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What Happened: November 9, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Housing prices; ancient Assyrian invasion of Judah; Kanye Kibbutz; Belarusian-Polish border

The Scroll
November 09, 2021

The Big Story

Americans getting priced out of buying houses have turned single-family rental homes into the best investment in the U.S. real estate market. With inflation still rising, housing prices in the United States have been outpacing income growth by roughly 4:1 while down payment requirements have also been ticking up. Rental prices have also been increasing, but at a slower pace, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Investors have responded to the shift by building more units designed specifically as rentals. “Close to 100,000 built-to-rent homes will have started construction this year,” the Journal reports, citing data from consulting firm Hunter Housing Economics. To finance the building, “investors have poured about $30 billion in debt and equity into the sector in 2021.” As an investment, built-to-rent homes are expected to return an average annual risk-adjusted yield of about 8% compared to a weighted average of 6.1% for the rest of the property sectors, according to data cited by the Journal. The biggest growth in the market is taking place in Sunbelt states, which are also leading the country in population growth. All of which means that for a lot of Americans, the dream of homeownership is, at the very least, deferred.

Today’s Back Pages: Prestige or Security? 

The Rest

→ The White House on Monday instructed businesses to move forward with implementing the Biden administration’s new vaccine mandate despite an order from a federal appeals court to halt the policy. On Saturday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed enforcement of the new private-employer vaccine mandate—which orders businesses with more than 100 employees to require that their staff get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 tests—on the grounds that it raises “grave statutory and constitutional issues.” But at a press briefing Monday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters, “People should not wait. They should continue to move forward and make sure they’re getting their workplace vaccinated.”

→ In its third week, the trial for the organizers of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina, is approaching its anticipated Nov. 19 end date. Defendants in the civil proceedings include alt-right leader Richard Spencer and two dozen other white nationalists and affiliated organizations who are being sued by nine plaintiffs seeking unspecified monetary damages for physical and emotional injuries sustained at the rally, where a self-proclaimed admirer of Hitler, James Fields, drove his car into a crowd of counter protestors, killing one woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring dozens more. The plaintiffs in the case are being represented by the civil rights nonprofit Integrity First for America, which is employing the 150-year-old Ku Klux Klan Act, passed after the Civil War to protect freed slaves.

→ In court Monday at the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, Gaige Grosskreutz, who survived being shot by Rittenhouse, told prosecutors that he feared for his life in the incident from last August during the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake. But under questioning from defense lawyers, Grosskreutz admitted that he initially lied to police about the fact that he too was armed that night, and also acknowledged that he had pointed his gun at Rittenhouse immediately prior to being shot by the then 17-year-old. Grosskreutz’s testimony “at times lent support to Mr. Rittenhouse’s central claim, that he was acting in self-defense when he shot Mr. Grosskreutz and two other men,” The New York Times reported in its summation of the trial. 

→ A study published last month in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology sheds light on the methods used by the ancient Assyrians to build the siege ramp used in 701 BCE to invade the Kingdom of Judah in today’s southern Israel, “laying waste to its cities and bringing Jerusalem to its knees.” Researchers speculate that the Assyrians mined a stone quarry near the site of the ramp and “probably used chains of laborers to pass each stone from the quarry to the area where the ramp was being raised,” according to an article about the study in Haaretz.
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→ After Friday’s deadly Astroworld Festival that left eight people dead, including two teens, and hundreds more injured, rappers Travis Scott and Drake are being sued by several injured concertgoers seeking $1 million in damages. Coming at the end of the pandemic-induced event hiatus, Scott’s long-awaited Austin music festival attracted 50,000 people of all ages from across the country. But when Scott took the stage at around 11:15 p.m., the crowd surged forward, leading to the deaths and injuries. According to reporting from The New York Times, the Houston police chief, as well as event security, had warned Scott that excitement among fans would make crowd control difficult.

→ President Biden’s approval rating hit a new low of 38%, according to a USA Today/Suffolk University Poll taken last week, which also shows Vice President Kamala Harris at a dismal 28% approval. The poll shows Biden with “the lowest rating of any modern president at this point in his term except Trump.” Crucially, his support among independents, who helped make up his margin of victory in 2020, has tanked, with a 7-to-1 margin of them (44% to 6%) responding that they “believe that the president has done a worse job than they thought he would.”

→ Poland has deployed 12,000 troops to its border with Belarus, as roughly 2,000 Belarussians are now camped out there. A surging stream of migrants leaving Belarus in recent months is being blamed on the country’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko, by both Polish and European Union officials who accuse Lukashenko of trying to destabilize the EU after it placed sanctions on him last year.

→ Kanye West, who now goes by the name Ye, called for a Christian kibbutz movement modeled on the socialist farming collectives in Israel in an interview last Friday with New York boom bap rapper turned podcaster N.O.R.E. “Jewish people have this type of circular community … It’s like where they live, and where we need to live, where the grandparents can take care of the kids,” he said in the interview. “It’s better to have a grandparent taking care of the kids than a nanny taking care of kids—hired love. You get what I’m saying? That we move as a community, and as a community, we will not fail.” Word is born.
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The Back Pages

backpagesPrestige or Security?

Today’s Back Pages comes from the rabbi and poet Zohar Atkins. Find more of Atkins’ writing at his Substack “What Is Called Thinking,” where this originally appeared, and follow him on Twitter @ZoharAtkins.

Everyone today has a political opinion, but far fewer have a political theory.

In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt claims that political differences between people are a function of differing psychological tendencies, different value sets. There are blue-state brains and red-state brains, as it were. Conservatives care about loyalty and purity more than liberals do, for example.

But great modern thinkers, such as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, came to their conclusions about the role of government and society not on the basis of temperament but by imagining what life was like in a state of nature.

The more terrible life in a state of nature is, the more government and society are needed to protect us from this state. The better off life in a statue of nature is, the more government and society are a thorn in our side. Hobbes, ever the pessimist, offers us a liberal argument for an absolute sovereign. Rousseau, ever the optimist, thinks that the great evil is society itself, which acculturates us to envy and alienation. For Hobbes, the essence of life in a state of nature is war. For Rousseau, it is innocence and abundance.

Hobbes takes a zero-sum view of social relations, while Locke takes a more positive-sum view. For Hobbes, the essence of social interaction is conflict, while for Locke it is collaboration and trade.

A core reason people might disagree about politics, then, might have more to do with differences about their conception of the state of nature, rather than, say, differences in value sets or brain states. The question isn’t whether you value security, but whether you think the state or society can offer it, or whether people can find it on their own.

For Hobbes, the default state of man is war. For Locke, it is hunger. Hobbes thinks we should put up with anything if it gets us out of war, while Locke assumes that war is derivative of famine. Both think the goal is security—but what they seek security from differs.

According to Hobbes (and Nietzsche and Hegel), the core difference between people has nothing to do with Haidt’s taxonomy. Rather, there are two kinds of people: those who prefer security to prestige and those who prefer prestige to security. Security types are willing to sacrifice their egos for self-preservation. Prestige types are willing to sacrifice self-preservation for a higher mission.

Different thinkers call these types by different names. For Nietzsche, it was the difference between Übermenschen and Last Men; for Hegel, it was the difference between Master and Slave. For Marx it is the difference between the ruling class and the bourgeois.

Reasonable people can disagree about what counts as security. Reasonable people can disagree about what counts as prestige. But our debates would be different—and probably of a higher quality—if we did not conflate the two.

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