Friday, October 28, 2005

"I always wanted to see Montana . . ."

One of my favorite gonzo essayists, Reihan Salam, has a good, depressing piece up about the closing of the crabgrass frontier. I suspect he's right: Demographics and economics are conspiring to ensure that my generation will be the first American generation in a long time (maybe ever) to be worse off than our parents.

The dream of middle-class life--a single-family home where parents can raise a couple children and maybe even scrape by on one income--is slipping over the horizon as the real estate boom (bubble?) has created another landed aristocracy. As Salam notes:
. . . those lucky enough to have been in the right time and at the right place have become a new landed aristocracy, enjoying a vast increase in unearned wealth. Meanwhile, the cost of living has become prohibitively high for young families. One might call this "the closing of the crabgrass frontier," a historical development of epochal significance. The more enterprising and ambitious are moving to low-cost metropolitan areas and small towns, where the cycle begins anew.

This migration, in turn, has vastly diminished our quality of life by turning the commute into a process which can now easily absorb a sixth of our working days. Don't believe me? In Washington, it's now not uncommon to meet people who commute to town every day from Fredericksburg. But up until a few years ago, Fredericksburg was thought of as a suburb of Richmond, not Washington.

And in a few more years, I suspect that Richmond itself will become a D.C. suburb. If what has happened in Washington, New York, Boston, San Francisco--even in Las Vegas--keeps spreading, then Americans will either have to stop having families and become a nation of DINKs, or radically reduce the standards of what we assumed was a comfortable middle-class situation commensurate with child-rearing.

Stop the ride, I want to get off.

21 comments:

Jeff said...

It's only going to get worse, until the real estate bubble pops.

Anonymous said...

JVL and Jeff:
Keep up those positive attitudes.

arrScott said...

Fredericksburg? My wife, at the downtown DC office of a Big-Four accounting firm, works with people who commute in to the city from West Virginia, Loudon County being too developed for their tastes or budgets. And it's not just big, Eastern or Southern cities where this is true: St. Cloud, Minnesota, has become a commuter suburb of Minneapolis.

The problem is that this is not a new phenomenon. The rural and exurban folks who form the working core of the Republican electorate have been experiencing America's revolution in declining expectations for more than a generation. Living standards have been stalling or declining for a growing number of Americans since about 1973. (Long before the current housing bubble.)

Topic for conservatives to discuss: The total national wealth of the United States (assets minus liabilities) continues to increase faster than the rate of population growth plus the rate of inflation. Why, then, isn't the rising tide lifting all boats? Conservative economic policies encourage profit-extraction from asset owners through targeted tax cuts while reducing private investment in job-producing or wage-and-salary-increasing economic growth through market-crowding government debt. Conservatives seek to shift taxation almost entirely away from asset ownership and onto earned income. These are deliberate policy choices the predictable consequences of which are growing economic stratification and declining living standards for working Americans. So what is Salam complaining about? The closing of the crabgrass frontier just proves that conservative economic policies are working as intended.

epinionated2005@gmail.com said...

Ahhh Borodin...excellent quote, JVL. I prefer this one, "Where I am going, you cannot follow." Which does speak to what we suburbanites will face.

What to do becomes the question. I live in the town where I work, but I could easily train to Boston or New York, where the pay is higher, but in doing so, I sacrifice my liberty (no car) and my freedom to enjoy a family life.

The ridiculousness of the current real estate climate is merely an indicator of the benefit of low interest rates. When money is cheap to acquire, then ownership investments, such as real estate and stock are far more attactive, creating higher demand and therefore causing the price of those investments to rise.

I fear the necessary correction will only come with a severe recession, akin to the late seventies stagflation. Given the current tax climate, such a recession is unlikely to occur. However, when it does, the loss of wealth will make the last loss of wealth from the bursting of the tech bubble look like a little drop in the bucket.

How's that for a positive attitude, anonymous? heheheh

Anonymous said...

You people in the DC area (and the east coast or west coast) think about yourselves all the time, don't you?

Anonymous said...

Boo hoo coast living elitists.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this is an incredibly ignorant and provincial comment.

Does JVL think that the entire country is like DC, NYC, SF and SoCal?

JVL should go to Columbus or Salt Lake City or Nashville. He'll realize that he is just a complete fool for making comments like this.

Anonymous said...

I'll add that you often see that people who live on the coasts think of themselves as so worldly and the people who live, um, elsewhere in the country, as provincial.

Then you read a comment like this and you realize that coastal-dwellers are just as provincial - maybe even more so - as the flyover-dwellers.

Anonymous said...

People seem to confuse "big screen TV" with quality of life. I am the breadwinner for my wife and three children and we live on one income quite comfortably in a single family home, nice neighborhood, etc. How is this magical feat accomplished? Um, same way our parents and grandparents did it. Prioritize. Discipline. Planning. Make a choice people ... your family or your big screen TV and trips to Hawaii every other year (on a credit card).

Anonymous said...

What a bizarre set of comments. Seems JVL's concern was about kids and family, non big-screen TVs.

Anonymous said...

arrScott says,

"Conservative economic policies encourage profit-extraction from asset owners through targeted tax cuts while reducing private investment in job-producing or wage-and-salary-increasing economic growth through market-crowding government debt. Conservatives seek to shift taxation almost entirely away from asset ownership and onto earned income."

So conservatives argue for greater government debt? That's a new one. And I have no idea what "encourage profit-extraction from asset owners" means. The notion that conservatives want to shift taxation onto earned income is also a new one - I thought they (we) wanted to shift takes to consumption. Even if that's only true for some conservatives, it's undeniable that it is liberals who want to increase income taxes (on the rich, natch), and conservatives who want to decrease them. So this "analysis" makes no sense whatsoever.

The main cause of the declining standards of living over the past 30 years is the tax structure, which has largely been put into place by liberals. The basic problem is that it taxes investment too heavily. Which is why conservatives want to restructure the tax code to tax consumption more and investment less. Ramesh Ponnuru has a modest plan in the latest NR that would head in this direction.

I think the huge growth of suburbs, with corresponding traffic patterns, is largely due to two basic facts: most jobs are in cities, but most Americans want big houses and big yards. In fact, most people consider this part of increasing their standard of living. How else can this happen, besides a growth in the suburbs and exburbs?

Mike S.

Anonymous said...

My word.....

I remember the discussion in the late 70's and through the 80's was what an excellent investment housing due to its constant increase in value (read it got more expensive)- we all knew that grandma and grandpa paid a nickel and a can of beans for their house in 1919 and now it's worth $100,000 plus

After the 1990 recession, I read that housing will never be that type of investment again- now in 2005 I see a boom in real estate prices?

Conclusion? The punditocracy has the historical memory of a gnat so I'm sorry if I don't jump on the Salam bandwagon of thinking that the 70's are coming back

What Salam does tap into is the same fear you saw in Peggy Noonan's article in the Wall Street Journal, a belief espcially among the top echelon of society that this is it, the end of the American dream. What she said was that our elites were cutting and running instead of providing leadership.

I grew up in the 1970s and first impressions were of the despondency that Salam exhibits- rising gas prices, stagflation, malaise, hostage crisis, the on-rush of the Soviet Empire, and bad fashion. What happened after that? Reagan

What happened in the late 1980s? Paul Kennedy and the end of the American Empire, our replacement of Japan- didn't happen did it? But now it's being sold to us again

I agree with Noonan, it's a lack of leadership and loss of confidence by our mid and top-tier elites. The highest educated generation in American history and this is what we get?

Out here in fly-over country, where the housing is still affordable, the churches tend to be traditional, and we send our children to the military and Southern Methodist University the outlook is a bit different.

I was comparing notes with an old buddy of mine about the Marines and as he reminded me that you are taught as an officer that when all hell is breaking loose and the situation is hopeless is when the battle is won or lost- and that depends on leadership.

So my east-coast, look down on Harriet Miers friends- why are you complaining about things and planning to move to Montana and not doing anything about it?

Oh and Last? You rip on fantasy football one more time and I'll beat you like a bongo drum.

Mike

Anonymous said...

"So conservatives argue for greater government debt?"

Mike S, I'm not defending the rambling original post you responded to, but the vast majority of conservatives were remarkably quiet through Bush's first term when taxes were slashed and spending was ramped up.

After taking on the White House over Miers, here's hoping the next battleground for Conservatives is spending.

Anonymous said...

Mike (1:38 PM),

America has a remarkable history of finding ways to bounce back from dark times. But recognizing dark times and the need to fix them is the logical predecessor to bouncing back.

If people had figured that the 70's were just fine the way they were (or merely inevitable), who would have elected Reagan to fix things?

Regards from another flyover state,
AN

Anonymous said...

.....but Montana doesn't want you to come out here. Neither does Idaho, Wyoming, etc......

Anonymous said...

The 2005 fiscal year deficit amounted to 2.6% of GDP, below the 3.6% recorded in 2004 and the post World War Two high of 6% in 1983.

Anonymous said...

Well, having grown up in Fredericksburg, I'm confused as to why anyone thinks we were considered a suburb of Richmond or Washington. We're at the halfway point between both those cities--roughly 50 miles each way.

And a rather larger percentage of folks have been commuting to DC from Fredericksburg since I can remember, since my father was one of them when we arrived in 1981.

How much of this is a matter of certain areas growing out of their expected price range? Was there a time in the last few decades where you could expect to buy a cheap starter home in Georgetown, or McLean for example? Even though those areas had to have been affordable at some point?

John Sterling said...

Move to Texas, buy a cheap house, problem solved.

jk said...

I think you are reporting a coastal phenomenon.

I too enjoyed the "Montana" piece on the Daily Standard site but disagree with the pessimism. I'd direct you to Joel Kotkin's "Cities of Aspiration" in the February 14/21st issue of the Weekly Standard. Rather than planning Montana in ten years, a lot of folks are finding aspirational locals today.

Bizarro Jack said...

Relax, cowboys, living in Montana because you want to and living there because you can't afford your first choice are totally different things. I promise I don't think you're crazy or poor.

kwAwk said...

Republicans like to say that they aren't for high deficits which crowd the capital martets, but actions speak louder than words. It is easy to campaign on cutting taxes. Nobody likes paying taxes. But when it comes time to do the hard work of actually cutting government spending to actually offset the tax cuts, the Republicans are nowhere to be found. They have controlled the congress for 12 years have yet to even try to eliminate a single government agency or program.

If you think about it what are they really going to cut? Well we could cut Defense spending, but that would seem like a bad idea in a time of war. How about cutting Social Security? Ain't gonna fly. We could just not pay the interest on the national debt, but that would be just stupid. How about we just not pay for roads and schools? Gee but those things might be important for future economic development. NASA could go or maybe we could get the government out of the medical research field? Who needs national pride anyways right? I got it! Lets just cut spending to those rotten lazy poor people on welfare! That'll save us 5% of the budget!
And its their own fault anyways right?

I think any candidate for public office who runs on 'tax cuts' or small government should immediately be challenged with the question "What government programs do you think should be cut? What government agencies do you think should be cut?" If they can't provide an answer they should be laughed out of the building.