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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Problems of Vagueness

posted by on May 23 at 10:35 AM

The Seattle Times has got a feel-good editorial this morning about the humming employment rate in the region.

It’s a stilted piece that cheer leads tax breaks for Boeing and the construction boom without documenting the Tale-of-Two-Cities-side of the boom—which includes, for starters, the loss of affordable housing. Seattle had 2,352 condo conversions last year—a 450 percent increase since 2004. Those numbers are particularly alarming, given that 3,900 lower-priced rentals have been either converted to condos or filed for conversion in the last two years. Indeed, the average price of new condos is $250,000.

There’s also a long term cost to corporate tax breaks as budget expenditures. Indeed, the article acknowledges that such booms will fade, which (unwittingly on their part) shows that corporate tax breaks are short term fixes that, I’d argue, continue to leave people without things like reliable health care and fully funded education.

The other thing the editorial got me thinking about was how desperate we are for mass transit. Sigh.

Anyway, I’ll spare you my quaint Marxist critique (or as my colleague C. Mudede says— Maker’s Marxist critique). But there is one randomly weird thing about the editorial: The last line.

They write: “Business buzzes on. As always there are problems, which at the moment tend to be the problems of fullness.

“The problems of fullness.” ???? What in the world are the problems of fullness? Is this a gastrointestinal metaphor? Do we have gas? Is this a body weight metaphor? Are we having trouble moving nimbly?

Tomorrow, the Seattle Times needs to do a follow-up editorial and document the problems of fullness. Pretty please.

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You know, if I was a reporter for either of the local dailies, I'd use the slog as a content-check for everything I wrote: post the story on the internet before press time, wait a few hours, check the slog to see if I fucked anything up, make changes before it goes to hard copy. You guys are like those beatles on the floor of a rainforest that can strip an unconscious sloth down to the bone in under an hour.

Posted by Judah | May 23, 2007 10:52 AM

Maybe it's the fullness of everyone's garage with stuff for which there is no reasonable need.
Maybe it's the fullness of our roads with vehicles.
Maybe it's the fullness everyone has after a day of consuming mountains of empty calories.
Maybe it's the fullness of everyone's ears that, if not plugged into an Ipod are attached to a cellphone.
Maybe it's the fullness of everyone's credit limit.
Maybe it's the fullness of everyone's sense of accomplishment and satisfaction with the way we have so carefully built our individual empires.
Maybe it's the fullness we all have from too much of all that we don't want, don't need, can't use, and can not bear to do anything other than what we have and are doing.
Fullness - use your head man, it's everywhere.

Posted by old timer | May 23, 2007 11:01 AM

"Problems of fullness": obviously, they mean the problems that come with economic and job growth.

- Traffic congestion
- Unaffordable housing
- Sprawl

The alternative is the problems of say, Detroit: an imploding job market and all of its follow-on effects.

Either set of problems can be mitigated with sensible policy, but to some extent you're using a spoon to fight the tide.

Posted by MHD | May 23, 2007 11:26 AM


Mossback-like rants about the price of condos are becoming a cliche with you; I'm curious what your constructive ideas are.

Chipping away at the edges by building subsidized housing doesn't solve the problem of the market price of housing.

I'm curious what your ideal policy solution to this is. I'm of the opinion that if you're really interested in reducing the market price of homes, your choices are either to sabotage the job market, increase crime, or maximize the financial incentives for building lots of units, which would involve repealing most of the taxes and zoning restrictions that you support in other contexts.

Or you just interested in keeping rentals cheap? That's an honest question; I don't mean anything by it.

Posted by MHD | May 23, 2007 12:04 PM

I always thought there was language in Washington's constitution forbidding tax breaks as a corporate incentive?

Posted by Dougsf | May 23, 2007 12:06 PM

Hey! Check out the new 20-year transportation plan:
400 km extra bike paths
2 rail extensions
1 new rail line
4 trolley lines (in key locations)
2 new bus right-of-ways
0 new roads.
Funding? Tolls on bridges.
Read it and weep:

Posted by just to gloat | May 23, 2007 12:11 PM

JF- "Those numbers are particularly alarming, given that 3,900 lower-priced rentals have been either converted to condos or filed for conversion in the last two years. Indeed, the average price of new condos is $250,000."

Really 3900 were lower priced rentals - is there a source for this fact - were all the conversions lower priced?

Posted by whatever | May 23, 2007 12:13 PM


Good question. Numbers come from Seattle DPD and Council Member Tom Rasmussen's office which did a low-income housing inventory study.

Posted by Josh Feit | May 23, 2007 1:06 PM

The mission of The Seattle Times editorial board, among other things, is to be the most respected voice in the northwest.

Posted by Luigi Giovanni | May 23, 2007 1:49 PM

Josh, thanks but I( can't find any calling out of "lower-priced" units. It would be my guess that "lower-priced" units would be torn down and better units would be converted. Not that it makes that much of a difference but saying poor people are being condo converted makes a better story, no?

If you have an actual link, please supply.

Posted by whatever | May 23, 2007 5:26 PM

My vision, if I should ever have enough $ to be a philanthropist, is to build a huge bastion of towers on Capitol Hill. These would be all sliding-scale and they would all be 88 stories tall, glowering over the interstate, looking down upon the Vulcan properties like a Mt. Tahoma of socialism or an egalitarian vulture. Their architecture would be a trainwreck of glass, graffiti, black and rainbow flags. Of course, the renters displaced by the construction would be given the penthouse views free for 3 years and then sliding-scale like everyone else. Any takers?

Posted by Mr. Catnip | May 23, 2007 7:51 PM

Yeah @11, those would be just halcyonic. You get to clean up the junkies and barf and feces from the stairwells every morning. Mmm-Mmm.

Posted by Squalid Poo | May 24, 2007 3:21 PM

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