house in Tokyo is like 400K USD [edited for current data] - right around the cost of construction.

Uh uh, apartment, not a house.

There's a huge difference.


One part of them problem I think in USA "housing" market is that people want houses. In cities. Where as in rest of the world people are much more willing to accept apartments. Which are absolute necessity for cities. Ending being trade off living in countryside farther from services or in cities near them, but not in house.


One driver of that is the model of owner occupied housing as the primary mechanism of middle class wealth accumulation.

Traditionally SFHs tend to perform much better as investments than condos. When you’re in an environment of secularly rising prices, you’re heavily pressured to get on the property ladder.

People want to buy and own an SFH as soon as they can. Otherwise if they get a condo the risk is the SFH market moves away from them and they’ll be priced out when they need it.


> are much more willing to accept apartments.

That's the problem. Apartment is inhumane by default. No privacy, no private space. They shouldn't accept them.


Can you expand? What kind of privacy, for instance?


I don't want to hear my neighbors music, kids, party, someone having sex. I don't want to participate in group meetings. I don't want to deal with flooded ceiling or looking at another apartments when I look out of the window. I don't want to hear that me and my wife are walking to loud when we've just arrived from work.

That's just off the top of my head.


Adequate sound insulation can deal with most of those issues (I assume group meetings is a euphemism for hearing your neighbors? Otherwise unless you’re on a condo board or something there are no such meetings in U.S. apartments in my experience, it’s not a college dorm.)

I lived in concrete floored apartments for 7 years and almost never heard my neighbors. Never got any sound complaints. That said a lot of low-rise U.S. apartments are built with wood and may not be adequately insulated.


Apartments and condos in the United States are built as cheaply as possible. Developers love the 4 over 1 style which is the most they can get away with. Combined with hideous "developer modernity" styling.

Neighbor noise is the top issue with this style of housing, but it goes completely unaddressed during building. I've always wondered why nobody has tried to differentiate on that.

I would be happy to live in a condo instead of a house if I felt really comfortable that I wouldn't have to deal with noise. But as it is now even if your neighbors are quiet at first, they could sell to someone with a new baby and you're screwed.


I live in a townhome built in the 80s with crazy good noise isolaton, i assume it's easier with a townhome because they just run a thick firewall between units.

Still, I would think good noise isolation must exist at some condos. I imagine you could interview current residents to see how good the noise isolation is before purchasing.


It's entirely possible. My friend told that his almost newly built apartment had very good insulation. My parents is good as well, only noise really is the elevator if on other side of wall. My current rental isn't bad either. Though some noise get through. Last place was horrible though, specially with dog that made noises through the night...

So it is possible to have good noise insulation. In general the noise from outside is bigger problem than from neighbours. Only real case with issue is renovation as any drilling or hammering through travel in structures.


I think good sound isolation mostly comes as a side effect of concrete housing, or things like firewalls in the american housing market. I think it's a side effect of how house price = sqft so all the other important things go by the wayside.

When I looked up soundproofing, there are techniques that involve a few layers of drywall and sacrificing like a few inches of air space to have an airgap, so it is possible to do it relatively cheaply in new construction, but then you sacrifice sqft :/


Do you like open windows? Most of my neighbors like open windows. I like open windows.


I lived in apartments for a while (although not in cities).

Another thing is that they would need to inspect the apartment once in a while (with notice) to make sure you aren’t damaging it. Even with notice it is intrusive.

I am sooo much happier owning a house. I got so sick of white walls I couldn’t paint and the inability to have certain hobbies (woodworking? musical instruments? Not in any apartment I’ve been in)


You’re describing the difference between renting and buying, not apartments and houses.

You can buy apartments and rent houses, so they shouldn’t be conflated.


I suppose that's true. I usually live in college towns, where buying apartments is rare or impossible, so for me apartments were always rented.


I never hear my neighbors, unless someone is renovating, but that's rare.


It doesn't matter, honestly. You still own it. Owning apartments is normal in more crowded areas - like tokyo. I'm pretty sure apartments greatly outnumber houses in most of Tokyo.

And sure, there is a difference, but it is only minor as we are still speaking of living spaces that you own instead of rent.


In the most of the US you pay rent to the owner of the apartment you live in. A partitioned building where you own the unit you live in is usually referred to as a "condominium" or "condo".


I understand this completely - English is my mother tongue and I'm American. People do own apartments, especially in larger cities. A lot of folks don't call them condos: It depends on where you live and what the developer decided to call them. In fact, my idea of a "condo" isn't an apartment in a high rise or even half of a house you own, but rather row houses, mostly with a front and back yard (basing this off of condos in places like Kokomo, Indiana and Nashville, Tennessee). Owner keeps up inside, they keep up outside.

Renting is not owning an apartment: You can renovate an apartment you own, but not a rental. This is much the same as renting a house instead of owning it.


Yeah that sounds pretty different from other countries like France or Japan where there is no such distinction.

When a developer builds a housing building, they sell the apartments to people who will either live there or rent it to someone else. Then when the owners sell their apartment later, it can go from a resident owner to an investor, or the other way around.

As a result there is a mix of owners and renters in any condominium.


Own as in own a garage, I wouldn't want to live there though.


I'm looking at houses in Tokyo right now. Yesterday I saw a 2SLDK in the Nippori area (2 bedroom with living room, dining room, kitchen, and storage room), and it was $600k. This is in the city, near central subway lines. If you want to live out in Chiba or Saitama, you can get a 3 or 4 bedroom for around $400k, but that's more similar to living in the suburbs.

Buying apartments here is actually more expensive than buying a standalone house, because they tend to keep their property value more than the houses (which usually are sold for the land - people tear the houses down and rebuild). If you're trying to verify what I'm saying, the apartments you'd buy here would be called a "Mansion", which is mostly a term for upscale apartment.

Edit: oh, I should mention that the interest rate here is insanely low (around 1% or as low as 0.5%), and you can get 35 year mortgages.


In addition to your points here, I found the hypothesis below very interesting. In a nutshell, American governments are incentivized to zone for expensive land that doesn't require much infrastructure. So we get giant, sparse suburbs and institutional opposition to affordable housing because that reduces the tax base.

'Local German officials, like local leaders everywhere, seek bigger budgets to provide more and better services to their constituents. What’s different about Germany is that the way to get bigger budgets is to increase local populations. And, as Professor Buettner says, “Ultimately, to get people, municipalities will need to support housing.”

The result is a system of incentives that is the opposite of “fiscal zoning”—the US practice of zoning land in ways that maximize local governments’ income and minimize their costs. In places with high sales taxes, such as Washington State, leaders zone more land for shopping centers. In places where residential property taxes are capped, such as California, they zone less land for homes and more for offices. In affluent suburbs, they often zone land for houses on large lots, excluding low-income people.

Maximizing property values is such a central concern of local government in the United States that Dartmouth economist William Fischel developed the notion into an entire political theory. His “homevoter hypothesis” holds that local governments are almost single-mindedly focused on maximizing real estate values, because homeowners typically vote their home values in local elections. German jurisdictions gain financially by maximizing population, not house values, and because renters outnumber homeowners in the country, homevoters are not the dominant electoral force in local German elections. Renters are.'

https://www.sightline.org/2021/05/27/yes-other-countries-do-...


>> (1) New houses are 2x bigger on average than they were back then, and the average American family is smaller [1].

This is good, because it means people can afford more.

>> (2) City councils, and by extension zoning rules, in major metros preclude construction

This is good because unregulated growth is a net drain on society. No one wants to buy a house if the property next door can be turned into a 30 story apartment building. More people own property now than at any time in history. How about that? Stop making babies, right now, and there will be plenty of space for everyone. I don't have babies, I own a house, everyone who has babies wants not just to pollute the world with their offspring and tax me to pay for their spawn's upbringing, they also think they deserve free property. Just don't have babies and problem solved.


Your (1) and (4) are assuming a direction of causality. Alternatively:

(4) Monthly payments on new mortgages are essentially fixed for any point in time. A drop in interest rates from 3% to 2% makes housing asset prices 25% more expensive, and along with them downpayments, real estate taxes, and the amount required to pay mortgages off early.

(1) In order for a house to keep up with market appreciation, it has to be a desirable to the future "average buyer". Monthly payments are relatively fixed, less bidding competition for land outside of metro areas means that the feedback effect in my (4) isn't as strong, and so a bit more money goes into the structure.


> housing cannot be both a good investment and affordable by definition.

Real estate is the only asset class where this isn’t true. The existence of the mortgage, which is one of the most unique debt instruments available to the general public, means that house price inflation only needs to exceed interest rates about about 0.6% to beat stock market returns.


I think you're missing the core idea.

For one party to see returns exceeding interest, another party has to pay for that (exponential) rate of return. It's unaffordable for the second party.

These prices compound, exponentially, and as a result younger generations spend much more of their money in wealth transfers to older landowners. It's unsustainable unless the wages of younger generations also start to rise at similar rates, which isn't happening.


> These prices compound, exponentially, and as a result younger generations spend much more of their money in wealth transfers to older landowners.

This is just factually untrue. House prices do not grow exponentially. The rate at which they grow goes up and down, but it’s never been exponential. The entire premise of your argument is indisputably incorrect.


Can you elaborate that? Under what assumptions will real estate beat what benchmark?


Real estate is the only asset class where you can very easily get 10-20x leverage, and at rates that are only modestly above the risk free rate.

If you used $1,000,000 to buy $20,000,000 worth of property in San Francisco, and you wanted to get a 15% annual return to beat the market, the numbers would look like this:

You’d be paying around $600,000 in interest, say you’ve got another $100,000 in expenses, and you want to get $150,000 for your return. That’s $850,000 that needs to come from somewhere, in San Francisco I think the rent to price ratio is about 1:50, so that’s $400,000 in rent, and the remaining $450,000 needs to come from house prices increasing. So to beat the market your property assets needs to appreciate by 2.25%, or about what the fed targets inflation to be.

This is only possible because the mortgage is a very unique debt instrument. As far as access to cheap debt goes, it is comparable only to the highest credit corporate and sovereign bonds. The only type of debt that a regular consumer has access to, that is somewhat comparable, are subsides student loans.


How do you with prime real estate markets like NYC, Bay Area, LA, etc? I would assume similar highly coveted areas will be exception to the rule. What about the Japan housing model? Apparently they don't have these property bubbles anymore.


what if some people want a bigger house because they want bigger family though? i guess some areas would have to be zoned for people who plan to have more kids than 2, i couldn't imagine raising a family of 5 in a 2-3 bedroom house, i was raised in a big family. 10 kids. so a bigger house came in handy


Buy/build a bigger house? The point is to eliminate restrictive zoning, not replace it with new restrictions that only allow tiny houses.


I do agree that housing as an asset is a bad idea. I regularly think that if you gave everybody a rent free room, society would be wildly different. People are running around to pay rent doing insane stuff just to get by. It's humanly painful.


That's sort of the point though, isn't it? We're at a point where large capital holders pretend they want competitive forces to keep them in check, yet employ anti-competitive practices and cry regulatory overreach at every opportunity.

Current businesses don't want a competitive labor market in the sense they have to compete for your time, they want drones to do whatever they want and want to pay bottom dollar for it. Just look at the massive outcry right now claiming labor shortages. Maybe there is some shortage but it's a well justified shortage in my opinion.

If you had a labor force with a real basic sense of security, people not worried they may get sick and their entire life's accumulation of assets from work will be washed away in an instant or they may be out on the streets looking for a warm bed, then you have a strong labor force that can negotiate reasonable working conditions. We don't have that.

We largely have a growing precariate class of people that seem to be sweeping in low to lower middle income that seems to be growing into the middle income brackets. A large bit of middle and upper middle are fine but even there, pressure seems to be growing.


It's not mainly large capital holders pushing for policy that leads to less housing availability, it's your average middle class American


TBH even if you have socialized health care, you still have most of these problems. Canada is a great example of this, and it's had a housing problem for a decade+ at this point for a far greater percentage of it's population. The average canadian does not worry about their savings going in a poof if they have a health issue.


There is a massive hit to entrepreneurship because of lack of blanket healthcare. As if it were not enough to risk everything on a bootstrapped business, I have to now risk pulling the short straw, getting hit by a car and going destitute? I don't think so.

How many people out there are doing the 9 to 6 because of that? I am one of them. I have a software business idea, but I either need to:

1. Save a ton of money to pay the ludicrous levels of private health insurance.

2. Get married to a city or federal employee, so I can be on their health insurance.

In my case, it will be #2, but it's a total coincidence that she is one of those.

In the meantime, those of means have plenty of cushion to fall on, trying and failing over and over, until they hit it. Most of us don't have the option of failing even once.


I agree that socialized healthcare should exist, but I am also saying it might not solve as many issues as you think they will.

The root cause of this specific issue isn't related to a lack of healthcare, but regulations propping up real estate as an investment category and preventing supply growth, in both countries. A lack of wage growth comes from fed policy to raise interest rates and slow down the economy just at the point where wage growth starts occurring, because they think it's inflationary in a major way, and the fed is public about this policy.

Bring full socialized medicine to the USA, and the housing & wage issue will definitely still remains, as it does in Canada. Entrepreneurship is probably worse overall in canada because of culture, some banking policies and overall lack of investment capital available for non-resource entrepreneurial activities compared to the usa. But yes, health insurance is a dampener on entrepreneurship too.


I think nobody really know what's going on. Every subgroup/subclass has its own view and interests and try whatever that might work.

To me it's mostly a sign of dislocated/fractured society with no coherent purpose. No calling for communism :)

Change education, add more pragmatic knowledge of everything to people's lives so they don't chase shiney and don't rely on money exchanges for things to happen in their day.

Maybe internet will help a bit here. Lots of people are learning about stuff through videos, we need to make it more tangible day to day I guess.


A great thought experiment, though not necessarily an entirely fictional one. Social housing schemes, and proposals for 'universal basic services', are common enough and ought to be the positive side to the deflation of the housing market.

Mortgages currently dominate the average person's life.


It's not thought experiment. Not long ago I was under state welfare and hosted near free. It changes how you approach your day. I was happily volunteering and working way more than people under salary (politics come into play and people start being jealous, and wanting more to do less because they don't want to be here, they "have to".. it's pain first system). Hence me saying, if people didn't have to pay rent, what would they do with their time ?


I don’t think it’s necessarily the case, but I’m a little worried that a UBI utopia would end up being some sort of Judge Dredd hellscape

I’ve taken long stretches off work and done all sorts of amazing, productive stuff during that time. I have friends whom I really respect completely fall apart when nobody’s ordering them around every day though.. they stop going outside, the lack of exercise and sunlight sends their meat suits into “depression mode”, and it’s a quick downward spiral

I’m hoping that having a whole society oriented around it would result in a more positive outcome


Agree. We would definitely need some social structures the encourage people to productively use their time


Congratulations, you just invented capitalism.


depends on what kind of incentives

if you make people seek calm and good social bonds (through cultural creations mostly) you may avoid capitalism runaways


You guys should check out some of Corey Doctorow's books or the Culture series, they describe theoretical post-scarcity futures not driven by capitalism where people still find fulfilling stuff to do


That is quite true, I'm not fully pushing for UBI because of unplanned large scale social issues, but there needs to be a rebalancing of the system.


> Hence me saying, if people didn't have to pay rent, what would they do with their time ?

We already know. Look at housewives, people on disability, young people still living at home with their parents, and retirees. Arguably college students, too.

It is not the case that all (or most) people who don't have to pay rent suddenly spend significant amounts of their time volunteering. They pursue what they desire or find meaningful, just like everyone else. And it's not clear it's a better outcome than those who pay rent (or a mortgage).


Mhm, I would write books and toy software, mainly for myself and my kids - and definitely I would stop scrambling to provide value to someone else if I'm not rewarded in some way


> Mortgages currently dominate the average person's life.

Indeed, it's sickening, and there's a very well developed structure to stop the average person stepping outside of the system via a tiny house, van life etc.


The average person does not want a tiny house or van life. So it’s not a well developed structure built for “the average person”.

Tiny homes are the mobile home of this generation, except less widely adopted. But they will depreciate, widening the gap between those who chose to purchase a traditional house and those who chose a simpler approach.

Van life and tiny homes are not suitable for 99.99% of families with children.


You're dis-agreeing with the parent. The problem is that for almost everyone houses are unaffordable without mortgages and the only alternatives to it -- smaller homes, mobile homes, vandwelling are bad. But they're bad not because of something fundamental but because we make it artificially harder for them.


Thank you! That’s not how I interpreted that original post, but

It’s not that small houses are bad. Small houses (as I’d define it 1000-1750 sq ft for a 3 bedroom) are great.

But I still see it written as “if those structures were removed” that those alternatives are a suitable alternative to a stick-built house for the majority of people. I think they are all sub-optimal solutions that people should not be forced into unless they want to.


More people are trying out van life than ever before, but most quickly wake up to the fact that the reality is a far cry from the fantasy portrayed on social media. After realizing it's 1% staring pensively at canyons and sunsets, and 90% looking for parking and washrooms, most treat it like a road trip than a permanent lifestyle.


Sounds like cope to me.

"I'm stepping out of the system" is actually "I'm too poor to stay in the system".


Or literally anyone who's like "I want a life where I haven't bet my ability to have shelter against 30 years of my income and my ability to stay healthy and gainfully employed."

Like I'm a person who is part of this system because there's literally no other option. I want to get off Mr. Bone's wild ride but there's nothing really available to me.


Not necessarily, it could be a way to get away from constraint that forbids you to grow your life better.

Even with money, staying into western dense urban cities only give you one kind of life.


im not too poor to stay in the system. but i am building my own tiny house right now. i just do not think being dependent on the system is a good idea for my future. maybe it is for yours.

i document some of my adventures here. https://www.instagram.com/l_eonine/


That's great but I hope we can agree that most of society wants a house with a garden and a family dog. Trying to put those people into a tiny house or camper would lead to the revolution Marx dreamed of.


I absolutely do not want a big house with a garden, and I despise the idea of dog ownership.

Maybe your statement is true for the American society though


then i suggest people might want to learn how to build their own house. because the trends suggest housing affordability isnt returning anytime soon.

i think thats about as anti-marx as it gets, no?


There’s literally nothing stopping the average person from doing that, besides their own preferences.


Also various laws and regulations: van life is incompatible with many cities and is incompatible with schooling for children, possibly even child welfare laws. Zoning restrictions mean tiny houses can’t be built in many places.

Much of that is not unreasonable — e.g. I went to a high school which had a lot of children of migrant farm workers who were definitely held back by their parents’ need to migrate up and down California following the harvest. Stability has merit.

What I would focus on are the zoning laws forcing single-family houses, lawns, vast amounts of parking, etc. since those increase the cost of housing significantly and reduce supply. There are many owners who would consider subdividing housing, tiny houses/granny flats/basement apartments/etc. but can’t because that is banned outright or requires things like street access and subsidized parking which aren’t compatible with the available space.

Unfortunately, in the United States this also inevitably involves class and racism — the laws against density, people camping or living in vehicles, etc. usually trace back to fears of poor, often brown, people living outside of “their” neighborhoods and especially outnumbering the current residents. That sentiment is long-lived and hard to shake, no matter the professed politics of a community.


> Mortgages currently dominate the average person's life.

It looks like ~65% of households own a home, and about the same percentage of homes have a mortgage; the average household doesn't even have a mortgage.


We've gone full circle again. History tends to repeat itself. But now we don't have pitchforks. I wonder how the next revolution is going to happen.

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


It's like Squid Game, except debt is replaced with, oh wait, still debt. Just of the housing variety (we call it 'mortgage').


And this is where it gets fun - Joe/Jill tech-worker wants to live in Menlo Park. So she works at Facebook. To pay his/her mortgage (or mortgage market-correlated rent), (s)he has to build selective sharing algorithms that emphasize anger but maximize 'engagement' and make lots of revenue for the company. Even though friends & family tell him/her (s)he's being detrimental to the world - it's paying his/her salary, and so the mortgage/rent.

In-group vs. out-group baiting, mayhem, & loss-of-life ensue. (h/t Frances Haugen)


It is not Facebook's fault human nature engages with outrage. Facebook didn't change anyone. Facebook doesn't make a good person into a bad person.

"In-group vs. out-group baiting, mayhem, & loss-of-life " existed throughout all of human history (and in much larger quantities!) before the age of Facebook. They will continue to exist long after Facebook displays its last newsfeed item.

The longer we try to blame a technology for humanities issues, the longer it will take to address the issues.


> The longer we try to blame a technology for humanity’s issues, the longer it will take to address the issues.

I think it is the people at Facebook are being blamed in the comment above, and not the technology, no?

> Facebook didn’t change anyone.

You’re right that human nature is not Facebook’s fault, however, you cannot logically use that to conclude that Facebook bears no responsibility. Facebook is changing people, and there’s evidence of it. You don’t get to claim human nature when feeding drugs or alcohol to an addict, or when being a bookie for illegal fights, or when pimping. Advertisers don’t get to claim human nature when advertising cigarettes to teenagers. There are plenty of laws on the books to prevent companies from trying to leverage the negative sides of human nature, and there are plenty of companies that are currently using our worst impulses to goad us into spending our time and money with them.

Facebook intends to normalize incredulity at all times, in order to maximize their own profit, and because of the scale of Facebook, it’s causing a net negative in human behavior. Fewer people would be choosing outrage, and less often, if Facebook wasn’t pimping it. Allowing people to form companies with this intention should be illegal, no? Or if you see this as purely human nature and think Facebook is not complicit, how are you suggesting we address the issues?


I should have genericized the company name - I wanted to highlight the housing motivation for tech-workers to do ill. the company-formerly-known-as-fb just provides one very familiar example of this.

We're all constantly tempted to engage in sociopathic but well-remunerating work. (No doubt there is plenty of pro-social well-remunerating work - i.e. I'm not painting that as a zero-sum choice)

The question becomes, 1 - what choice does each of us individually make when faced with such a role, and 2 - more importantly, how easily can a company identify & recruit a sufficiently-qualified-yet-sufficiently-desperate individual for the same role who will go ahead and make such a moral compromise.


>You don’t get to claim human nature when feeding drugs or alcohol to an addict, or when being a bookie for illegal fights, or when pimping.

I think Facebook usage is fundamentally different from drugs/alcohol. A heroin addict can understand heroin is destroying their life, but be physically unable to prevent themselves from shooting up. I am not aware of instances (at any scale, I'm certain examples exist but exceptions don't disprove the rule) where people are aware that Facebook usage is ruining their lives but are incapable of discontinuing their use.

I noticed I wasn't getting anything out of Facebook years ago and decided to stop using it. Similarly, Instagram was fun and engaging until it was not and then I stopped using that too. My experience mirrors that of many people I know. Still more continue to use Facebook and Instagram, and while I personally don't understand how someone could enjoy using either at this point, they are autonomous adults who can choose to use/waste their time with whatever method they prefer. If there emerges a substantive quantity of people who begin to think using Facebook has a negative impact on their lives but who find themselves incapable of putting it down, I think a conversation about the broad approaches society could take to help people detach from these technologies would be appropriate.

>Facebook intends to normalize incredulity at all times, in order to maximize their own profit, and because of the scale of Facebook, it’s causing a net negative in human behavior. Fewer people would be choosing outrage, and less often, if Facebook wasn’t pimping it. Allowing people to form companies with this intention should be illegal, no?

I'm not completely averse to the idea of making something illegal if a majority of people find it to be a net negative. We just have so many aspects of society (broadly in many cases, but I can only speak specifically to American society) where profits supersede general welfare that it comes off insanely hypocritical to point to Facebook specifically while not addressing any of the others.

If you're an advocate of making Facebook illegal because it intends to maximize incredulity/outrage for profit then you would also need to make news programs (both national and local) illegal. You would need to make Twitter illegal. You would need to make YouTube illegal. Most (all?) large scale internet platforms depend on milking outrage for profit. News programs do the same. I'd be interested in having conversations about making all of them illegal. I would not be interested in a conversation about making one of them illegal.

But if we are going to be honest about why Facebook is becoming the public whipping boy, it's because Boomers who voted for Donald Trump used Facebook to talk loudly about why they like Donald Trump.


Having watched a large number of interviews with addicts I am starting to realise that they know exactly what they are doing and choose to continue doing it. To avoid feeling what they otherwise would be feeling. Addicts who have been clean for months relapse because of a boyfriend walking out etc.


> I am not aware of instances (at any scale, I'm certain examples exist but exceptions don't disprove the rule) where people are aware that Facebook usage is ruining their lives but are incapable of discontinuing their use.

"Ruining their lives" is likely a bit too strong of language, but the potential negative influence of Facebook and complete lack of privacy is certainly becoming something of common knowledge, and yet people continue to use it. As a society you can make a pretty strong argument that it's been a net negative, and yet we're apparently unable to do anything about it. The whole enterprise of maximizing engagement positions some of the smartest minds in tech to maximize qualities of addiction.

In other words, there seem legitimate parallels to draw.

> But if we are going to be honest about why Facebook is becoming the public whipping boy, it's because Boomers who voted for Donald Trump used Facebook to talk loudly about why they like Donald Trump.

This seems a dishonest oversimplification. You can point to the 2016 election as a tipping point perhaps in how we view Facebook, but it was not because boomers were talking about why they liked Trump, it was because we began to realize at scale just how powerful manipulation (by state actors) on these platforms can be.


>the potential negative influence of Facebook and complete lack of privacy is certainly becoming something of common knowledge, and yet people continue to use it

People using something that you think has a bad influence on them does not mean it's an addiction. They are simply making a different choice than you have made.

You can't (or, shouldn't, I suppose) make something illegal purely because you don't like that people use it.


I recently deleted facebook. I hadn't actively used the platform in years, but actually deleting it was a difficult decision because there's some people I interact with using Facebook (but don't care enough about to connect through other means). I get invited to parties through facebook. I invite people to parties through facebook.

The network effect is part of the drug. I know it's bad for me. I know it's bad for society. That provided the push for me to delete it, but it didn't make it less painful.

I still have instagram, for similar reasons as to why I had facebook. It's going to be difficult to delete that for the same reason, especially since I still somewhat actively use the product itself.

Like drugs, it's easier for some people to quit than others. You shouldn't lessen other people's experiences and assume that everyone can quit as easily as you.

Most people aren't advocating for Facebook to be illegal, but want some of their practices to be illegal. Yes, this should also apply to Youtube, Twitter, etc. My feeling is that the recommendation systems should be removed, and that they should only be allowed to show you content you've explicitly subscribed to.

Facebook is the whipping boy because they've expanded knowing they're doing harm, having internal research that shows they're doing harm, and ignoring the consequences. Twitter is as much to blame for Trump as Facebook. Youtube is as to blame for QAnon as Facebook. All of them have algorithms that make people more politically extreme.


> Facebook didn't change anyone.

It certainly does. Humans are as much a function of the environment as they are of their genes. Different generations have clearly different value systems.

If what you said were true, parents wouldn't try so hard to put their children in healthy environments, because an environment "doesn't make a good person into a bad person."

> The longer we try to blame a technology for humanities issues...

Again, by this logic, parents should not ever restrict how much screen time their children have. Nor never blink an eye no matter what websites their children spend lots of time on.


Children do not have fully formed brains. Society has decided the best way to mitigate the negative consequences stemming from decisions made by children with brains which have not fully developed is to allow parents the authority to make decisions for them.

If an adult wants to spend all day in front of a computer screen, they can choose to do so. If an adult wants to spend all day on Facebook, they can choose to do so.

If you believe Facebook would turn you into a bad person, you are well within your right to not use Facebook.

I don't use Facebook, but that's because it's an unenjoyable experience. Not because I think it's some evil hypnosis device.


Think about inflation increasing at 3% annually on average, with no accompanying deflation, and with no accompanying increases in wages for most of the population.

A dollar is presently worth half as much as in 1990. A 100,000 a year job in 1990 is equivalent to a 50,000 a year nowdays.

Every year the noose gets slightly tighter, the slack is slightly reduced, the competition is slightly increased, society become slightly more cutthroat, people are forced to do slightly crazier and crazier things to make ends meet and sacrifice their morals just a little bit more, work just a few more hours to make the same money.

Then new generations are born into a world that's much more competitive than their parents world 20 years previous, and start out thinking this level of competitiveness and craziness is normal.

And the water in the frog pot inter-generationally continues to get hotter.

We're literally on a slow unstoppable pathway to a third world country and no one even realizes it.

Or possibly creating the conditions for war.


> with no accompanying increases in wages for most of the population

Take a look at the median US household income over the last 40 years.

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


Median wage and median household income are two separate things.

Median household income can mean two parents are working...

Take a look at inflation adjusted wage growth for a singular person over time.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2...


Fair enough, household income is not the same as wages, but the data that you link to shows wages have kept the pace with inflation, contrary to what you were saying.


Good point. I stand corrected. I grabbed the first legit looking domain on Google (pew) for a reference thinking it matched something else I read and proved myself wrong.

Good catch.

So apparently the fed allowing inflation rates to increase is also paralleled by wage increases somehow? I'm guessing due to the stimulation of the economy by the inflation?


Inflation is an increase in the price level and wages are a price too. This means, in principle, we should expect wages to increase at the same rate as other prices, all else equal. In practice wages will not always move with inflation perfectly, because again wages are prices and prices are influenced by demand and supply, in addition to changes in the price level.


I came to the same conclusion after going back to a middle class country with my parents in early high school. On the salary of two public school teachers which is middle class though above average, life was not so different from in Canada on the salary from the same profession. Better in some ways, worse in others, overall only slightly worse.

That would have been insane a few decades earlier, and it's not just because of improving third world countries, but also because as you said the noose tightened - everything became more expensive, especially rent, working hours increased, two salaries became necessary, etc..


THEN this person has to hide/digest the guilt of their actions, knowing that they are immoral but still required by society. By hiding that guilt, this person becomes disgusted by people who don't commit immoral acts to pay their mortgages, since every good action reminds them of what they're doing wrong.


Haha, dude. I hate Facebook too, but you’re kidding yourself if anyone there thinks they’re evil. The employees just focus on how easy it is for non tech savvy people to share vacation and kid photos across the globe with each other through their service, and go to bed in their $1.2M condos with a smile every night


It's not about being "evil". People are very adept at making convenient self-serving justifications on-the-fly.

For example the very same liberal parents who chastise conservatives for promoting racial inequality will cry murder when there are attempts to racially desegregate the school their child attends by changing admissions, and they'll come up with the perfect rational for this contradiction after the fact. They will put their child first, regardless of the fact that their child is already far ahead because of socio-economic advantages, and that the disadvantaged kid even with the better education is still going to be disadvantaged compared to their kid.

It's even worse in a culture and economic system where selfishness is deemed a virtue.

Here on HN, you can see such heavily self-serving bias in discussions like this, where the emphasis is entirely on the positive aspects and negative concerns are shot down: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28924751.


Amen

I'd say it's fair to call the process by which people justify doing bad things as "evil". I just wanted to correct the notion that Facebook employees think of themselves as villains.

Facebook is connecting people with each other.

Amazon/Microsoft/Google are collecting usage data to improve their products. Amazon and Microsoft think it's such a benign thing to do that there's no need at all to allow people to see or opt out of this collection. Google thinks that providing visibility into what they're doing is more than enough to make up for it. Apple thinks that making it explicitly opt-in is enough to justify it.

Defense contractors are keeping Americans safe and making the world a safer place.

High-frequency trading firms are providing liquidity.

Landlords are "housing providers"

Etc etc


But whether or not you call it "evil", it is a moral failure, and deep down most people, including Facebook employees, know what they're doing is wrong. They look the other way, or shrug and say Everyone else is doing it, why should I lose out?, etc. Likewise most Google employees aren't proud that their high salaries are paid by advertising and the personal data collection for it -- deep down they know its a deal with the devil.


Where do you draw the line? You could probably feed a bunch of people in Africa if you worked at a nonprofit, lived a spartan lifestyle, and donated most of your salary to charity. Is it evil that you aren't doing that?


Where you draw the line defines what kind of person you are, your values and your commitment to them.

The reason shows like Squid Games is popular is that it's all about where people draw lines.

Morality is all about choices, and your true morality isn't what you say, but what you do.

The interesting things is that the people who are most committed, who are unwilling to compromise their values even if it means sacrifice*, are often invisible. They don't make waves. They just do the right thing quietly. There are very smart people who don't make a lot of money, who choose to become teachers, or find some other uncompromised occupation. Other people see them as crazy, or naive idealists. Our culture really tends to look down on those people, since material wealth is how everyone is measured.

btw, I left my career in the tech industry and my high salary nine years ago, to work on social justice, to write, and to work with children. There are costs that don't bother me at all, like my ultra simple life living in a run-down rental. There are costs that hurt, but those have to do with living in a society where eschewing the benefits of capitalism isn't popular. Some analogies I've used: Imagine being a white person having 2021 views of race and racism, but you suddenly wake up in 1850, where even Abraham Lincoln is a white supremacist (he was!). People will shun you for voicing your 2021 views. You will be an outcast in the dominant white world. You might be able to find a home among black people, except they are slaves and will be afraid to associate with you. Or here's perhaps an easier analogy: Imagine that you one day wake up and feel deeply you can't eat meat anymore. It's your conscience. You deeply feel it is wrong. So you become vegan. Now imagine this was 50 years ago before veganism started to gain any traction. Again you would be isolated. People will look at you weird.


yeah thats why there isn't a string of leaks and whistleblowers, and even former upper management decrying what is going on at fb. oh wait..


Or just fix zoning. No fancy giveaways needed.


I don't understand why this would just be a supply-side issue, rather than a huge demand-side issue given asset price inflation consequent from QE, the expansion of private credit and the financialization of housing over recent times. Or indeed a distributional issue given that we are now living in a new Gilded Age, of poverty amidst plenty.

A lot of housing problems result from the uneven and combined development inherent in capitalism. Physical and human capital floods to major sites of economic activity, leading to a positive feedback loop benefitting a small number of major cities. The rest of the country becomes a hinterland, sucked dry of business and anyone who has the option of leaving. In the UK, where I live, this is the major underlying cause of Scottish independence, and now the increasing calls for Welsh independence, and even Northern independence. The economy is asymmetrically built around London. That in turn makes it increasingly difficult for normal people to live in London (e.g. nurses and teachers). Zoning isn't going to fix that.


> I don't understand why this would just be a supply-side issue

Rates are low everywhere, but housing costs are not exploding everywhere (in the West). Even with-in a single country like Canada, in the Toronto/SW-Ontario area prices are way up, but the Prairies are flat/down in most places.

> rather than a huge demand-side issue given asset price inflation consequent from QE, the expansion of private credit and the financialization of housing over recent times.

Some of the Commonwealth countries (CA, AU, NZ) have the higher rates compared to other countries (DE, CH, JP, FR), and yet have higher housing price rises:

* https://twitter.com/MikePMoffatt/status/1446515836504743956

You'd think the cheaper-debt countries would have the bigger rises in prices.

In Toronto/GTA, prices have been going rising especially since 2015, when there was no QE going on. But there was a whole bunch more immigration without corresponding construction.


Tokyo is way more centralized than London, yet it’s completely affordable to everyone working there thanks to draconian centralized zoning laws making it easy to build denser housing anywhere as the market demands it


Japan's housing market is on a different trajectory. It peaked in late 1980s, I think. The problem with London is not building codes or zoning. Rather it's policies that make opportunities concentrate there.


Tokyo as a localized market has the same demand pressures as places like other super cities since it has a constant net immigration into the city and is where all the economic activity is. This is pretty much a guarantee for rising housing prices, but it has not happened. So you look at the differences and see how the zoning laws are different, and how housing units are built at a far higher rate per year than other super cities and it starts becoming pretty obvious what the difference is.


Wrong. London (and basically every other large city) has decoupled supply and demand by using zoning restrictions. It's really frustrating that voters can't see that fact, though.


It also helps that housing values depreciates in Japan, making it less appealing for speculation.


There are more to this than housing becoming an investment tool. I would argue the endless money printing and negative real rate has made saving pretty much useless. Hard assets are only going to keep going up. And then the government guarantees that housing market should never go down. Here in Canada many politicians have publicly stated they wouldn’t stand housing market going down. And of course they aren’t going to make zoning laws any less stringent.

The solution isn’t that hard. Raise the real rate. Let’s see how many people can keep buying their third and fourth homes once the rates go up by 5%.

Oh but we can’t have that. That will cause the economy cough cough stock market tank. So we have to keep making the bubble bigger.


> politicians have publicly stated they wouldn’t stand housing market going down

This statement is equivalent to saying that rents will never go down. And that's the core problem. Fiddling with interest rates or whatever is fine, but if your broader strategy results in every generation having to pay a larger fraction of their income on housing than the previous one, that is a problem...


> There are more to this than housing becoming an investment tool [...] Hard assets are only going to keep going up. And then the government guarantees that housing market should never go down

It's exactly housing becoming an investment. In your post you precisely explain why it's a profitable investment, why that makes it unafordable, and the solution you propose is to make it an unprofitable investment. I think you and the OP agree completely.


I don't think you understand how the value of these assets is supposed to rise. When you buy a flat in the center of town, it's supposed to increase it's value for being in the center while town is expanding. That means that there are always new housing units creating in the expanding periphery which drives population of town and therefor demand for living in the center.

The issue is that newly created housing is already priced sky high. You can blame quantitative easing which lowers interest rates and drives comodities we usually buy with credit high.

Just add another line to the graph and you'll see it.

Problem is not the market, but the fact someone is tempering with it so bad it inevitably collapses.


> I don't think you understand how the value of these assets is supposed to rise. When you buy a flat in the center of town, it's supposed to increase it's value for being in the center while town is expanding.

Why is it "supposed" to be this way?

It doesn't work this way in a lot of Asia. People don't want old, used homes and they lose value over time. Cities often don't have one specific point in the center (America's zoning is absolutely horrendous and forces this to happen) and so businesses, restaurants, shopping, activities, and so on are fairly equally spread across towns.

When American cities expand, they build more houses farther away but further condense business in the downtown core. But that's a problem that's politically invented and not so much a problem elsewhere.


I will second this. At some point a few decades ago I assisted on studying EU policy plans regarding sustainability. The idea was that city and town design was supposed to have "kernels" of social activity accross their boundaries e.g. shops, schools, businesess including specifically large businesses mostly on the services sector.

Also in the EU country I live in schools are managed centrally and equally, so there is no such thing as a "good school district" I read happening in other countries, which seems to expand inequality and cause financial hardship to their population for no reason other than the ideological assumption that central planning is to be avoided.


> so there is no such thing as a "good school district"

Is this actually legit full true? It might be less of a gradient than other places, but in our two years in Norway our children went to two different public schools which were in immediately adjacent suburbs - both good locations, and there was a definite difference in the management of the schools which was visible through all our interactions with them.

The second school was clearly better in our experience, despite being part of the same system.

Norway isn't "EU" for those purposes, but I suspect it's similar. The same way that different hire car offices or different pizza parlours in the same "chain" can have quite different quality despite theoretically operating under the same policies.

(edited to add)

While these things, in theory, normalise out over time as staffing changes in individual schools or individual franchisees - your kids are often only at each school for a handful of years, so there'll definitely be some attempt to find the better ones based on what you hear from parents of kids a year or two ahead... and those with enough money to just move house into the "best" zone will still get their kids into the better school.


I don't know about Norway but in the Czech Republic, there's no "school districts" in the first place, so that would be why there's no "good school district" here. Schooling simply doesn't have geographic boundaries here.


In the USA and other multicultural countries, a 'good school district' is basically one populated by middle class White and East Asian families: parents who value education and have received it themselves, and children who will not be disruptive in class.

Czechia doesn't have multiculturalism so it therefore doesn't have this concept.


> a 'good school district' is basically one populated by middle class White and East Asian families

So that would be all our schools. :) (Czechs and Vietnamese, respectively)

> and children who will not be disruptive in class

In my experience that seems to depend more on the type of school rather than on location. Gymnasia would be expected to have better-behaved students than vocational schools, even if the students come from the same region. I suspect that has a lot to do with entrance examinations. If you can pass the entrance examination for a Gymnasium, you're much less likely to be someone who had been disruptive in class in the past, and consequently also not likely to be disruptive in class in your new school.


European countries also have good and bad schools, they just don't constrain attendance geographically. Usually you only need good test scores to get into the better schools, see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gymnasium_(school)


It's not about multiculturalism but about social classes.

Do Czechia have social classes? If yes do they live in different neighborhoods?


Interesting. How do you decide which school a child goes to? Presumably there are limits on how many places are at each school, and you need some way to make sure that a child doesn't wind up with the only place left for them being on the other side of a city - so you'd have some degree of locality.

Here in Melbourne, Australia - many schools allow some out-of-district students - as a percentage of their total enrollment - but pretty much all public schools are required to make a place available to any student inside their district (which are drawn based on distances between schools, so they're sometimes pretty weird for transport)

http://www.schoolcatchment.com.au/?p=5730


> How do you decide which school a child goes to?

It depends on which school you like. In case of high schools, if you choose a vocational high school (which teaches a specific craft or a group of crafts), as opposed to a gymnasium (a school that prepares you for further university studies), it also depends on your intended future profession.

> Presumably there are limits on how many places are at each school

That's what standardized entrance exams sort out.

> and you need some way to make sure that a child doesn't wind up with the only place left for them being on the other side of a city - so you'd have some degree of locality.

We have good public transport that was free for schoolchildren (and for high school students was very affordable), so this wasn't a problem for me even if my school was on the other side of town.


Interesting... I gotta get back to Prague, it has been as couple of years now!

Do you have children of your own in the school system? I found that my expectations didn't always match the reality either in Australia or in Norway when it came down to actual experience for my kids.

Myself, I grew up in a remote area and was home schooled, and then for the final years of high school I went to the closest school, about 90 min drive away, so I lived in a lodging by myself during the week from age 16.


I don't have children, so I can't comment on the situation today. But it doesn't seem to have changed much in terms of organization.

BTW the fact that districts limiting attendance don't exist means that you don't have to change a school if your parents move, which happened to me at least once. Or, that your parents are prevented from moving if you want to keep your school.


Australia is pretty good about allowing continuity once you're settled into a school if your parents move, so long as you didn't just move into the district for a few months to get into a school.


Management might diverge but I meant central planning of schedule and equal distribution of resources.


I appreciated this other perpsecitve. It also helped me think about building codes and how old homes in the US can get grandfathered into old codes, not having to update to many of the new codes.

But what if they did? What if our governance said old homes must be updated? Then old homes would probably be worth less because it costs a lot to retrofit sometimes.

I may have some or many of those details wrong, just thought it was another example of how political decisions drive housing prices one way or the other.


If the updates were mandated at the time of sale:

You'll find a lot of people trapped in homes they cannot sell. The cost to update very old homes would far exceed what most people can spend out of pocket, and by the time they paid off the debt to do so, the codes may have changed again.

Also, older couples who have lived in one place many years and are now retired generally cannot take out lots of money. Instead of being able to sell and move to a senior community or nursing home, they would be stuck with a property they cannot maintain, compounding the problem.

Essentially, you would be hurting vulnerable people at the advantage of the young and wealthy.

If the updates were mandated as the code changed:

See all of the above, but now you're forcing people out of their homes even faster.


Oh, I wasn't saying that I believe that is a policy we should enact, I was merely saying that political decisions like that could switch a home from being an asset that increases in value over time to one that decreases in value over time.

I agree there are challenges in both having homes that appreciate and homes that depreciate.


> It also helped me think about building codes and how old homes in the US can get grandfathered into old codes, not having to update to many of the new codes.

In the US ex post-facto laws are generally unconstitutional. Our law defaults to grandfathering (there are exceptions), so a change in code applies to new construction, or renovations to existing structures. My experience owning older properties is that this was not a feature. Often what would be a repair in a new property would lead to a major renovation because whatever was being worked on would have to "be brought up to code".


A building code change that requires old buildings to be brought up to current code would not run afoul of the prohibition on ex post facto laws as long as any penalties for not complying only apply to non-compliance that occurs after the law is enacted.

Here are a couple examples showing both an ex post facto change and a non-ex post facto change.

Example 1: The building code is changed to say that all electrical outlets installed in kitchens must be installed with GFCI protection. Your non-GFCI kitchen outlets were installed before this change. In this case fining you for not having GFCI outlets probably would violate the ex post facto law prohibition because you are being fined for something that occurred before the new law--the installation of non-GFCI outlets.

Example 2: The building code is changed to prohibit non-GFCI outlets in kitchens. Your non-GFCI kitchen outlets were installed before this change. Fining you for having non-GFCI outlets would probably not violate the ex post facto law prohibition because you are being fined for something that is happening after the law--having non-GFCI outlets in your kitchen.

(This is all assuming that fines for building code violations are punitive. The prohibition against ex post facto laws in the US generally only applies to changes that increase punitive aspects of laws).


> A building code change that requires old buildings to be brought up to current code would not run afoul of the prohibition on ex post facto laws as long as any penalties for not complying only apply to non-compliance that occurs after the law is enacted.

My personal experience having owned multiple properties is that code changes rarely, if ever work the way you are describing. I've actually renovated a few kitchens, and had to deal with GFCI because the law around the permit for construction required us to, not because the code change was applied to pre-existing non-GFCI outlets. It would be impossible to maintain a property if the law worked as you described - the government could declare the kind of shingles on your roof illegal, and take your property for non-compliance, which is exactly why ex post facto laws are unconstitutional.


I think you’d see a lot less progress in building and energy codes if existing buildings had to comply with all the code changes.


You also see this with houses that could duplex or quadplex in place - but it won’t happen because doing so would require bringing the entire building up to current code.


The thing that increases in value the most is the land underneath the house. It doesn't make a lot of sense for house to increase value as it gets older. But even the house is a subject to inflation and the effect of "back in my days we could buy a toilet bowl for $20" can be seen even here.

City centers exist, just look at tourism and public transport. It's more valuable when you can rent out apartment as AirBnb, it becomes more valuable when tourists can't drive, distance from museums and shopping malls increases value and possibility that the land you own could be bought out for development of high density building is what drives the value up.

Housing is not a bottle of water you can buy in groceries. Housing is one of the few things most of us buy on debt. If you increase the amount of debt people can take by lowering risks for banks, the price will rise.

Also there are many other factors like that cities that complain about high cost of housing mostly have draconian municipal building codes and zonings. Even racism has a play in it, it's truly interesting topic to study.


I couldn’t agree more with most of your points, but I couldn’t resist nitpicking this one:

> Housing is one of the few things most of us buy on debt.

Hard disagree there. Most people I know buy phones, cars, bike, washing machines, computers, sofas, desks, and damn near everything else I can imagine on financing plans. I feel like a weirdo because I tend to save up for everything and not accumulate debt! But I also grew up in a very frugal household, so maybe others were raised differently.


People still live in hundred years old "used" houses in Europe and they are generally more valuable than new houses.

In much of Europe the core of a city is much more expensive than the periferia.


Yeah here in the UK I’d be very reluctant to buy a new build. They tend to have terrible build quality relative to the price and often look very dull and “boxy” in my opinion.


That too, build quality took a lot of hits. Housing might become consumer goods.

In US most houses are made from wood panels and nobody expect them to out live the owner. In Europe most houses were made from bricks and concrete and people passed them to the next generation.


Wood houses last centuries in the US, just ask anyone in the northeast part of the country. They will also last much longer than "bricks and concrete" because large parts of the US are subject to strong earthquakes, which makes that type of construction dangerous and expensive. Many areas that originally had brick and masonry construction were badly damaged in earthquakes, and subsequent housing was built with other materials. On the west coast of the US, for example, there is a clear transition period in construction materials before and after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco in places as far away as Seattle once that risk was recognized. Wood and steel construction can survive strong earthquakes with minimal damage.


>In US most houses are made from wood panels and nobody expect them to out live the owner.

This is just nonsense.

I expect my house to outlive me.. a wood framed house has a 100 year life expectancy but that will be longer with maintenance. We have older homes from the 1800s too. Plenty of people buy homes from the 1920s.


I think we’re using different definitions of “old”. My mother’s house is about 250 years old, and that’s not uncommon where she lives. Her house is literally older than this country (I live in the US these days). Her house will probably last at least that again.

My house in the Bay Area is ~65 years old, it’s timber frame & stucco. When a strong wing gusts against it in a storm, you can feel the house slightly shudder. It’s not going to fall down (I’m reasonably certain, at least it hasn’t in the last 15 years and we’ve had a few storms :) and it’s not “made from wooden panels”, but in terms of solidity and construction, it’s not in the same ball-park (to use an Americanism) as my mother’s house.

Oh, and my house cost today would cost about 10x what my mother’s would…

[edit: it’s kind of wild that your username is what I used to sign into Unix systems with when I was in college. Sjg are my initials and they changed our account-names every semester for some reason]


Wild.. the definition though is that the owner outlives the house. That’s what I disagree with.


They probably meant two by fours with insulation (?) in between... I doubt anyone would expect these to outlast modern brick construction.


Wood framed houses survive many hundred of years. In fact they offer many advantages to bricks.


Yes that's true and there's a good reason for it. The hundred year old buildings are in, or close to touristic and historical areas that due to preservation laws and NIMBYISM, nothing extra is being built there and will never be built, so supply is fixed forever but demand is ever increasing. Basically they're more valuable assets than gold.

Those areas are also very close to all amenities like top public transport connections, quiet green spaces, entertainment, good doctors, top companies, good schools, lawyers so walkability is top noch, you don't even need to use public transportation, let alone own a car.

Buildings in those areas are also typically much more spacious and more solid than the current matchboxes being built.


The properties themselves lose value over time but the title or lease to the land under the property still increases in value exponentially.


> People don't want old, used homes

I don't think that's what they were describing. They were describing new homes, not old: I think the "supposed-to-be" pattern is up for 10-30 years after first being built, as the area is still growing and becoming more desirable, then down once the growth no longer outpaces the aging.


I'm curious, which Asian countries are you talking about?


> Cities often don't have one specific point in the center (America's zoning is absolutely horrendous and forces this to happen) and so businesses, restaurants, shopping, activities, and so on are fairly equally spread across towns.

That is absolutely not true. There's a reason why it is called center in the first place. Amsterdam, for example is completely flooded by tourists in the center and not so much outside of it.


They specifically said cities in Asia

Look at the real estate market in Singapore or Tokyo where housing prices are more reasonable


Singapore housing prices are in no way "reasonable". There is a large public housing component (80%), but those have also been increasing in price compared to median income, and decreasing in size. For the private market, average prices are now 15x the median yearly salary. [0]

Singapore is facing the same issue every other locality is with housing prices: prices have no fundamentals any more and are just inflating upwards out of reach from the median buyer. One can compensate slightly with smaller homes, but that has an impact on fertility rates and other quality of life indicators.

[0]: https://www.straitstimes.com/business/invest/property-no-lon...


Singapore? Holy god no.

If you look at the private condo market (you can’t look at public as the prices are subsidized), it’s not unusual for condos to cost >$2,000 per sq ft in desirable locations. A 750 sq ft 2 bed condo can run $1.5 to $2.0M.

San Francisco is closer to $1,500 per sq ft for a house in a prime location.


I was trying to get an idea of what Japanese house prices are, but I couldn't find much beyond the cost of a new house. Which is less than in the US, but not by much more than 10-20%. I understand houses in Japan don't typically appreciate in value like they do in the US though. They like to buy new and don't see it as an investment.

I assume a huge factor has to simply be that Japan's GDP and population growth has been basically flat for ~25 years.


I don't know a lot about Japans housing market, but I've read plenty times that houses are not built to last in Japan which probably has something to do with the low housing prices.

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/nov/16/japan-reusabl...


yes and this is on purpose. This is also partly because the safety standard is ever-evolving due to the precarious nature of Japan. Thus, updating house to the latest safety standard would cost more than just flat it over and rebuild a new one.

That's why, the most expensive part is the land and not the building itself.


> When you buy a flat in the center of town, it's supposed to increase it's value for being in the center while town is expanding.

If the town is expanding then the supply of housing goes up along with the demand and prices stay the same, i.e. proportional to the cost of constructing new housing.

Once you reach a certain point you have to build taller buildings which are more expensive to build and then housing prices would reflect the higher construction cost, but this only applies to urban areas and the costs only get really high when the buildings get really tall.

If you converted some of the suburbs to three story buildings that filled the lots, the cost per square foot wouldn't be much higher than it is for single family homes, but there would be ten times more housing per acre. Doing this is prohibited by zoning, which is the real reason why housing is unaffordable.


People who wish to live in areas of three story multi-family structures that fill the lot should be able to find or make places where that’s legal and the predominant style, I agree. (I’m opposed to the effective exclusion of that via pervasive 1/2 family zoning.) Equally, people who don’t want to live like that should be able to find or make places where detached 1-3 family buildings that don’t fill the lot are legal and the predominant style. (I’m opposed to zoning laws/changes that prohibit these neighborhoods as well.)

Forcing everyone to live in what they consider an undesirable hellscape isn’t good policy in either direction.


Desirable living locations are a limited resource, the population is increasing, people haven't stopped wanting houses, so the relative supply is decreasing. Increased prices are more about that than in investment potential. Just look at "manufactured homes". These tend to be less desirable, in less desirable locations. The house itself often depreciates in value. Although the land it's on may appreciate in value.


I think it's much more a matter of negative real interest rates. This inflates the price of all assets, but especially real estate, which is available to be purchased with the cheapest fixed-rate leverage around.


Ah, yes-- I forgot to mention that. I was astounded when my father mentioned recently that when they bought the home I grew up in, the interest rate was 12%!

Right now, living in a suburb with people from the nearby city fleeing for greener pastures in my area or further out still, the paper value of my home is up 10% in a year-- as you say, making any loan on nearby homes effectively a negative rate.

Whereas using the interest rates my parents paid, a mortgage today for the same amount as they had, at their interest rates, would have 3x the monthly payment. The house itself is about 3.5x the original price, making the gap between effective living costs much smaller than the nominal sticker price on the house would make it seem.

The "don't buy a home mortgage for more than 2x-3x you annual salary" was advice formed at a time of much higher interest rates.


> I was astounded when my father mentioned recently that when they bought the home I grew up in, the interest rate was 12%!

The prices of houses adjust very quickly to changes in interest rates because housing prices are based on what an "affordable" mortgage payment for the market is. Housing prices change to make that math work.

Interest rates and housing prices only matter to people who are buying a house that aren't selling one at the same time. Low interest rates are bad for first time home buyers and investors.

> The "don't buy a home mortgage for more than 2x-3x you annual salary" was advice formed at a time of much higher interest rates.

Also, when that adage was coined, the cost of the "essentials" required to live hasn't gone up as much so people have more of their income to spend on housing.


True: people can afford $X/month. The proportion that goes towards interest is less relevant.

In fact, I'd prefer a lower sticker price & higher interest rate to get to $X. That way when interest rates inevitably drop at some point I can refi at the lower rate and get the partial benefits of both lower sticker $ and interest %.


Low interest rates and high price is also quite simply a huge profit for existing homeowners at the expense of new homeowners, all pushed by banks.

It's almost as if macroeconomics is a real topic after all! /s


It's funny. The reason you hear all those stories about boomers being able to afford a house, college education etc on a basic salary is primarily due to the higher interest rates of the time.

Buying a house when rates were 10% and watching them drop to next to 0 over 30 years must've been fun.

Of course Re: college there are other reasons, like government derisking lending by backing the loans, supporting higher and higher costs.

But it should be no surprise that debt fueled expenses are much much higher now. You can certainly say that carrying costs may be similar due to lower rates, but personally I'd much rather buy an asset at a high rate, and have the option of paying down quickly to become debt free.

Nowadays it's almost nonsensical to pay down your debt from an opportunity cost perspective. But even if carrying cost is low, there's an uncomfortable feeling when you live life by financing everything, and with high level of debt.

The question is, will we ever normalize, or will we follow Europe to negative rates?

The current Fed is too politicized to normalize policy. I think partly due to the greater public scrutiny of their moves. Almost everybody will vote for easy money if you give them the choice. Easy money is always the right choice in the very short term. The longer term distortions are the thing to worry about.

Lowering rates effectively initiates a one time transfer of wealth from the future generations to the present.


Central banks can only set the nominal rate of interest. The real rate of return on capital is independent from monetary policy. If the central bank sets the nominal rates below the real rate, it's possible to make a profit by borrowing money at the nominal rate and investing it in a business and earning the real rate.


Yes, but the central bank influences the real rates. Real rates are a function of the nominal rates and level of inflation.

Tighter monetary policy will lead to lower levels of inflation, thus higher real rates.

Central banks are also doing QE and distorting nominal rates on treasuries by shrinking their supply in the market. e.g. Fed buys a 10yr treasury, now it sits on their balance sheet for the next 10 years, rather than floating in the free market.

If the Fed hadn't bought trillions of treasuries over the last two years, what would the nominal yield on treasuries be?

Beyond the mechanical, the Fed has created a psychology that the treasury market is no longer a free market, which discourages investors to sell or go short.

Similar to equities. People believe the Fed will backstop any turmoil, so valuations begin to matter less.

So current Fed policy pushes both variables in the equation towards lower real rates, both in mechanical and in psychological terms.


> Tighter monetary policy will lead to lower levels of inflation, thus higher real rates.

Tighter monetary policy will also lead to higher nominal rates. Nominal rates, inflation and the quantity of money cannot be set independently of one another.


You seem to be in agreement with me then. Higher nominal rates will also lead to lower inflation, thus pushing real rates even higher. So a hike acts on both the inflation side and nominal rate side to push real rates higher.

But speaking to the immediate circumstances, the fed primarily influences the short end of the rate curve. (Once QE is ended)

If the fed were to surprise hike interest rates this week, you can bet yields on the long end of the curve would come down.

Because the market would anticipate a hike in short term rates leading to end of inflation fears, and potentially triggering a deflationary event due to the surprise nature of it.

E.g. recall the times when the yield curve becomes inverted.

You can see over the past two weeks the yield curve has started inching towards an inversion. Actually the 20yr and 30yr inverted for the first time ever last week.

It's only speculation to say what this means, but to me seems a pretty obvious signal that the market expects the Fed to have to tighten faster than they're saying to curb inflation.

E.g. look at how quickly the 2yr has risen, while the 10yr has been in decline

Of course this inversion move is almost entirely due to how slow the Fed has moved. If they had moved faster, there would be less concern with a tightening. Now they may be late to the game if inflation pressures don't begin to ease soon.

We may actually be at full employment already, due to lifestyle changes leading to permanently lower labor force participation rate. In which case the Fed is years behind the curve on tightening. We'll know after a few more employment reports.


No, we are in disagreement. I agree with the view that the real rate is determined by the supply of savings and the demand for funds. According to this view, in the context of monetary policy, the real rate of interest is an exogenous variable, and the central bank can choose to set the rate of inflation or the nominal rate of interest, but not both.


Help me to understand your math then, because it doesn't track logically.

realRate = nominalRate - inflationRate

Raising nominal rates increases real rates due to higher nominal rate.

Raising nominal rates decreases inflation, also raising real rates. Decreases inflation by reducing availability of credit, thus reducing effective money supply/demand.

Please explain how the relationship works otherwise


The relationship is pretty simple

nominal_rate = real_rate + inflation_rate

where the real rate is set exogenously. This implies a positive correlation between the nominal rate and the inflation rate, which is consistent with what we observe, e.g. https://miro.medium.com/max/1400/1*b3RDeRT7rPxYEdoFnZEJRg.pn...


Interest rates are correlated with inflation because the Fed historically raises interest rates when inflation rate is high.

This is an obviously true observation and easily borne out by looking at history.

Long term rates are distorted by QE right now. The market will price long term rates higher, when inflation is higher, sure.

Short term rates typically set a floor on long term rates, outside of rare yield curve inversions.

So not sure how your data relates. Short term rates set a floor on longer term rates, thus raising short term rates increases real rates on both fronts.


Long-term rates are not the same thing as rates in the long run. In the short run, monetary policy can create an imbalance and move the real rate of interest temporarily, but the real rate will adjust to its natural level as markets return to equilibrium, in the medium term. This is known as the Fisher hypothesis.


Population increase has essentially stopped in most developed countries, though since household size is also decreasing there is still demand for new dwellings. But household size can't decrease without bound so... will be interesting to see what happens.


>Population increase has essentially stopped in most developed countries

Not in US:

https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population...


I think the Parent comment is referring to non-immigration population increases.

The US Population growth is due to immigration not from citizens having more children. Immigration, and US Born children to immigrants account for 75 percent of annual population increase for the US.


Immigrants buy homes, especially ones who work in high paying fields.


Natural increase has essentially stopped. Immigration helps but there are probably not going to be enough immigrants to keep growing for much longer unless the US starts allowing Canada-level immigration (see that growth curve steadily decreasing). It will take a while though, probably another 40 years or so until the US sees declines, but growth rates will collapse in the coming decades unless demographic trends change.



I hadn't heard of George, thanks for the reference. The quote in the linked article about San Francisco was fantastically prescient.


I'm sorry, but this is sheer silliness. A "country" doesn't "decide" to make an asset class appreciate or depreciate. It's always been driven by supply and demand.

If the population of this country stopped growing and started shrinking, a lot of real estate would be freed up. Demand for housing in the densest cities would drop, and it would be cheaper to live.

Real estate prices have gone up for the last hundred years because there are more people. This is why it has been an effective and predictable model for businesses like car dealerships to always locate on the outskirts of cities and wait for the city to come to them, sell the land and move further out.

There isn't anything nefarious or even strange about it. It's a natural result of population growth and increasing demand that consistently (so far) outpaces supply. Nor is it inevitable; look at China. Tons of empty apartments, cheap bordering on free to live in. That's what happens when supply outstrips demand.


Countries can easily affect the market in this case and there are incentives to do so.

Things like zoning laws, property taxes, taxes on investing in property all affect overall prices, it's never going to be pure supply and demand.

For example if a region/country wants to keep prices down, heavily tax second/third/fourth homes. Or provide tax incentives to new builds.

Then there's interest rates, one of the reasons that property prices in many countries are increasing is that the interest rates are low, so people looking to invest can't get a good return on their investment in "traditional" locations, so they turn to buying property to rent out.


> A "country" doesn't "decide" to make an asset class appreciate or depreciate. It's always been driven by supply and demand.

But it does. The supply is partially driven by speculators who bet on the prices continuing to grow. Currently, a lot of people are buying more expensive houses than they need because "house is a good investment". This (the speculators) can be easily stopped with a policy - e.g. tax heavily all profits from real estate sales, incl. primary residences. If taxes make it next to impossible to profit on increase of house value (the profit goes to treasury and not to seller), then the market would significantly cool down.

The fact that we (for example) tax heavily income from work, but not from real estate speculation, is a CHOICE.


If you did that, who would want to build houses? Buying an asset because it will increase in demand is not "speculation", it's investing. Banning investment means no one will invest to make more houses.


Buying an asset that you anticipate increasing in demand is the definition of speculation (and you are correct if you point out that is what most people are doing on the stock market and crypto).

Investing is lending your money or other assets to an entity with an expectation that it will use those assets to generate more value.

One is increasing value in the world, and the other is riding coattails.

Also, I'm sure parent poster was suggesting taxing of real estate capital gains, not every dollar of every sale, and particularly not the initial sale by builder.


The taxation would be on resales only, not initial sales by developers.

Also, if you increased the value of house (e.g. via renovation), the value increase would be tax-free upon resale, so that you can fully recoup the money you've put into the renovation.


This is already true up to $250k. Look, I certainly don't think it's a good thing to build an economy on people or corporations flipping real estate. But active measures that would make it less attractive for people to buy a house, will drive that money elsewhere. As of 2020, 82.8 million residences in the US are owner-occupied. People have put their nest egg into a place to live, and that's good. It's a good thing that real estate is a safe place for people to put their savings to keep pace or outpace inflation. Imagine that money going into the stock market chasing gains. It would be a catastrophe. There is a true market for real estate driven by demand. A large number of houses in this country are owned by people who live in them, who are not speculators, but would only make the decision to own if it made financial sense.


It’s easy to treat taxation of primary and secondary residences different from rentals.

Houses in this country are being purchased by large investors at rates never seen before. It only started happening in the last decade. SFR wasn’t previously an institutional asset class. That has increased demand for housing that used to make sense to buy on a lower income and reduced supply. They literally will buy every house they can that fits their buy box. Suddenly that $150k starter home is a forever rental.

Frankly, I think tax policy may be the only way to fix it. That or prohibit ownership by large entities.


I'm totally with you on this. I think the sharing economy for housing is catastrophic. And I'm someone who rented most of my life - sometimes finding places on AirBnB and going long term on them - then bought a house, and I hope in a few years I will rent this house out (long term) and buy another. But I've watched areas around me turn into transient AirBnB wastelands, including the house next door. While other people can't afford rent, and the rents have gone up 30% in the last five years. Short term rentals are a blight. I don't blame people for taking the money - the family who owns the house next door put their house up on AirBnB, pays a company 10% to do housekeeping and fucks off to Thailand .. they come back once a year for a few days. I can't say they're wrong. But it's even worse if it's a faceless corporation buying up all the housing stock. Then we're all just living in a hotel.

I do think this should be addressed, either with tax policy or city ordinances against the practice, but I think the first step is to differentiate between short and long-term rentals. Long term renters have rights, for one thing. And they add to the neighborhood, they don't hollow it out. Every AirBnB is basically a dead property that takes away from the community and gives nothing back.


I agree except I’d say most people prefer neighbors that own and are invested over renters that may have historically stuck around for just as long as owners but now have to move every few years because corporate landlords up the rents 5% every year. That’s an entirely new phenomenon.

Corporate landlords have turn ratios near 40%. Small landlords are closer to 20%. The turnover is akin to Airbnb.


Taxation is one angle to consider, but it isn't it an inadequate band-aid for the wounds caused by easy money, artificially low interest rates and the political incentives of the US's central banking system?

Look at the root causes of asset price inflation.


The root cause is long-term low interest rates but now that SFR is an asset class, the interest rate cycle won’t bring back the $150k home without a major crash that harms everyone.

Tax policy that punishes large investors can help things land without a crash.


If you tax the whole of the delta then real estate development would scrape to a halt. So that obviously won’t work.


It won't be affected at all, only resales (not initial sales) would be taxed.


Do buildings not wear out? Are buildings not improved?


Strange to use China's oversupply as a comparison when it too is the result of intentional government action.

Governments can cause oversupply, governments can cause undersupply. Bet you can think of plenty of examples without my help of government policy resulting in supply for some goods decreasing or increasing relative to demand.

Governments can do a lot. Like, they can pretty much dictate what you're allowed to make, how much they're gonna tax you on profits from making something, who you're allowed to sell it to - they can absolutely decide to cause an asset to appreciate.


Yeah - sure. But basically every government intervention leads to some abominable result. Politicians get traction by promising to fix markets, then get rich by twisting them for their own benefit. China distorted the real estate market to the degree that they overbuilt. The theory here is that America has underbuilt due to local regulations? Okay, but if that's the case I don't think the answer is more government intervention.


Few markets are as distorted by government action as the US housing market. It decides where people work, where people can build, what they can build, and how they can build. We directly and indirectly both tax and subsidize sales, loans, insurance, rent, and just about anything else related to housing.

The vast increase in home prices has almost nothing to do with the housing market and is almost 100% driven by government policy combined with a slightly wealthier society.


Aside from federal loan programs and interest rates, how does the US federal government decide where people work or build? Seems like a lot of local state and city regulations, not some master plan.


There are some federal rules, but why would you exclude state and local levels from the US government?


> But basically every government intervention leads to some abominable result.

Some interventions do, some don't. Without environmental legislation, for example, companies would export their negative externalities, e.g. pumping sewage into water systems, onto the rest of us.

Saying that, however, there have been some bad housing policies in the UK, for example, "Help to Buy" which could just as easily be called "Help to Sell".


That's true. But that's of a different category. Governments should regulate the public sphere and public resources. That benefits individuals. Who in a democracy ostensibly are the ones who vote in the government. Notably, authoritarian governments which don't respect individuals don't spend much time on environmental regulation either.

Market manipulation or redistribution of individual (not corporate) wealth by governments -- as opposed to regulation -- is always a bad idea because (a) the people making those calls from within the government are getting rich by doing so, directly siphoning wealth from the citizenry by exercising inside knowledge and the power to tweak a market, and (b) those actions directly harm the golden goose that produces the economic uplift the government needs to survive - that is, the individual in the middle class.


In 1st year econ, students learn about market externalities and the usefulness of government intervention in addressing them. So this statement from you is not based in economic science, but rather ideology.


Really it was more of an observation. I do think governments have a role in regulating markets and preventing businesses from externalizing costs. I would really like if the DOJ and SEC stepped up antitrust and insider trading litigation.


You are wrong, look what ie France is doing with its housing market. No bubbles since it highly demotivates speculations and corporate mega-investments that move markets.

There are tons of tools any state has to motivate or demotivate markets. Taxes, rules on primary, secondary and investment residence ownership, same goes for rents etc.

I tend to see a clear pattern here, just like in other topics - folks who are profiting from current situation by already owning see nothing wrong - in contrary, market forces in effect etc. The more the better.

The rest not so much, ie younger generation thrown in the world where they probably will never own their residence, which can be pretty infuriating compared t situation say 20 years ago. There aren't that many more people to explain this. But the move to consider housing more and more as a speculative investment rather than commodity is definitely out there, everywhere.


20 years ago I was the younger generation and hearing how we were the first generation who would have it worse than our parents, would never have a path to home ownership, and we should be so enraged because the "dream" had been stolen from us. I don't hear a lot of people (like me) defending the fact that it takes a couple decades of work to own a home, and that that's OK and how it should be. I just hear a volume boost on the angry 21-year-old I used to be when I thought I would be deprived of those things. They'll get there. Their parents' generation all have houses and are the richest in history, and are the ones who've driven prices up to inconceivable levels. A lot of this complaining comes from people who've never even rented a room.


I'm in my mid-30s, and I find this a little bit offensive. There is absolutely a difference in the action potential I need to buy a house vs what my parents dealt with - this is patently not just twentysomethings being upset.


Yeah, I don’t think they’ve done much research on historical pricing vs. income.


> Yeah, I don’t think they’ve done much research on historical pricing vs. income.

Can you share what you’ve learned?



If you take a look at the Case Schiller index, to which you’ve linked, it is clearly the case that someone from GP’s parent’s generation would have seen lower Index values than a current home buyer. What are your other arguments?


I think maybe it’s better to demonstrate a counter argument as I don’t know a single data point taken in context that doesn’t show housing is the least affordable it has ever been. There was a reprieve with the crash but that’s over.


Why should it take 20 years to own a home?


> by supply and demand.

The relevant unit of supply/demand here is mortgages, which are indeed controlled by government policies.


Interest rates act as an incentive or disincentive, but ultimately a government can't forever lend infinite credit to a population that doesn't pay its debts. America has certainly tried to extend her credit infinitely, and our parents and their parents got the best of that, but ultimately our credit as a country is tapering off.

Are you suggesting credit should be loosened again so you don't need 20% down to buy a property?


Citations needed for basically every sentence in this comment please


It is possible to build new houses. It is possible to scratch zoning policies that prevents building more houses in one area.

Housing does not have to be fixed amount resource.


> If the population of this country stopped growing and started shrinking, a lot of real estate would be freed up. Demand for housing in the densest cities would drop, and it would be cheaper to live.

Without a policy to disincentive it, couldn't large asset holders purchase freed up real estate and artificially control the supply?


Not profitably. Renting out apartments is profitable, but paying property tax and maintenance costs on a bunch of housing that you hold empty isn't. And to artificially control the supply the housing needs to be empty. (This is actually one way we know this isn't happening at a large scale right now: vacancies are at historic lows)

Buying up a bunch of real estate to drive up the price and sell for a profit also doesn't work. For the same reason that a pump-and-dump scheme needs other bag holders: when you start selling the price will drop too quickly


> paying property tax

Exactly, this is point I was trying to make. Policy can have an effect on the market. It is more than just supply and demand like noduerme was suggesting. An example is London. There is a large number of empty housing owned by non-residents because they can avoid a lot of taxes and its a good place to park money. If there wasn't preferential treatment for non-UK residents then the housing market there would look a bit different.

Also buying up housing assets could be a long term strategy that would benefit the owners in ways short term would not (change of policy 10 years later, increased population because of migration laws, etc.)


The apartment vacancy rate in London is apparently only 3.4% [0] right now! That's not even the 4.5-6% rate that it takes to cause rents to stop growing. I would hardly consider that a large number of empty housing.

[0]: https://lfpress.com/news/local-news/london-apartment-vacancy...


That data you provided is for London, Ontario, Canada. I was speaking about London, England, UK. That being said I looked up the official data and calculated around 3% for dwelling vacancy in London for 2020 [0]. Though, if look at individual boroughs one finds there is a high vacancy rate in certain areas [1] (based on the same data from [0]).

[0]: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/dwelling-stock-inc...

[1]: https://www.bigissue.com/news/housing/one-in-three-homes-in-...


They raise property taxes and tell you your house is worth more to justify it. How is that not manipulative?


Oh hey, they raised mine by almost 5% this year. But it makes plenty of sense because the purchasing power of a dollar has clearly declined by at least 10% in the same span of time. So, every purchase you make with fiat money in a fiat economy is some form of arbitrage. You're trying to hold value against inflation. Yeah, they raised my taxes but in doing so they invented $25k in value for my house. That's great since I'm going to need that to buy vegetables. In the long run, it doesn't matter. Nothing of value has actually been gained or lost. I raise my hourly rate with inflation.


This would be securities fraud if you applied it to any other asset. You’d be jailed if you did this.


>I raise my hourly rate with inflation. You are lucky that you are able to do so.


Setting your own price. It's the future. I've been living in it since 1998. I still check pay scales for various skill sets regularly to make sure I'm not totally out of whack with them.


Anyone can set their own price for how much they sell their labor. There is no guarantee that they will find a willing buyer at any price.


See Georgism[1], Geolibertarianism[2], Are you a Real Libertarian, or a ROYAL Libertarian?[3] and Vulgar libertarianism[4].

---

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgism

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geolibertarianism

[3] https://geolib.com/essays/sullivan.dan/royallib.html, and prior HN discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7076632

[4] https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Vulgar_libertarianism


> A "country" doesn't "decide" to make an asset class appreciate or depreciate.

Look up negative gearing in Australia


Interesting. But it's just a form of writing off a loss. It seems like a stupid move, and at the end of the day I'm not sure how it hurts renters since the whole idea is to offer the rental at a loss to get the tax credits (?) Also historically, Australia has had a lot of bizarre policies of paying people just to go occupy some empty piece of dirt or live in the bush, so I'm wondering if that's got something to do with advantaging this type of a write-off.

In any case, you have to realize money will go somewhere. It will go into a bank vault or it will go into a house, or it will go into the stock market; people want a return on investment. If you outright make it onerous and expensive for the middle class to invest in real estate, the only real estate investors will then be trusts and speculators. This is a simple fact any time a government goes after small land holders.


Your original point was that a country doesn't "decide" to make an asset class appreciate or depreciate. I just gave you an example that the country can decide it can make an asset appreciate. In Australia's example it can make investors take more risks.

Did you also forget that the US govt created Fannie_Mae so that banks could issue more home loans, guess what happens when you issue more loans to more people, house prices go up.


>A "country" doesn't "decide" to make an asset class appreciate or depreciate.

In communist regimes they did exactly this.


And US local governments, especially west coast metros, have largely chosen to make housing appreciate by constraining supply -- at the will of their voters (landowners are a vocal and high-voting group).


And Central/Eastern Europe is still hurting today because of policies like this.


Because of policies like this? Please explain.


Hurting how? The real estate market in Easter Europe is better than in Western Europe as the communist governments built many high density housing in the cities so reas estate remains affordable for young people with skilled jobs even today. Compare that to Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and you can't afford anything as a young professional without a FAANG job or help from parents and a 30 year bank loan.

Eastern Europe is hurting in many ways due to corruption and political incompetence but the real estate market remains mostly affordable compared to the west.


The Czech Republic is AFAIK the worst EU country when it comes to the ratio of real estate price to net income.

It wasn't that bad five or six years ago, but now we are screwed beyond belief.

Edit: and no, it is not just the tourist hotspots like Prague, even though AirBnB contributed to the situation, especially in the rental market. Prices are crazy everywhere, including rust belt cities that have been losing population for a generation.


I'm just glad today that our family managed to purchase a three-story house from the municipal government for the equivalent of $US6K (!) about twenty years ago. In retrospect probably one of the best investments anyone could have ever made at that time. North Bohemia, but still...


I hear you, brother. Or sister.

I am now in process of buying a 120 sqm semidetached house in Ostrava. It is under construction right now. The price was about 270K USD. And this is in Ostrava, where good job opportunities are infrequent and which lost 40 thousand inhabitants since 1990.

And the construction corp. that is building the houses recently posted a new project of pretty much the same type of houses, only a mile away, but for 330K USD instead of 270K. This is the price growth since May!

The average salary in CZ is like 1600 USD/monthly pre-tax. The same new house somewhere around Prague would be around 500K USD at least, possibly 600K.


I know what Ostrava is like. Good luck with your house.

BTW our house has something like 160 sqm on those three floors, an attic, a cellar, and an attached three-level terrace garden (on a hill slope behind the house), all on a 250 sqm land parcel. The reason why it came for $US6k was that nobody wanted it when the town was trying to sell it (for around $US20k at the time), so the town put it into auction (with a ~$US6k initial minimum bid), where we (one of the tenant families at the time) were the sole bidders. I guess we were just lucky.


Oh, you were :)

I think the areas where cost-of-living is cheaper will see an influx of remotely working people. Prices around Prague and Brno have become too insane even for middle class professionals and crossed into the "front end for mafia" territory, as these are among the last buyers who can afford them.


Don't know about Eastern Europe, but in Central Europe, Czech Republic (an Prague in particular) has had a housing crisis for quite some time.


FYI, in America and most English speaking part of the world, they consider the former Warsaw Pact nations like Czech Republic Eastern Europe, and insisting that no, it's "central europe" will make them a bit confused and, frankly, sounds very small.

So if your goal is to communicate with English speakers, I'd stick to "Eastern Europe".

(Please don't respond with some argument about balancing a cutout of Europe on a needle, etc., I'm talking about using words instrumentally.)


What is it about "balancing a cutout of Europe on a needle"? That has nothing to do with anything. The Warsaw Pact existed for four decades. The Holy Roman Empire existed for a millennium. Guess which one shaped the country more. The important thing is that it used to have one of the communist governments that GGP talked about.


Your attempt to try to change a widely used label because of the Holy Roman Empire reveals either a charming belief that labels must preserve some long term historical truth, or it's a strident attempt to force people to change their own language. In either case, you are tilting at windmills.


No, they have windmills in the Netherlands. I'm in the Czech Republic.

BTW if you're concerned about "not preserving historical truths", a major contemporary truth is that Central Europe is part of the common EU market and Schengen Area, while Eastern Europe isn't. So that's quite relevant for the market situation.


Latvia is Central Europe?


OK, so make that "the overwhelming majority of Eastern Europe", then.


This is hopeless ))

East == bad

Central == better

Therefore Central Europe always extends far enough to encompass the speakers' country. Similar thing happens with Europe and countries beyond the Black Sea.


Actually, no. This would mean that there would be a dozen different accepted boundaries, which is simply not true. Instead, the eastern boundary of Catholicism/Western Church, the eastern boundary of Latin script, the eastern boundary of Germanized cultures etc. etc. etc. basically coincide.


But they don't really coincide...

Seeing as Germany itself has a Protestant-Catholic split, nevermind the rest of Central Europe, Catholicism is probably not it. Neither Latin script, nor the extent of the historical German population, unless you consider the Baltics Central Europe.

It seems there is indeed more than one way to look at it. For some, it is about not being in the same category with Russia, for some it's their Austro-Hungarian history. For some it's Germanic languages. Is the German North Sea coast any more Central than, say, Belgium? How about Slovenia? Is Südtirol Central Europe?

Where exactly the line is tends to depend on the context. In my experience, people from the region don't care much about the Iron Curtain line, unlike Anglos or the French.


Well, Prague, like Paris, London, Barcelona, etc. suffers the curse of being a touristic hotspot so it's difficult to compete with all the AirBnBs that rake in that sweet tourist $$$. I'm sure the rest of Czech republic that has less tourists are a lot more affordable.


Anecdotally, an acquaintance of mine had to put down a ~$US10K non-refundable deposit (several monthly wages back then, even for her way-above-average income at that time) to just be allowed to compete for a rented flat in Prague with other prospective tenants...more than twenty years ago. So well before any AirBnB or anything like that.


Sound kinda like a scam targeting rich foreigners. Like how in Berlin the landlords will make you buy their furniture off them for ~15.000 Euros if you want to rent their apartment as it's a seller's market.

Crazy times we live in in Europe.


Uh...she was a Czech, just like I am. That's simply how housing in Prague worked back then, apparently. I'm just glad that I was just a student living in affordable dorms at that time (something like $US40 per month or so? I don't recall the exact figure anymore). She was a Prague native.

BTW, as for "the rest of Czech Republic", things are not rosy in general: https://english.radio.cz/no-end-sight-inflation-czech-housin...

If the article about the US situation claims 118% of inflation-adjusted price increase since 1965, that's less than 2% increase per year. Not quite sure how this number is comparable to recent Czech figures, but I'm sure that Czech inflation wasn't anywhere near seven percent in the last years, so there's that. A 65% price increase since 2015 would be 9% annually on average. Czech inflation between 2015 and 2020 has been ~2.25%/y on average. So that would make the price rises adjusted for inflation 6.6%/y on average.


Just being thorough, but in theory it could be both if there was a steadily more desirable city core where people invested and a large affordable urban fringe where everyone could live. No principle says everyone should be able to live in San Francisco.

And what would be ideal, in a healthy market, is that housing is sometimes a little overbuilt and becomes a bad investment, then becomes very affordable and a good investment. Sitting at some sort of market equilibrium if you will. Investors consistently winning is bad for affordability, and investors always losing means eventually nobody will build houses and people start having to live outside.


> No principle says everyone should be able to live in San Francisco.

This. I don't understand why people think that it's their fundamental right to live somewhere where they want.


What’s your view on immigration then?


What does this has to do with my message? If there's a place - sure, join. But it's not your fundamental right to move everyone because you want to be there.


A good way to do this (once zoning is fixed to allow new construction) is to provide tax incentives for new construction. Then the price at which new construction is viable goes lower and so does the cost of housing.


Coveted land is a limited resource and will always be an asset to some degree. It’s value depends on social drivers that make the area worth living in.

Policy though can help prevent the asset price from being driven further by speculative investors, using tax penalties that heavily favor owner occupiers. It’s difficult to get right because there’s an argument to allow investors to participate, as it drives investment and effort into new house building.

But right now, 0% rates for businesses has flowed into large scale purchases of residential homes by Zillow, Redfin and others, who used their data positioning to capitalize on the flight to the suburbs due to Covid. That is what has devastated affordability. There’s no broad social benefit there, I hope it stops.


You really think that owner occupiers haven't pushed for policies that inflate the value of their investments at the cost of young people and renters? Having been to community meetings about creating more housing in my area, I'll tell you that there's plenty of people who want to constrain the housing supply who are not hedge fund lobbyists...


Actually I do realize that. The policy of tax advantaging owner-occupiers is to benefit non-owners who want to own a home. Of course many of them, once they own a home, will vote to pull the drawbridge up once they have refuge for themselves to further secure their position regardless of the impact to others. That's typical of earthly creatures that favor the natural law of narrow self-interest.


> When you make housing an investment, by definition, it has to become less affordable in the future.

Not really. It's fine to "invest" in something that just outperforms holding cash, or bank deposits. Trillions of dollars are invested in treasuries.

You can even invest in something with negative expected returns, if it hedges exactly the risks you will face in the future (eg, the risk of accommodation costs rising is offset by owning a house, because you will always need somewhere to live).

So you can make housing an attractive investment for medium-net-worth individuals, say, that section of the population that can afford to own 1-2 houses over their lifetime, without it becoming less affordable over time. You can use tax incentives to tweak this further: many jurisdictions give you a lot of tax relief on your first home.

So, what causes house prices to rise faster than incomes is not an approach of making housing an investment per se, but a focus on making it an investment competitive with the stock market and attractive to institutional investors seeking outright yield.


> So, what causes house prices to rise faster than incomes is not an approach of making housing an investment per se, but a focus on making it an investment competitive with the stock market and attractive to institutional investors seeking outright yield.

If it is an investment, it has to be competitive by definition. Otherwise your aim is something different than investment, which should be the case for housing ideally.


>If it is an investment, it has to be competitive by definition.

No, it just has to yield profits higher than the inflation rate. Not all investments have the same return.


No, all investment has to give same expected return(for the same risk) to be counted as investment.


I'm not clear on when the house as investment began. It seems clear that from the quality of the 50s era construction I live in that housing was though of in more utilitarian terms (ie put up cheaply and quickly). It seems like it was in the 80s in my area that you start to see much more custom and luxurious homes, but I'm not sure if the transition was more a cultural or economic one.


The '50s was a bit of an aberration, because the massive influx of soldiers coming home caused an extreme housing crunch, especially if you consider that there wasn't a whole lot of housing being built in the decade before the war due to the Great Depression. It was also exacerbated by moving from multigenerational living in the 30s to the nuclear family in the 50s.


Also, the boom of affordable, basic amenity new construction post-war was subsidized for (white) veterans by the federal government[1].

[1]: e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levittown


> I'm not clear on when the house as investment began.

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/OEHRENWBSHNO :)


Good lord, that graph looks far scarier than the 2008 bubble.


Among OECD countries, the United States is mostly middle of the pack. See https://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/publicdisplaydocument... IOW, these trends are basically global, not specific to the U.S. (Americans always think they're exceptional....)

For example, the U.S. is slightly below average in mortgage debt-to-income. One of the few places that the U.S. stands out is the percentage of home owners--we're second from the top at 40-50%.


It probably shouldn't, that's total real estate equity - not real estate equity per capita, and it doesn't look like it's even adjusted for inflation?

You can make any graph look scary if you try hard enough haha.


Needs log scale. Inflation is exponential.


It might also (or instead?) need to be expressed on a per-capita/per-household basis: the portion of growth in that graph that is merely the result of the country having higher population doesn't represent any change in the importance or value of home equity to an individual household.


The great thing about FRED graphs is that you can easily DIY with the "Edit Graph" button:

in log scale: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=ImYV

divided by households: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=ImZ1


I don't know when it began but AirBNB weaponized it to a ridiculous degree. The ability to basically automate the process of renting out your house at absurdly inflated prices is actively removing inventory from the housing market in addition to removing customers from the hotel industry.

I've never found agreement when speaking out against renting on HN. Empty houses outnumber the homeless 6 to 1 [0] and yet somehow it's more important that we ensure landlords can protect their effortless investments and waste more and more land on non-dense, temporary housing.

[0]https://www.reddit.com/r/CapitalismVSocialism/comments/agbo4...


Owning your own property goes back further than our founding. It has to do with staking out your rights.

Quite the opposite of what some comments here suggest, encouraging home ownership keeps life affordable. It is one way to stave off an oligarchy of property owners.

See, for example, Fannie Mae's mission,

> Our mission is to facilitate equitable and sustainable access to homeownership and quality affordable rental housing across America. We continue to innovate and promote a stronger, safer, and more efficient housing finance system to support more opportunities for homebuyers and renters in communities throughout the nation.

https://www.fanniemae.com/about-us/who-we-are

Finance people who make loans take issue with this since they have to match prices with a "government-backed" business, although it's only a charter which isn't the same as govt-backed. Plus, tons of businesses were supported by government in 2008 and 2020-2021 so that point is moot.


>Quite the opposite of what some comments here suggest, encouraging home ownership keeps life affordable. It is one way to stave off an oligarchy of property owners.

A better way would be to ensure that supply can continue to increase with demand, rather than encourage speculative buying and holding of land off the market in the hopes of making a fortune flipping it to the next generation and slowing down any attempt to redevelop. "Oh at least you're locked in" is at best a patch.

>See, for example, Fannie Mae's mission,

Yes, that's what they say but that translates into making housing an investment, which (see the several other comments on this point) goes directly contrary to it being affordable. I don't see what's better about mom-and-pops milking the next generation rather than a big conglomerate -- the result is the same.

>Finance people who make loans take issue with this since they have to match prices with a "government-backed" business, although it's only a charter which isn't the same as govt-backed. Plus, tons of businesses were supported by government in 2008 and 2020-2021 so that point is moot.

Wait, what? Finance people love Fannie Mae and the like because it means they can dump mortgages on a government agency merely because they meet some ossified standard rather than being legitimately below risk thresholds by a realistic assessment. And then not have to worry about fixing a rate that's too low for 30 years.


>Finance people who make loans take issue with this since they have to match prices with a "government-backed" business

No. They are glad the government is buying away the risks from them, enabling them to give more loans to people who might not afford to pay for them.


> more loans to people who might not afford to pay for them.

so should those people be given the loans then? The choices are to deny the loan, and prevent those on lower income from buying, or to give them loans (that they'd potentially default on in a crisis), and bear the cost of defaults.


They became speculative assets (not investments) when prices started appreciating faster than incomes.

Government subsidised mortgages are the cause of this. The technical implementation varies in different countries.

House prices are "levered" on mortgage interest rates.


> I'm not clear on when the house as investment began.

It began when boomers entered the housing market. I.e. suddenly a lot more people wanted houses.

Before then, houses depreciated over time, like your car.


Homes still depreciate - but once you’ve passed the “no empty lots” point in an are houses start to diverge from “build cost” (when there are empty lots it’s unlikely you’ll pay me more for my house than “cost of empty lot next to me + cost to build”).


There's a lot to unpack in your comments.

First off, I don't think a typical investment thesis is: this thing will be less affordable in the future. People invest for many other reasons other than simply capital appreciation. With housing specifically, it might be cheaper for you to buy vs rent.

> country decides to stop making policy

So, yes... US policies towards housing are all centered around the notion of taking out a massive loan for a home. You get paid to do it in some ways, through interest deductions for example. And yes, this policy will never change and this is probably the main reason you need to buy a house with a mortgage if youre in the US.

However, as a counter-example I know handful of countries where mortgages are not easy to get and not a traditional way to finance a home. Yet, home prices in these regions are also skyrocketing. So cheap leverage alone is not a necessary factor for home price appreciation.

Finally: Food and transport can be "replenished" - land cannot. So basic supply and demand concepts would say that land prices will increase, and by proxy so will housing.


If land was treated as the scarce asset it would fix a lot of issues.

Land taxed appropriately would incentivize higher density housing in order for the economics to work.

We’re in a weird incentive trap (in the Bay Area anyway) where owners protected by prop13 have massive wealth and are incentivized to restrict supply. New owners that manage to over pay for a home are further incentivized to restrict supply to keep prices high so they’re not underwater.

This is a bad feedback loop that creates real property scarcity. It’s also arguably a problem of regulation constraining the market’s ability to meet demand appropriately.



> Housing is part of inflation.

It is, but the upthread reference to “housing” actually meant “home ownership”, not the “housing” that is part of inflation (residential rents, actual and imputed).


Yes! Ok. But they also said home ownership is "a basic need" which is not really true considering that you can rent a place.


The point of the article is that wages should inflate too, yet increasingly fail to do so. And this needs to be acknowledged and then addressed.


> When you make housing an investment, by definition, it has to become less affordable in the future.

Sadly this has become a meme response, always repeated in every housing topic. Can we dig deeper? What would it mean?

A house has value, one can live in it, a basic human need. It also takes raw materials and skilled labor to create. Both of those go up over time, so building an identical house in the future will nearly always cost more than today.

Thus, that house can't help but appreciate in value. At a minimum, with inflation. Even that makes it a decent investment with minimal risk.

So you propose a house should depreciate? How, exactly? And would you want to live in those conditions?

One way to have housing depreciate is to have the economy of the region collapse (e.g. Detroit). But clearly that's not a good solution.

Maybe another way is to build houses with such bad quality that they disintegrate before the mortgage is paid off. But that's not an attractive solution either, I don't want to live in such a structure.

So what exactly are you proposing?


The value of a House does depreciate, especially when not taken care of. Even then maintaining comes with significant costs. You have repairs like water heaters, plumbing, roof, painting, hvac l, kitchen, bathrooms, floors, the list goes on.. that are due eventually. Next older homes are much less energy efficient,had to adhere to different building standards or might've been built in a style that does not appeal anymore.

Plenty of reasons why a home should not increase in value,just because. Where this becomes really irksome to me is for rentals. Unfortunately most landlords do the bare minimum with regards to upkeep (financially this just makes the most sense I bet), but they can easily upsell it to the next investor, if they're in a good area.


> Plenty of reasons why a home should not increase in value,just because.

It's not just because. It is because the cost of a brand new identical house is higher in the future (more expensive materials, higher labor cost), so that will pull up the value of the existing comparable houses.

Older houses are often more attractive so may price above the new ones. The new house comes pretty bare (unless it is a luxury builder but then you're paying that premium), often with zero landscaping etc. An established house gets you a nice yard, mature trees, etc.


> When you make housing an investment, by definition, it has to become less affordable in the future.

Why do people keep saying this? No, it doesn't. If house prices went up 1.5% per year they would be a perfectly good investment but would not become less affordable.


If you're talking about a 1.5% nominal price increase, then it's impossible to say whether it's a good or bad investment, from just that information. If inflation is 2%, then your house rising at 1.5% is a terrible investment, compared to a stock market rising at 5%.

Investments are graded based on their expected real rate of return, over time... In simple terms, that would be the increase in the nominal value of the asset, minus inflation. The higher the increase in real value, the better the investment.

If an asset's value increases faster than inflation, then over time the real price of the asset is rising. That means less and less people will be be able to afford it, each year.

Remember, inflation is basically measuring how much purchasing power we have... So if the price of something is rising faster than inflation, by definition that thing is becoming more expensive, which means less people will be able to afford it.

Even though 1.5% real (above inflation) appreciation seems like a small number, the total appreciation will eventually grow quite large after several years... Each year, housing will become affordable to fewer and fewer people. It may take a while to notice, but that's the definition of a rising real asset price.


> If inflation is 2%, then your house rising at 1.5% is a terrible investment, compared to a stock market rising at 5%.

I don't care if it's much worse than the stock market. All a house has to do is hold your money pretty steady against inflation and it will be an acceptable investment.

If the intent is "houses can't beat the stock market and remain affordable" then that's what people should say, because that's very different from just being "an investment".

And for what it's worth my intent was a number slightly below inflation, because it doesn't really matter if it's half a percent over or half a percent under.

> Remember, inflation is basically measuring how much purchasing power we have... So if the price of something is rising faster than inflation, by definition that thing is becoming more expensive, which means less people will be able to afford it.

That's only true if you assume wages stay steady with inflation, and they don't have to do that.

If house prices would grow faster than inflation but slower than wage growth then everyone could be pretty happy with the result.


You seem to be working some very personal, non-standard definitions, so there's really not much more for us to talk about. I hope you find a good financial advisor, and that you start listening to them.


Nonstandard definition of what, "investment"?

The thing you said about inflation is objectively false either way, so I wish you the same.


Yeah, and it has absolutely nothing to do with loose monetary policy/low interest due to rampant public spending and both people and pension funds bringing their money to the housing market due to everything else depreciating; no, not at all.


As much as I’d like to blame NIMBY zoning and the mortgage interest deduction, which are pernicious and ought to go, monetary policy is the only factor with the explanatory power for the global phenomenon we are seeing right now.


Homes are people more important asset and the way the market is (unique items that people choose carefully and bid on) it's quite normal that over time prices would rise in line with wages. Historically, wages are increasing faster than inflation (people are getting richer), which means house prices have a 'natural' potential to rise faster than inflation, and thus be viable investments.

If prices rise faster than wages across the board there will be a correction at some point: quite simply prices cannot go higher than what people can pay.


Untrue: if dividends rise quicker than wages, you can have house prices rise faster than wages.

And in fact earnings from capital now surpass earnings from work in the world (or is it in the west?). So I suspect house prices will continue to rise faster than wages, until enough people got fed up.


> earnings from capital now surpass earnings from work

they are not comparable things.

Capital can be deployed on massive scale, but for work, a human only has at most 24hrs to work (if they don't sleep).


This has no relation with dividends, which are also capped but not by wages.


So house prices are driven by income, right? Not wages, income.

So as the income from capital grow faster than the income from work, you will have more and more houses owned by capitalists (in the sense of capital-owner) and less by workers. In most modern countries, large part of the workers are also capitalists and this works OK-ish, but in countries with the same governance as the western world one hundred years ago (Brazil, Mexico, but also probably soon India and some ME countries), this create a severe imbalance.


What governmental policies make housing an investment? Are there countries with policies that effectively make it a depreciating asset? What do those policies look like?


> What governmental policies make housing an investment?

Local government (US): Low-density zoning, burdensome review processes on new development, "historical building" preservation, minimum amenity regulations (e.g., parking spaces, "set back"), etc.

Federal government (US): Subsidizing the cost of 30-year mortgages for lenders; subsidizing mortgage interest for homebuyers (mortgage interest deduction) at the expense of all other taxpayers (e.g., renters).

> Are there countries with policies that effectively make it a depreciating asset? What do those policies look like?

I can't speak to the specifics of what other countries do, but many of the obvious steps are to just stop the bleeding that we already know about, mentioned above. Eliminating the federal mortgage interest deduction, removing local government authority to impose arbitrarily burdensome processes on new development, upzoning, deregulating (no minimum parking, reduced minimum setback), etc.


> subsidizing mortgage interest for homebuyers (mortgage interest deduction) at the expense of all other taxpayers (e.g., renters)

If the mortgage interest deduction disappeared tomorrow, the landlord's cost to own that house would go up, and every penny of that increase would have to be passed on to the renter.

So while it's true a renter doesn't have that tax deduction, eliminating it isn't going to lower any rents, only raise them.


Eliminating the deduction would lower a renter's taxes, and money is fungible.


I don't follow how it would lower the renter's taxes?


Allowing investors to build/buy housing units and rent them out is a clear one that enables investment. Depreciation wouldn't make it a bad (or non-) investment, as long as returns are good over the unit lifetime. That's the default assumption for non urban housing where land is abundant.


I don’t think this is necessarily true. The value of the land you own can increase over time, but the cost of a square foot of housing decrease, as long as density keeps increasing.

Say I bought a house on a half acre for $500k. Then someone buys it for $750k and builds four houses on eight acre lots and sells them each for $300k. Owner occupied housing as an investment has produced a positive return but the cost of housing has gone down.


Sure, density is a good lever for reducing the cost of housing despite increased demand for land.

In your example, if local government instead forbids that development (via zoning), maybe you can sell your house for $1M instead of $750k, because those 8 prospective buyers are now bidding on the only available property.

Homeowners that view housing as an investment would prefer to see housing costs rise further (beyond benefiting solely from land value increases), and so they advocate their local governments to constrain housing supply via zoning. On the west coast, and particularly in California, they've been very successful.


>by definition, it has to become less affordable in the future.

Whoa. "By definition", investments have to go up after accounting for inflation?

I've never been convinced that any investment can go up faster than inflation forever. But you say they all do?

Also, I'm wondering what the phrase "you make housing an investment" means. Who makes it so? What do they do? How does it ensure it goes up?


Note that the price can also go up a bit after accounting from inflation without making it “less affordable”. Median income in the US has increased about 10% more than inflation since 2000.


TL; DR: Sometimes “exit” is your only vote. Consider exiting inflated property value regions.

I bought a house recently. Dealing with the mortgage and properly industry really brought home to me how deeply entrenched the housing as investment mindset is.

When houses were shown to me their likelihood of appreciation was highlighted before qualities of the house like it’s construction or the social health of the neighborhood. It was a bit frustrating because the latter types of things were what I wanted to know about. I bought the house to live in and it all goes well our family plans on staying indefinitely.

IMHO it will never change without a brutal prolonged housing crash and recession that wipes out the savings of millions, and the government will not allow that because homeowners tend to vote at the highest rates. 2008 showed that the government will burn down the rest of the economy to save property prices. The history of this power dynamic is actually quite deep. In many ancient societies and even early America property owners were the only ones with a voice or in some cases were the only true citizens. Civilization has always revolved around property owners at least since the agricultural revolution.

There is only one rational response that I see, especially for younger or lower income people: leave areas with absurdly exploding real estate costs.

The phenomenon is nationwide but it is definitely worse in some areas than others. When we bought our house we took advantage of the virtualization of software and left California for Ohio where we grew up. Now housing is exploding here, but less than it is on the West Coast.

Not everyone can be this mobile but more people probably can than you would think. If you are in a blue collar profession there are good jobs to be had (and sometimes a shortage) in rural and small city areas with industry. Many such areas also have shortages of lots of professions due to the many decade trend of everyone flocking to top tier cities.

Politically America really needs a rural renaissance and this could help drive it. The geographic concentration of wealth is a major driver of our political lunacy.

I am a bit older but if I were starting out I would include the real estate cost constraint in planning my career path. Yes there are great jobs in big cities but the RE cost means that when you want a family you must be either get rich or leave and while you are there all your surplus will go to the landlord.

It would make sense to avoid career paths that shackle you to high cost real estate. For techies that means maybe choosing industrial IT or coding for industrial or mining or farming concerns over Silicon Vallet cloudhipster stuff, or refusing to work for companies that are not remote first.


> There is only one rational response that I see, especially for younger or lower income people: leave areas with absurdly exploding real estate costs.

That's how it ever was and will probably always be.

In the 90s I wanted to live in Manhattan, wanted it so bad it hurt. But never found anything affordable, so it didn't happen. I moved to California instead, which was then still fairly cheap.


I hope fertility rates plummet because of this and population goes downhill fast. I can't see how people are deciding to have kids knowing how unaffordable everything is becoming.


This is natural and not a country’s decision. Cars can be mass produced. Convenient locations to live, can’t.

Plenty of areas have seen depreciation in housing but it’s because the entire area is doing so.


They cannot be mass-produced. But they can be produced. What's the newest city you've been to in the USA? When was it founded?

Living in New Hampshire in one of the most desirable historic villages, where in the village house prices are quite high, it is not lost on me that I have seen 20-30 strip malls and innumerable cul de sacs built in my life, but no new villages. Despite everyone agreeing that they are the one of the most desirable places to live.

There are no shortage of coordination problems yet to be solved, here.


Maybe not any new villages, but there's plenty of low population rural areas that are less expensive to buy land and build a house.


Yes, they can - vertically.


I’m not sure that it’s as simple as that. If you think about the sample metro areas in tfa you see sources of high income potential as corporate headquarters and high paying jobs are centered around those metros. That in effect creates high demand for housing and thereby drives up housing prices.

The increase in housing price is probably a derivative of shifting or shrinking opportunity to earn a high income outside of centers of commerce and population growth x scarcity in metros. The rise in home prices is just a premium on income opportunity.


High demand doesn't mean high prices. You can increase supply - but we don't do this. We don't want more supply! Houses are investments. They're supposed to to go up in value! So we limit supply.


I agree scarcity is the issue but I think income scarcity is the greater macro driver but made worse by artificial housing scarcity. I think that’s why the divide between housing prices and income is growing. Without income scarcity I don’t believe housing prices would outpace income growth.


Income is essentially the medium. I'm having trouble imagining how income is scarce - in the same way money can't really be "scarce" - the value would just adjust.

If there's too much demand for money (because there's not enough) - the value goes up.

Do you mean income is distributed extremely unequally?


Nonsense. Investments should be profitable, but that profit doesn't have to take the form of capital gains. Plenty of businesses are profitable by using assets rather than by reselling them.

The exception of course is if it's impossible to make a profit using the asset. Rent controls are very effective in this regard: If you ensure that being a landlord yields no operating profit, the only incentive to buy property is if there's hope of future capital gains.


The point is that housing is required to live. Apartments aren't being built at a rate that keeps YoY growth in houses to <5%, which is a lot of growth compared to inflation and wage trends but would be healthier than the growth we're seeing in some regions (eg. Atlanta suburb Lawrenceville, with 27% YoY growth[0]).

0: https://www.zillow.com/lawrenceville-ga/home-values/


Inflation can make it an invest and keep affordability the same. It isn't 'by definition'.


Generally return on investment is measured in real dollar terms - not notional terms - meaning after accounting for inflation. It's not a gain if it keeps pace with inflation. Certainly not after you net out maintenance. It needs to appreciate in real dollar terms like 1-2% per year just to break even.


That's real rate of return, not return on investment


Ah yes, my bad. Thanks for the correction.


That’s a wildly crappy investment if you get out the same or less than you put in in real dollars.


Sure, I'm just saying that it's possible to make an investment to preserve capital that doesn't impact affordability. It is still an investment because it beats holding cash. A 'good' investment would be one that beats inflation but housing can simply be an investment vehicle to keep pace with inflation.


This wasnt an inevitable conclusion post 2008 but apparently it is one we may need to examine.


Housing is an investment only if you own more than one. Also you have to find a way to derive some monetary value from owning it.

Also buying anything can be or not an investment. If you buy some bananas expecting to sell them for profit, then it is an investment.

Should countries also stop buying and selling bananas for profit? After all, eating is a basic need, more so than housing.


When you reach the point at which the buying/selling of bananas becomes more important than eating bananas, that may be the time at which to consider that something's gone wrong in the economy.


unless houses and apartments sit empty and un-lived-in, there is still nothing wrong yet.


So, you agree there's definitely something wrong, then.


Have you ever been to London?


Housing is more "consumption" or "speculation" than "investment", since a house generates a negative cash flow. What defines an investment is generally expected future positive cash flow.

What makes most house buying decisions speculative is how the market price is justified. And today the "residual value" (value of the asset when you sell it) dominates buying decisions. This is defined as speculation (in future market price).

Without residual value, the market for old houses would be like the market for old cars or bicycles.

Imagine if government legislation enabled lenders to lend random amounts with old cars as security: it would put a price floor on second hand cars. Since second hand cars are of limited supply, and ownership of such a car enables you to borrow at minimal rate, therefore the market price of an old car becomes the value of the getting that loan.


Housing doesn't generage a negetive cash flow like you are describing, it pays "imputed rent". You have to live somewhere, so when you live in a house the money you save on rental costs is like a dividend.


This is incorrect. In a lot of countries people rent or have historically rented. Including America in the past.

America subsidizes homeownership specifically so now everyone does that, but people’s first and only house is definitely an investment.

Housing is a basic need, homeownership isn’t one, any more than running a farm is a basic human need.


I think this is a non sequitur. The cost of renting is a direct proxy for the cost of homes. It doesn't matter who the owner is -- if home prices rise exponentially, rents rise exponentially.


>Housing is an investment only if you own more than one.

Every California rental I've lived in for the past five years had the owner residing in it as their primary residence, renting out the spare rooms, while doing one of two things: not declaring any of the rental income while still getting primary residence tax breaks, or declaring it as a full rental (and using another address as their primary address, despite not living there), and writing off the exorbitant Bay Area HOA fees.


I think you got the point. Bananas are a depreciating asset but you can still make a profit around it. House prices should be the same, depreciating. That doesn't mean real estate should not be a profitable business though. But it should probably not be profitable for the end user.


profit and depreciation are different, orthogonal things. A banana can be profitable because people who buy that banana can buy it at a higher-than-production-cost price, because their jobs produce more value per hour than growing banana (and agriculture has become so efficient). The fact that bananas spoils after a while doesn't make a difference here.


> Until a country decides to stop making policy to support this notion

Which policy? You mean government charters for e.g. Fannie Mae that were established in part to combat behavior like redlining, which excluded certain ethnicities from loans for certain neighborhoods based on the loan applicant's skin color?


>You mean government charters for e.g. Fannie Mae that were established in part to combat behavior like redlining

US government used $200 billion of taxpayers money to revive Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Those money will lower the cost of borrowing and thus push the prices up. A new crisis will come, people will lose their houses, Fannie Mae will lose the tax payers money. The government will give Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac $400 billion this time, thinking that $200 billion was clearly not enough.


The question remains, what policy was the above commenter refering to if not those that combat redlining?

Fannie/Freddie were captured and should never have bought NINA (no-income-no-asset) loans. If they had died out as a natural result of competition that would have been fine. But they were misled into a disaster. Allowing them to crash in 2008 would have been a bigger disaster. They no longer give out such risky loans. Now the sharks have moved on to other scams.


Everyone found a workaround for that - price the “undesirables” out instead of banning an accidental aspect. The average well-to-do homeowner is much more concerned about living next to a “poor” of any race or color than living next to a rich.


Competition based on price has always been a thing.

The point of combatting redlining was to provide equal opportunity for the same income levels, and to not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity alone.


This is exceedingly equivocal economics.

Housing can increase price and also become affordable.


Plenty of investments lose value, so that isn't a working definition.


Every basic need increases in price over time. It is called inflation


You can not easily create more land, as a country.


Realistically only an issue in places like Singapore or Hong Kong.

The scarce asset is not actually land but infrastructure such as roads, water, sewage and electricity. These are usually financed publicly, but the increase in land value usually befalls the lucky house owners. Here is one of the justifications for property tax.


You could increase density, though, if local zoning did not forbid it.


Just like that? Why shouldn't people have the right to live in less dense places, if they pay for it?


I want to agree with you, but how to draw a line between first housing as a basic need and a second one? Between apartment, condo, townhouse and mansion? We will eventually get to socialism.


This +1. Housing I the US is broken in a fundamental way, it needs to be seen as a bad investment to get better. If we targeted say 2% annual price decreases in housing, the world would be better off.


You don't buy a house, you buy land. That's why it appreciates in value.


Who would offer a 30 year loan on an asset guaranteed to depreciate?


The same people that offer loans for cars...


30 year loans for cars at 2.25% interest rates?


Owning a house is not a basic need by any definition I’ve ever seen. This premise that having access to housing and owning a house are the same thing is just so plainly wrong, that it undermines the credibility of most housing reform arguments.


I'm not sure I understand this argument. It may be true that housing is a basic need. But that doesn't change the fact that housing is also finite. And unlike food or cars, it's not a depreciating asset; a house rarely breaks down. Even when it does, the land it's built on is still yours. When food goes rotten or a car gets totaled, you have to throw it out.

What do you propose?


1. Housing does not need to be finite, that's a huge part of the problem. Municipalities choosing for housing to be finite / constrained.

2. Have you never owned a house? Houses break down all the time.


> 2. Have you never owned a house? Houses break down all the time.

Barring a natural or human-induced disaster, houses don't "break down".


Houses break down, but they don't literally become totaled, the way a car or food does. I don't get the comparison.

And obviously I've never owned a house. I'm 33. Only boomers own houses.


Some of them own multiple houses and rent them out as literal rent-seekers.

Our tax code should give benefits for houses lived in for 35% or more of the year, but classify as a completely different category investments; and tax them accordingly harshly.


The US tax code intentionally taxes investments and dividends at about half the rate as income.


Totaled doesn't necessarily mean completely destroyed. It just means the cost to repair is more than the value of the item.

It is entirely possible for a house, or even a plot of land, to cost more to repair than it is worth. It's a bit more complicated, since location isn't entirely fungible, but I'd argue most people are willing to live in more than one specific plot of land.


Houses require an ungodly amount of maintenance that is rarely if ever properly accounted for.

Why do you think large rental firms only want to rent out corporate properties or large apartments?

The average homeowner should expect to spend between 1-5% of their house value in maintenance a year - and that amount begins to climb as the house gets older.


> The average homeowner should expect to spend between 1-5% of their house value in maintenance a year - and that amount begins to climb as the house gets older.

This is completely untrue. For a $1M house (basic small home in the bay area), you'd be looking at 10K-50K in maintenance per year! I can't begin to imagine how one could spend that kind of money even if you tried really hard.

Unless you buy a fixer upper, maintenance costs are minimal. Paint sometimes, the occasional water heater replacement, a sprinkler tube leak here and there.

In 2021 so far I've spent a grand total of $409.61 in house maintenance. As a long-time house owner (>20 years), it's a fairly typical year.

I do spend 2-3K a year on improvements, but those are strictly optional, things I do because I like.


> they don't literally become totaled, the way a car or food does

Yeah, they do. When the cost of repairs and renovation get too much, the house is 'dozed and a new one built. Happens all the time.


> Houses break down, but they don't literally become totaled

Welcome to the UK cladding crisis: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p09myyk1


I bought my first house at 31. I moved to a slightly cheaper area outside of the city and worked remotely for the same salary. I also made sure my partner made similar money as me. I’m clearly not a boomer. What’s your excuse?


Buy bought you meant that you had the cash and gave it in exchange of the home or did you make a loan? If the latter you can only consider you've bought a home only after you finish paying for it.


Bought 80% for cash then quickly paid the rest off - have since sold .


How about not wanting to move away?


That’s your choice. I would imagine most people want things they cannot afford.


Housing is finite in the sense that all things on Earth are finite.

But more houses may always be built.

And I do disagree that houses are not depreciating assets. The technology and the style of a house become outdated. And much deteriorates over time. Yes, the land may not depreciate, but that is a separate matter from, or, at best, only a component of the value of the house.


I think this just sidesteps the argument entirely. Yes, everything on Earth is finite. But that doesn't change the fact that nearly an endless supply of cars can be built, whereas you can't build an endless supply of houses. You can maybe build a bunch of apartment buildings to build housing, but those aren't houses.


I'm more than happy to sidestep the argument. I think the most sensible thing for us to discuss is homes rather than houses. We can build a lot of homes in areas where there is high demand for them by upping housing density in those areas. Building a lot of homes also reduces demand for individual houses, so helps to slow the increase of price of houses.


The problem being that in order to build houses or cars you need the cooperation of everyone involved - the property owners, the contractors, the municipality. How do you propose to extract this cooperation if it's not forthcoming? Handcuffs?


Housing is not necessarily equal to land- We can densify and build more homes per plot of land. Where legally allowed, this actually increases the value of the land as an investment while making housing, the consumable part, cheaper.


> it's not a depreciating asset

Yes, they depreciate, and much faster than you imagine before you have seen it. This can be experienced in buildings in depopulated towns that have been vacant for only a few years. Houses that are not heated/vented/repainted/repaired become complete write-offs in just a few years. (and remodelling bathrooms and kitchens doesn't count.)

Maintaining a house at equilibrium is a negative cash flow that grows over time.

The same is true for infrastructure such as roads, water, sewage, and so on.


It depends on how and what the house is made from. A house in Europe is built to last longer, using bricks and concrete. The roof is made of ceramic tiles. It still needs maintenance but less of it and less often.

An American style home is likely built from wood panels. It takes more money to maintain but it can be built cheaper.

Like with anything you can chose from trade offs.


I spent a lot of money on my house and I absolutely cannot support any measures that devalue my property. Killing housing values will take money away from hundreds of thousands of people who worked hard for what they have. Why can’t we champion hard work? Why should anyone get anything for free?


I can't tell if you're being facetious or not, because this reads like the standard "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" arguments. I'll answer the questions on the assumption that you're being straightforward, and you can tell me if the joke went over my head.

> Killing housing values will take money away from hundreds of thousands of people who worked hard for what they have.

Making housing more affordable will allow hundreds of thousands of hard-working people to own their own homes, rather than being at the mercy of a rental market that can kick them out on short notice. For context, I consider significant increases of rent to be equivalent to kicking somebody out, and short notice to be anything less than half a year, as moving is a stressful and time-consuming prospect.

> Why can’t we champion hard work?

That's exactly why the housing market needs a correction. Because currently, hard work is not sufficient to get into the housing market.

> Why should anyone get anything for free?

To answer the question at face value, because we are all human, and every human deserves to have their basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, and health-care met. To answer the question in context, that's why propping up the housing market to the benefit of real-estate speculators and homeowners need to stop, because that is given a benefit for free.

I say these as somebody who is in a similar position, having recently purchased a house to live in. What I got out of it is a place to live that I can modify and improve as I want. It isn't an investment opportunity, it's a place to live.


I am being straight forward, I understand the logic behind your thinking but I cannot support it personally.

> That's exactly why the housing market needs a correction. Because currently, hard work is not sufficient to get into the housing market.

Work smarter not harder. You were able to work smart and afford a home. Many people have. Not all people are equal, your ability to navigate life and the world has a direct input on your quality of life.


Pardon my language, but I was damn lucky. Not "lucky" meaning that I bought a lottery ticket, speculated on stocks, or any other form of gambling, but that many things outside of my control aligned such that my hard work corresponded to results.

(Also, my apologies for this becoming a longer reply than I had planned. I have a cat sitting on my lap, and cannot move.)

* Stable home life, with active teaching from two educated parents. At no point growing up did I need to expend effort worrying about what I would eat, or where I would sleep. Instead, I could focus on education and hobbies.

* No financial need for a job during secondary education. My family's finances were stable enough that I didn't need to expend effort on a job. Instead, I could focus on advanced courses.

* Didn't need to take on college loans. One of my parents is a professor, and so I had free tuition at their university. As a result, I could focus more on coursework during the school year, and STEM research programs during the summer.

* Receiving a stipend while working on my terminal degree. This is typically only the case in STEM fields. I was lucky that my interest and talents led me to a more in-demand field.

* Reasonable health insurance at all points of my life. From being covered through my parents' insurance (thanks Obama), to being covered through graduate student insurance (thanks to the student union), to being covered through my employers (thanks to being in a field where this is typical). I haven't had any major medical expenses, but I've had the safety net of having reasonable periodic care.

* Interest in an industry that built desirable skills. My PhD ended up requiring me to build custom analysis software to perform large amounts of data analysis, which built skills that have been tremendously useful and in-demand. But I couldn't have predicted either the skills required or their broad applicability when I started on that path. Back in high school, I just knew which subjects I enjoyed more and focused on getting even better at them.

I'm not saying that you and I haven't worked hard. It isn't that we didn't make plans, didn't strive toward those plans. Where I was damn lucky was in circumstances outside my control, allowing that hard work to translate into results.


What a shortsighted view. So because one generation already got what it wanted, the following one is to be screwed? You're lucky that it was your generation that decided to ruin it for everyone. Had it been the one before you, you would have been in an entirely different position.


> So because one generation already got what it wanted, the following one is to be screwed?

But is it? There are plenty of cheap areas to buy houses. As a recent grad in the 90s I wanted to live in Manhattan. I searched for a few years but was never able to find anything I could afford. Was I screwed out of home ownership? For my then-dream of living in Manhattan, yes. But in absolute terms no. I gave up and moved to California which was then cheap and bought here. The bay area has now become manhattanized in cost, so it's tough for a recent grad today but there are cheap areas today just like California was the cheap area back then for me.


If you believe restrictions construction increases value for your property, why do you think a house in the middle of nowhere is worth so little with such a strong monopoly?


Food is also a "basic need", does that mean we should enslave farmers with regulation? Or just enslave the rest of us in order to pay farmers?

Edit: I'm suggesting that feeding (and housing) yourself is a personal responsibility, not a collective one. And that the instrument we use to enforce basic order and peaceful coexistence (punish noncompliance with imprisonment) is far to blunt for enforcing cooperation (helping each other find food/shelter).


It's not an issue in the US because the Farm Bill continues to subsidize the cost of growing staple crops in the US (in some cases to below the cost of production), and also, SNAP ensures folks at the lower end of the income scale have access to basic nutrition needs. It's socialized at both ends, really.

This would be an interesting topic if food in the US weren't already the cheapest in the entire world. [1]

[1] https://www.ecowatch.com/worlds-cheapest-food-is-in-the-u-s-...


I agree that food is subsidised, but I disagree it should be. We should be curtailing government control of the economy, not expanding it.

Edit: just look at the massive harm caused by subsidising corn.


The government I agree shouldn't be subsidizing harmful agricultural practices, but it shouldn't necessarily be a laissez-faire system either. The government should incentivize good behavior.

However, I agree there are probably better ways of managing access to food with less regulation, such as repealing the Farm Bill and offering UBI payments in lieu so individuals can decide what they want to eat.


> The government should incentivize good behavior

Yes exactly, incentivize not mandate. People should be free to cooperate/not cooperate as they see fit, don't you think?

Why UBI? That's just more mandatory cooperation - the productive are forced to subsidize the non-productive. Can't it be optional?


The reality is that we have too many people on earth as compared to the amount of work that needs to get done. We can either force the extra people to do useless work, or we can tax the robots and pass on the gains to everyone. The sooner we accept that this is the inescapable future of humanity, the better off we all shall be. At the end of the day, it's our responsibility to make sure everyone has some bare minimum standard of living because life is a lottery. We can either make it supply side push or demand side pull.


"tax the robots" represents a fundamental shift in the administration of private property that we have so far been unable to make without untenable corruption.

> it's our responsibility to make sure everyone has some bare minimum standard of living because life is a lottery

Where do you derive this responsibility from? I personally don't agree with imposing responsibilities on anyone without their explicit consent. It's indistinguishable from slavery.

Also who gets do define this "bare minimum"? Why must it include private quarters, private toilets, private kitchens, air conditioning, television, internet, and all sorts of other modern amenities without which people have contentedly lived for milenia?

Edit: Also how would you address labour shortages in agriculture, construction, service, and many other fields?


I’ve never believed taxation is slavery, it’s simply social contact from which we all benefit. We all benefit from the army, the fire dept and the police so we all chip in. This is why we have democratic elections. Plurality rule is an effective compromise.


How else would you describe a system where people are compelled to contribute or be punished? "A social contract from which we all benefit" was a line frequently used by slaveholders. A master elected by the majority is still your master. He can compel your participation. Free people have no masters.

Clearly some degree of slavery is necessary to support the peaceful coexistence fundamental to society. Namely the army, police, courts, and the commons. Beyond that, no society which purports to value liberty will mandate cooperation. The government, with its supreme power to enslave, should be restricted in scope to the administration of the peace, not ever-expanding into every aspect of our lives.


The US government is fighting to make homes less affordable through subsidizing mortgages with Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac. Subsidizing mortgages just push prices up.

If their intent was to make homes more affordable they would intervene in the offer side not on the demand side.

It would simply have been better to just make a construction company and sell homes at cost.


Are there people treating food as an appreciating asset?


> This year I invested in pumpkins. They've been going up the whole month of October, and I've got a feeling they're going to peak right around January and BANG! That's when I'll cash in!

("Homer vs. Patty and Selma", Simpsons S06E17)

H. J. Simpson was doing this back in 1995, though to be fair he was in futures, rather than the raw asset.


I dunno, but Bill gates is buying a lot of farm land.


Sure there are, food is traded on commodities markets just like everything else.


Sorry, but that's not how commodities markets work. Commodity futures are not appreciating assets and neither are the commodities themselves. The contracts have expiries and are not long-term stores of value.

Just because something is traded doesn't make it an appreciating asset. In the case of commodities, they're typically traded as risk management instruments, not something that inherently provides returns.


If government policy was designed so that the price of food was outstripping income growth, that would definitely be a problem.


why does the outcome have to be due to the design of government policy? Why can't it just be a consequence of the free interaction of people?


Because the government:

1. Manipulates interest rates directly affecting house prices

2. Changes tax rates depending on housing (mortgage interest)

3. Buys mortgages

4. Zones areas which can restrict or increase supply based on policy.

Yes, if they didn’t do any of these, people wouldn’t blame government policy and we’d see what a functioning market results in.


Because government policy heavily influences the price of housing, which is an essential good?


Because everyone told me to blame the government.


Which works nothing like the housing market.


Do people horde food as an investment?

Regardless it's extremely affordable for most people


Someone hoarding farmland like Bill Gates does so indirectly.


yes? Food staples are commodities, just like steel, oil and chocolate, and are speculated on by commodities traders.


people dont hoard food to make the supply on the market less though.

throughout history. society has not been kind to people who tried this. scalping staple foods usually leads to bread riots. and because food is absolutely biologically required to survive, those usually turned very violent.


They do, to varying degrees, just not enough to be noticable. Commodities traders buy and hold all the time. The thing about free markets is that you need a hell of a lot of collusion to do what you're suggesting because someone always stands to gain from misguided speculation.

This is actually exactly the issue with housing. The market is controlled by municipalities who are elected by NIMBYs. The only reasonable thing to do in these conditions is to buy as much housing as you can, since your assets are protected from competition (local densification) by the government. We've literally regulated ourselves into this crisis. The solution can't be more regulation.

Edit: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_middle_housing


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