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Culture War Roundup for the week of August 14, 2023

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Has the Beinoff Homelessness and Housing Initiative Report been discussed yet here? You can read the report here, an executive summary here, and a transcript of the report being discussed on the Ezra Klein Show here.

Released in June, it’s a statewide study on homelessness in California, the largest of its kind in some thirty years. It’s built on “nearly 3,200 participants, selected intentionally to provide a representative sample, and weighted data to provide statewide estimates. To augment survey responses, we recruited 365 participants to participate in in-depth interviews”. No question as to the state of focus: California is just over a tenth of the American population but nearly a third of its homeless population and nearly half of the unsheltered homeless population.

Approximately one in five participants (19%) entered homelessness from an institution (such as a prison or prolonged jail stay); 49% from a housing situation in which participants didn’t have their name on a lease or mortgage (non-leaseholder), and 32% from a housing situation where they had their name on a lease or mortgage (leaseholder)...Leaseholders reported a median of 10 days notice that they were going to lose their housing, while non-leaseholders reported a median of one day.

Other takeaways are that contra claims that homeless populations are traveling to California for warm weather or social services, 90% of interviewed participants said they were from California (and 75% from the same county they were homeless in), and backed it up with various details about their hometowns and whatnot. This also aligns with the finding that only about a third of the homeless even sought out government services, suggesting that most people are not taking advantage of whatever unique government services for the homeless California offers (which aren't good anyway). This overall makes some common sense imo - if you’re so broke you don’t have somewhere to live then your options for travel are likely limited as well.

The paper is interesting as a resource in its own right, but I think it’s most useful combined with the claims made in a book referenced in the Ezra Klein discussion of the report: “Homelessness is a Housing Problem.”

The piece argues that housing costs are the primary driving factor behind homelessness. For those who claim that homelessness is mostly a reflection of insanity and addiction, researchers point out that those things are frequently worse in other states with less severe homeless problems (correlations available in the hyperlink).

For instance, West Virginia has worse poverty, mental health, and substance abuse, but has a homeless problem vastly less bad than California's (0.09% vs 0.4%). The only thing California performs worse than West Virginia on is, predictably, housing costs. Or why does San Francisco, with a poverty rate of 11.4%, have such a worse homelessness problem (0.95%) than much poorer cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New Orleans, all of which have poverty rates more than twice as high around 23% and homelessness rates around only 0.27%? The clearest answer is the most straightforward: San Francisco is simply twice as expensive to live in (a studio apartment in SF is little over $2k vs a little over 1k for the other three cities). This also lines up with the survey responses, with 89% of respondents saying housing costs were a barrier to them finding housing.

This doesn’t necessarily mean those mental health and addiction aren’t highly important here are as well, but that there may be a demographic of fairly low functioning people who are able to take care of themselves, just barely, at low costs, but are simply unable to under heavier financial burdens. Jerusalem Demsas compares this to a game of musical chairs: as you take away chairs one by one steadily the slower and weaker kids will find themselves without a place to sit. But if you don’t have enough chairs / are going through a severe housing shortage, of course you’re gonna have a worse chairlessness problem then elsewhere, even if their kids are slower and weaker.

And once you’re out, it can be very hard to get back on your feet. Your credit history is gonna be terrible, as is your appearance. Maybe you live in your car for a while but then it gets impounded because you have nowhere legal to park it and can’t pay for the tickets. Then you’ve lost your shelter as well as your ability to go to a job. From there you’re really in the streets, which is scary - some people may take uppers due to fear of being asleep in public where people can hurt you or steal from you, and thus pick up addictions. Things spiral very fast from bad to worse.

Taken together, these suggest early intervention and a clear policy prescription to build more housing and do what can be done to lower costs - not because every disheveled person on the street is a fresh-faced suburban homeowner waiting to happen, but specifically the opposite - that every poor or unstable person living on the cusp of not being able to afford where they stay bears the risk that it’ll be much harder for them to bounce back from a fall than to sustain where they are.

Interested to hear what other people thought.

This doesn’t necessarily mean those mental health and addiction aren’t highly important here are as well, but that there may be a demographic of fairly low functioning people who are able to take care of themselves, just barely, at low costs, but are simply unable to under heavier financial burdens.

So I suppose they're also low-functioning to the extent that they're unable to, you know, move to another state with a much lower average cost of living for whatever reason.

I think this is one of many situations where the typical high-functioning individual underestimates how hard this kind of thing is for the median person, much less the actual underclass. The monetary costs, mental barriers, and organization required to simply move from California to Kansas while maintaining employment and arranging the housing transition well aren't trivial for most people. If someone has already pretty well cratered their situation by alienating a bunch of friends and getting evicted, there's no way they're smoothly making it to the storied paradise of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

If you're low functioning enough to struggle to maintain housing/job, that makes it easier to move, not harder. We're not talking about people who have an established career path or a mortgage or are pillars of their community. If you just lost your burger flipping job and are getting evicted and don't have any friends... Nothing is keeping you anywhere, other than inertia! Pack a suitcase and get on a bus.

(This is, of course, how a lot of people end up in California in the first place.)

It's very easy to forget how, for the lack of a better word, stupid a lot of people are. Most of us here are stuck in bubbles that are probably 1SD above the mean IQ. There are similarly-sized bubbles of people with mean IQ 1SD below the mean. You need to work in a DMV, a Walmart, an ER ward to see a more representative cross-section.

Someone who's IQ 85 can lead a relatively successful life, as long as it's stable. They have a bunch of recipes in their head: go to work, pay your bills, go grocery shopping, find a job that is similar to the old one, find an apartment that is similar to the old one. A thought like "even though the wages are lower in a town like Wichita than here in Frisco, the cost of living is so much lower that my discretionary income might even increase if I move there and continue working 25 hours a week in a fast food kitchen. Therefore, it might be prudent to cancel Netflix and start saving up to afford a move to a flyover state by the time my lease is up for renewal. Where should I move to? I should go on Facebook and see if any of my old acquaintances are willing to talk to me. Maybe one of them will even help me find a new apartment there" simply won't fit into their head.

Someone they trust has to break it down into digestible pieces, cram it into their head and come up with a new step-by-step recipe. If they don't have any relatives or friends to keep an eye out for them or they all are equally stupid, they will stop paying for their apartment, lose their job and end up in the streets.

You're talking to the wrong guy here, I've worked menial jobs before where they would honestly hire anyone with a pulse. My current job is physical labour and though it's more selective you do still wonder how some of the guys dress themselves in the morning. And I don't think it's necessarily stupidity here. There are plenty of dumb as bricks people who actually find life fairly simple so long as they remain on the rails for as long as possible. They're generally incredibly boring and safe and rarely end up as drug addicts.

Rather it's impulsiveness we're talking about. People who just want to have fun. And they're not going to move to Wichita or become fiscally prudent. They're not going to abandon parties and drugs and cool people for Netflix and sensible dinners and the conscientious.

Can you describe - in a detailed manner - what it is like to be a person with 1) social IQ 1 SD above the mean, and in a bubble of same and 2) social IQ 1 SD below the mean, and in the same bubble? Are there "high-social-IQ" strategies that people are using that the socially impaired can't quite pull off? Social isolation is a kind of poverty trap and has the same dynamics.

I have no idea how to measure social IQ, EQ or whatever it's called.

I doubt social IQ bubbles even existed before the internet, various incel forums are probably the closest thing to one. Monasteries, maybe? High EQ monks would climb the hierarchy, becoming priors, abbots, hegumens and bishops, while the rest of the brethren would be content to toil and pray.

Hmm. Incel forums are one example. IRL...hmm. For low social IQ, engineering departments, maybe, although that's complicated by the fact that Aspies can socialize and network OK enough among themselves but flounder when interacting with normies. I've heard tales of technical departments with lots of sperg-engineers, a smaller number of half-sperg liasons, and then a bunch of normies using the sperg-engineers' products. Maybe MIT, half-jokingly described as the largest sheltered workshop for autists in the US, has some of these bubbles.

For high social-EQ bubbles? I'm pretty sure you can find lots of them in DC...lots of bushleague politician types and strivers looking to become more connected.

I specifically avoided mentioning places like MIT and FAANGs on one hand and NYT and various DC-adjacent think centers because they are high-IQ bubbles first and foremost.

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