Shortly before Tegan and I decided to leave the United States, hopefully never to return, we considered buying a house. Mortgage payments are generally less than rent, and we’d both had a succession of rich and/or corporate landlords who did as little as humanly possible to keep their properties habitable, so we wanted to try for something better. Additionally, home ownership has long been presented as a pathway to financial security, and some sense of stability. Because rents will keep rising, year after year after year, renters tend to have to keep moving, which is a huge expense and a huge disruption all by itself. We wanted out of that trap. We didn’t have a lot of money, but thanks to intergenerational wealth, we did have enough for a down payment on something small. The problem was, for every place we looked at, There was some big landlord or house-flipper who was willing to offer more than the asking price, with cash on hand. Our landlord at the time owned dozens of homes in the area, and so we were competing with him and his ilk, while he used the money that we gave him every month to outbid us. For that and other reasons, we ended up deciding to gamble on being able to escape the US and find a way to make it work in a country where, if nothing else, we’d have access to a real healthcare system.
That future is still uncertain, but given that the pandemic would have robbed both of us of our incomes had we stayed, we would have burned through that “nest egg” anyway. Add in the far lower cost of health coverage and treatment, and I’m still comfortable with the choice we made. The thing is, the problem of landlords is not unique to the US. We’re still forced to send huge amounts of money, every month, to someone who we’ve never met, who lives on the other side of the country, and who views us as a source of passive income, nothing more. The role of the landlord, in our society, is a parasitic one, and those of us playing “host” often have no real option other than to find ways to provide for ourselves and our landlords, lest we be violently forced into homelessness.
Considering all of that, it makes perfect sense that Jeff Bezos, perhaps the biggest parasite on the planet, is getting into the business.
In this wonderful capitalist society, homes aren’t actually places for people to live. They serve that purpose, of course, but that’s secondary to their real function, which is making money for whoever owns them. That’s why having a housing shortage is beneficial to those at the top – it helps keep rents high, and for all they like to insist that they prefer having tenants and the income they bring, they’re known the world over for keeping homes empty rather than lowering rents to fill them.
The innovation in parasitism that Bezos is backing now, is a fantasy of getting in on the landlord grift even if you don’t have the money to buy a home. He’s offering to let people buy shares of homes, so that they can get a share of the rent:
About Arrived Homes
Arrived is the first SEC-qualified real estate investing platform that allows virtually anyone to buy shares in single-family rental properties with investment amounts ranging from $100 to $10,000 per property.
The company acquires rental homes and allows individual investors to become owners of the properties by purchasing shares through the platform. Arrived Homes manages the assets, while investors collect passive income through quarterly dividends in addition to earning a return through appreciation.
The company quickly gained the attention of several high-profile investors during its seed round in 2021, getting investments from Jeff Bezos, through Bezos Expeditions, Salesforce.com Inc founder Marc Benioff through Time Ventures, former Zillow Group Inc CEO Spencer Rascoff and Uber Technologies Inc CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.
I’m not surprised that this is getting attention from “high-profile investors”. Our entire economic system revolves around finding ways to funnel money from working people to those at the top, from the conventional exploitation of the workplace, to straight-up wage theft, to price-gouging, to finding ways to get money from the government, to using the government to erect barriers for normal people, then charging to have those barriers temporarily removed. The greed of those at the top has been making it more and more difficult for people to actually own their own homes, and so they’ve “innovated” a way to make people feel like they’re owners, without actually being owners, or having any of the rights that come with ownership.
It reminds me of how a great many people own stocks, at a very small level, either through personal investment or through retirement. Whenever I see people talking about laws to reign in the stock market, someone will inevitably pop up to insist that that would be bad because a majority of Americans own stocks. Stocks, they say, are how everyday working folk can get ahead in life (since just working clearly isn’t enough anymore). There are even people who will oppose regulation, because they’re worried about their tiny portfolios, ignoring the fact that the vast majority of shares in the US – 81% as of 2021 – are owned by the richest 10% of the population. As with white supremacy, it’s a way to trick people in the middle and towards to bottom into identifying with those at the top.
The result is that now, in addition to competing with mini-Trump figures like my former landlord, anyone looking to buy a home just to use as a home is also now competing with the richest people on the entire planet, who can spend hundreds of millions buying homes for no purpose other than to get richer, and in this case, to siphon even more money from poorer people, by getting them to invest, so they can hang out in the dining room, and get a few scraps from the table.
And the profits they make from this will be used to oppose any efforts to actually make housing (and life in general) affordable.
As I’ve said with many other issues, this won’t end until it’s forced to end. Wealth and power will keep accumulating at the top, leaving less and less for everyone else, until something is done to deliberately reverse that process. It’s also worth noting that any effort to solve this problem will be treated as the end of the world. Throughout history, every time anything is done to improve life for those at the bottom, those at the top will insist that what’s being proposed is the worst sort of crime against humanity. Weekends? They’ll cause the economy to crash and everyone will die. Minimum wage? It’ll cause the economy to crash and everyone will die. Workplace safety? It’ll cause the economy to crash and everyone will die. Affordable housing? Limits on Wall Street? Taxes for the rich? Universal healthcare or even a public option? It’ll cause the economy to crash and everyone will die.
We need to make a change, and we need to understand that no matter what change is being made, if it gets in the way of the all-consuming greed of the elite, they will respond as though we’re coming to torture them to death in front of their families. A similar argument is often made against doing anything to dismantle white supremacy – whatever it is, it’ll cause “hordes” of Black people to come out of the cities, and start ravaging the countryside, and you know that’s true, because Fox News and similar organizations spend a huge amount of time and money saying so.
We’re surrounded by messaging – not just from bullshit factories like Fox – that constantly tells us that things can’t get better, and that any effort to make things better will inevitably fail and make them worse. We’re going through a version of that now with the effort to force people who’re currently working at home to get back to the office. We get people like Lauren Boebert using a congressional hearing to whine about how lazy workers are, and how they have to be forced to work every second of the day, and so telecommuting must be stopped. At the same time, we get articles about how working from home threatens the investments of landlords who rent out offices, as though we ought to be shaping our laws and our lives around what guarantees the best return on investment for the rich.
I suppose at its most over-simplified, that’s what capitalism is – a system in which laws, customs and human lives are shaped and distorted around the wants and whims of the rich. Governments are overthrown, wars are waged, and lives are destroyed, all in service of supporting the capitalist class that has been granted ownership of most of the world, and feels it’s owed ownership of all of the world.
When I talk about climate change, much of my motivation revolves around how the rising temperature is making it increasingly difficult to survive on this planet. That’s also why I talk a lot about capitalism. Even without its numerous and horrific environmental impacts, it is making live increasingly difficult for growing portions of the population, and looking at history, there is no point at which that will naturally end or reverse itself. They’re bringing back black lung in Appalachia. They’re trying to bring back company towns. The idea that we somehow “learned” from the horrors that led to the labor movements a century ago is an absurd lie. The only reason capitalists pay anyone at all, or spend any money on workplace safety, or allow people to have any free time, is because they are forced to do so.
In that regard, it’s encouraging to see a rise in unionization and union successes. Unions, by themselves, won’t fix everything, but they can take us a long way in the right direction, especially when they coordinate with each other, and work together for the common good. I expect that the primary reason big investors are so excited by Bezos’ real estate scheme is because it looks like a new way to make money while also complicating and obscuring ownership, and therefor responsibility.
But I think another reason is that, as with the decision to move retirement funds into the stock market, it’s a way to trick people into identifying with their rulers, rather than with each other. Efforts to lower rents will suddenly have new opposition from folks who bought a share in a few rental homes, and see that as an attack on the pittance of extra income they get from that. People who survive by working for a paycheck will see themselves as capitalists because they get a little rent money from “their” rental properties, and so they’ll fight to keep that money flowing, even if it hurts them more in the long run.
Solidarity is, I believe, something that naturally forms between people. I think those at the top share my belief, which is why they put so much effort into building and maintaining systems designed to undermine and suppress that part of human nature. Unfortunately, that means that however much cooperation comes naturally to us, we need to actually put in time and energy to build and maintain solidarity in the face of that ongoing assault. Right now, labor unions seem to be our best tool for that job, and the uplifting end to the point is that a growing number of people seem to be recognizing that.
Sorry for skipping a week, things have just been feeling a bit overwhelming, and for some reason I find fiction writing to require more effort and energy per word. I’m still aiming for one post here per week, but that depends a bit on how much progress I make with other things that currently feel more important than this blog.