May 15, 2010
Not Everyone Gets A House
I found this article The Mad Scramble for Chinese Real Estate to be an interesting commentary on the large discrepancy between what new workers expect and what the market provides when it comes to housing. What I find particularly interesting is how closely it mirrors expectations of some of the people I've met in the San Francisco Bay Area.
For the majority of residential locations in the United States, housing prices are inline with average salaries. Meaning that a single person who makes an above average salary or a couple that individually make an average salary can easily afford the down payment and mortgage on a nice and relatively spacious home. No one expects the same from downtown New York City or San Francisco. Yet most people seem to expect it from the San Francisco suburbs. Especially if they grew up in another part of the country or moved here for work.
I can understand why. Things aren't that different, superficially. The area seems slightly more populated. The houses are relatively smaller and older. So logically these homes shouldn't cost as much as they do. But that is just a superficial view of things.
The wealth disparity in the Bay Area is significant. The median household income is only slightly higher than the rest the country. In other words, your typical clerk or service industry worker in Mountain View probably makes about $10k more than somewhere in the Mid-West. The difference between $40k/yr. and $50k/yr. is three months. But there's a much higher concentration of IT workers who are making significantly more money. And many of them are dual income. The difference between a single income of $50k/yr. and dual income of $250k/yr. is four years. This means the housing market has a higher percentage of customers (out of all residents) that can afford to pay more. The spread is too large for the people with lower salaries to compete.
In addition, there isn't really more room to expand within the existing cities. That means you won't see additional homes being added to Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Redwood City, Milpitas, etc. There is a bit of room left in San Jose, but not much. The population continues to increase. These cities are job centers. So prices on old small homes go up as demand increases but supply remains constrained.
Given this, I think it's easy to see why a 1200 square foot home might cost $500k. Even though the same home in your hometown might only cost $60k - $80k. You can't simply look at the size of a house and the overall look of its neighborhood and say the cost is wrong. Prices are no longer being artificially buoyed. This is just what things cost due to scarcity of land and the desirability of central housing locations.
(N.B. I haven't done any particular research into this area. This is just what I've concluded based on my own observations and through deductive reasoning.)
May 7, 2010
Accidentally Lose Your U.S. Citizenship
Senators Leiberman (I-CT) and Brown (R-MA) has introduced a bill called the Terrorist Expatriation Act. It's a fairly short and simple proposal to amend 8 U.S.C. 1481 with text that allows for the revocation of U.S. nationality (either through birth or naturalization) for, in short, doing one of two things (paraphrased):
- purposefully and materially supporting hostilities against the U.S. or a U.S. ally that is currently providing support in a situation of U.S. hostilities
- providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization
In my opinion, these two items aren't too controversial when viewed as a general goal. In one sense, they are either expanding upon or clarifying the definition of treason. Which is already listed as a reason your citizenship can be revoked.
However, I take issue with the second statement because it does not including purposefully. It would be quite easy to mistakenly provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization. Maybe you happened to write a big check to a door-to-door solicitor.
I also take issue with the proposed bill as a whole because it allows for revocation of your citizenship without being convicted of anything. The current law only allows for revocation of your citizenship because you have asked for it, or if you haven't then you can challenge it, or if you are convicted of treason (at which point citizenship is fairly moot). But the new section (8 U.S.C. 1481.a.8) that would be added by this bill doesn't require any due process.
Lastly, it's pretty unclear what might qualify as material support or resources. A public protest could easily fall within that generalization. I can also see courts, if any were involved, tied up for months debating whether or not someone acted purposefully.
For all the senators who have made public statements about needing to review the bill before being sure (I'm looking at you, Nancy Pelosi) it takes about 5 minutes. Take a copy into the bathroom.