The main objection to school reformer Betsy DeVos, Mr. Trump’s pick for education secretary, is not that she’s never been a classroom teacher but rather that she wants to expand school choice, which threatens union control of public education... His upbringing doesn’t make him a housing expert, but like the general who knows war and is therefore less likely to venture recklessly into a new one, Dr. Carson’s background does make him better able to empathize with the plight of the poor... Besides, if the state of inner-cities is any indication, the last thing low-income residents need is more of the same so-called expertise that Dr. Carson lacks... HUD and other agencies equated racial disparities in loan approvals with racial discrimination, even if there were no actual complaints of racism from would-be borrowers. To keep the federal watchdogs happy, lenders came up with ways to meet the government’s numerical targets. All of this was of course done in the name of helping minorities. But when you make it possible for people to receive loans they can’t really afford, you also risk saddling them with foreclosed homes and bad credit ratings.
.. There are few if any federal agencies in greater need of a makeover than HUD, and that makeover is unlikely to come from the type of “expert” at the helm who would appease Dr. Carson’s critics. It’s HUD’s view of housing that is warped, not Dr. Carson’s. Mr. Trump has tapped a nonpolitician to clean up a mess created by political pros and bureaucrats who have an agenda that often differs from the needs of the poor. Let’s see if Dr. Carson is up to the job.
While Carson was on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University medical school, located in one of the nation’s poorest and most troubled big cities, he took little interest in urban issues. In his ill-fated primary campaign, he railed against “social engineering,” a swipe at efforts to open housing in mostly well-to-do, overwhelmingly white communities to minority home buyers and renters.
.. Trump’s selection of Carson echoes Ronald Reagan’s choice of Samuel Pierce as his HUD secretary. Like Trump, Reagan had lashed out against inner cities and pledged to slash social spending. Like Trump’s supporters, the majority of Reagan’s voters did not live in cities. And like Trump, he had little support among African Americans. But like Trump, Reagan wanted a black face in a high place for a little legitimacy in a post-civil-rights-movement White House. And, like Trump, Reagan had pledged to loosen housing and financial regulations.
.. HUD was an easy target for Reagan, as it is for Trump. It had been created by Lyndon B. Johnson at the peak of his Great Society to meet the huge demand for affordable housing in American cities and to grapple with the ravages of mass suburbanization, nearly complete racial segregation and capital flight from cities, all of which had been heavily bankrolled by the federal government.
.. In 1968, HUD took on the additional responsibility of “affirmatively furthering fair housing,” the gargantuan task of undoing decades of discriminatory real estate and home-lending practices.
.. None of these missions was popular: Republicans criticized HUD as a meddling “big government” agency. Southern Democrats railed against its civil rights goals. And suburban whites fiercely resisted even modest efforts to open the housing market to racial minorities.
.. the department became a bastion of crony capitalism, particularly under Republican presidents.
.. real estate speculators and politically connected developers, who sold shabby houses to desperate buyers at above-market prices, backed by inflated appraisals
.. One of Pierce’s assistant secretaries resigned when it came out that HUD staffers had helped him type and proofread his book, “Privatizing the Public Sector.”
.. Staffers directed money to Republican-connected lawyers, consulting firms and developers. One of the dozens swept up in the resulting investigations by federal prosecutors and Congress was Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort , who had successfully lobbied for about $43 million in federal subsidies for a shabby New Jersey housing complex. He received $326,000 in fees
.. Like Pierce, Carson is shaping up to be a token black Cabinet member. Trump has not appointed any other black officials so far
.. We don’t know much yet about how Carson will run HUD, but his lack of experience with urban policy, his bromides about socialist planning, his indifference to fair housing and his calls for individual boot-strapping don’t bode well for the future of metropolitan America. And in a climate of privatization and deregulation, championed by the country’s new real estate developer in chief, Carson’s inexperience could be a serious liability.
Rock-bottom interest rates have made big mortgages look less expensive, lighting a fire under house prices. But for many homeowners, when rates start rising, it won’t end well.
A recent survey by Manulife found that one-quarter of people have just $1,000 set aside for emergencies, a dismally inadequate amount by any standard of financial planning.
.. “You’re arguing with success on a huge scale,” says Moshe Milevsky, finance professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business and author of several books on personal finance and investing. “There’s nothing that people could have done that would have resulted in a better return than housing over the past five years.”
.. The credit-monitoring firm TransUnion reported recently that 718,000 people with debt would be seriously affected if interest rates rose just 0.25 of a percentage point, and one million people would struggle to cope with a rise of one percentage point.
.. Canadians owed a record $1.68 for every $1 in after tax income.
IT WAS less than a month ago that a spokesman for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson told reporters that the erstwhile GOP presidential candidate would not be serving the Trump administration in anything but an unofficial advisory capacity. “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience,” Armstrong Williams said, “he’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”
.. Mr. Carson, however, comes equipped with little more than the generalities about abolishing “dependency” that he spouted on the campaign trail.
.. Certainly it would help if the next HUD secretary were an expert on the housing market capable of weighing in against the more dubious plans being floated for Fannie and Freddie.
.. Mr. Carson needs to be given a thorough, searching examination by the Senate over his approach to housing policy, which, though certainly not brain surgery, does present complexities that would challenge a nominee far more experienced than he.
At a meeting of the National Association of Home Builders in August, Trump said that “there’s no industry, other than probably the energy industry, that is more overregulated than the housing industry.” However, changing those regulations may be beyond his scope.
.. “He could try to use his power to ease it, but a lot of the problems are at the state and local levels,” Goodman said.
.. Goodman said the two biggest issues the housing market faces are supply constraints and credit availability.
.. But Trump’s stance on immigration could have a detrimental effect on housing supply.
“Immigration plays a big part in the labor force for construction,” Smoke said. “It’s one of the constraints we have in new construction.”
.. Something to watch under Trump could be what happens to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Reform efforts have stalled the past several years. But hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson, who is part of the president-elect’s economic policy team, could push for action. Paulson bought shares of Fannie and Freddie in the hope of cashing in when they regained their independence. Since being placed under government control, the mortgage-backers have sent nearly all their profits to the U.S. Treasury, not investors.
“Paulson cares passionately about this, given his positions,” Goodman said.
In fact, people nowadays have lots of information. Too much, even. No, your problem is the opposite. Your problem is that you cannotinterpret the information you have. You lack the guiding hand of expertise. You need a vox dei, a little Voice of God whispering in your ear, helping you along, telling you what it all means.
.. Klein rejects what he calls the “More Information Hypothesis,” the idea that a better-informed citizenry could have more productive political debates. In fact, because we see facts through partisan lenses, facts alone are useless. People are irresponsible with knowledge; facts just make them “better equipped to argue for their own side.”
.. Vox is therefore an exercise in the simultaneous having and eating of cake; it wishes to both make strong value-laden assertions and be trusted as neutral and dispassionate. This means that Vox inherently practices a crude and cruel form of rhetorical dishonesty: it treats matters of profound complexity as if they are able to be settled through mereexpertise. If anyone disagrees with what the wonks have concluded, they must be dumb, delusional, or both.
.. As Fredrik deBoer says in his critique of Vox, the “explainer” stance is insidious, because it disguises partisanship as objectivity, falsely assuming that there can be such a thing as a “view from nowhere.”
.. He shows how Vox used selective and highly unreliable empirical data in order to attack Bernie Sanders, while cultivating the illusion of rigor and neutrality. For example, by producing a calculator showing people how much each candidate’s policies would cost households in taxes, without disclosing how much these policies would save households elsewhere, Vox made it look as if Bernie Sanders was simply planning to drain families of all their money.
.. “The whole notion of ideology-free explanation of complex subjects is of course itself ideology-laden… The pretense of neutral explanation simply deepens the potential dangers of bias.”
.. It should be no surprise that the main thing these explainers love to explain is “policy,” the more complicated the better. Policy wonks love policies because they get to explain them. Everyone else hates complicated policies, because everyone else has to be subjected to them. The more inscrutable and byzantine the policy (and the more confusing and misery-inducing those policies are for ordinary people), the more jobs there are for wonks.
.. Whenever I meet a progressive wonk-type, I always make sure to ask them: “If you could wave a wand and fulfill your every political goal, what kind of world would you build?” The answers inevitably consist of more policy. “A nationwide jobs program,” “universal pre-K,” or “guaranteed annual income.” (And those answers are from the true dreamers and visionaries among the wonks. Frequently their utopias consist of things like “a 2% drop in the unemployment rate.”)
.. Focusing on “the weeds” is sly, because it carefully avoids having to discuss and defend your underlying moral assumptions. And by keeping the focus on “explanation” rather than “discussion,” one can avoid difficult questions that might force the interrogation of one’s preconceptions.
.. Vox’s factual unreliability is not merely a product of Klein’s sloppy oversight, however. It is in many ways inherent to the site’s model of content production, which depends entirely on having incredibly young writers assume a position of omniscient expertise.
.. James Fallows, in his deliciously scathing 1991 look at The Economist, suggested that the magazine’s intentionally anonymous bylines “conceal[ ] the extreme youth of much of the staff,” quoting Michael Lewis’ observation that “if American readers got a look at the pimply complexions of their economic gurus, they would cancel their subscriptions in droves.”
.. Yglesias is perhaps the man whose work is most synonymous with the “#SlatePitch,” the intentionally irritating, click-hungry denunciation of some perfectly innocuous truth or convention (hence “The Case Against Eating Lunch Outside“).
.. Immediately after the 2013 collapse of the Bangladesh garment factory that killed over 1,000 people, Yglesias took to Slate to explain why workplace safety regulations actually inhibited the operation of free markets. Yglesias explained that high-risk jobs have high compensation, and just like people might choose to be lumberjacks, they might choose to work in highly dangerous garment factories for a premium. Thus “it’s good that different people are able to make different choices on the risk–reward spectrum.” The article was accompanied by a photograph of Bangladeshis loading dead bodies onto a truck.
The column was classic Yglesias, in managing to be both ignorant and appalling.
.. I once attended a public talk Yglesias gave on housing policy to promote on his (62-page) book The Rent Is Too Damn High. Yglesias was placed in conversation with Yale Law School professor Robert Ellickson, a bona fide expert on housing and zoning with approximately four decades of experience in the field.
.. But watching Ellickson flay Yglesias, I was most struck by the fact that Yglesias was completely unfazed. Far from being ashamed at his humiliating defeat, Yglesias did not even seem to acknowledge that he was even being defeated or humiliated. He didn’t attempt to defend himself. He just… kept talking, as if the numerous arguments that had been made proving him wrong simply didn’t exist.
.. This refusal to back down or admit fault is apparently characteristic of Yglesias generally.
.. When confronted, instead of apologizing, Yglesias doubled down, falsely accusing others of twisting his words. Yglesias is an enthusiastic practitioner of one of the most obnoxious tendencies in the human character: the belief that if people hate you, it must be because you’re right rather than because you’re an asshole.
.. Thus when people criticize you for taking the opportunity of a deadly factory disaster to explain why workplace safety standards are Actually Not As Good As You Think, your default reaction is not contrition or self-doubt but annoyance that people fail to recognize your rationality.
.. It is the same tendency that afflicts mansplainers generally: the refusal to entertain the possibility that it could be you who is wrong. “Explanation” implies certitude. For the explainer, information flows in a one-way channel, from the mouth of the explainer to the ear of the explained-to. Vox does not need to listen; Vox knows.
.. and of course it will survive. It will survive because we are all insecure and confused, and promises of explanation and certitude are appealing in a chaotic world. Ezra Klein is right that we do not know what to do with the barrages of information we encounter every day, and his let-me-explain-it-to-you business model is savvy.
.. But the more Vox persists, the less hope there is for American politics. The Vox model is premised on the idea that people shouldn’t think for themselves, that the important parts of political thought and decision-making should be outsourced to experts. Inevitably, these experts will produce solutions nobody likes, because the moment one is convinced that all opposition must be founded in ignorance, one will always be right no matter how many people are hurt or how many people complain. The point of politics is no longer to help us live together and understand one another. The point is policy, and our job is to listen to the explainers. After all, they have the facts. They’ve got them here in 5 charts. It’s everything you need to know.
“What I really took away from this was the fact that in order to get subsidized housing into the suburbs, you have to be sneaky about it,” Robert Strupp, the executive director of Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a liberal fair housing advocacy group, told The Sun:
Because if they found out about it in advance, they wouldn’t let it happen. That’s the sign to me that discrimination still exists. It’s classic Nimbyism. That’s today’s reality just as it was in the 1950s and 1960s.
.. There is no way the Clinton campaign wants housing integration to become a central issue of the 2016 campaign. The same is true of the more general issue of poverty.
.. The agenda as stated does not address the fundamental problem that is at the root of the concentration of poverty — the ability of local governments to effectively exclude lower-income people from their communities through zoning and restrictive land use policies.
.. But the Republican Party has been most successful when it has been able to drive a wedge between competing Democratic constituencies,
.. Then, on the other hand, there are the competing goals of black Democrats in the Sandtown-Winchesterneighborhood of Baltimore, home of Freddy Gray — where 51.8 percent of the residents in 2012 were out of work. These Democrats enroll their kids in a public school system where 79.5 percent of the high school students have not met proficiency standards in English, and 90.2 percent have not met those standards in Algebra.