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Culture War Roundup for the week of May 15, 2023

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A bit different angle of culture (and maybe culture war?)

The new Bill Gates' house.

This guy has all the money. He could have built pretty much any house people can build. He chose to build that. Do you think it's beautiful? Would you dream, if you became wealthy beyond your wildest dreams, one day live in a house like that? If you don't think it's beautiful (I must admit I don't) - is this example for all of us that material possessions are not that important and you can spend a wild amount of money, get an ugly house and still be happy with it?

I don't like how it goes all the way to the edges of the lot. I don't like how it looks like an inexpensive hotel: uniform and beige and easy to power wash.

The only way I can explain why someone like Gates would have a house like that is that it's not his primary or even secondary residence. His house in Washington looks rather nice. His former property, Irma Lake Lodge in Wyoming, looks spectacular. I don't know why he needed a place in San Diego. Maybe one of his grandkids is a surfer. Maybe he was advised by his doctor to spend more time breathing warm ocean air.

It's consistent with the tastes of a rich man who would risk his marriage and reputation on an affair with Mila Antonova.

This isn't a piece of modern architecture that intentionally disrupts mainstream understandings of aesthetics or w/e. It's a functional building. The couches, tables, and shades aren't nice and wooden, but they're good for outdoor conversation. The solar panels are probably there for green reasons, but even purely on economics they're a reasonable choice. And the roof isn't an ugly metal slope or anything, just normal tiles.

I don't think anyone finds it beautiful, but it seems fine. Even if you want marble columns in your $5M mansion, that's still secondary to the material function of the house - spending your day there, having people over, etc.

I doubt that BG is worried about his energy bill being too high given that he's spending tens of millions on having another house.

IMO the “functional over form” position is predicated on a misconception of human needs. Humans actually need beauty and order to thrive. We need these things as much as we need a roof. Beauty and order in a building boosts your mood and aids your mind. Preferring function over form is like preferring an ugly, easy girl over a beautiful but somewhat expensive girl, because she is “functional”. Or it’s traveling to an ugly beach instead of a beautiful beach because they both have sand. Or it’s like playing a guitar with really shitty strings made out of shitty wood because you can hear the same notes even though the tone is bad. The ubiquity of beautification in human history proves without question the importance of form for the functioning of the human being.

Preferring function over form is like preferring an ugly, easy girl over a beautiful but somewhat expensive girl, because she is “functional”.

I believe this is also known as 'not being shallow,' and would be accompanied by less pejorative framings.

The drawbacks of superficial attractiveness are legendary. Like, literally some of the oldest works in the literary canon.

Even so, would you prefer a woman who speaks like ChatGPT (functional) or with a sonorous voice/heart (form)? When we talk about our loved one’s personalities do we say they are convenient and quite functional and does the job, or do we express what matters — the beauty of the inner person?

In terms of personality I care that they're pleasant, funny, like me back etc. A bipolar angsty girl into astrology and chakras might have a more "beautiful" personality, but all desire it inspires is to look now and then from a distance and not touch.

It's not that function is beauty. It's that beauty is function.

Again, I repeat: 'would be accompanied by less pejorative framings.'

Looks good. A cursory look around on google maps says that it fits with the surrounding esthetics. What would you build if you had the money of Bill Gates? I've never understood people that like neoclassical buildings in the US, to me they all look phoney, poseur, out of place, lacking in originality.

Not all beautiful buildings need be neoclassical.

Sure. The point I was trying to make is that it has to fit with its surrounding.

I hate it, it's hideous. It's kind of degrading to look at because he has so much fuck you money that he doesn't even bother to give the rest of us something pretty to look at. I'm guessing the location was exactly what he wanted or something and he has so many things already that he doesn't care about aesthetics. It also pattern matches to the irritating impulse many rich leftist Americans have where they feel so guilty about their money that they think to flaunt it would enrage the proles when in reality, not flaunting it is even worse (a la Marie Antoinette's peasant dresses, many of the people of France in the late 18th century weren't mad that she was a queen flaunting her wealth, they were angry that she dressed like a peasant in her spare time)

It's kind of ugly from above, but most people live in houses, they don't hover forty feet above them. If you're in it, it probably looks pretty nice.

His main home in Medina, Washington is surrounded by trees to the point that it's hard to see the buildings. He likes privacy and doesn't feel the need to build anything that screams "look at my house".

I suspect the bland exterior was a deliberate choice. It probably makes him feel safer.

The pool is covered in those photos. There are pics of the interior under a former owner here:

BG himself probably put 6 milliseconds of thought into the house. Knowing some ultra wealthy people, they are too busy to think about what underwear they wear, forget about the "aesthetics" of their nth house and what some nobodies in the internet with 1/100..000 of their wealth would think.

This guy has all the money. He could have built pretty much any house people can build. He chose to build that. Do you think it's beautiful?

His fellow billionaires think it is beautiful, and BG wants to impress them, not you.

He cares about your approval about as much as you care whether insects find your house nice and good looking.

He cares about your approval about as much as you care whether insects find your house nice and good looking.

I care a lot about that, only with the valence reversed. Perhaps this is the same sort of situation.

His fellow billionaires think it is beautiful

And how do you know this?

His fellow billionaires think it is beautiful

How do you know? I mean, I don't know a lot of billionaires, to be honest, but I met some rich people, and their tastes in general aren't that different from the rest of the population. They are not aliens. It's not about my approval of course, it's about my understanding of why he did it. I am curious. I do not seek the power to approve Gates' decisions, I seek the understanding.

I don't think it's beautiful on the outside but I'm sure it's prettty luxurious on the inside. I think it's a pretty big jump to go from "One specific billionaire is not particularly concerned with the outer beauty of his dwelling" to "material possessions aren't important"

If I had all the money to spend I'd have a nice enough house that fit in the neighborhood with a big and well equipped shop out back within walking distance of my favorite bar.

Merchant class aesthetics updated for the modern era. Ostentation is for the extinct warrior aristocracy or noveau riche clods with no taste. Pursuit of beauty is for the priestly class. Merchants are supposed to be frugal, modest, and vaguely sterile.

Alternatively: function over form. As others have noted, people don't spend a lot of time looking at their own house. If Gates finds the design serves his needs better, he probably doesn't care that it looks drab.

Alternatively mk 2: countersignalling. Gates is one of the richest and most successful people on the planet. He doesn't need to impress anyone.

Alternatively mk 2: countersignalling. Gates is one of the richest and most successful people on the planet. He doesn't need to impress anyone.

So is Trump, but he is often mocked for eating steaks well done and pizza with a fork.

But those signal that Trump is not trying to impress anyone! Doing eccentric, "tasteless" things is one way to signal that you're not trying to impress people with "good taste". Eating well done steak or going to McDonalds is a way of shouting, "I am not trying to impress WASP elites."

Even Trump's gaudiness e.g. in his mansions could be a way of signalling that he's a Common Man, because they are the ways that a Common Man would spend millions if they had it. The message that Trump wants to give to his supporters and potential supporters is "I'm just like you, only richer, so I can still understand you and I share your desires."

Even for those of his supporters who regard this signal as insincere, the fact that Trump sends this signal is a way that they can identify that he is trying to cynically appeal to them, rather than other groups, which is relevant information for determining his priorities.

Sure, but the industry dedicated to hating on bill gates is much smaller.

Has Trump given any indication of caring?

He doesn't need to impress anyone.

I never felt a particular reason to impress anyone either (well, maybe outside the period where I was on the dating market, but that was decades ago...) but I still like nice things. If I had so much money that it wasn't a question of price, I'd certainly buy a house that looks nice (to me) - not to impress anyone but because it is pleasant to live in a nice house.

It could be so much worse. There's nothing nice about it but it looks like a fine place to use as a base camp for enjoying the san diego weather and beach.

Looks like it will make a dandy Best Western when he gets done with it.

I don't suppose he had put much more thought into it than I do into my order in some fast food joint. I just pick based on how much I'm willing to spend, trusting that the default option won't be terrible because the reviews are okay; he most likely outsourced the design to professionals, and let his secretary handle the details.

One of the marks of highly successful people that unites them with normies is being content with defaults. Sure, were I rich, I'd be able to afford a custom laptop for travels that ticks my every nerd fetish box – trackpoint, 3:2 touchscreen, 100Wh battery, mechanical keyboard, magnesium chassis, no thinness fetish… But I'd most likely just tell my secretary to get the newest lightweight Mac, and paying much attention to what you own would be as absurd to my eyes as tinkering with rooted Android firmware.

One of the marks of highly successful people that unites them with normies is being content with defaults. Sure, were I rich, I'd be able to afford a custom laptop for travels that ticks my every nerd fetish box – trackpoint, 3:2 touchscreen, 100Wh battery, mechanical keyboard, magnesium chassis, no thinness fetish… But I'd most likely just tell my secretary to get the newest lightweight Mac, and paying much attention to what you own would be as absurd to my eyes as tinkering with rooted Android firmware.

I mean this is something that occurred to me one day during COVID. All-hands meeting at the company I was working for, pretty big spectrum of income/wealth/countries of residence... and yet prettymuch everybody on the 100+-person call was essentially at a very similar table, with a very similar background, on a very similar device on this Zoom meeting. Testament to how increasingly flattened the curve is on lifestyle.

But I'd most likely just tell my secretary to get the newest lightweight Mac

Tangentially related, but when Khodorkovsky was released from prison, his secretary got him the newest lightweight Mac, the newest iPhone and the newest iPad and his mind was blown. He remembered what 2003 cutting-edge tech was like and spent a few months being extremely online.

Isn't he still very online?

Not as much as Elon Musk.

One of the marks of highly successful people that unites them with normies is being content with defaults.

Yes, and this is sign that highly succesful people are just normies with big pile of money. Billionaire supermen exist in Ayn Rand's novels, not in reality.

Sure, were I rich, I'd be able to afford a custom laptop for travels that ticks my every nerd fetish box – trackpoint, 3:2 touchscreen, 100Wh battery, mechanical keyboard, magnesium chassis, no thinness fetish… But I'd most likely just tell my secretary to get the newest lightweight Mac, and paying much attention to what you own would be as absurd to my eyes as tinkering with rooted Android firmware.

When someone ends at this level, time, not money is the bottleneck. You could, when you make your billions, hire as consultants professional engineer and design teams from Apple or Samsung, explain to them what exactly you want and tell them to build this dream machine just for you regardless of cost. But you would have something better to do with your time.

Houses and computers are not so important, more important is that even the most succesful people outsource their information, even billionaires get their knowledge about the world from mainstream media and popular literature (plus some rumors and inside info heard from their peers and other VIP's, which can pay very well).

With honorable exception of Elon Musk, who lately turned to /pol/ memes as his source of news, more accurate source than NYT, CNN or FOX.

But, billionaires should do better if they wanted to. Ordinary billionaire could afford to hire his own OSINT/financial/technological/investigative team to look behing the facade, to seek from open sources what is really going on in the world.

Well, if they did, they would not tell us, but we would see billionaires predicting (and profiting from) important world events more frequently than random chance allows.

You had similar idea long ago, when, as the first thing when you get mega rich, you planned to dig deep, follow through the rabbit holes and learn who and what is behind the infamous satanic ritual celebrating opening of Gotthard Base Tunnel.

Yes, and this is sign that highly succesful people are just normies with big pile of money. Billionaire supermen exist in Ayn Rand's novels, not in reality.

Normie taste does not imply Normie aptitude. And saying otherwise is coping.

I like the courtyard, but would prefer a useable roof in that style house.

I think Gates might go nondescript on purpose. His home on Lake Washington isn’t even visible from the lake. When you’re boating and tell friends where Bill Gates lives, you’re gesturing at a clump of trees on the shore.

Eh, looks fine to me, I don't see the exterior of my house that often, and especially not from a drone's point of view, if building it that way made the interior more suited to my needs by a small margin, the tradeoff would've been worth it.

The wealthiest man in the world wants to live in a beige-on-beige strip mall. How odd.

architecture nerd here, looks essentially modern, no fusion. southwest accents. could be better, modern southwest has many beautiful works.

could be much worse. a lot of purely modern houses are dissonant, inhuman shit. that house doesn't do anything interesting, it also doesn't do anything terrible. inoffensive.

i imagine gates will spend very little time there. isn't that the thing with those 8 figure fantasy mansions? all that time and effort to get it and no time to enjoy it. gotta keep grinding. except maybe notch.

I'd imagine that California's building codes made it very difficult to make any kind of structural changes to the house. He probably did what he could on the outside, and made huge changes to the inside.

I saw pretty interesting houses, say, in Carmel. So California is not at fault here I think.

but were they right on the beach? When were they built? I don't know about del mar, but you always hear horror stories about trying to do anything in Malibu. here's an example from a google search:

State law mandates cities to review and approve ADUs within 60 days. But it took the planning commission 11 months to let the Riddicks know their request for a permit was denied.

To say this was a bureaucratic nightmare would be an understatement. The lengths the city has been willing to go to in impeding development seemed almost too ridiculous to believe, especially with a major housing shortage under way.

Yes, many right on the beach or very close. I recommend Scenic Rd in particular, it's always nice to walk there. I have no idea where were they built (last time I was there, which was a couple years ago by now, some were still building, though I have no idea how they came out) - I could probably find out, but never bothered. Maybe it's a very expensive and arduous process to get anything approved there (most likely it is), but those people somehow (probably - lots of money and connections?) managed to get through it.

The house fits the man. What can I say ...

That's such an incredibly meh design. Not outright ugly, but I'd cry if I paid $48 mil for it and had that to show for it.

But at any rate, I doubt that house is the defining contributor to his sense of self-worth or happiness.

I think we have to consider other things about the house. The exterior visible design is pretty pedestrian I suppose. But it looks like a freakin' huge house, (six bedrooms, 3.5 baths, 5,800 square feet) and it's reportedly on a large beachfront property in Del Mar, San Diego. I expect real estate there is pretty pricey, especially with that large of a Pacific ocean beach. And we have no idea what he did to the inside. I would think with all those other factors, $48 mil doesn't go that far in the make it look super impressive from the outside department. I don't get the impression that Bill Gates is the kind of guy who wants to impress everyone else with how awesome and rich he is. Here's another article I found about how awesome this house supposedly is.

Yeah it's pretty nice on the inside but why build a beach house in San Diego (assuming you're super rich)?. San Diego is beautiful, but California makes it illegal to own the beach itself. If I had unlimited money I'd want to put my beachfront property in places where I can keep the riffraff off my sand. How am I supposed to enjoy the beach and the surf if the paparazzi (or just randos) can legally come onto my beach.

It's not his only place. Presumably he wants at least one big place in a swanky but accessible location to throw billionaire parties at. IDK if there's any paparazzi around, presumably nobody wants pics of pasty old dudes? Or maybe he has so much freakin' money he can destroy any publication that annoys him, like Thiel did?

Here's another article I found about how awesome this house supposedly is.

That looks like a very nice house, but apparently Gates tore it down to build the current house.

$48 million probably for the location , not the design ...

That's such an incredibly meh design. Not outright ugly, but I'd cry if I paid $48 mil for it and had that to show for it.

My feelings exactly. But why? I mean, it'd probably be the same price and effort to have a non-ugly house instead. Does he think it's beautiful? Does he just not care because he's way beyond it? I mean, I probably won't care if I went to McDonalds and got an ugly burger - it's a cheap burger, I eat it and forget it, who cares. Is that what's going on here?

But why

Because you hear $48M and think of that as a capstone sort of representation of the culmination of your life. A $48M house on the beach in San Diego is a way of showing both to yourself and to your neighbors that you are somebody who can afford a $48M house.

It's something you'd want to be really proud of, since you probably imagine only buying a $48M once, probably near the end of your life.

Bill Gates is worth $100 BILLION dollars. For math, let's assume your net worth is $1M. A $1,000,000 net worth is not something to be ashamed of.

This would be like spending $500 on a house. Let's say even $10,000,000 - a level at which most people would consider you rich. That's $5000 on a house. My net worth is somewhere between those two numbers, and I have many $5000 "goofy" sorts of toys that I mistreat and don't really care about aside from the once or twice a year they get used.

Even at $100,000,000 net worth, this is still a $50,000 expenditure (proportionally).

Why is it ugly? Because why the hell would he even consider the aesthetics of this house? At that level of wealth, this is functionally no different than staying in a hotel. He might not even know that he owns it.

If I were to spend $500 on something, and I had a choice between an ugly thing and a beautiful thing - I'd definitely choose the latter. When I buy $500 things I definitely care for how they look. Thinking about what I could by for around $500, for me, that would be either an electronic gadget or some smaller piece of furniture, I guess, definitely aesthetics would matter.

I wouldn't. When I was a kid and my parents took me to buy school accessories, I always went out of my way to find the least colorful and most boring-looking stuff on the shelf to avoid attention from my classmates.

Still today, my smartphone case is transparent-gray, and my keyboard RGB is off at all times.

But isn't that either depression or anxiety induced behaviour? What would you get if you specifically wanted to demonstrate your good taste?

Fair enough, and I'm in that same order of magnitude for wealth, and I still make fun of watches that look like shit for $5K. Yeah, you can just spend that and it's not a big deal, but why choose something shitty when you could choose something that looks nice? I don't think, "I don't even care lol" is compelling in any setting at all, to be honest.

If I had to wild-ass guess, he just doesn't particularly care, has multiple better houses he prefers and just wanted a minimum viable product, or is just so inured to luxury it doesn't bother him.

Richard Hanania reports (it seems someone leaked to him) that the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Uber has been placed on leave of absence following a DEI session called "Moving Forward: Don't Call Me Karen".

Unless I'm missing something, it's not clear that this is explicitly related to the recent and ongoing Citi Bike Karen.

That Karen is an anti-white slur only directed against white women seems pretty obvious. I never understood why so many on the right embraced the term. I am also not surprised that most of the people in the chatlogs are other women, since the term was mostly used by women or gay men.

One interesting point is that the most anti-white group at uber are blacks whereas Asians were most sympathetic. Latinos were sort of in-between but a bit closer to the Asian position. This makes me a bit more hopeful about America's future as traditionally the two most hostile anti-white groups were either blacks or Jews and both are losing relative demographic importance since the bulk of non-white growth is Asian and Latino.

The black population is estimated to remain stable at 11 to 13% of the US population out to 2100 last time I checked. I haven't heard about Jews but I imagine they're not declining precipitously.

So the US is moving from whites to more Hispanics, which aren't as pro-SJW as blacks are but certainly are sympathetic in many ways.

I haven't heard about Jews but I imagine they're not declining precipitously.

The Reform and irreligious ones are. TFR of 3.3 for Orthodox, but 1.8 for Conservative, and only 1.4 for Reform, 1.1 for "No particular branch", 1.0 for "No religion".

Basically the same pattern is found between different religions (except that Buddhist TFR is even a little lower than Nonreligious?) and within other religions (e.g. TFR correlates with Biblical literalism, and with rates of church attendance), but the effect size for Jewish people seems exceptionally large.

I think Scott Aaronson (Jewish "No religion" category, but IIRC 2 kids anyway, good for him) once described modern religious demographic trends most memorably, as "a contest between the Darwinian theorists and the Darwinian practitioners".

These kinds of leaks just reinforce my postion that woke corporations aren't just acting woke to 'respond to the market' or to cover their own asses from regulation (i.e. that corporations are only acting woke for sound, economically rational reasons), but that corporations have been subjected to entryism much the same as any other insitution and that market forces and competition aren't some impenetrable bulwark against woke entryism.

the chatlogs showed make it hard to believe these people are functioning adults at a big company.

"matt walsh said karen is a racial slur, do you agree with him???

"you deserve a pay raise and/or time off for all of this emotional unpaid labor"

and my favorite

"it was more of a lecture - I felt like I was being scolded for the entirety of that meeting"

"matt walsh said karen is a racial slur, do you agree with him???

I wonder if there's a niche for a loathsome conservative to get paid to chime in every once in a while supporting a rival leftist's cause, just to irradiate the whole thing.

I wonder if there's a niche for a loathsome conservative to get paid to chime in every once in a while supporting a rival leftist's cause, just to irradiate the whole thing.

I was kind of under the impression that this was Hanania's whole thing.

How so? Can you give examples? I'm curious because I just discovered Hanania and have been reading his archive with relish. He's a great writer, IMO.

"it was more of a lecture - I felt like I was being scolded for the entirety of that meeting"

I mean, that person isn't wrong. That's kind of the entire DEI modus operandi.

I think I just had a weird zoom-out moment. It strikes me that none of the things in this post need to exist. DEI officers, DEI sessions, black worker specific groups, all of this is completely needless people fighting over completely needless things. Why is anyone wasting any money on any of this stuff in the first place?

It all just seems so silly. It's like the corporate priest led a sermon from a different faith and the churchgoers got angry about it. This is basically the reaction I'd expect if my local vicar held a reading from the Quran at the Church of St Mary.

Why is anyone wasting any money on any of this stuff in the first place?

Why do people set up the people's commissariats to have a man of the people in every room of the soviet union where an actual decision is being taken?

Because we are besieged by imperialist traitors that are everywhere trying to sabotage our great socialist project and condemn humanity to the bondage of capital, that is why.

Only a simple man or a traitor would ask such questions. Which are you comrade?

I often wonder about the alternate reality where Scientology wasn't horribly mismanaged and took over most institutions. Companies would have mandatory auditing sessions and tech conferences would start and end with a Dianetics lecture. People objecting would still be called bigots.


Why is anyone wasting any money on any of this stuff in the first place?

It's insurance against employee lawsuits for mistreatment. If Employee X complains about harassment of a sexual/racial/whatever nature from Employee Y, the company can say "well Employee Y went through mandatory sensitivity training for all these things. Obviously this is not a part of our corporate culture. We have no legal or moral responsibility for what happened."

There are true believers involved at various levels presumably, but it's a lot easier to be a true believer if your economic incentives align with it as well.

The crazy thing is that the actual case law on hostile work environments is extremely employer friendly. It's just that cowardly general counsels and ideologically compromised HR departments are able to convince their bosses It's in their interests to settle and grovel. Any company that told these sorts of people to go fuck themselves would almost certainly prevail in court, but the people in charge are either true believers or have been lied to by true believers into having an irrational fear of liability that doesnt really exist.

I've seen it analyzed as due to legislation on workplace discrimination, and all of this makes it harder for the businesses to be sued, and so have some value to them in that respect. That, in combination with it looking really bad if you try to get rid of them.

Why is anyone wasting any money on any of this stuff in the first place?

“Governments don't want a population capable of critical thinking, they want obedient workers, people just smart enough to run the machines and just dumb enough to passively accept their situation.”

― George Carlin

DEI is the tool that is used to scare you into obidience of due to its arbitrariness. DEI is based on something that rebukes objective reality and stacks arbitrary relativistic moral values which you can't predict logically.

Certainly. And if one was interested in making Uber profitable, a great way to start would be firing and/or eliminating the position of everyone in those tweets, including the DEI officer.

While probably true, is Uber's goal profitability? They've never to my knowledge posted a profit and seem to live off of various money sources enabled by easy credit- and access to those is probably significantly enabled by their robust DEI department, and also probably much easier than turning a profit.

There's the first important issue: California property tax laws are insane.


Under Proposition 13, the annual real estate tax on a parcel of property is limited to 1% of its assessed value. This "assessed value" may be increased only by a maximum of 2% per year until, and unless, the property has a change of ownership.[15] At the time of the change in ownership the low assessed value may be reassessed to complete current market value that will produce a new base year value for the property, but future assessments are likewise restricted to the 2% annual maximum increase of the new base year value.

So your property taxes can only increase by 2% a year from your date of purchase. As a result anyone who has owned a home for 10+ years is locked into property taxes far below what they'd pay if they'd move.

So there's a strong incentive to never sell. A retiree might think about selling their house and downsizing, but while they'd get a lump of cash their property taxes will be significantly higher for the rest of their lives. That affects calculations.

Other issues benefitting SF...

The weather is quite pleasant and unique. Many people are heat bugs and dislike it. But it rarely rains in the summer. The weather never gets muggy. It never really gets cold. Sort of year round light jacket weather. There's a big market for that, and there are only a handful of cities like that in the world.

Demographically it's 78.8% asian & non-hispanic white. That's extremely high for a rich costal city in the US.

Really the biggest downside to SF is the incompetent management of the drug addicted & mentally ill homeless population.

It's never going to be a party town, but it's going to be a desirable place for the wealthy and bookish to live for the foreseeable future.

Other issues benefitting SF...

And it actually has nice streets, mentally unstable hobos notwithstanding. That's where all that missing middle housing in the US has gone to. Drop a pin anywhere west of the mountain or in Pacific Heights and it will look like a real city: streets with houses instead of setbacks and/or parking lots. It just needs some more trees.

Good summary. There are simply too many structural factors favouring SF in a way that e.g. Detroit never had. Moreover, it helps that firms like OpenAI are vocally supporting of the city even while they criticise the leadership.

One final point. Even many people who move don't move far. There was one VC who made a big splash on Twitter a few months ago about how he's moving out of SF due to spiralling crime. Where did he move? To Palo Alto. SF mostly rose as a cheaper alternative but the wider Bay Area isn't losing its luster as much as people think. Moreover, even alternatives like Seattle are seeing a rise in similar problems, but with substantially worse weather.

San Francisco is actually experiencing mini renaissance within a broader decline, namely in AI. Think the neighborhood dubbed Cerebral Valley.

Maybe that has something to do with it. Those are the people buying those homes.

There is a simple and relatively general reason why we expect housing costs to have increased relative to pre-pandemic levels. Remote working increases demand for housing everywhere because people who work from home require more square feet of living space for an equivalent quality of life. And the impact of increase in price on demand is greatest where supply is constrained - i.e. in blue-state NIMBY cities.

So we have three effects:

  1. A general increase in house prices due to the demand effect of WFH. Positive everywhere, and relatively more positive for the Bay Area than elsewhere.

  2. The relative attractiveness of different places changes due to WFH. There is a general flattening effect (within a metro area for people who sometimes need to network in person, globally for people who can be 100% remote) on the value of neighbourhoods, and there is also a shift in value away from places with a convenient commute to good jobs, and towards fun places. This is a small net negative for the Bay Area as a whole, but within the Bay Area it is a big positive for SF at the expense of Silicon Valley.

  3. The specific problems with social decay in SF.

It doesn't surprise me that these are net-positive for SF house prices.

Why would you expect WFH creates a demand increase everywhere? Seems to me that if you need not commute, you will get some x% if the population moving to generic cheap jurisdiction which may decrease the demand in very expensive neighborhoods.

So much has been said about housing prices. Scott even jumped into the fray recently. But I think there's something missing from every analysis. Here's my take, which I offer with low confidence, but at least it's not the same regurgitated shit:

Housing Prices are a Meme

Something changed around the year 2000. It wasn't an economic change. It was a mental change in how much people are willing to pay for a house. Before, people might have balked at paying 50% of their income on a house. Now they do it. And why not? With few exceptions, housing always goes up. Once you digest that, then there's almost no amount that's too much to pay.

Prices in San Francisco are not high. Compare San Francisco to Vancouver. Compare it to Hong Kong.

San Francisco is the richest city in the world. Yet, prices in San Francisco are not really too much different from much poorer cities like London, Vancouver, or Hong Kong. In San Francisco, a software engineer might spend 50% of his income on a house. In China, he would spend MORE THAN 100%, relying on the accumulated wealth of parents and grandparents.

Housing prices are a meme. Fortunately, this meme is less strong in the United States than it is in Europe, Canada, or China. But it's getting worse here. To break high housing prices, we need to break the meme. We need people to learn that housing prices go down. To do that, we need to create government programs that make housing a shitty investment, which is the opposite of what happens now.

If you want to see what happens when the meme finally gets broken, look at Japan. Housing has been a shitty investment in Japan for a long time now. People don't hoard houses hoping for appreciation like they do in other places. As a result, it's affordable. People have been trying to figure out what makes Japan different. This is it. This is the reason.

If we want lower prices, we need to break the meme. Everything else is just nibbling at the edges.

Housing in Japan isn't affordable. Houses are small, probably roughly half of the sqft you'd get in most of the U.S. for the same dollars (my "huge" house in the countryside that shocked my co-workers was just over 1400sqft and it had 4BR, lol). The construction quality is shit, very poor insulation, crappy building materials that degrade significantly in the first 10-20 years. And all this for the low prices of 30,000,000 to 45,000,000 JPY if you want something new, or 25,000,000 to 35,000,000 if you want something used. And get ready to live in a 1000sqft "house" with maybe 1-2 meters of "land" surrounding your house, if that. (Yes, even in the countryside -- they build houses 1 meter apart even in the midst of massive open spaces.) AND! You get to pay for it with your Japanese salary, which PPP-adjusted is worth about half of an American salary.

As for why this is, the most plausible reasons seem to be that

  1. Brain drain to the cities is extreme and WFH hasn't taken off nearly as much -- most people are still trying to cram themselves into Tokyo

  2. Home construction is a racket -- There are a handful of massive national level builders that sit on top of a truly insane byzantine network of contractors, sub contractors, and sub sub sub contractors so that building even with shitty materials becomes horribly expensive due to the sheer number of parties taking their cut. This also makes QC'ing your house nearly impossible because there's no single "contractor" to hold accountable, it's buck-passing all the way down

  3. Penalties for sitting on land are very low -- the attitude towards owning property here seems to be "sit on it and hope you win the lottery." I personally know people who own land in the countryside and who have zero plans for it -- it's just there, it's costing almost nothing, and maybe someday someone will want to buy it, who knows? And of course there's the famous inheritance/ownership problem, where a piece of land gets passed down to half a dozen grandchildren, only some of them cannot be located (and might even be purposely avoiding being located in order to dodge taxes) so nothing can ever be legally done with the land and it just sits in limbo forever.

Interesting! Maybe it's time to take the "Japanese housing is cheap" idea out to the river and drown it.

What do you think of the previous discussion where we talked about a (shitty but functional) rental in Osaka going for $150/month?

I haven't seen that discussion, but it sounds possible. Places like that are usually exactly what you'd expect, some combination of:

  • Extremely small

  • Filthy and/or damaged

  • Old

  • Structurally dangerous (predating latest earthquake safety laws)

  • In a natural disaster high risk zone (flood/tsunami/landslide)

  • Terrible location (far from public transit, or next to factories/noisy train station/graveyard/sewage plant etc)

  • Tainted by association (usually a suicide or high profile crime)

  • Shitty neighbors (almost by definition)

$150/month might still seem outrageously low given the above, but I again have to emphasize that these are usually basically pod "apartments" that would probably violate building codes in the U.S. for being so small.

150/month for 'old pod in natural disaster zone' is still amazing tbh (provided you get a day or two's warning for the disasters, and just move to other pods).

that would probably violate building codes in the U.S. for being so small.

Are there any good reasons such building codes should exist? There'd be a bunch of new requirements for the specific constraints such small apartments ofc, building codes in general are useful, but as far as I can tell generally prohibiting them is pure deadweight loss

In China, he would spend MORE THAN 100%, relying on the accumulated wealth of parents and grandparents.

Somebody explain to me how it can make sense. I mean ok, he spends his parent's wealth on paying for the house. Then he has kids. What his kids would be paying for the house with? Is the assumption his income at some point would jump so high that he would be able to accumulate wealth too? Is the plan is for the house price to appreciate so fast that he'd retire, sell it, move to Chinese equivalent of Sticks, IA and use the money to support the kids? Is the plan to never have kids and never retire? I thought Chinese model was supposed to be kids supporting parents? Not sure I understand how it works there.

Presumably it works because of the one child policy.

4 grandparents -> 2 parents -> 1 child.

The Asian model is that parents support their kids financially well into adulthood in exchange for obedience.

Traditionally, the whole extended family would live in the same house, with all working-age members contributing to a shared pool of income and the elders making the financial decisions. Once enough wealth has been accumulated, the whole clan will move to a new house that would be better than one any individual member could afford on their own. As long as you have enough children and grandchildren bringing in money, your lot will improve over time.

This system is of course breaking down, as declining birthrates reduce the working-age population of any given family and as western individualism slowly dissolves the old social structures. The ultimate result will be as you imagine, with future generations unable to afford the homes they would like because the family accounts have been overdrawn and split up.

Probably inheritance from when his parents die(after all, their house has also been appreciating) and multi-generational households combine through the power of ultra-low fertility rates.

I think especially now that WFH is a major thing, that any high prices are about meme cities, not just meme prices. Being a resident of certain cities is pretty high status. California is high status, New York around NYC is high status. Nashville isn’t a meme city, though it’s a pretty nice place, St. Louis isn’t a meme city, nor are most midsize cities in the south. You can get a pretty nice house in North Carolina for what you’d pay for a small home in San Francisco. But NC isn’t cool.

Isn’t it a bad investment in Japan because declining north rates mean there is less demand?

What started the decline was a very high base rate, IMO. Prices at the peak around 1990 were unsustainable. There was a popular saying at the time that the theoretical land value of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo was greater than the land value of the entire state of California.

Now that's it's been a bad investment for 30 years, people don't speculate the same way they do here.

The real population decline in Japan hasn't even gotten started yet! Japan has about the same population today as it did in 1990. The current population of 123.5 million is only down slightly from the peak of 128 million reached in 2009, but the pace will accelerate from here.

It's a bad investment in Japan because their zoning system makes it very easy to build new houses. Indeed building new houses is a cultural norm, and houses are considered temporary occupiers of land rather than permanent features. Buy an old house? Chances are you'll knock it down and replace it.

4. Many home owners analysis the social collapse as a scam. The way that the scam is theorized to work is this: First engineer social decline. This reduces the price of office blocks. Second, buy a $300million office block for $60million. Third, reverse course on social decline. Fourth, patience, it takes a while for your "$60million" office block to be worth $300million again. Fifth, sell, and walk away with $240million profit.

The home owners don't want to be victims of this scam. They don't want to sell cheap at the bottom of the market, only to see prices recover as part of some-one else's plan. Perhaps too many people are in on the scam and they are propping up the housing market. Perhaps they are not in on the scam, they have merely noticed the avarice and evil of American political economy and feel confident in guessing what is going on. Perhaps it isn't even a scam, it is just that with American political economy being so avaricious and evil, people assume that its a scam. The realization, that social dynamics are playing out with no-one in charge and exercising agency, has yet to dawn.

People need homes, they don't need office space. Some businesses moving online or to cheaper areas does not eliminate demand for housing. These are related but not that well correlated. Although VC is down in SF, it is not out:

Demand for housing is much more stable compared to supply and demand for commercial real estate. Layoffs can create huge, sudden vacancies.

I'm only loosely familar with commercial real estate lending (I did residential lending) but a major difference is that commercial lenders typically require market LTV maintenance whis means ~ margin calls. If your property tanks by 50% in current market value, your bank is going to call you & demand cash.

Now, they won't intentionally drive a performing loan account into bankruptcy. Banks are worse at liquidating siezed collateral than the original owner, and in any case really just want the loan payments. But if you have a generally solvent business, or you have lots of personal assets & gave personal guarantees (and most small businesses have to) they will absolutely make you shoulder the volatility risk and take your savings to pay down the loan to a % they are comfortable with. You can take the equity back out if & when the proprty appreciates again.

This story is a great example of no one ever updating, or even questioning the narrative.

In recent years, drug cartels have flooded US cities with fentanyl to meet demand for opioids created by rampant overprescription.

Ah, yes, the blame for the drug problem doesn't lie with the users; it's split between the cartels and "overprescription" (doctors and drug companies). Leave aside that if you dig down, you find opiate abusers may start with prescription drugs but it's usually not their prescription, we get this later:

As he spoke, he watched out his window as a homeless person clutching a glass pipe rifled through his trash cans.

Glass pipes are used to smoke crack or crystal meth. Who is overprescribing those? Are we going to blame stimulant abuse on ADHD overprescription? (probably yes, but it'll still be nonsense)

Adisa says Urban Alchemy has reversed 1,300 opioid overdoses in the two years he has worked there.

No consideration that reversing such overdoses may be part of the problem, much like being a medic in a gang war. The story of course only mentions examples where this is unambiguously a good thing -- a baby and a dog accidentally getting a dose -- but somehow I feel certain that a lot of those 1,300 were not in that category.

“Five years ago, a black guy with a pipe got arrested; now the police walk past a white guy with a needle in his arm,” he says.

Ah, yes, this is all about race.

Adisa calls it a “sanctuary city”, using positively a term American conservatives deploy as an insult. “Flower power kids came here in the ’70s to rebel against their parents,” Merlin says. “Now, kids come here to do fentanyl.”

...and that's a good thing, apparently???

Inequality is not a product of the internet era either.

Right, because the problem is "inequality". Not the absolute level of the homeless drug addicts, just that some people have a LOT more than them.

“From [Nob Hill], looking down upon the business wards of the city, we can decry a building with a little belfry, and that is the stock exchange, the heart of San Francisco; a great pump we might call it, continually pumping up the savings of the lower quarters into the pockets of the millionaires upon the hill.”

Technically this statement is referring to the past, but it betrays the author's belief as well -- that the rich in SF are rich because the poor are poor. This was probably false in Robert Louis Stevenson's day; it's certainly false now.

As long as the problems are maldiagnosed, solutions will not be forthcoming.

This worldview treats the oppressed as lacking in agency and an oppressed person is someone who has it worse than others.

It therefore makes sense to talk about drug problems as a result of someone other than the users because the users lack agency.

Residential in San Francisco has constraints that don't apply to commercial.

Due to Prop 13, most San Francisco homeowners aren't techbros, they are elderly immigrants that bought thirty or forty years ago. If they sell, they lose their preferential tax treatment and have to move out of the ethnic enclave. Little Russian and Chinese grandmas in the Sunset aren't going anywhere, and that constrains supply.

Building residential also comes with significant political issues. Since housing is so tight, landlords and developers are seen as the enemy. The moment a developer proposes a residential unit, every single non-profit with a veto starts making demands for affordable units, protesting against gentrification, etc. Commercial doesn't have the same impact, which is why it's easier to build the Salesforce Tower than a four-plex.

It could also be that some people are locked into the market. Interest rates are high so people aren’t selling. They can’t afford to buy a new home even at a lower principal amount.

I’m curious whether there is an easy way to check the volume of home sales in San Fran. If the volume is very low, it might indicate the lock in effect.

California Ass'n of Realtors publishes price and volume stats monthly.

April volumes are down about 35 to 40% in all regions and statewide.

I hope this isn't too shallow for a top-level comment, but I wanted to share a personal observation about shifts in political views. Specifically, in the last couple of years, I've become a LOT more authoritarian on crime. Part of this is probably me getting older (damn kids, stop cycling on the sidewalk!), but I'd single out two main factors.

(1) A big part of it has been related to noticing shifting views on the issue among city-dwelling liberals (that's my in-group, whether I like it or not). I regularly visit a bunch of US cities for work, and I subscribe to their relevant subreddits, and there's been an incredible shift from "defund-the-police is a solid principle albeit the details need to be worked out" to "lock up the bums now". And similarly, several real life liberal friends who were traditionally pretty anti-police have become much more authoritarian of late, complaining about how e.g. the NYC subway used to be incredibly safe but has now become a creepy unpleasant space to inhabit, and something needs to be done.

(2) I've also had a lot more professional dealings with academic criminologists lately, and damn, it's been a wake-up call. It seems to be one of the most activist domains of academia I've ever encountered (and I deal with sociologists and social psychologists on a regular basis!). Over a few different conferences and dinners, I've chatted with criminologists who were pretty explicit about how they saw their role, namely speaking up for oppressed criminals; empirics or the rights of the wider populace barely came into the conversation. On top of this, there have been some spectacular scandals in academic criminology that have helped confirm my impression of the field. Suddenly, all those papers I happily cited about how prison doesn't work etc. seemed incredibly fragile.

I'm going to add two quick personal longstanding reasons why I'm inclined to be quite authoritarian on crime -

(i) Despite my fallouts with The Left, I'm still broadly a social democrat; I think that an effective state is one that provides good free services to all its citizens, including things like high quality education, healthcare, and public transit. But in order to be democratically sustainable, this requires a certain amount of imposed authority: if public schools become known as a magnet for drugs and gang violence, then middle-class parents will pull their kids out and send them to private schools, and won't give their votes or (more importantly) their organising energy to maintaining school quality. If subways become excessively creepy and weird and violent, the middle classes will get Ubers, and vote for candidates who defund public transit. In short, if the middle classes (who have options) decide not to make use of public options, then public options will die their democratic death. Speaking as someone who likes public options, I think it's essential that fairly strong state authority is exerted in public utilities to ensure that they are seen as viable by the middle class.

(ii) I have a weird sympathy towards Retributivism as a theory of justice and crime. More specifically, I have a lot of negative animus towards what I see as excessively utilitarian approaches to criminal justice, that regard criminals as just another type of citizen to be managed. As soon as we stop regarding criminals as people, but just factors of (dis)production, then I think we do them and our society a disservice; it's treating them as cattle. Instead, I'm sympathetic towards a more contractualist approach that mandates we treat all citizens as autonomous individuals who enter into an implicit social contract by virtue of enjoying the benefits of society, such that we would be doing them a disservice of sorts if we didn't punish them for their crimes. Let me try to put that in a maxim: you're an adult, you're a citizen; you fucked up, now you pay the price. If we didn't make you pay the price, we'd be treating you like a child or an animal.

Obviously lots more to be said here, but I'll save my follow-ups for the comments. Curious what others think.

These trends come in waves. Liberals in the 1960s and 1970s also lost control and then turned sharply towards the center during the 1980s and 1990s. Biden used to brag about passing the most draconian anti-crime bills in the 1990s until the optics changed and it became a liability. Perhaps he will now remind voters yet again in 2024?

I think the turnaround on crime is simply an outgrowth of "everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face" theory that was proposed by Mike Tyson and which I subscribe to. The plan was defund the police and getting hit in the face part is what followed. Will liberals learn? History shouldn't make us optimistic given that we've seen these patterns before.

A major rule I have to the 'bad upbringing' of criminal actors is the more immediate a person experiences antisocial behavior, the less the opponents story matters. It's easy to read about horrible crimes and violence committed against a perceived person and go 'the decision to incapacitate someone in xyz manner was wrong and should be punished' and give the underdog a sympathetic story. However, it's funny when these people are immediately put on the spot their politics change abruptly. However, when an aggressive drug addict or homeless individual gets in your face the most important thing is to get away safely, not think "oh, the person had a poor upbringing, it isn't their fault," Now that police enforcement (which was successfully keeping away aggressive behaviors) is kneecapped, suddenly people are changing their tune because they're directly experiencing the negative behaviors police were experiencing and successfully repressing every day. It's easy to be sympathetic to someone or something that happens to you far away. It's much harder when it's on your doorstep.

To quote the old saying, "hard men create good times, good times create weak men, weak men create bad times, bad times create hard men'

hard men create good times, good times create weak men, weak men create bad times, bad times create hard men

I think this phrase is mostly BS, but here it seems appropriate, at least insofar as "hard men" = "tough on crime" and vice versa. This issue seems alarmingly cyclical.

I’ve often been at least somewhat a fan of the idea of restorative justice. The idea being that you have to pay back or otherwise make whole those people you’ve victimized. I don’t think this is incompatible with some retribution and certainly not against jail time. But I think having the person earn money in jail to pay back the damages done by theft, or to fund the drug rehabilitation programs that are needed because they’re dealing drugs. I think it helps to educate a person on the consequences of their actions.

A few years ago, a jaguar escaped its enclosure at my local zoo and slaughtered nine other animals. It didn't even partially eat any of them. Its prey drive was wildly overstimulated in this terribly unnatural setting, and it could only focus on killing. Zoo officials said something about "natural instincts that are in no way indicative of a bad cat."

One night my father and I were watching news coverage of a murderer, including the usual "he's depraved on accounta he's deprived" editorializing. "The way they talk about these people," my dad said bitterly. "It's just like that big cat that got loose at the zoo." It is certainly a dehumanizing way to treat grown-ass adults.

What complicates this picture for me is that a truly depressing amount of violent crime is committed by minors.

A few weeks ago, four kids aged 11 - 15 carjacked a man at gunpoint and drove his SUV around the neighborhood committing further armed robberies. Their fourth victim was armed. He opened fire on them, wounding the 11 and 13 year olds. All four kids scrambled back into the SUV, attempted to speed away, and promptly crashed. All four were arrested, and the two with gunshot wounds will live. The man who shot them was not charged with any crime.

This is a horrifying outcome for everyone. How sick and wrong must it feel to shoot an 11 year old, even in legally recognized self-defense? Some similar kids, the ones who dragged Linda Frickey to death, are being tried as adults. The D.A. who made this decision campaigned on criminal justice reform. He takes no pleasure in sending high schoolers to grow up in prison and spend most of their useful lives there.

Safe bet these kids have sad, violent life histories and little prospect of an esteemed role in society upon adulthood. They're probably not sociopaths. Their crimes were idiot adolescent posturing and thrill-seeking, not calculated for gain. It's difficult to hold them accountable like adults, but it's unconscionable to let them wander the zoo slashing throats. For a good chunk of offenders, we are stuck treating them "like a child or an animal." This seems like an utter tragedy all around.

And I can't help but notice that no one cares. None of these stories has become national news. There are no protests, no marches. No one is designing cool new flags. The ideologies which loudly claim to brim with compassion for underprivileged kids... they are demonstrably not interested in this problem.

Oh, if you brought it up, liberals and progressives would talk about investing in our schools and community outreach and basketball leagues for at-risk youth. "High quality free services" etc. None of these is what you'd call an emergency measure. Kids getting shot in the course of committing an armed robbery is basically fine with them as an ongoing issue.

So our options are terrible. In order to offer high quality free services that middle class people will actually use, we must forcefully exclude the dysfunctional people. This will look and feel cruel, because most of them will behave maladaptively through some combination of nature and nurture that is not, in a cosmic sense, their fault. Warehousing them together produces its own horrors. The only way out is to stop producing so many dysfunctional people. We have so far failed to figure out how.

I expect the pendulum will continue to swing back and forth, back and forth. We'll get tough on crime, mass incarceration will incapacitate the most violent offenders, nice liberals in their safety and prosperity will get indignant about how mean it is to punish people, we'll make it harder to do so, violent crime will go up, nice liberals will start getting mugged and demand something be done, we'll get tough on crime...

The only way out is to stop producing so many dysfunctional people. We have so far failed to figure out how.

Seems to me that a good first step would be to stop subsidizing their production.

What does this mean in practice?

Reducing welfare, implementing social sanction of single mothers and encouraging traditional marriage and the nuclear family unit, free birth control and abortions on demand (within reason, eg first trimester), encouraging parental surrender to the state for the incapable (more 'no questions asked' infant drop off boxes at fire stations and hospitals).

I’m all in favor of firing copper IUDs out of a Maxim gun. Wouldn’t mind reintroducing some social sanctions either. General measures (short of coercion) to prevent births into predictably dysfunction-producing circumstances.

But once a child is in being? I’m less sure about parental surrender to the state and reduction of welfare. Even happy adoption can involve some attachment issues, and a parent has to be to drastically bad to be worse for their child than being a ward of the state. Reducing welfare seems likely to stress already fragile family units further and exacerbate disadvantaged kids’ problems.

well, then you get the current problem.

Police officers I've talked to have mentioned this, and what I think is getting left out of the abovementioned trend(although probably not intentionally; it's just not mentioned) is how often it's the same adolescents getting picked up over and over again by the police for crimes and not being charged by the DA until they commit murder because they're just kids. The common thread seems to be that they're fatherless and of certain ethnic backgrounds(usually centraco, sometimes black, occasionally a venezuelan), but the police know exactly which teenagers are going to commit horrific crimes and wind up with decades long prison sentences(of which they'll serve less than ten years) long before they do so, and they're not the ones that show up to community outreach for at risk youth.

I recall a specific story told to me by an officer. He arrested one of his frequent fliers for orchestrating a kidnapping in which the victim died, and this time the DA filed charges, the charges stuck, and at 16 he got a sentence for 25 years. The officer confidently predicted he'd be out on parole by 21, would violate his parole almost immediately and disappear, and would go on to kill someone else.


What does centraco mean? Central American? I just tried googling it and couldn't find anything, was it a typo?

Literally is refers to a Central American person. In practice it refers to someone from Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador, especially one with greater degrees of indigenous blood.

And the frustration more than likely leads to cops being more likely to use force. If you keep seeing the same people escalating their criminal behavior, you’re not likely to want to be the person they decide to murder.