No, USC did not tell me to stop using social media or to tone it down

So one of the comments I’ve received since I left Twitter was some conjecture that my bosses at USC got wind of how frank I am on social media, read something they didn’t like, and told me to stop posting.

No.

Guys, I once called USC the “Death Star” in the LA Times. (Thanks a pantload for that one, Nelson). If my bosses weren’t going to go after me for that one, they aren’t going to go after me for upsetting dudes on Twitter. And it’s always dudes. (In the “Death Star” incident, I was referring to USC’s community reputation, which is often unjustly characterized as awful, and at other times, quite justly so characterized.)

Oddly, public universities seem to have been far more likely here recently to get all panicked if somebody is unhappy about something a professor says. I haven’t seen it as much at private universities. Maybe that is observation bias on my part.

I’m generally proud of just how much USC does value and protect academic freedom. I’ve gotten scolded over the years, usually justly, for being an insubordinate little snot when I lose my temper. I hate authority, always have, and it gets me in trouble all the time. I should have grown out of it by now, but shrug. It has inconvenient at times, but it is also the part of me that said “to hell with you” every time some dickweed told me “Well, people like you don’t go to college” or “Girls aren’t good at X” or “You’re smart, but you aren’t smart enough to do X.”

But if my dean or provost were to read the blog, he’d see what he sees when we meet in person: a curious, adventurous, passionate scholar who says what I think and objects when our decisions or actions are going to hurt people (when I am smart enough to predict it).

If they did try to silence me on social media or anywhere else, I’d leave and scorch the earth behind me. But USC deserves respect for allowing me to tell the truth as I see it, again and again and again, even when it’s about us. That’s what scholars are for, and USC has never been anything other than supportive of my scholarly ideas. We have work to do, like most universities, really becoming a place where everybody feels at home and supported, but nobody here has ever told me to be less outspoken than I am.

I hopped on Twitter to boost USC Price’s participation in the gubernatorial debate the other night and noted that there were about 99 notifications on a thread debating whether I knew what rent control is or not. Now, some of those tweets were other men stepping in to say “hey, not cool” which is super-good male ally ninja stuff. But I just don’t have time or patience to deal with the discourse when every time it starts out at that level.

Deleting Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, etc

I have to admit I am a bit of a skeptic on the whole Cambridge Analytica thing. It’s been fun watching them backpedal on their claims, to the degree that they now claim that the data they have been selling politicians for ages isn’t the magic beans they always claimed it was.

Who knows what outcomes were really influenced, and how do we prove it? Media influence is very hard to prove. I’m dubious simply because old media spent virtually all of its time, too, trashing Hillary Clinton, too, and she still won the popular vote. Is it more comforting to believe that people were manipulated by big, bad big data than to accept that there were people out there weirdly empowered by a broken electoral system who were never, ever going to going to vote for a woman, even Sarah Palin, and especially not Hillary Clinton?

So deleting your Facebook: people gotta do what they got to do. Move over to Snap, that’s fun. But this is the world we live in now, people. Your data, though absolutely vital, is not really vital because there are thousands more like you who will stay, and your behavior/preferences/biases can be gleaned from them. Americans love to think their individual actions, especially their consumer behavior, amount to something. And they do–each life matters. But not each data point.

I remember having a conversation with the brilliant Matt Young about Ed Snowden. Matt had more faith; I have been consistently astounded that people are upset about surveillance. To the degree that people think they can control human behavior with marketing and media, and we have relational data and online capture, everything, from Snowden’s NSA disclosures to Cambridge Analytics, has felt pretty inevitable to me. Matt dissents, and he’s way smarter than me, but…still. Connectivity is connectivity, and when I scrape my data every so often, the conclusion is, simply, that I lead a boring life and that’s probably about all the protection I’m ever going to get.

And I don’t really mind targeted marketing. I much more mind just blasting me with ads. But showing me stuff I might actually like? I’m good with that.

Where to go? Well, even though CA broke the rules, Facebook’s tacit contract with its users has always been data harvest. That won’t change. It’s still a great way to share your kids’ photos with your family and friends. That hasn’t changed, either.

The fundamental asymmetry is simply that the algorithm and big data salespeople want the data–and the non-users’ belief that with these data, big data wizards can predict anything, persuade anyone, solve everything– but not the democratic accountability, and virtually none of the players on the CS side really want that to change as far as I can see. It’s their payment for developing apps.

IOW, user, beware.

More explanation on ad hominem

So I’ve had people reach out to me and say they are sorry that the personal attacks prompted me to shrug off Twitter. That’s very kind, but it’s actually not hurt feelings.

As I said before, I’m just bored. Social media in general has gotten a little boring for me; I’ve become one of those annoying people who plans to make a big deal about presence. Nobody is really working on the same things I am in the same way; I don’t feel like I am learning much; I can skim for interesting articles and the like without engaging with people.

Young scholars (and old) should always feel free to email papers and the like to look at promote here. My email lsschweitzer589@gmail.com.

I’m trying to point out, gently, how very, very dull ad hominem is. It’s just bad reasoning, and there is nothing to work with. The excuse-making that thundered out of the universe in response to my “cut it out” post was an embarrassing indictment of the quality of thought in the urban social media world. Take a logic class, would you? I mean, like a real one with a philosopher.

Ad hominem doesn’t just mean dumb personal attacks like “you poopface.” It means that you reject the argument simply because of who made the argument and what motives you impute to that person.

Yep, a person’s positionally affects their political interests. Yep, a person may be making the wrong arguments for the wrong motivations. Or a person might be making the right arguments out there for the wrong motivations. You critique the arguments–you mention the motives in passing–if you are going to engage in public reason.

I swear, for every good-hearted YIMBY who genuinely wants to house people, there is some loudmouth tech bullyboy from SF who is using the YIMBY cause to try to wave his dick around and win arguments. Guess what? More housing in SF is still a good idea even if an asshole supports it for the wrong reason.

Self-interest? Sure, you may want to apply a discount to their points, note that you don’t find them to be a trustworthy source…but you still have to deal with their points.

Oh, and shouting “THAT CAN NEVER HAPPEN” is not argument. Appeals to pragmatism and incrementalism have their limits; one doesn’t get to crown oneself the arbiter of what can happen and what can’t. Defending the status quo against bigger changes and more sweeping visions makes one a goon for existing power, not some sort of hard realist.

Edited to add: All that bullshit about the Parkland kids? They’re rich kids. They’re actors. They just want attention.

That is straight-up ad hominem. And the reason why that is the opposition tactic is simple. When you look at reason, there is very little to argue with: Kids would like to go to school without getting shot at and killed.

But they….they…they…they….

Nope. Deal with the argument.

Why I am leaving Twitter

I’m bored.

Being a female professor online with actual opinions and edges and realness means I get 1 positive connection with people like Dan Immergluck or Meg Ryerson for every 400 abusive, condescending comments accusing me of just wanting attention, trying to derail discourses, ‘splaining, and tone-policing.

I held on long enough to
try to stand with other female urbanists, to help make space for them. I think a bunch of them are now occupying that space very well.

I shall still blog when I feel like it.

Have we reached peak YIMBY v. AHIMBY ad hominem yet? Can we go back to discussing the issues soon?

Because I am bored and sick of watching good people hurt each other.

Here’s the deal: nobody really owns the justice high ground on SB827–not yet–because nobody really knows for certain what is going to happen to lower income renters in the spaces the legislation effects. Lots of people think they know. Whether that’s real insight or simple hubris is a pretty big question.

The pro people think that they are on the housing justice high ground because they believe that rents are going to stabilize with additional housing projects, and they (rightly) argue that inaction and undersupply hurts poor renters right now.* Oh, and all the developers will go to rich neighborhoods to build first so gentrification should lessen, not worsen.

The anti people think new projects in existing neighborhoods, no matter how well-intended– are going to accelerate rent increases for poor people who live there.** Zoning, for all its many, many ills, provides stability, and people who are impoverished often seek that stability for entirely understandable reasons, even if that status quo isn’t good.

The kicker is, all y’all are probably right. The pro side tends to focus on the long-term, regional market effects; the anti side on short-term, local market effects.

Literally, the problem is this:

One side thinks new units are the biggest priority, and that rental protections can come later or are less important. The other side thinks protections for existing renters should come first, and then (only then) should new stuff come in.

That’s the heart of the conflict. And yeah,I suspect everybody is right here.

Yesterday undies got into a bunch because the California Democratic Socialist Alliances and multiple housing justice groups issued their statement on Prop 827, and it wasn’t favorable. It stuck a pin in the elation that people felt in days prior from the boost the S827 got from a open letter signed by 22 California urban experts in favor of the bill.

YIMBY-PHYMBY-AHIMY Twitter is always a minefield because these issues are very important to people. But this crossed my feed yesterday:

Screenshot 3 23 18 8 11 AM

Can we really, really not? I’m picking on SF NIMBY WATCH here, but honestly, let’s not. I get accused of “not wanting men to participate in politics” because of my feminism all the time. No. I just want some of them to stop acting like bullying, know-it-all twats. Wealthy people get to participate in politics, too. As a matter of a fact, their participation is pretty damn important, as they have money, and if the socialists only allowed poor people to hold socialist positions, they likely wouldn’t get very damn far.

Bernie Sanders made nearly a million off book royalties last year. Does that mean his liberal bona fides are now in the toilet?

This stuff has been building for weeks, right up from the recent spate of liberal purity tests that tell people you aren’t a real progressive if you do X or Y or believe Q or R:

You Are Not A Progressive If You Are A NIMBY

Ok, sure, but not everybody who is worried about the location of large new projects, or the effects of SB827, is a NIMBY. And BTW, I ‘d really really like it if we maybe didn’t make whether you support housing and development into a “liberal thing” because I dunno if you have noticed, but as soon as that happens, conservatives line up against it on the principle that anything that makes a liberal happy must be destroyed.

So there. All of the 22 professors that signed up are good people (at least the ones I know are). I don’t agree with them that upzoning is more important than taking care of renters right now. I think we are too far into the hole for new supply to stabilize rents any time soon, and in the interim, we will hurt people with new projects even as we try to help with new units.

Do I know this for sure? Nope.

I think SB827 is better than nothing, but the handmade “I’m being evicted” signs lining up along the Expo Line on my morning train ride make my stomach turn with fear and sadness for the people putting them up.

All y’all that want to jump down my throat and ‘splain that new supply will fix that–spare me. You don’t know for sure it will and more important, you don’t know when it will even if it does. You probably don’t know the social science or the urban economics better than I do–and the professors lining up to endorse the bill know all the same stuff that I do. They just add up what they see as the pros and cons differently than I do. They could be right, and I could be wrong. Or vice versa.

But with future conditions, we are all looking through a glass, darkly. Failure to think about consequences in public policy is irresponsible. Assuming you know for sure what those consequences are is arrogant. Both are things to be avoided.

We can hurt impoverished people in so many ways with public policy because they are vulnerable not just to the content but also the timing and geography of change.

Be decent to each other, people. There’s enough sadness in the world as it is.

*We have ample evidence here.

**The anti people who just want to keep their exclusive enclaves exclusive are wrong to do so. That is clear. Go after them all you want. But stop taking cheap shots among people who do genuinely care about poor people–especially when it’s in a Twitter war and the only REAL result of cheap shot exchanges is to gratify the egos of the person who won and his (usually his) peanut gallery.

Good public judgment is more important than anybody’s ego, including mine, though mine is pretty important.

Land value taxation, Prop 13 reform and single family homeowners

I’ve been participating in a long Twitter discussion about my value capture with somebody who is terribly worried about taxing single-family homeowners out of their homes, since SB827 covers so much of San Francisco.

While our debater was discussing things with me, his responses came back to, again and again: you will “tax them out of their homes.”At one point, he told me that my policy suggestions would be like “forcing people to sell their homes at gunpoint.”

Gah. None of that need be true. Greg Morrow and Dan Immergluck (bless them) joined in to explain various aspects of land value finance tools.

No matter what we say, this particular participant can’t move off his claim about single-family homeowners “being taxed out of their homes.” So he can’t deal with any potential change to Prop 13. But this discussion might help people actually consider the policy tools in play even if he refuses to.

How do we keep from taxing single-family homeowners out of their homes with land value assessments if we don’t keep Prop 13 set in stone forever?

The answer is, in the long-term, we don’t. Guys, I don’t know how to say this any more clearly: having single-family housing by transit stations is a terrible idea. It’s bad for cities, it’s really terrible for transit, and it’s bad for renters and young people. Investing in transit under our current land use conditions, which are heavily, heavily influenced by Prop 13, means throwing away money on transit so that we will never be able to supply it at city-changing levels with the ridership allowed by low-density development patterns. (We may never get the ridership we need–that’s a possibility–but we have well and truly established that low customer densities are bad for every direct service business.)

Prop 13 has hurt our schools. It’s hurt our infrastructure. And so on, and so forth.

https://giphy.com/embed/PMPwpWrGFLu80

via GIPHY

Now, mayyyyybe the assumption here is wrong, that Prop 13 locks single-family home ownership patterns in place, but I don’t think it is.

We may feel sorry for individuals who are caught in the whipsaw of prior generations of bad policy decisions and potential reform of those, but Prop 13 is highly, highly problematic even if it does help some homeowners stay in their homes. Over the long term, cities need those single-family homes by transit to become something else. Sorry.

As worried as we might be about homeowners, our current system hurts renters–who as a class are far, far poorer than homeowners, and it hurts transit riders, who are, as a class, ditto.

The problem is that homeowner wealth is not liquid unless they are renting out spaces or doing something else that generates a near-term revenue stream. Otherwise, that wealth is locked up in their homes, and new taxes could be a hardship. Sure.

This is not a reason to hand over absolutely all of the financial benefits of urbanization and public investment to landowners and screw everybody else. Remember your Ricardo.

So first, we can design land value taxation methods to be revenue neutral, even at the payer level. The debater last night had a problem that a person with a 10 unit apartment complex and a single-family home would pay the same in taxes. I don’t actually know why that’s a problem, other than in this person’s mind. Why the entity housing 10 HH should pay more taxes than a person sitting on their land to house 1 HH is a bit beyond me.

But non-problems notwithstanding, your yearly tax bill could basically stay the same for the lifetime of your tenure in the house and the accumulated value of the tax, or some portion, gets extracted at point of sale. That is, when you move and sell, the state captures the public increment out of the sale price. (Ouch, still, but you aren’t being taxed out of anything; if the home value wealth is “paper” wealth until it is made liquid, then it’s merely a “paper” loss to hand over that increment at the end. We’ll see the double-standard in play as people react to that statement).

Moreover, the land value taxation structure means you can improve your house and capture all of the financial benefits yourself rather than splitting them with the state. There are real benefits to land value taxation over property taxation for building owners, too. The real burn in land value taxation happens to people who just expect their land to appreciate in value–they don’t get the value increase they would normally get just from owning land and not doing anything.

Going from a situation where your land investment paid you hand over fist to a situation where it doesn’t pay you at all likely feels like a hardship even though one never should have been able to buy a house, get wealthy-doing-comparatively little in the first place, especially when this strategy was primarily for white people’s benefit.

As dysfunctional as our current public finance is, people have optimized around it. What our debater does not realize is that we might actually have MORE homeowners with land value taxation than with our current system. Why?

Because one of the reasons why housing is so outrageously expensive to buy in California is that the land’s value as a tax shelter is already capitalized into the selling price of the home. That is, you pay up-front for the amortized value of the future tax savings on wealth that you will accrue, which means that price to get into the market are much, much higher up front than they would be if we knew that the public increment of value were not going to the home owner. Such a difference effects how much you were willing to pay.

The real burden, even with point of sale protections, comes from the policy change itself. People brought property with the expectation that it would be a tax shelter for retirement savings at a higher price than otherwise, and then, boom, with the policy change, the buyers looking at your home no longer have that tax shelter and thus are not willing to pay for it. Thus existing landowners get soaked because they paid in the sale pricesomething that policy both giveth and taketh away.

Some policy thinkers aren’t terribly worried about that wipe-out. After all, people should not be in the habit of assuming public policy owes them a risk-free wealth generator, and the risks of policy change are just as real as the risks of other types of shocks. But I do think it’s a problem. These losses are real to individuals, and good government should center on trying to help people regardless of individual desert. (There, I said it, come at me, bro).

I’d prefer to phase in changes to Prop 13 over the long term, and to do so in a way that repays at least in part homeowners for their capital loss. Lots of ways exist to do that; I generally prefer a give-back on income taxes commensurate with the amortized yearly loss of the value of the tax shelter. That retains the incentive structure of tax policy change so that people still have an incentive to sell up and move when they should, but they are not made significantly poorer. If they really really love their homes (and people do), they could use that give-back to pay the tax change. Or they can pocket it, sell off, and move to a location where they aren’t paying for transit service they don’t value enough to pay for it. Or whatever. This way, it changes the relative price of hanging onto a SF in a place where society unfortunately doesn’t want SF homes.

Isn’t this all terribly complicated?

Yes.

There are no simple, easy, painless solutions to Prop 13 reform, just like there are no simple, painless solutions to spinal surgery. Prop 13 was a game changer for California, and its effects are everywhere, both positive and negative, and if we want to protect people from the effects of backing off from the policy that never should have passed in the form that it did, it will take time and effort.