Monday, April 20, 2009

Spengler outs himself 

David P. Goldman is "Spengler," the columnist for Asia Times.

His columns are always well-written, thought provoking and entertaining. Though often characterized as a conservative columnist, there are no sacred cows to him in any part of the political spectrum, and he can be thought of as just a bit curmudgeonly and elitist. The link above has much autobiographical information.

The Spengler piece dated April 21 describes the Susan Boyle phenomenon as a symbol for the decline of the West, particularly relative to Asia.

Goldman's first piece as the new Associate Editor of "First Things" paints a dreary view of the future, pulling in much macroeconomic and demographic information as seen through the lens of cultural conservatism:

"The declining demographics of the traditional American family raise a dismal possibility: Perhaps the world is poorer now because the present generation did not bother to rear a new generation. All else is bookkeeping and ultimately trivial. This unwelcome and unprecedented change underlies the present global economic crisis. We are grayer, and less fecund, and as a result we are poorer, and will get poorer still—no matter what economic policies we put in place.

"We could put this another way: America’s housing market collapsed because conservatives lost the culture wars even back while they were prevailing in electoral politics. During the past half century America has changed from a nation in which most households had two parents with young children. We are now a mélange of alternative arrangements in which the nuclear family is merely a niche phenomenon. By 2025, single-person households may outnumber families with children.

"The collapse of home prices and the knock-on effects on the banking system stem from the shrinking count of families that require houses. It is no accident that the housing market—the economic sector most sensitive to demographics—was the epicenter of the economic crisis. In fact, demographers have been predicting a housing crash for years due to the demographics of diminishing demand. Wall Street and Washington merely succeeded in prolonging the housing bubble for a few additional years. The adverse demographics arising from cultural decay, though, portend far graver consequences for the funding of health and retirement systems."

Read the whole thing.

While I agree that there is a natural life cycle to borrowing, saving, investing and clipping coupons, I do not agree with the apparent implication that, for example, homosexuals don't want or need comparable housing, or that somehow kids who essentially live in two households (because their parents are divorced) effectively reduces demand for housing. It seems to me that there would be a net increase in both the short run and the long run demand for housing if the family units are smaller, assuming the population does not decline (which hasn't happened in the U.S.).

In any case, it's nice to have a name attached to a nom de plume, especially when the writing is stimulating.


By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Mon Apr 20, 05:16:00 PM:

But Escort81, can Goldman explain more to me about about TH's stretchmark ads?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 20, 05:37:00 PM:

You need to read the article more carefully. The article specifically refers to a reduction in demand for large-lot housing, primarily in suburban settings, i.e., family housing.

While I agree with the general thesis of the article, the thesis is more useful for long-term economic trends. Demographics can't explain the sudden collapse in the housing market which occurred in 2007-2008 and continues today. If the banks continue lending, builders will continue building, regardless of borrowers' ability to pay on the mortgage.  

By Anonymous sirius_sir, at Mon Apr 20, 06:01:00 PM:

The collapse of home prices and the knock-on effects on the banking system stem from the shrinking count of families that require houses.It would be interesting to investigate the factual underlay of this premise. Perhaps single persons and homosexuals would prefer smaller, supposedly less expensive, housing units. Maybe, as a whole, they would prefer apartments or condos. But even assuming these units are less expensive than a 'family'-size house, the observation that there are more units needed per person suggests the increased demand for smaller living spaces might result in an even trade-off.

Maybe the real problem is that home builders have failed to effectively anticipate the true demand of their market. (That seems obvious, though not necessarily in the way I meant it. In any event, anonymous above seems to have put the matter more succinctly.)  

By Anonymous sirius_sir, at Mon Apr 20, 07:18:00 PM:

The BYD car looks interesting.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Apr 20, 08:49:00 PM:

Chris, the ads are specifically tailored to the reader. Only you are seeing the stretchmark ads.  

By Blogger Whiskey, at Mon Apr 20, 08:57:00 PM:

What anonymous said.

And yes gays don't have the demand for housing that families with kids have.

If you are nuclear family with two kids, that's a three bedroom house min. With three kids, a four bedroom house. It grows from there. You want grass lawns, safe schools (away from non-Whites who are high-crime and anti-learning, which means away from Blacks and Hispanics).

Gays don't care about any of that. Most gays live fairly promiscuous lives, married or not. A "fabulous" condo in downtown somewhere are what Gays usually demand. Gay families are as rare as hens teeth or long term and faithful gay marriages. [Steyn noted the dismally low gay marriage rate in Toronto, where it has been legal for ten years and in 2008, only ONE gay couple locally married. Toronto being according to reports a metro area of around 7 million people and having 14% gay, largest in North America even more than San Francisco.]

This is an ugly truth, it's not PC, but it is true.

White parents want to keep their kids as far away from Blacks and Hispanics as they can get, for these obvious reasons.

Collapse of the demand for homes (and thus schools) in White exurbs dropping is a demographic phenomena, most Whites are not getting married and not having kids. Those that do, are single mothers and no longer care much about their kids (by definition, if they did they would have chosen to marry responsible husbands and fathers, not exciting bad boy sperm donors.]  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 20, 09:14:00 PM:

The fact that we're going down the tubes (and I agree that we are) doesn't mean the Chinese aren't also going down the tubes. They may just have their own tubes. It's hard to reflect on the toxic milk affair -- especially the delay and the cover-up -- and still believe the future belongs to China.

Spengler's dismissal of Boyle's voice seems like humbug. No matter how silly the media hype, my ear tells me she has a voice that would light up any nightclub in the world. It's a false sophistication to deny that.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Mon Apr 20, 11:15:00 PM:

Christopher - I think your TI buddy just pwnd you.

Whiskey & Anon 5:37 - I used the word "comparable" on purpose. I would agree that there is an active urban gay sub-culture in many large cities in the U.S., and that the housing demands of many of the participants of that sub-culture may not include suburban single-family homes. However (and I have only anecdotal data; any good links with real date are welcomed), there are significantly more homosexuals living in "gay-friendly" suburban towns than was the case two decades ago. Middle-aged gay men who lived through the high mortality rates of AIDS in the 1980s, when the bath houses in NY and SF were key vectors in the rapid spread of the disease, may be perfectly content to live in suburbia on a monogamous basis. Some even want to adopt kids.

Obviously, a real estate market, like politics, is local. I would point out that the biggest haircuts in South Florida housing market (one of the three or four hardest hit areas in the nation) is found in the "luxury condo" market, which was wildly overbuilt, and not the single-family home market. That is, it is exactly the kind of housing that one associates with the urban gay sub-culture (which is a significant presence in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami Beach) that is being hit the hardest. The fact is that many gays and lesbians in South Florida live in single-family homes.

Setting aside for the moment whatever Spengler-like moral arguments one might make about single parent households or homosexual households, I don't see how it reduces demand for housing on an incremental or marginal basis. These sociological and cultural phenomenon have been with us for a while (especially high divorce rates), and homebuilders have gone through at least three boom cycles in the last three decades, significantly increasing the quantity of the housing stock, particularly in suburban and exburban areas. The rate of price appreciation in the housing stock may have been out of whack in many locales because of too much cheap money and other reasons, but there was baseline demand for the housing itself, as there may be again once prices re-set to 2003, 2000, or 1997 price levels, and the market clears.

And Whiskey, I live across the street from an African-American family who lives in a home valued in the high six digits, and their son is doing fine in school. A Korean family lives next door, and they are empty nesters, but their kids did fine in school. A divorced doctor, another divorced doctor, a DINK couple and a lesbian couple are also nearby. Five decades ago, this street was completely WASP families. Things change. It's still a good suburban Philly neigborhood with well-kept properties, and values have fallen slightly here, but not crashed (we didn't have the huge earlier run up in value, either).  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Tue Apr 21, 01:36:00 AM:

"Chris, the ads are specifically tailored to the reader. Only you are seeing the stretchmark ads."

Bwahaha. It reminds me of an old, very politically incorrect joke. The punch line was "to hide the stretch marks".  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Apr 21, 09:10:00 AM:

Escort, Spengler/Goldman has had many interesting and provocative things to say at Asia Times, some over the top, some rather perceptive.

David P Goldman's past includes serving as economics adviser to Lyndon LaRouche, and co-authoring a book with LaRouche denouncing Milton Friedman as a fascist.

Whatever the merits of any of his current arguments, it is useful to know a bit about his background. Still, anyone who gets Steve Sailer so bent out of shape can't be doing everything wrong!


J R  

By Blogger Escort81, at Tue Apr 21, 01:07:00 PM:

Thanks for that link, JR. I was unaware of the the LaRouche connection. That is certainly, um, different.

I am willing to read his columns as is, where is -- you put it well: "some over the top, some rather perceptive."  

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