America feels divided. From the most salient questions about our national identity and place in the world, to fundamental concerns about technology, religion, the economy, and public policy, Intelligence Squared U.S. is here to help. A respite from polarized discussions, we bring together the smartest minds to debate and dissect issues in depth, restoring civility and bringing intelligence to the public square in the process.
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Cory Doctorow’s bio says he is a science fiction author, activist and journalist. He’s also a podcaster, blogger, Tweeter, and that rarest of birds, an MMTer. We invited him on to Macro N Cheese because of his article The Rent's Too Damn High: A Human Right, Commodified and Rendered Zero Sum. Steve talks to him about the multiple and complex causes of the pandemic housing bubble. Perhaps because he’s a novelist, Cory communicates in a compelling way, describing not just the causes, but the social implication of the housing situation.
The US made homeownership one of its two primary means for class mobility and intergenerational wealth transfer and intergenerational mobility. So the US historically had a labor pathway to social mobility where if you got a better job than your parents, you could live a better life than them. And then it had an asset pathway where an asset that you or your parents bought might appreciate so much that as generations went by, if you were able to hand it down, that each generation would be more affluent than the last.
The employment path to a rising standard of living vanished by getting rid of unionized employment, and with it a check against the concentrated power of capital when negotiating with the diffuse power of labor. The imbalance has also resulted in a loss of defined pension benefits.
And so now if you want to survive into your dotage without forcing your children to give up their most productive labor years to take care of you, you have to either get unbelievably lucky with your 401k - and again, empirically, American 401ks are not and will not be sufficient to carry them through a dignified retirement - or you have to liquidate your family assets.
Cory talks about the effect of reduced incomes on the rental market and the paradoxical effect on housing values, the dissolution of tenants rights, and the way all of these elements are connected to zoning, transportation, and the quality of public schools.
The personal responsibility doctrine made popular by Reagan and Thatcher conveniently replaces our identities as workers and citizens with that of consumers. It also requires that we no longer conceive of problems as being systemic and think of them as being individual. Steve and Cory discuss the gigification and Uberization of the economy, and the possible path forward. Cory reminds us, “with so many technological questions or policy questions, we can ask what something does, and that's important. But it's also really important to ask who it does it for and who it does it to.”
A science fiction novelist’s métier involves imagining different scenarios for the future. Some of Cory’s might give us a bit of hope.
Cory Doctorow is a science fiction novelist, journalist and technology activist. He is a contributor to many magazines, websites and newspapers. He is a special consultant to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org), a non-profit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards and treaties.
Find his blog, podcast, newsletter, books and more at