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The original meme from "Culture Critic" is couched in terms of economics, but to me it reads more as nostalgia for female subservience.

Oh for the days of Father Knows Best, when a man was king of his castle.

Yeah, I grew up in fifties-land, and it was horrible, for women and for everyone except Father.

You may as well be nostalgic about the joys of being a white slave-owner in the antebellum south.

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I see this class of critique a lot and I think it tends to be somewhat overblown in that conflates contingently bad aspects of the past with necessary ones—and in particular suggests that these contingently bad aspects are what must be driving nostalgia as a cover for some form of X-ism. But the 1990s is also (especially as generations age and die out) a popular decade for people to feel nostalgic for with respect to general American optimism, perceived high and increasing quality of life and most with respect to the quality of a lot a of cultural output. Conversely, the 70s are (other than some of the films and the music) kind of universally panned in the list of “decades it was good to be a middle-class American.” This suggests to me that at leasy many people really do just want a period of relative stability and optimism / dynamism, and that it’s by extension something of a canard to chalk it all up to dog whistles rather than more like what it says on the tin.

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I feel bad for today's young people because you cannot imagine the professional opportunities we had as young people in the 90s. The whole tech industry was expanding at a breakneck pace, and you could find yourself being an "expert" or running a team in just a couple years.

Not to mention that (as I've mentioned in past comments) we had been raised under the existential dread of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and they crumbled just as we were reaching adulthood.

GenX FTW.

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My first memory of understanding politics was when my dad came into my room and pointed at the USSR on the globe on my bedside table and said “that doesn’t exist anymore, we beat them and your world will be freer than mine”. I had no idea what he was talking about (I was around 7 years old) but I asked him what he meant and he sat down and explained what the USSR was, how he used to hide under his desk in school and why the US is free and the communist world is not.

It’s one of my favorite memories of my dad.

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The end of the Soviet Union, the expansion of democracy, and rapid increase in prosperity in the world, plus ST:TNG make the 90s pretty great.

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The other big factor in 90s optimism is that we didn't realize how bad climate change was going to be yet.

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Eh, I don't feel like this one has changed that much.

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oh, I think the GenZ folks feel existential dread about climate change just like we worried about the nukes.

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Nuclear war existential dread was justified, though.

Climate change...not so much.

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"But the 1990s is also (especially as generations age and die out) a popular decade for people to feel nostalgic for...."

Seriously? Do people feel nostalgic for the 90s?

Man. When I was a kid, nostalgia was a lot better than that.

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Mar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023

>>> Seriously? Do people feel nostalgic for the 90s?

Yes. I know the below is just one example (and I'm not really on FdB's wavelength and don't quite understand where all his internet-fame originates in any event) but I will say that I personally agree with much of it and my strong sense is that this a fairly widely-held PoV [See also "The Dream of the 90s is alive in Portland"]. Some other article from a ways back (may have been the AV Club back when it was reasonably good) pointed out that (to a present viewer) one of the absurdities of "American Beauty" being the kind of movie that drew audiences in is that it was exploring the ennui of being an employed, secure, well-paid member of the middle class. This was, at the time, an actually compelling premise -- this, *this* was the sort of problem Americans saw themselves facing at the time. (I think "Fight Club" is not dissimilar). Oh, the scourge of prosperity! [See also the notion of "selling out" in music].

https://freddiedeboer.substack.com/p/its-so-sad-when-old-people-romanticize

(Bonus Contemporary Onion: https://www.theonion.com/bush-our-long-national-nightmare-of-peace-and-prosperi-1819565882 )

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100% agree on Fight Club and American Beauty. Things were so good we literally did not know how to handle it! Even the Matrix touched on this theme, and Office Space too in a way.

It's like the reverse of the Watchmen graphic novel though - without a shared enemy, Americans turned on each other. Terrorism was too vague and distant to really bring us together, but maybe this China obsession will?

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Also movies like The Truman Show, which asks “is this all there is??”

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Mar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023

So I’m given to believe. The point was just that the lyric itself is the sort of thing that was clearly meant to be instantly familiar to the intended audience in a sort of lightheartedly facetious way. Similar to how “stuff white people like” works because its intended audience does, in fact, like much of fhe eponymous stuff :p. “The Dream of the 90s is Alive in Portland” wouldn’t work if didn’t (correctly) reflect a kind of gut-level widely-shared nostalgia.

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Nostalgia is basically out of control on YouTube. You can watch someone boot up a beige tower PC running Windows 95 and feel a wistful longing for a better time.

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Windows 3.11 for Workgroups or GTFO! Oh, sorry, '90s computer nerd reflex . . . .

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I am fully nostalgic for the 1990s, and it absolutely isn't because, like Matt, that that's when I came of age. Totally not the case....

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"...it absolutely isn't because, like Matt, that that's when I came of age."

No, it's an objective fact based on sound causality: that time was the best because it happened that the best music of all time was released right around when I was a teen and young adult. Objectivity squared, sucker! Try to fight that!

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Fact: music started sucking in 2005 and has, with a few exceptions, never really recovered.

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Fact check: music hit its peak with Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the Archies.

You kids don't know what you're missing.

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I have always pinpointed the emergence of Sugar Ray as when music fell off so I pinpoint the late '90s. Rock started getting more pop-influenced and I was getting too old to tolerate that. Hip hop was still pretty good into the 2000s, though.

There really was a lot of objectively good music in the '90s, though, that still appears on classic and modern stations.

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Honestly, as a 90s kid, everything except 90s hip-hop and Radiohead is pretty trash.

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The Boomer version of this argument:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLqfXlIq6RE

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Mar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023

FACTS

https://www.theringer.com/music/2021/9/24/22691047/biggest-album-release-dates-in-history-nirvana-tribe-rhcp

"September 24, 1991, is often called the biggest release day in history."

EDIT:

MORE FACTS

https://louderthanwar.com/1991-a-year-that-shaped-a-generation/

I mean 1991 had the entire range of musical excellence, from Ozzy and GNR releases to Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

Am I kidding? Maybe? But maybe not...

https://imgflip.com/i/7g0wog

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That was the era when a garage band from Seattle could receive a $2.5 million advance for a record with nothing on it! Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmxSMIN3-WI

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I mean, maybe I'm just nostalgic for my 20s? Who isn't?

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Yeah, I have a lot of nostalgia for, like, 2009-2012. Which was an objectively crappy time for a lot of people. But I was in my mid-to-late twenties back then and it was a good time for me.

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'90s nostalgia really is off the charts. My teenage years and young adulthood was in the '90s so I, of course, am a bit nostalgic for that. And it was globally a sweet spot for Americans, though I don't think people are as nostalgic for the AIDS crisis.

Back in the '90s the late '60s were the focus of nostalgia. We may just be now at the time where people are nostalgic for a time before they were born because the crappy stuff got left in the past while the good stuff remains culturally relevant.

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It does seem like ~30 years is the sweet spot, I see a lot of 50s nostalgia in 80s entertainment (Back To The Future being the most famous).

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Although there was definitely '50s nostalgia in the '70s too -- "Happy Days" premiered in 1974.

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And That 70s Show premiered in 1998. Maybe we can nudge this down to in between 20-25 years, that's generally about how long a generation lasts.

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Yes. People my age* (I'm a few years younger than Matt) view the 90s in the same way that Baby Boomers viewed the 50s. The parallels are pretty uncanny.

Whether that's actually how it felt for people who were adults at the time is a different story.

*I personally do not have much nostalgia for anything before 1998 or 1999, but this is due to personal circumstances (I didn't really like being a kid) more than anything happening the world at large.

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How do we Baby Boomers view the 50s?

What I remember from that time growing up in central Florida was when we closed off the garage to make it a TV room and put an air conditioner unit in the window so at least one room in the house wasn't hell on earth.

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There was definitely a pop cultural idea of "the 50s" as a time of innocence, peace and prosperity that was floating around when I was growing up in the 90s and 2000s (and still is, as Matt describes here). Considering that most of the culture at the time was produced by Baby Boomers...I have to think this idea came from Boomers?

This notion is probably not an accurate description of how the modal Boomer experienced the 50s, but it's definitely out there.

(One of the ironies of this is that - aside from the obvious issues around racism, sexism, and the Cold War - the economy in the 60s was actually better than the economy in the 50s.)

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Oddly enough, people get nostalgic about their suffering.

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I was legally an adult for most of the 1990s and I would say they were pretty awesome.

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Yeah this content is out there. For any soccer fans, Quickly Kevin Will He Score is a phenomenal podcast about 1990s soccer.

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Id say you see remarkably little 90s optimism precisely bc these factors of nostalgia are so real. Look at how, for example, Matt insists we need to undo local political control and environmental review to grow. Were these things temporarily repealed in the 90s? instead we just write the 90s growth off as some kind of illusion—sure we could grow bc of the chips and the digits for a while but now we can’t anymore. 90s just not viewed as something we can ‘go back’ to by hardly anyone on any side of any issue. It’s just something that happened, almost by accident?

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founding

Some of it was surely the peace dividend, which doesn’t happen again until China and Russia start behaving nicely again.

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I tend to think of it that way, and yes that there was low hanging fruit in for example warehouse productivity that better computing picked and that remaining gains are more difficult. But I really don’t know—I’d love to have some more contemporary time with tight labor market monetary policy to compare it to. Certainly peace dividend years are comparing favorably to these few less peaceful full employment years we have had recently.

But what I’m really saying is my nostalgia should surely cloud my judgement more. Why am I (most people imo) so reasonable about the idea we can’t just do the 90s again? And instead some folks are unreasonably attached to a vision of the 50s? I would say there is something related to an ‘ism’ here for sure.

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Look, I appreciate getting to go to graduate school and have a career as much as anyone and probably a great deal more than most people, but my grandmother was not "subservient" in any way. She did not experience her life as horrible. She had a terrific marriage to a man she, as opposed to her parents, picked. If my grandfather had not been terrific, she would have had far fewer options than she would today, and that's important. But the idea that this was just universally experienced as bad by the women actually living through it -- that is not accurate.

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"If my grandfather had not been terrific, she would have had far fewer options than she would today...."

That her life-prospects depended so heavily on the whims of someone else, and that the life-prospects of all women depended so heavily on the whims of men, was a form of subservience.

I'm glad it worked out for her. Not everyone got a "terrific" husband to love, honor, and obey.

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But his depended fairly strongly on her as well -- not quite as much, but very significantly. There wasn't no-fault divorce where they lived during his lifetime. That's interdependence, but it's not inherently subservience. And, again, she and many other women did not perceive it as such.

A lot of people didn't get great spouses. It is much more possible now to go it alone when it comes to being single, particularly if you are raising children. But you started with "it was horrible, for women and for everyone except Father", and that's just such a misreading of how many women perceived their actual lives.

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I'm not sure that we're disagreeing here, because I said that their lives *were* horrible, and you have carefully said that they did not *perceive* or *experience* their lives as horrible.

And yet we know there is no conflict between someone's life being genuinely horrible, and their not perceiving it that way. Ivan Denisovich does not always perceive or experience the Gulag as horrible -- when the temperature is too low for work, he is delighted, and when he gets an extra fish-eye in his soup, he is over the moon. There's a whole literature on hedonic adaptation which explains why people can find some degree of satisfaction in objectively horrible situations.

If you want to disagree with me, you will have to go further than the hedged language of "she didn't perceive it as horrible," and declare that, in fact, her life was not horrible. That's a stronger claim, and I do not think it is a plausible one.

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If you're going to accuse millions of women of being brainwashed or having some kind of false consciousness about their existence, I think the onus is actually on you for that. Also, if we're talking about "objective" horribleness, serving in a war where you are surrounded by injury and death and could at any time die yourself - which was my grandfather's reality, and that of many men of his generation. in many cases via conscription, seems a heck of a lot worse to me, and it was of course a horribleness that my grandmother was spared.

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"Also, if we're talking about "objective" horribleness, serving in a war...."

Yes, that's a good example of objective horribleness. There are facts about human welfare that are not reducible to perceptions and experiences, and some of them include things like the range of options one has available.

Notice that I did not say that Ivan Denisovich is brainwashed. I simply think that human beings adapt to their surroundings, and often succeed in finding small satisfactions even when their surroundings are objectively horrible. In some cases, it is even a kind of triumph of the human spirit that we can find satisfaction in horrible circumstances. But when we do, it does not constitute proof that the circumstances are not horrible.

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I think there is an assumption here that "objective" can be distinguished from "perceived". What we all want, ultimately, for ourselves and others, is happiness. One of the best predictors of happiness is prior expectations. My impression is that people's expectations were more realistic previously and part of the malaise that's common today is expectations have run far ahead of reality. I'm certainly not arguing for female subservience, but if people perceived their lives as decent, it's worth at least giving their point of view the time of day. Consider that, under your position, people of the future will consider _your_ life so "objectively hortible" that you would have been better off dead.

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To your point here, I feel like it makes the sexist trappings of this meme worse, since--as you say--the alleged nostalgia isn't even accurate nostalgia.

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My grandpa died and my grandma remarried in her 80s. It was a culture shock for her because my grandpa was a conscientious man who respected her and did his fair share of the housework. Her new husband, a more typical man of his generation, is more entitled. He expects her to do all the cooking and cleaning; he expects to be able to dictate where they live; he doesn't seem to respect her very much.

Basically, just agreeing with you because it seem to reflect my own grandma's experience.

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the dating market shifts heavily against women as you get older. there are far more widows than widowers

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The funny thing is if it weren’t for the name of the poster and the specific picture used, this could absolutely be a socialist tweet instead of a weird trad right-wing tweet

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I'd like to at least mildly push back on the notion that the '50s were a utopia for fathers. Raising a kid is one of the more fulfilling aspects of my life. The notion that I could outsource this experience to my wife so that I could focus more time on climbing a career ladder is...not appealing. Men may have had, in the main, the better part of the deal in the '50s, but I'm not sure it was such an awesome deal.

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It might be a terrible deal. Personally I favor in home work, and time with the kids. But these memers still strike me as mostly longing for a world where they are very valued by a woman for holding down an average job.

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I could have written a much longer comment about how this actually probably is a pretty deep source of meaning for a lot of men, and a lot of them are suffering for not having a found a good replacement. It likely is a real problem, even if returning to the '50s isn't the solution.

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I grew up in a conservative family with a stay-at-home mom, but the norms of the 80s and 90s worked out much better than the norms of the 50s in my opinion. My grandpa didn’t learn any domestic skills so he had to immediately remarry upon his first wife’s death, because he had no ability to live on his own and couldn’t cook or do laundry. Thankfully both my parents are alive today but my dad shared chores pretty equitably, is a great cook and capable of living on his own if needed, and I think that’s a good thing

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The thing with the 50s is this is precisely when it became a lot more plausible to escape a terrible marriage by taking the kids in your car and leaving for a relative's place. While any period will differ in anecdote, the main reason people are nostalgic for the 50s is because there were enormous booms in consumer prosperity that the war had sidelined coupled with a burst of family formation and buttoning up of sexual norms after the more promiscuous 40s (look up how many posters warning against venereal disease the army put up). To many, it felt like the worst mistakes were being corrected and progress on everyday matters was possible. The stifling conformity and anonymous nature of society by organization men was a minority and intellectual critique, which largely cut on racial rather than gendered lines. JFK is beloved by older Americans in both parties because he's a figure of this period; a man from a slightly different background who will nonetheless emulate the best parts of the socially-minded WASPs before him, because progress and unity can go hand in hand.

The critique of the 50s grew in salience in large part after this idealized society ran into Vietnam, a war that couldn't be won by a country that couldn't admit defeat. Vietnam made the barrack-like classrooms, cookie-cutter homes, businesses and politics run by veterans, almost exclusively male except for sitcom television, etc look less like an orderly yet reasonable society and more like George Lucas's Empire. But this wasn't like the Old South's fall to the Northern industrial power and corruption by carpetbaggers that Southern white writers portrayed. Defeat came from within, not from without. Young people raised in this period were among the strongest supporters of the Vietnam war early on. That's what was so devastating about it.

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Yeah Matt doesn’t dig into it that much here but the crux is where he says you can live in a 50s sized home with one car and a stay at home mom and not send your kids to college. It seems unlikely the guys giving these memes the little heart actually can find a young woman who would like to wait at home with no car and the kids all day in a small home. And not only would like to do that, but feels lucky (and dependent) and is relatively concerned with keeping her husband happy as well.

But just to give them a tiny bit of credit, we could look at but harder at the marriage penalties in our tax code / welfare state. If we’re richer and fewer people want this type of life that’s great but we shouldn’t put a thumb on the scale against it imo.

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I think they could if housing, education, and other expenses were cheaper. Surveys show a majority of women would prefer to be a homemaker, but many feel it’s not economically feasible to do so.

Source: https://news.gallup.com/poll/186050/children-key-factor-women-desire-work-outside-home.aspx

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Well this really gets to it, is the key that women expect bigger homes and more expensive education for their kids than they used to or have those things really gotten relatively more expensive / unattainable? That’s the point of ‘you could live in a small home and not send kids to college if you want to’. I’d say there are more unattached men ok with this idea floating around than women looking for it. But I could definitely be wrong.

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It says a majority of mothers would prefer to stay home--women who are not mothers prefer to work. I imagine mothers of grown children would also prefer employment. This is what the women’s movement of the 70s was all about--back then the hope was that only one spouse would have to work, but that women would be able to choose a good career if they went to work, and that it didn’t *have* to be the woman that stayed home.

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I agree. My only note is I mention ‘marriage penalty’ a tiny actual thing to look at in the context of complaints that are mostly wrong or about asking for other people to want different things than what they actually want. And talking about it does seem to provoke this ‘it’s not happening / it’s happening but it’s not a big deal / it’s happening and its good’ pattern of responses that lead me to suspect what’s going on is the political coalitions are listening to factions on policy making that are far from the median and even from the coalitions own median. Yes these cases usually turn out to be relatively small effects (it’s harder to get away from the median with a large effect). But we can still take a look at them.

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deletedMar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023
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The low end is what relevant here, I do think single earner families at 200k are doing ok in our society despite it being hard to afford some things other rich people with different lives have.

I’m thinking of two median wage earners marrying and having one stay home, or a single mom with a low wage job and kids looking at a median earning husband. That type of thing.

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Here this was featured on a previous slow boring:

https://ifstudies.org/blog/how-state-lawmakers-can-reduce-marriage-penalties-in-the-welfare-system

I’m not a wonk on these topics but I’ve seen some similar work from the left advocating for simpler child benefits. If it’s all a mistake I’d love to know.

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You also make out like bandits in the social security system in that scenario.

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SAHM debates online tend to be really toxic, but it's worth remembering that even today most women want to be SAHMs, at least while their children are young, and nearly all expect their husband to be the primary breadwinner. I don't think it's helpful to view relationships with traditional gender roles as ones of subservience.

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As someone whose wife is a SAHM and who would really, really like to see her get back in the workforce, I agree that SAHM-ism should not automatically be construed as a sign of subservience . . . .

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2nd wave feminists suggested that the move to the suburbs severed the female’s connection to her extended family and support systems - which was present in white working class women (and black women) for much longer. It grounded women the way the concept of “dignity in work” grounded their men.

WARNING -- I’m painting with broad brushes in what follows (not all upper middle class white women are bulimic nuts and not all black men are gangster thugs)

This is why the most dysfunctional classes of people in America have been middle and upper middle class women (mostly white) with their eating disorders, slavery to fashion and current strident “allyship” AND black men with their fashion conscious gangster thuggery.

Upper middle class white women and black men were the first to be untethered. Women from traditional female support systems and black men from the dignity of work or any work at all.

Working class white men have are now being welcomed into the dysfunctional club, not so much because there is no work, but there is no dignity afforded to work.

Just my off the cuff thoughts.

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Exactly. The rank sexism that this meme gives off is primary thing I sense whenever I see this, and I wish Matt had talked about that more.

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I would be interested in a Matt take on the sexism/'trad-con' element of this stuff, but that would have to be a different post. Kinda hard to shoehorn it into this piece, I think.

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Online trad debates are just conceptually confusing because nobody is clear what "trad" refers to. Some definitions capture a majority of American women, some definitions capture a tiny slice of particular religious movements. For example, participants in these debates often use "tradcath" to describe all observant Catholic women, not just the small minority who consider themselves traditionalist Catholics.

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DT, I agree: those drawings make my skin crawl. And yet they are actually a pretty good depiction of what my family looked like when I was a kid in the 1950s and 1960s . . . it's just those drugged-out smiles on that happy family. They're living the American Dream, except for the wife/mother who seethes about being trapped at home, and the father/husband alienated from his family and escapes to his golf club (or other activities) whenever he can.

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"...pretty good depiction of what my family looked like when I was a kid...."

Now I'm going to picture you leaning over the rear seat of a station wagon with a mitt on your left hand and a baseball in your right. Grinning.

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My nickname was Opie because some folks thought I looked like the kid from the Andy Griffith show

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> This is downstream of material prosperity — mothers are less economically dependent than they used to be — but I think it’s probably not ideal for kids’ social and emotional development.

I think this an instance of a general trend that both conservatives and leftists want to deny: As we get richer, we want to purchase more independence and distance. Everyone wants to believe in some concept of community, people tied together in meaningful interdependence. Yet our revealed preference is that we mainly want to get away from each other.

Our desire for connectivity is likely largely based on the benefits, particularly being able to rely on others. No one is particularly excited about the costs; the obligations to support and accept others. Add in adverse selection, those who can contribute the most have least to gain, while those with greatest needs offer the least, and our illusion of community collapses.

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I'm going to partially disagree here. Since I was a city dweller for most of my young adulthood, I didn't buy a car until my early 30s (when I got a job out in suburbia and moved out there accordingly). The mental shift from encountering actual people as I walked/bused/biked to work/school to encountering them in cars was shocking! It was amazing how quickly I became disconnected from others.

Point is, we've intentionally built a car-oriented society that sets up barriers to connectivity with others. And when that's the default choice, you're already starting from a point of greater isolation.

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I partially concur with your viewpoint; the built environment indeed influences the extent to which we perceive our connections with others. However, I believe that the desire for single-family neighborhoods, especially among families with young children, has played a significant role in shaping the development of our built environment.

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I suspect that a lot of the pressure for single-family home neighborhoods among parents of young kids is due to the fact that you want/need to be somewhat selective about who else is in your community.

And if you -dont- achieve that, you are/are perceived to be throwing your kids to the wolves.

The inability to have that kind of selection through any means but pricing out the 'bad' people means that - surprise! - we rely really heavily on pricing out the 'bad' people.

TLDR, you aren't going to get meaningful communities when most filters on membership are disallowed. People generally just don't engage. Unless they have no other choice.

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Aren’t close-in suburbs the ideal here? I’m thinking of places like the inner Main Line bits in Philadelphia, much of Santa Monica, Chevy Chase etc. Are these places simply not considered as spots to imitate?

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You know, it's possible for kids in suburban neighborhoods to play with other kids in the same neighborhood, by just walking (or riding a bike). Like I did.

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Totally depends!

1. This is a lot easier if you're in a newly built suburban neighborhoods with a lot of families in similar age ranges. My mom had that in her neighborhood growing up. When we lived in the same neighborhood for a while when I was a kid, the other-children-situation was not nearly as good.

2. Read the URL, believe me that there are a lot of results, but do not follow the link. Car-centric, SVH suburban neighborhoods come with their own issues. https://www.google.com/search?q=child+killed+while+biking+in+neighborhood

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"Community isn’t really geographic anyway. Most friends with kids we play with are from work or social stuff and live in all different parts of the city anyway."

But you just did describe a geographic community. It's just that the one you described is a little bit bigger than the smaller one you juxtaposed it against. People you're describing as friends you get together with from different parts of the city are all have in common that they live in the same city, i.e., a single geographic community.

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There is something lost if kids can't walk to their friends' places. This obviously works better in apartment buildings than in single family detached house neighborhoods.

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I think it is difficult to be certain the extent to which single family neighborhoods are desired. Obviously many people want them, but I question whether the desire is for this particular built environment or simply for more housing space and the only way one can do that at a relatively affordable rate is going to single family neighborhoods. Of course space is inherently going to be somewhat more expensive in cities but the American regime of excluding density through zoning means that living in city vs suburb holding price constant is going to be 50% reduction in space vs a 20% reduction in space. That makes suburbs an obvious choice for most, especially when they have kids.

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Do you actually have kids? Single family neighborhoods where both spouses work are a royal pain. The suburbs work well only if one of the parents is stay at home or underemployed. Multigenerational family compounds work better with kids.

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Single family neighborhoods where both parents work are a pain?

Then why is that seemingly what many/most married couples are drawn to?

I agree that the multigenerational model works better* but for various reasons it hasn't spread widely outside of a few ethnic communities that maintained it after immigrating.

Notably, some of those ethnic communities are among the wealthiest in the US...

* We tried to replicate it, but neither of our parents aren't interested, and they are still well-off enough to maintain their independence.

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"Drawn to" is doing a lot of work. What they can afford is maybe more accurate.

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Most rich people want to live in the suburbs too though

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I think that’s exactly the point - people choose the car lifestyle over the others even though it results in isolation.

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As a city dweller early in my career, by far the most prominent part of my financial life and material longing was the desire to ditch roommate living and get my own place. Most roommate-havers in my social circles expressed similar desires.

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negotiating household management is hard, whether or not you are sleeping with your roommate

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Apartments are small & lack acoustic privacy - if one person wants to watch TV or have a loud conversation then that’s what we’re all doing now. Unless you want to drown it out with headphones, which I am already doing (with limited success) all day at work. Managing the cleaning, etc. was fine but being at the mercy of random acquaintances for access to quiet focus time felt very violating. And it’s not like you can tell someone to not watch TV in their own house.

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Fwiw my 2015-built apartment is great for acoustic privacy (except when there are stompers with shoes upstairs.) The management is also very good about enforcing quiet times between 10p and 7a - so OTO construction + ongoing service.

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Privacy to neighboring apartments is fine. Privacy between the living room/kitchen and bedrooms of the same apartment is the issue. It’s also kind of rare that the bedrooms are big enough for more than a bed+dresser.

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“ I think this an instance of a general trend that both conservatives and leftists want to deny: As we get richer, we want to purchase more independence and distance. Everyone wants to believe in some concept of community, people tied together in meaningful interdependence. Yet our revealed preference is that we mainly want to get away from each other.”

Isn’t this factually wrong? My impression is that mobility rates have declined and more adults live closer to their parents than in previous decades. I know there are exceptions and an intersection with housing policy (in a growing metro you’ll have to look two suburb layers out to afford something comparable to the house you grew up in), but it seems like the real luxury good is staying home.

I do agree that the precise version of community has changed - there’s probably a lot less “village” that - but as a parent with young kids I’m definitely noticing the difference in QOL of the families in my area with nearby grandparents. My colleagues are mostly transplants but the families we meet through the kids are way more likely to be fairly local.

Also worth considering what was behind the big migrations of the past - usually huge gaps in material standards and/or really bad stuff going on in the source location. E.g., the Irish didn’t spontaneously develop a love of adventure and independence in the 19th century.

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founding

I think this is two different length scales. There’s more people five miles from their parents than five hundred miles, but fewer people five houses from their parents.

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Yeah, I’m open to different interpretations of meaningful interdependence. It’s probably telling that I definitely wasn’t even thinking about the decline of multigenerational housing.

I think most people probably have a sweet spot/range for distance from family and with more money/success they’re able to get closer to that. But while the preferred distance and how high a priority it is will vary, I’d guess that it’s pretty common for the desired distance to be somewhere between the same neighborhood and the same town/metro area, all else equal.

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I think that this is partly right. But, like sugar consumption short term revealed preference doesn't necessarily translate to long term well being. Social media consumption among teens (and adults) being another example.

Married conservatives, who go to church, for example, are much happier on average than urban single liberals.

What to do about it? Maybe some Teach for America type organizations for different ages as stealth social clubs? Idk

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Mar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023

Most attempts at forming religious-less social clubs to replace the benefits of churches have failed spectacularly.

I think this is one of those things where you can't approach the happiness-providing thing directly, but have to come at it sideways.

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founding

This is what games do well. They don’t tell you “have fun” - they tell you “do these weird arbitrary things” and then you accidentally have fun as a byproduct.

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This is pretty much what I was going to say. Just because this is a revealed preference doesn't mean it will make most people happier. People could be opting for independence and distance because it is easy, convenient, and maybe provides a temporary happiness boost, but that doesn't mean it is actually better for well-being in the longer (or even medium) term. It's like eating junk food vs. cooking a nourishing meal.

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It's worth noting that both marriage and religious observance are highly positively correlated with education and wealth. Upper-class liberals notoriously choose lifestyles for themselves that they don't feel comfortable explicitly encouraging.

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Slightly nitpicky point: Religious observance might be correlated with wealth, but I don't think upper-class liberals the the ones adhering to traditional religion. Upper-class conservatives, maybe.

That said, with that exception, I do think you correct in general that upper-class liberals tend to lead pretty traditional lives.

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The correlation is there in both liberals and conservatives. The wealthiest churches in America are Episcopalian.

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>Yet our revealed preference is that we mainly want to get away from each other

Kind of hard to talk about revealed preferences when the housing market is so distorted though, right? My guess is that on an even playing field, dense living in the US would be a lot more popular for all kinds of people, including (and maybe especially) people with families

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I think this is an instance of Matt Y's analogy about how our "revealed preference" may be to overconsume junk food and become overweight, but that doesn't mean that our stated desire to be healthy is somehow fake. It's a "spirit is willing but flesh is weak" situation.

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As an aside, ChatGPT(V4) thinks my comment could be improved with the following rewrite. Anyone agree? Would you fellow subscribers prefer that I have my comments rewritten before posting? If so, do I need to disclose that?

> I believe this phenomenon reflects a broader trend that both conservatives and leftists are hesitant to acknowledge: as our wealth increases, we tend to seek greater independence and distance from others. While the idea of community, with its meaningful interdependence, is a concept that many people hold dear, our actions often indicate a preference for distancing ourselves from one another.

> Our longing for connection is likely motivated by the advantages it provides, such as the ability to rely on others in times of need. However, the associated costs—namely, the responsibilities to support and accept our fellow community members—may not be as appealing. Furthermore, the principle of adverse selection comes into play: those who have the most to offer often stand to gain the least, while those in the greatest need contribute the least. This dynamic ultimately undermines our idealized vision of community

For fairness, it justifies its edits as:

> The revised text is improved in several ways:

> 1. Clarity: The revised version uses clearer language and more concise phrasing, making the main points easier to understand for the reader.

> 2. Coherence: The ideas in the revised text are presented in a logical and coherent manner, which helps the reader to follow the argument more easily.

> 3. Sentence structure: The revised version uses varied sentence structures, providing a more engaging reading experience.

> 4. Vocabulary: The revised text employs a more precise and sophisticated vocabulary, which helps to convey the author's points more effectively.

> 5. Tone: The revised version maintains a neutral and objective tone, making the argument more persuasive and credible.

> Overall, the improvements in clarity, coherence, sentence structure, vocabulary, and tone contribute to a more polished and persuasive text that effectively communicates the author's ideas.

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I like your writing better because it has tone (with which I sympathize) and point of view -- your use of “richer”, for example, is better than “wealth increases”. In the context of writing a comment (not a long ass rebuttal or wordy confirmation of the point), your comment is a bit more direct and conveys there is a person behind it. ChatGPT sounds vaguely stuck up and bland to me.

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I tried to compare them multiple times, but I don't think I can be very objective because I read your original first.

I like that one better for the same reasons mentioned elsewhere. ChatGPT-4's seems bland.

It would be good for technical writing, but maybe not for this kind of communication.

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I should clarify that it definitely wasn't bad. It was still better than most posts, even by pretty decent internet comment writers.

But it was clinical and precise, to he point that it lost something else.

Or maybe I'm just biased against ChatGPT and rationalizing.

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The original is more direct and specific. “Think” versus “believe” shows confidence in your opinion, but may be off-putting to someone inclined to disagree with you; “our illusion of community collapses“ is pretty stark compared to “undermines our idealized vision of community;” and “revealed preference” (I assume you meant it in the Samuelson sense) is very specific - you can count on readers here to understand your point much more so than readers in the broader population that ChatGPT is probably tuned for.

I agree with point 5 that the ChatGPT version is “a neutral and objective tone,” but whether that is an improvement is largely a matter of the tastes of the intended audience.

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I think the part about those who have the most to offer standing to gain the least is more clearly stated, and actually well said. Perhaps just out of being old fashioned, I’d still rather hear from a human (which I suppose in a way we are, but through a filter).

Regardless, yes, I’d like to know which of you I’m hearing from. Just as an educational experience regarding AI abilities if nothing else.

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Okay - compared the two texts in BBEdit.

Disturbing:

You: "are hesitant to acknowledge" the bot "want to deny"

You: "tend to seek"; the bot "want to purchase"

You: ""idealized version of community"; the bot "illusion of community"

Neutral:

You: "distance ourselves" ; the bot "want to get away"

Agreed:

You: "the associated costs .... may not be as appealing"; the bot: No one is particularly excited about"

Maybe ChatGPT was worse than bland, clinical and precise. Maybe it's overly rationalistic, trained by those who don't believe in "seeking" and are afraid of ideals.

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So I think your comparison is backwards. Eg, I said “want to deny”, which the bot reworded to “are hesitant to acknowledge.”

Nonetheless, I appreciate the feedback. Suggests that I may need ChatGPT to humanize my overly cold and calculating writing.

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oops - so of course it depends on whether your writing expresses what you want to say and how you want to say it (i.e. do you want to sound rational and precise?)

Fwiw, I use Wordhippo a lot to find words that have the closest connotation to what I want to say. This is because I write in these spaces as a kind of conversational self-expression, rather than as strict debate. I find that my receptive vocabulary is a lot larger than my productive one, so I need crutches like Wordhippo to remind me of the good words I know but can't always bring to mind.

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How do we determine who has the most to contribute? People with inherited wealth might not qualify, whereas culturally rich communities that have historical been impeded might have substantial economic potential.

The other case of economic non-contributors is the incidence of aged, sick and disabled which doesn’t spare any population. The affected are forced into dependency regardless of wealth. Cost only becomes the determinant consideration when it’s the basis for who should suffer and die. Of course this would suggest that there might be an ethical debate - but as a wealth-focused society, we’ve moved beyond that.

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The ideal is voluntary association. Friends who can hang out with and talk to, but who don’t mooch off of you and couch surf. A spouse who could support herself but chooses to live with you out of love.

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Kids that could raise themselves but just prefer that you meet all of their needs and then demand even more.

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In all this 1950s nostalgia, I think what's sometimes forgotten is how truly unique the situation was in which the U.S. found itself in the period from approx. 1945-1965: Europe and Asia had been devastated by World War II and were in economic shambles, leaving the U.S. as the world's sole major source of goods, foodstuffs, and capital investment (the Marshall Plan was excellent economic diplomacy, but it's also worth remembering how much it also benefited the U.S. as the money to rebuild Europe was often spent on American products). In this same time frame, investments in American infrastructure, electrification, and industrial capacity which had begun in the 1930s and accelerated during the war finally began to bear fruit, allowing the U.S. to grow its own domestic markets.

By the 1960s and 1970s this exceptional situation began to wear off, as the rest of the world was finally able to begin competing economically and the limits of the domestic market were reached. But not, it seems, before melting American brains into thinking that the incredible growth of the post-war era was normal and perpetually sustainable, rather than the result of a very specific economic and political moment in time.

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But it's not just the U.S. that remembers the postwar years as unusually good times -- see eg "les Trente Glorieuses" in France (the "Glorious Thirty" years, 1945-1975). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trente_Glorieuses

The Wikipedia page mentions that other countries affected by the war also had rapid growth afterward, possibly because they were catching up after suffering depressed growth before and during the war.

There's some tension between the story in your comment that good economic conditions in the US could only last until Europe and Asia recovered from the war, and the story here that Europe was thriving in the same time period because it was rapidly recovering from the war. The latter story is about countries rebounding to their own potential GDP, rather than relying on the destruction of competing economies.

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People tend to remember times of high growth fondly (nostalgia for the 90s!).

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yes, Europe grew faster after ww2 than the US. It’s not hard when you start from such a low base. Still, being American in 1950 was like being british in 1850, only American hegemony was, if anything, greater.

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“the Marshall Plan was excellent economic diplomacy, but it's also worth remembering how much it also benefited the U.S. as the money to rebuild Europe was often spent on American products”

Your entire comment is an economic fairy tale, especially the notion that taxing Americans and sending the money to Europeans who then bought American products made Americans better off in the short-term.

A more realistic way to view the postwar expansion is that it was the era after FDR’s long and inept micromanagement of the US economy.

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FDR's mismanagement compared to what? Hoover?

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As compared to not micromanaging the economy.

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Hoover did not micromanage the economy, it's true.

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among the other things that contributed to growth in that era - the suppression of growth and technological diffusion by the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War, while technology continued to advance.

Arguably in 1946 there was 30 years of technological development that had not been able to be fully deployed because of the great disasters of the first half of the 20th Century

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There are a lot of rose tinted spectacles about the past. You will note the images in that 'what went wrong?' tweet were bright, shiny images supposedly of middle class life in the 50s. I'm sure that was real for some people in the 50s, but for the majority of people in America it would have no basis in reality. The images are akin to Soviet propaganda showing workers joyously engaged in honest toil, and modern people thinking it must have been awesome to work in a steel mill in the Urals in the 1950s.

With regards college, it's one thing to spend money on useful student amenities, and it's another to spend money on arguably less useful things like DEI consultants.

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Yeah, and I believe those images are from ads. A common Twitter reply is: In the year 2100 people are going to look at ads from 2020 and long for a better time when everyone drove a Mercedes and lived in a luxury penthouse.

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deletedMar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023
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This is kind of like the story of when Boris Yeltsin visited Johnson Space Center in the late 80s. On the way back to his hotel he had his driver stop at a Houston supermarket. He left the supermarket in tears, seeing how good average Americans had it compared to Russians. He remarked if Russians knew how much food and how much variety there was available to Americans every day, there would be a revolution tomorrow in the USSR.

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No, no, we need the positive vibes here.

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Twitter does this at least twice a year with air travel experience/expectations, someone wistfully posting an ad from Pan Am's international first class service from like 1958 and screaming "Look how good we used to have it!!!" while ignoring that before deregulation a round trip flight in coach from DC to Chicago was like $1,400 adjusted for inflation.

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We used to call rich people “the jet set” because they were the only ones who could afford to fly...

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founding

How many times have we heard the phrase: "We were poor back then, but we didn't know it." Often said by people when describing their childhood, or by long-married couples recounting their first years of marriage. And always with a note of romanticism and nostalgia for the halcyon days of youth. People love remembering when they were young.

The meme Matt used isn't nostalgia for a different time; it is just another way of saying "things are terrible, previous generations had it better and you are getting screwed". Today we are inundated with stories about the terrible state of our lives, our country, our climate, our planet. The relentless stream of negativity results in a message that is a gross distortion of reality. Social media connects while amplifying each outrage, injustice, and crisis in the pursuit of their one-more-click business models.

I love that Matt approaches issues through the lens of data and economics, and pushes back against a message of despair. But I think his analyses miss something profound that is happening primarily, though not exclusively, to the younger generations (the most connected, the most depressed) that goes beyond mere dollars.

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Social media plays a hand in this whole wilderness of mirrors. If you want to be depressed about the state of the world go online and see your friend posting about the climate apocalypse, your high school bully winning the lottery, your ex wife vacationing in Hawaii with her new lawyer/doctor boyfriend, a new deadly virus has been discovered and the primary symptom is sore throat, wait...don’t you have a sore throat?!

I avoid social media most of the time these days and my mental health is much, much better. I get calls or text from friends that are extremely dramatic about everything and it’s always based of some sensationalist screed they read online about the world ending/the unfairness of life.

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founding

Ignorance is bliss, the saying goes. Our lizard brains become easily preoccupied with danger, injustice and suffering. We miss the incredible growth in well-being over the years, the number of people not suffering, not subject to injustice, not hungry, not victims of violence.

I don't know a solution, but I worry about a world where our brains and social media combine to keep us in a heightened state of agitation, anger and angst.

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I agree with you that serving others and making the/their world better is meaningful, but I generally find that more people today are spending more time alone or online and less time serving in meaningful ways.*

*I know for myself, sometimes I take the easy way out and simply give money. That's well and good, but it doesn't have the same impact ON ME as "doing" that is an important benefit from serving in the community.

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Good piece, and a nice debunking of the meme. This claim I found hard to believe though:

'All the IT expenditures, for example, almost certainly have very little impact in terms of improving students’ education, but it’s also inconceivable that a college campus would just refuse to create and maintain on-campus internet access.'

Surely we're not making the claim here that 'internet access' has 'very little impact in terms of improving students' education'? It's just way easier to find information as a Higher Ed student than it used to be, even when I was a student less than 20 years ago. Even if you allow for some negative externalities in wasted time tweeting/online gaming etc, plus some harms from poor academic practice/plagiarism/getting ChatGPT to write the essay, you're still much better off having access to information at your fingertips. Just the benefit in buying fewer books and/or less fighting to get limited copies from the library is hugely beneficial.

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Thank you - as a professor, that statement really bothered me. Teaching is easier, more productive, and more accessible than before constant network access. I can distribute homework assignments, lecture slides, and answer keys through learning management systems (LMSs), answer student questions by email, point them toward web resources as part of their homework, and more. And students can benefit from all of those things. The internet and constant connectivity has made learning much more accessible, convenient, personalized, and expansive.

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There are also analytical techniques and technologies available to today's student (and practicing researcher) that did not exist twenty years ago, never mind fifty. Part of why per-worker productivity is up is the availability of these technologies, and obviously higher ed is a good place to start learning them.

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Mar 28, 2023·edited Mar 28, 2023

i came here to say this. I agreed with/appreciated most of the higher ed costs discussion, but this was just a Bad Take. If anything, higher ed underinvests in IT; in particular, it is challenging to recruit strong hires in many roles because the pay is so much lower than in the private sector.

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Strongly agree with this; I get paid about 25% more than the main IT guy in our department and truth to be told things would fall apart a lot faster without him than without me.

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How much of “the campus-wide WiFi network” is actually being used for education purposes versus sharing TikTok videos?

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Does that ratio matter? As long as they're using it a decent amount for educational purposes, and not wasting more time that they did before, it seems like a clear improvement. Of course, I don't know if those assumptions are true.

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Sure it matters. Is education improved because a student can sit out in the quad on her laptop rather than in a library?

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Being able to pull up a research paper mid-meeting with a professor is invaluable. And yes, professors are people too; sometimes they want to meet on the quad rather than in the library.

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It’s a wonder anyone learned anything before Wi-Fi.

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I'd argue yes, because it means that students will be more likely to study overall.

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What an absurd essay, claiming ciabatta produces widespread delight, let alone that such a subpar bread is anywhere near the same realm of awesomeness as wheeled luggage.

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Only flight crews had wheeled luggage in the old days, they were the only ones that needed it. Most people couldn’t afford to fly, you don’t really need wheeled luggage when you’re just getting into or out of a car.

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Mar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023

Generally true, except wheeled luggage is pretty useful on trains, too. Not *as* useful as for air travel, but still. Especially if you're getting on/off at a big station with a lot of distance between the platforms and whatever transport is getting you to/from your actual destination. (This is a function of distance from platform to street, so it applies at any big station, even without Amtrak's stupid boarding rules. If you have a lot of platforms, a lot of them are going to have to have a pretty long way to the street, even if there's no impediments/chokepoints to boarding/alighting between them.)

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I was on a road trip a couple weeks ago and it was pretty nice to roll my suitcase into the hotel.

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If we are debating Italian breads, focaccia > ciabatta.

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We’re not, but you are correct.

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I know you are joking, but you could replace ciabatta with any other bread type, because the point is kinda that in the 50s, they just had "bread", and it was all just some crappy version of sourdough, basically Wonderbread.

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Wonderbread is derived from sourdough?

Holy fuck, how many levels of abstraction are there in *that* relationship?

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Mar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023

I mean, ultimately, all yeast-leavened bread is some level of abstraction from sourdough, since sourdough is (or at least seems to be) the first yeast-leavened bread. The process seems to have gone a bit like this:

(1) Unleavened bread exists

(2) At some point, someone bakes some dough for unleavened bread that had gotten fermented and discover it's tastier and easier to eat (sourdough)

(3) People get used to leavened bread

(4) Bakers find the business of maintaining a sourdough starter super annoying and look for shortcuts

(5) Bakers somehow figure out that the scum from fermenting beer/wine/etc can leaven dough

(6) Bakers decide using booze scum is annoying

(7) Scientists discover the actual bugs that burp out the CO2 that leavens bread, figure out a way to package them for sale

(8) Bakers substitute the newfangled yeast for the booze scum they've been using

That gets you to 19th-century sandwich loaves, Wonderbread is a few further steps. (Look for My Name Is Andong's deep dive on sandwich bread on YouTube from a few years ago for that history.)

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I do actually know the broad history, lol, I have a sourdough starter laying around waiting for the day I might actually get off my ass (our fermentation projects have thus far confined themselves to kvass, kimchi, and bean curd).

I just understood the comment to which I replied to perhaps mean wonderbread in particular actually used some kind of a culture other than standardized quick yeast?

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Lol that list is more impressive than mine. So far the only thing I've been brave enough to (deliberately) ferment myself is crème fraîche (which is fermentation on easy mode).

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Kimchi is idiot-proof because it ferments best at 35-40 degrees, i.e. in the refrigerator, for like a month.

kvass is also not too terrible.

Bean curd I persuaded my wife to give up as we can buy it cheaply.

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Mar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023

Ok, BUT, I can not afford to buy the home I grew up in. My parents bought it in 1989 for about 300K and today it costs about a million. My parents were able to afford this despite having 4 children to pay for. Today, at the same age, only one of those four children could afford to buy that house.

Maybe I just suck, but this fact makes me feel like some things have gotten harder/worse despite how cool my iPhone is. That house was really cool too and definitely better than the one I live in now.

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Mar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023

$300k in 1989 is $750k now. Mortgage rates were 10% in 1989. That house is cheaper now than it was then in terms of the mortgage payment.

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Why should you be able to afford the house you grew up in? My parents couldn't afford the neighbourhood they grew up in, either, and had to buy elsewhere.

Wouldn't the default assumption given population and economic growth be that older neighbourhoods become more expensive over time?

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Why shouldn’t you? Why take it for granted that intergenerational community living can no longer exist, or that we are wrong to lament the fact?

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At a basic level: they said their parents had 4 children.

So 4 new people trying to buy houses in that same neighbourhood. Demand has gone up. Supply hasn't. Price goes up. This is high school level economics.

So you need to build 4 new houses in that neighbourhood just for that one family. Now repeat for every single other family as well.

How many neighbourhoods have you lived in that triple their housing stock every 20 years?

Where do you even get the land to build the new housing without making it denser, which means displacing existing tenants while you tear down existing structures and build something denser over the period of (best case scenario) a year.

I live in Asia where we have intergenerational communities. But you don't get it by everyone buying their own house when they turn 25 or 30. You live in the same house. Forever. From when you are born until you die.

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Meh. You can make the housing supply go up by building more suburbs, expanding cities and yes , making it denser. I didn’t mean to say that everyone must stay in literally the same house, but why not the same neighborhoods, if they so choose? And why can’t they afford to buy ? It’s all about policy.

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Wow, a house whose price only grew 30% faster than inflation over the last three decades… where is this mystical creature?

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founding

I think the vast majority of land area of the country has local housing prices that grew slower than inflation over this period. Probably a majority of the population lives in areas where housing has grown faster than inflation, and maybe even a majority is in places where it has grown much faster than inflation, but I’m less sure of that.

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Sure, no argument there.

To really parse this out we need at least 3-4 datasets in real dollars:

Median household income growth by census tract

Population growth by census tract

Growth in housing area by census tract

Home price growth by census tract

I expect the answer we'll get is that the vast majority of the country's land area, as you say, has seen little to no growth in home prices even in nominal terms since 1980. But that same area has had little to no population growth over the same timeframe and largely stagnant median household incomes.

Meanwhile, an increasing proportion of the country's people live in metropolitan regions where economic opportunity has driven income growth, population has grown significantly, and housing construction has failed to keep up, thus driving up prices far more than incomes.

My childhood home is likely emblematic of the latter:

When my dad grew up there it had 500,000 people and his parents bought their countryside home on half an acre in 1963 for $8,000 (about $77,000 in 2022 dollars). They sold their now-exurban home in 2018 for $350,000 (about $398,000 in 2022 dollars). The increase in value outpaced the increase in nationwide median income over the timeframe they owned it by about 5X, though likely only outpaced the increase in local median income by 3X or so, perhaps less.

When I was growing up the county had 680,000 people and my parents bought their exurban home on a quarter acre in 2000 for $180,000 ($307,000 in 2022 dollars). It's now substantially more suburban than when they purchased and their home is valued at $440,000 or more. Again, that price increase is around 4X the increase in median income over the same timespan, though more likely 2.5X the increase in local incomes.

The county now has 870,000 people and there is effectively no non-conserved land left to build on in the lower half of it, proximate to the amenities and jobs of the established town centers and the city.

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A $300k house in 1989 seems like it would have been insane.

My parents built a ~1500 sq ft house for $75k in the mid-90s.

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Yea my parents bought a nice suburban home for $175k in 2000; it’s now worth $440k and they have done no upgrades.

The scenario outlined above is way *better* than the norm.

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Your parents will probably cash out and move to Florida, add to the rising RE prices and pricing out the people who live there and maybe kick back a couple of hundred grand to you so you can have a “nice down payment” on a house.

I have 2 questions: 1) in what rational world does an apparently normal sized house cost 300k in 89 and 1 mil in 2023; and 2) why hasn’t the internet heralded the demise of the Realtor? The most overpaid, useless job in the world?

In line with affordable housing, why don’t we do away with the loopholes that allow landlords (usually big, rich ones) to write off empty units?

Allow the free market to actually work!

I think one of MY’s reoccurring themes is the myriad of ways the “free market” is thwarted in housing (and healthcare).

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'why hasn’t the internet heralded the demise of the Realtor? The most overpaid, useless job in the world?'

Because online real estate sales become a market for lemons? All of the companies attempting to make this work (Redfin, Opendoor, Zillow et al) are all notorious cash-burning disasters.

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Mar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023

Real estate agents don't actually own the houses they [edit: sell, not purchase], though, which AIUI is the Zillow model (I think Redfin combines listing with agency in some weird way?). It's a very good question because real estate agents do virtually nothing relative to their payday, and it appears that a lot of the compensation is risk premium because volume may be very low and it's a feast or famine enterprise -- but there's relatively little conceptual reason that something that's such low-effort even needs to be done by humans.

AFAICT the real answer is that there's *just enough* friction and non-obvious paperwork and contractual negotiation to benefit from a specialist intermediary class and sellers find themselves trapped in an equilibrium that's hard to break out of despite the idea that a real estate agent does anything close to $30k-$60k worth of work in selling a single $1 million home is preposterous, and what work there is is incredibly standardized.

I agree it sucks but it seems like because half or more of what's going on is network effects it appears to be surprisingly hard to disrupt for how low-hanging all the fruit is.

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Regulatory Capture.

Realtors do provide a valuable service. I might sell a home once every 10 years. They sell homes every day. They are better at it -- they know the market, the regulations, inspections, staging, marketing. I don't think this service is worth 6% of the sales price, though. Regulatory capture is why they endure without price competition, though.

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Regulatory capture is a small part of it. The reality is that there must have been someone brilliant on one of the trade association boards around when the internet was becoming useful.

The local realtor associations quickly and successfully built a near-unassailable moat of network effects around access to information (MLS most prominently), to the point where every platform that came in hoping to break them has instead just rented their datasets for their own websites.

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Tomato, tomahto.

Our laws generally prevent competitors in a market conspiring to set prices and limit access to upstarts. That this behavior is accepted instead of being prosecuted is a reflection of the power of realtors over the regulatory bodies.

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Do you think MLS should be the target of antitrust enforcement?

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If they get you an increase of 10% in sales price is that not worth 6%?

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Mar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023

Perhaps. But kinda depends on whether Jane the Realtor and Tom the Realtor are competing for this business in an open marketplace. Instead, Jane and Tom (and their employers) work to maintain the standard 6% and foreclose competitive threats through cartel-like behavior. If Jane is demonstrably better than Tom, why can't he charge less to gain an edge?

If every watch cost $5,000 -- whether it be a Timex or Rolex -- we would all see that as an odd situation and some evidence of market manipulation. And I suspect you wouldn't be asking if the watch accurately told the time and was therefore "worth" $5,000.

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Mar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023

Not if the same service could be provided at 1% or a small fixed-rate, no. It's generally cost of production rather than putative consumer surplus that's supposed to drive the pricing function for sellers.

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I don't know about you, but my realtor friends possess social skills that go way beyond anything I'll ever be able to muster, and I am a pretty extroverted person. Great realtors don't just get paid for their work, they get paid for their innate social talent, like professional athletes get paid for their innate athletic talent.

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I confess that as a prospective buyer I have never had a realtor show me a house whose company I would have preferred to that of a coat rack (and several whom I would have exchanged for the coat rack with great gusto). I can wander through rooms by myself. Even if I had a more positive experience, there's no way I would remotely consider it worth a price premium in the tens of thousands of dollars for what's basically a commoditized service.

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My realtor learned about what I was looking for, she knew all the different areas and suburbs of the city, and she carefully curated a list of options for me. Not only that, she even picked me up and drove me to them (5-10 times!) until we found the right one. And that was one that had just gone on the market that day; I was able to put in an offer within less than 24 hours of its listing. And now years later, I still think I got one of the best houses I could have hoped for. I'm sure others aren't going to be as good, but at least in my case, she earned her cut.

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But it’s simply not. Many buyers can’t see past the most superficial things. If you have the skills to push people past what is to what could be, that’s a very valuable service.

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Mar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023

“ real estate agents do virtually nothing relative to their payday,”

IIRC a good realtor can typically get you a price that’s higher than their commission. A lot of it is fairly simple advice - if you want your houses to look bigger put 50% of your stuff in storage. Don’t over-personalize the space.

People have a lot of hang ups about their home - how dare you suggest I put my collection of Disney memorabilia in storage!

On the big side a lot of people will balk at a home because they don’t like the paint color. Someone needs to point out to them it’s just paint.

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I'm not sure any of this is inconsistent with the claim that realtors' services are so basic that while they may have non-zero value, it's value that in a competitive market one would expect to have been bid down to less than thirty to sixty thousand dollars -- indeed, to barely more than nothing - for selling a basic $1 million home.

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So basic? That kind of high touch hand holding is one of the most highly paid occupations - selling software, homes, engineering services, boats, industrial equipment and on and on. It’s like the least basic thing there is.

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"why hasn’t the internet heralded the demise of the Realtor"

Because realtors provide a bunch of useful services in getting your house sold? I'm a lawyer (practicing commercial litigation for nearly 20 years) and I would use a realtor if I needed to sell my house. It's a massive amount of paperwork, which if you mess up you will pay a lawyer far more than a realtor to fix, and it's not something I do on a regular basis so I can't feel comfortable doing it myself. Maybe if I was retired and had nothing better to do with my time, I'd take on the challenge of selling my own house, but it's not worth time commitment otherwise versus the risks of making a mistake in the transaction.

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In fairness to MY, he did basically say one way the US actually has gotten worse is in housing becoming more expensive because of zoning. My parents couldn't buy the house they currently live in if they had to buy today, rather than 20 years ago when they actually bought it. Their incomes have grown normal amounts in that period, but the house has more than doubled in value, for the sole reason that you simply CANNOT legally build anything in the area accept for big houses on huge lots.

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My point is mostly just that 3/4 of my parent’s children can’t afford to live in the same house they did. This is despite all of us doing things mostly right, we went to school, college, graduate school, got “good” jobs, etc. We were the first generation of our family to experience this, every previous generation would have been able to buy their parents house for cheap. I do have better technology in my small house than they did in their big house, but I’d still rather have the big house. I don’t feel like I am richer than they were. Maybe I should but I don’t.

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I hate to break this to you but… Your parents were rich, or at least willing to spend an extreme proportion of an upper-middle class income on housing. Their mortgage was $1700-2000/month in a year where the median household income was $29k/yr or $2400/month.

Ordinary folks should have the expectation that their kids can achieve a decent life a bit better than theirs. Folks who can afford a million-dollar home should not, as it would require complete lack of upward mobility for the rest of us and ever-increasing stratification of wealth.

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> every previous generation would have been able to buy their parents house for cheap

This is obviously false but I can see how this would form the root of your misconception.

As an extreme example: Manhattan -- and every other central business district of a major city -- used to have single family homes. Clearly it isn't true that every previous generation was able to keep buying single family homes in those central areas.

But the same dynamic plays out in every city. There's a reason why the GI Bill led to an explosion of suburbs. They couldn't afford to buy in their parents neighbourhoods. And that was in the 1940s and 1950s.

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Liked, within reason, but that last paragraph is a bit much; cities were *squalid* in 1940, even "middle-class neighborhoods". Given the technological limitations to fixing emissions problems at the time, it's no wonder at all that many with newfound means fled to the green and clean suburbs, as they were seen at the time.

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Graduate school for what?

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Yeah my parents built a house for about 200k in the mid nineties. We had to scrimp and save to build it and we pinched Pennie’s in some respects for years afterward but that house, even in the once rural but now suburban south, is very expensive.

I make about as much or more as my father did at his age but I have less buying power and my retirement feels less secure (though I’ll probably be okay as long as the course remains steady).

I had to start my life a lot later than he did though, I got married about 10 years later and had a kid and bought a house about 15 years later than him. Some of this has to do with my chosen career but also just the dynamics of living outside a large metropolitan area where stuff is pretty expensive and the dating scene is just brutal for young people who are struggling to get by.

I think in all reality I’m nostalgic for a past that doesn’t exist because there is a domesticated fantasy dream board where things could have worked out better and been less stressful. All in all though, life is pretty good. Who doesn’t want better stuff and less stress? Isn’t that just being human?

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Mar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023

You don’t suck and don’t let people gaslight you. By many important measures things are getting worse for way too many people. People in the us are also less happy not coincidentally. This was a very weak essay by MY. Too bad I wasn’t available to comment on time today :(

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Good luck getting any commenter here to take you seriously or engage with your larger point. They hate it whenever anyone makes the point that houses are more expensive today relative to income than they were 20/40/60 etc. years ago. They're only interested in how the magic of upzoning will solve everyone's housing woes and don't have patience for anything else.

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The fact that housing is more expensive is one of the animating forces of this entire substack, I would be shocked if most commenters here aren't fully aware of that fact.

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Mar 27, 2023·edited Mar 27, 2023

My counterpoint literally stated that this is a shitty example because the mooted cost growth is actually quite low, and regarding an extremely expensive (top several percent of the market) home.

Obviously housing costs have wildly outpaced both growth in incomes and inflation.

Local control over zoning is an extremely important regulatory factor in this. I can name half a dozen other factors which also drive the trend, but that's the worst of the lot.

Can you? I've never seen you muster the least bit of sophistication when discussing the issue, aside from to whine about the people saying zoning is a problem.

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