The separated ones have invented many ‘cures’ for what they believe to be the ‘ills of the world.’ But the one thing they do not do is to question the reality of the problem.Yet its effects cannot be cured because the problem is not real.
-A Course in Miracles
In late 2021, I started a Substack newsletter as a way to write a book in small chunks and cover topics further afield from housing and real estate, my primary focus here on Medium. My first thirty or so Substack entries were meant to be strung together as a book synthesizing my life’s various personal and professional pursuits, namely spiritual growth, fitness, minimalist living, and real estate innovation. While these topics are seldom discussed together, to my mind they are variations of the theme of systems optimization, whether that system was the mind, body, manufactured stuff, or real estate.
I never became a spiritual or fitness guru, but over the years, I earned a reputation as a minimalist living and real estate innovation authority, and my ideas found their way into places like The New York Times, Dwell magazine, and elsewhere. Despite this relative success in promulgating my ideas, culture and consumer habits at large seemed to keep moving in contrary ways: China made and Amazon sold more disposable junk; cars, homes, and waistlines grew ever more corpulent -all to the extreme detriment of the individual, society, and planet.
Throughout 2021, I attempted to raise money for my real estate startup, the Change Order Group (COG), which was my attempt to bring systems optimization at scale with real estate as the technical vehicle. When my efforts to raise failed — this, despite the group’s star power — I realized most people don’t really want to solve real problems. In fact, humanity’s biggest problems are unsolved because so many people benefit from creating, solving, and being victims of the problems; fix or offer simple solutions or give people agency over problems and the raison d’etre for most of the world’s population disappears. A couple articles relating to my area of expertise, housing, illustrate this thesis.
The first piece is in Curbed and is entitled, “New Yorkers Never Came ‘Flooding Back.’ Why Did Rents Go Up So Much?” In it, author Lane Brown investigates why rents in NYC (my home of nineteen years) are at all-time highs, while there was a net-outflow of people in the last few years. Reduced demand, expanded supply, and record high prices defies the accepted narrative that the city’s -and many other places -housing crisis is a function of limited supply. Brown speculates (quite correctly, and something I’ve written about in the past) that rents have grown because of “warehoused” housing units, i.e. apartments kept off-market to create an artificial supply constraint.
The second article is from Isaiah McCall’s Medium page, entitled “America’s Homeless Crisis is the Best Scam Since Enron. “ McCall, like Brown, brings up NYC’s unoccupied housing units, but instead of relating it to high rents, he frames it against the multibillion dollar governmental and nonprofit “industrial homeless complex” whose existence depends on the perpetuation, not eradication, of homelessness. He writes:
New York has a budget of $26,000 per homeless person (totaling $2.4 billion), and 79,190 vacant home units, and yet the city still has a homelessness rate of over 100,000 people.
McCall also throws deserved shade on CEOs of homeless service nonprofits making large six-figure salaries with questionable results. As McCall quips, “A cured patient [or a homeless person with a home] is a lost customer.”
Both articles demonstrate the coordinated efforts put into perpetuating problems, both in terms of problem creation, i.e. warehousing housing to increase landlord profits, and problem solving, i.e. directing billions to homeless housing and service providers, not the homeless people themselves. Both articles remind me of Elon Musk’s 2021 offer to donate “$100M towards a prize for best carbon capture technology.” Someone responded to his tweet about the prize with, “A tree?”
Musk countered the tree tweet with a convoluted — and inexpert — explanation of why trees were technologically deficient to some sellable, industrialized solution like carbon capture farms. But my belief is that his objection was a function of a universal blindness to simple, at-hand, and free or low-cost problem solving. Decarbonization can’t be as simple as planting a shit-ton of trees (which will promote fresh water retention). Solving homelessness and the affordability crises can’t be as simple as making empty housing units and other vacant real estate available for occupancy. Solving the world’s obesity epidemic can’t be as simple as stopping the subsidization of corn, soy, and other low-quality food-sources. If solutions were simple and low cost, public and private leaders might feel obliged to try them. But because problems are framed as complex, requiring years of research by top experts from top institutions at great expense, nothing gets done — atmospheric carbon, homelessness, and populations of the sick and obese expand unabated.
On an even deeper level than refusing to accept simple solutions is the refusal to take personal responsibility for global situations. When problems aren’t solved because of missing money, technology, or political agency, it’s the money’s, technology’s, or political situation’s fault nothing changes. Yet there is no clean energy source, circular manufacturing technology, zoning reform, carbon tax, intergovernmental trade pact, nor any other salvo that will redirect humankind from its current trajectory towards mass annihilation . Change must come from within. If you, dear reader, want global change, you must adjust your consumption to fit within present environmental conditions and constraints; you must stop living alone in oversized homes with eyes glued to various sized LED screens buying crap you don’t need, believing in problems that have nothing to do with you; you must eat healthy foods cultivated in responsible ways; you must move and use your body in ways that keep it strong, lean, and vital. That’s what my heretofore unwritten and unpublished book was going to be about. That’s what my follow-up and heretofore unfunded startup, Run Haus, sought to support.
On the bright side, we have a Chernobyl-esque situation in Ohio, $9 trillion dollars of unaccounted Pentagon spending, a president who wants to lift the debt ceiling on top of the outstanding $30 trillion debt balance, and a “doomsday glacier” on the brink falling off the antarctic shelf -a fall that could raise sea levels two to ten feet, shutting down most major ports and sending climate refugees by the hundreds of millions, if not billions. At least we got that!
A version of this post originally published at https://deepfriedlander.substack.com on February 17, 2023.