Your Great-Grandfather’s Hustle is the Hip New Thing

DepressionMolly McHugh recently wrote in The Ringer about new communal living arrangements in Oakland and New York City. I recommend her whole essay.

The Nook is a microhousing apartment complex with communal spaces that residents share… This building -mild, modern, and far from ostentatious- could very well be the future of middle class housing in America.

Middle-class America must not include children at this point. Children are only for the rich to repopulate the ruling class or for the poor drone workers who can’t, or don’t care to, live in hip urban vibrancy zones.

But what really got me thinking was the contextualization of this communal living -the Sharing Economy. The author of course references AirBNB, Uber, etc.

Technology created the possibility of, and opportunity for, the communal living movement.

The Sharing Economy has been trendy for a few years now. McHugh acknowledges that communal living is not new, but this version breaks it out of its hippie, granola past. But going back farther into the mists of time, renting out rooms is something a family did during The Great Depression to make extra money.

So was driving a hack, an unauthorized taxi cab. And so was contract work, piece meal sewing, barter, growing and selling your own food. A google search of “How people made extra money during the Depression” is basically a list of hot new sharing economy business ideas and lifestyle options. Uber and Lyft are Hack taxis, AirBNB a flophouse, the gig economy is piece work…

Is the Sharing Economy just a gloss for massively reduced living standards? Probably. I have no doubt that suburbs have been a massive waste of resources, a dissolution of social capital, resting on the wealth explosion of the post war economy, which was a one-off gain until Europe and Japan rebuilt. From the Economist:

These Boomers have lived a charmed life, easily topping previous generations in income earned at every age… Households became smaller, populated with more earners and fewer children. And Boomers enjoyed the distinction of being among the best-educated of American generations at a time when the return on education was soaring.
Yet these gains were one-offs… boomer income growth relied on a number of one-off gains.

The one-off gain fueled massive dislocation from traditional communities as G.I.s moved their families to the new suburbs, draining rural towns and urban ethnic enclaves, not only of people, but of social capital, which had to be recreated in the suburbs. But the suburbs keep moving out, regenerating farther and farther out, dissipating social capital and family wealth with each move.

Generation X has a lower standard of living than their Boomer parents. Of course there was going to be a reset -both economically and socially. McMansions are cancer, are tiny homes chemo? The hype around the Sharing Economy masks the wasted capital of decades of consumerism and skirts the reduced living standards of the Middle Class. We call Tiny Houses a movement as if it is not just a natural result after decades of dissipation and decadence.

Pro Tip: Google “How people Made Extra Money in the Great Depression” and find your million dollar Sharing Economy Start-up Idea!


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