Two weeks ago, Art Woolf (Vermont’s Loudest Economist™) used his Burlington Freeploid column to mansplain to us all why Vermont’s low unemployment rate isn’t a good thing. Well, first off, he cast unmoored aspersions on the veracity of the number; and then he gave some half-hearted reasons why We Need More People Jobless. I compared him to a little boy who gets a pony for Christmas and starts looking around for the manure pile.
Well, Art’s back today to piss on another campfire. This week’s “effort” is entitled “Is high home ownership rate a good thing?”
See, Vermont’s homeownership rate is 73%, the seventh highest in the nation and some 18 percentage points above the national average.
Must be good news, right? It could mean that we have a relatively stable population with the resources to invest in housing. It might be a sign that we have a strong real-estate sector, one of the cornerstones of a vibrant economy. I’d think it might reflect a better-resourced population of working poor, able to afford a home of their own. And it clearly reflects the fact that 2008’s recession hit the nation much harder than it hit Vermont; since 2008, home ownership has declined nationally, while Vermont’s rate shows a slight increase.
So, good news? Naaaah, sez Art. He’s lookin’ for the manure pile. And he’s ever-ready to shovel it out.
First of all, he trots out the right-wing canard that the housing bubble was caused by “federal housing policies designed to increase the national homeownership rate.” Yeah, blame it all on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And please ignore the huge lump under the rug; it’s nothing but a mountain of subprime mortgage-backed securities churned out by the Wise Guys of Wall Street. Federal housing policies played a part in encouraging homeownership, to be sure — because homeownership is widely accepted as a social good. But far more impactful were the Countrywides of the world, who couldn’t write mortgages fast enough to churn out those lousy mortgage-backed securities.
An Art Woolf specialty: thinly-veiled conservative propaganda. But whatever the cause of the housing collapse, it has no bearing whatsoever on whether Vermont’s homeownership rate is a bad thing. Unless, that is, Woolf is predicting a housing bubble in Vermont. Which he isn’t; he’s just manufacturing excuses to see the glass as half empty and leaking.
Next, he moves on to an uninsightful and irrelevant factoid: “High rates of homeownership are only weakly associated with high incomes.” Gee, what would we do without Art Woolf to illuminate the obvious? I wouldn’t expect a 1:1 relationship between wealth and homeownership. But I would expect a high rate of homeownership to reflect a relatively stable and non-impoverished citizenry.
Next, Woolf completes his Trifecta of Trivia by observing that…
Vermont’s homes have surprisingly few people living in each of them. The Census Bureau tells us that only 2.4 people live in the average Vermont home. (Since no house has four-tenths of a person living in it, it’s easier to think of this as 24 people living in every ten homes.)
Oh, geez, Art, thanks for clearing that up. Here I was imagining nightmare scenarios of Vermont homes populated by partial people. An epidemic of amputees? Hideous deformities? Preserved brains in jars?
This meander down Census Lane never quite reconnects with Woolf’s supposed thesis. In fact, his conclusion is that our homeownership, and relatively low occupancy, is “an indication of how wealthy we are today compared to the past…”
In other words, I guess, our homeownership rate is a good thing after all? I can’t say for sure, because Woolf offers no conclusion.
To sum up, Woolf casts cold water on the notion that homeownership is a good thing, he repeats an irrelevant bit of conservative dogma, he regurgitates some Census data, and his column just kinda peters out. No coherent case for his thesis; not even any attempt at building a case. And certainly no effort at presenting an informative view of what the chart actually signifies.
This marvel of intellectual ennui checks in at a laughable 398 words. To fill Woolf’s usual half-page spot, the Freeploid’s editors blew up the accompanying chart to almost the size of a billboard. It’s as if a student turned in an abbreviated essay, and the teacher helpfully reprinted it in a larger font so it achieved the expected page count. (The column, as it appeared in print, is reproduced here, just to show you the relative space occupied by column and chart.) I wonder how much they’re paying him for this drivel.