White House names scaled-back delegation for Swiss forum
Tuesday, January 15
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House has named the members of a scaled-back delegation that will represent the Trump administration next week at an annual economic conference in Switzerland.
President Donald Trump had planned to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, but canceled his trip because of the partial government shutdown.
The White House said Tuesday that a smaller delegation led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (mih-NOO’-shin) will still attend. Joining Mnuchin will be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
Dropped from the delegation are the labor, transportation and homeland security secretaries, and the small business administrator.
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner — both senior White House advisers — also are no longer attending the forum.
To Those Who Think We Can Reform Our Way Out of the Climate Crisis
Our only hope is to stop exploiting the earth—and its people.
By Ben Ehrenreich
Welcome to the future. It feels like it, doesn’t it? Like we have reached the end of something—of the days when the Arctic was not actually in flames, when the permafrost was not a sodden mush, when the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets were not rushing to join the quickly rising seas. Perhaps we have also, finally, reached the end of the days when we could soothe ourselves with lies, or delusions at least; when we imagined that we were the only masters here, that we could keep taking what we wanted, and that no one would ever have to pay.
We are paying now. 2018 was the year that temperatures scraped 90 degrees in the Norwegian Arctic; that permafrost in northern Siberia failed to freeze at all; that wildfires burned on the taiga there, as well as above the Arctic Circle in Alaska and Sweden, in the moors of northern England, in Greece, and in California, where they showed no sense of poetic restraint whatsoever and reduced a place called Paradise to ash.
And where there wasn’t fire, there were floods: hundreds died and millions were evacuated from rising waters in Japan, southern China, and the Indian state of Kerala. Venice flooded too, and Paris, where the Louvre had to close its Department of Islamic Arts, which it had consigned, ahem, to a basement. It was also the year the United Nation’s climate change body warned that, to avoid full-on cataclysm, we, the humans of planet Earth, would have just 12 years (11 now) to cut carbon emissions by 45 percent, and 32 years (31 and counting) to eliminate such emissions altogether.
Still, the weather may be the least of our problems. The fire that razed Paradise displaced 52,000 people overnight, forcing many into the ranks of California’s swelling homeless population and what passes for a safety net these days: free berths on the asphalt in a Walmart parking lot. Millions more of us will become refugees when a mega-storm drowns Miami or Manila, and when the Bay of Bengal rises high enough to swallow Bangladesh. Narendra Modi’s India is ready, and has nearly finished stretching barbed wire across the entire 2,500-mile border with Bangladesh. By conservative estimates, climate change will displace a quarter of a billion people over the next 31 years. Most will not be wealthy, and most will not be white.
We do know, at least, how we got here. It was all that oil and coal that we burned, that we’re still burning. But that “we” is misleading. It isn’t all of us, and never was. As the Swedish scholar Andreas Malm recounts in Fossil Capital, his exhaustive account of the rise of the coal-powered steam engine, coal was initially embraced by a tiny sub-class of wealthy Englishmen, the ones who owned the mills. They came to favor steam over hydropower in large part because it allowed them to erect factories in cities and towns—rather than submitting to the dictates of distant rivers and streams—giving them access to what we would now call a flexible workforce: masses of hungry urbanites accustomed to the indignities of factory labor, willing to toil for less, easily replaceable if they refused.
In the process these early industrialists created the illusion fundamental to the functioning of our entire economic system: the possibility of self-sustaining growth. Machines could always move faster, squeezing more work out of fewer hands for greater and greater profits. After the Second World War, the same logic would push the transition from coal to oil: it took far less labor to get oil out of the ground and to transport it across continents, plus coal miners had an alarming tendency to strike.
From its inception, then, the carbon economy has been tied to the basic capitalist mandate to disempower workers, to squeeze the most sweat out of people for the least amount of money. For the last 200-odd years, the exploitation of the planet has been inseparable from the exploitation of living human beings.
This is why, though the alarm bells about anthropogenic warming began tolling more than half a century ago, the carbon habit has proven nearly impossible to break. Since 1990, when international climate negotiations commenced, carbon emissions have jumped by more than 60 percent. Last year, as the fires burned and the floodwaters rose, they leaped by a projected 2.7 percent. It’s almost as if someone’s profiting from our misfortune. And they are: six of the ten highest-earning corporations on last year’s Fortune Global 500 list made their money extracting or delivering fossil energy; two were automobile manufacturers and one—Walmart, the planet’s richest brand—relied on a system of globalized trade inconceivable without massive consumption of fossil fuels. Even on an individual level, the richest one percent have a carbon footprint 2,000 times larger than the poorest inhabitants of Honduras or Mozambique, countries that have contributed next to nothing to global warming and are suffering disproportionately from it. We already know well that the one percent do not let go of power willingly.
Nor will our political system likely be much help, even with our survival as a species at stake. Politicians are not often good at thinking in planetary terms. The system in which they function—national governments and international institutions alike—evolved alongside the carbon economy and has for decades functioned mainly to serve it. However enlightened their representatives may appear at climate talks, wealthy countries continue to subsidize fossil fuel extraction—last year to the tune of $147 billion. In the United States, Trumpian climate denialism and Pelosian tepidity are two faces of the same phenomenon. Congressman Frank Pallone, who chairs the toothless committee that Pelosi resurrected to tackle climate change, announced that he plans to propose nothing more than “some oversight” of Trump’s assaults on preexisting federal programs, and that requiring committee members to reject donations from fossil fuel industries would be “too limiting.”
Centrists continue to reassure, unshaken in the conviction that no problem exists that cannot be solved with a little technocratic fiddling. Just before he left office, Barack Obama penned an article in Science, contending that climate change “mitigation need not conflict with economic growth.” Wealthy countries, the argument goes, have already managed to reduce emissions without sacrificing growth. “Decoupling” is the magic word here. Imagine a gentle, Gwyneth Paltrowesque divorce between fossil fuels and capital, followed by a fresh romance with greener tech, perhaps a few extra therapy bills for the kids.
But someone always gets hurt in a break-up. The techno-optimist dream holds together only if you hide the fact that much of the progress made by the United States and Europe came at the expense of poorer countries: as corporations off-shored manufacturing jobs over the last few decades, they sent the carbon-intensive industries with them, allowing Western consumers, at the clean end of a very dirty process, to import massive quantities of goods. The only year so far this millennium that global emissions have dropped was 2009. It took a global financial meltdown and more than a year of recession for fossil fuel consumption to even dip.
For now, the petroligarchy is winning. Thirteen years ago, Hurricane Katrina gave us an early taste of the future they have built for us: a murderous, militarized, racialized response to human vulnerability. Now we are living in it. We know what their world looks like: abundance for the few behind walls and razor wire, precarity and impoverishment for the rest of us; endless prisons for endless streams of migrants, concentration camps by other names.
But there are other futures, other worlds as yet unmade. We have only to choose ours, and to fight like hell for it—fiercely, with forms of solidarity that we have not yet been able to imagine. Solidarity not only with one another but with this planet and the many forms of life it hosts. There is no way out of this but to cease to view the Earth, and its populations, as an endless sink of resources from which wealth can be extracted.
This is not hippie idealism but purest practicality: there is no way to preserve anything approximating the status quo without turning into monsters, or cadavers, and no way to survive that is not radical. In this future we will need to keep our eyes open and learn to calm ourselves only with truths. If other worlds are not yet visible, it is because they are ours to make.
Ben Ehrenreich’s most recent book, The Way to the Spring, is based on his reporting from the West Bank.
The Militarization of the Southern Border Is a Long-Standing American Tradition
Trump’s wall is just the latest incarnation of an old fixation.
By Greg Grandin
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.
The point was less to actually build “the wall” than to constantly announce the building of the wall. “We started building our wall. I’m so proud of it,” Donald Trump tweeted. “What a thing of beauty.”
In fact, no wall, or certainly not the “big, fat, beautiful” one promised by Trump, is being built. True, miles of some kind of barrier—barbed wire, chain-link and steel-slat fencing, corrugated panels, and, yes, even lengths of what can only be described as concrete wall—have gone up along the US-Mexico border, starting at least as far back as the administration of President William Taft, early in the last century. Trump has claimed repairs and expansions of these barriers as proof that he is fulfilling his signature campaign promise. Plaques have already been bolted onto upgrades in existing fencing, crediting him with work started and funded by previous administrations.
And yet Trump’s phantasmagorical wall, whether it ever materializes or not, has become a central artifact in American politics. Think of his promise of a more than 1,000-mile-long, 30-foot-high ribbon of concrete and steel running along the southern border of the United States as America’s new myth. It is a monument to the final closing of the frontier, a symbol of a nation that used to believe it had escaped history, but now finds itself trapped by history, and of a people who used to believe they were captains of the future, but now are prisoners of the past.
From Open to Closed Borders
Prior to World War I, the border—established in the late 1840s and early 1850s after the US military invaded Mexico and took a significant part of that country’s territory—was relatively unpoliced. As historian Mae Ngai has pointed out, before World War I the United States “had virtually open borders” in every sense of the term. The only exception: laws that explicitly excluded Chinese migrants. “You didn’t need a passport,” says Ngai. “You didn’t need a visa. There was no such thing as a green card. If you showed up at Ellis Island, walked without a limp, had money in your pocket, and passed a very simple [IQ] test in your own language, you were admitted.”
A similar openness existed at the border with Mexico. “There is no line to indicate the international boundary,” reported Motor Age, a magazine devoted to promoting automobile tourism, in 1909. The only indication that you had crossed into a new country, heading south, was the way a well-graded road turned into a “rambling cross-country trail, full of chuck-holes and dust.”
The next year, the State Department made plans to roll “great coils of barbed wire…in a straight line over the plain” across the open borderland range where Texans and Mexicans ran their cattle. The hope was to build “the finest barbed-wire boundary line in the history of the world.” Not, though, to keep out people, as the border wasn’t yet an obstacle for the Mexican migrant workers who traveled back and forth, daily or seasonally, to work in homes, factories, and fields in the United States. That barbed-wire barrier was meant to quarantine tick-infested longhorn cattle. Both Washington and Mexico City hoped that such a fence would help contain “Texas Fever,” a parasitic disease decimating herds of cattle on both sides of the border and leading to a rapid rise in the cost of beef.
As far as I can tell, the first use of the word “wall” to describe an effort to close off the border came with the tumultuous Mexican Revolution. “American troops,” announced the Department of War in March 1911 during Taft’s presidency, “have been sent to form a solid military wall along the Rio Grande.” Yes, Donald Trump was not the first to deploy the US Army to the border. Twenty thousand soldiers, a large percentage of that military at the time, along with thousands of state militia volunteers, were dispatched to stop the movement of arms and men not out of, but into Mexico, in an effort to cut off supplies to revolutionary forces. Such a “wall” would “prove an object lesson to the world,” claimed the Department of War. The point: to reassure European investors in Mexico that the United States had the situation south of the border under control. “The revolution in the republic to the south must end” was the lesson that the soldiers were dispatched to teach.
The revolution, however, raged on and borderland oil companies like Texaco began building their own private border walls to protect their holdings. Then, in April 1917, the month the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law a set of sweeping constraints on immigration generally, including literacy tests, entrance taxes, and quota restrictions. From that point on, the border sharpened—literally, as lengths of barbed wire were stretched ever further on either side of port-of-entry customs houses.
What follows is a chronology of both the physical fortification of the US-Mexico boundary and the psychic investment in such a fortification—the fantasy, chased by both Democrats and Republicans for more than half a century, that with enough funds, technology, cement, steel, razor ribbon, barbed wire, and personnel, the border could be sealed.This timeline illustrates how some of the most outward-looking presidents, men who insisted that the prosperity of the nation was inseparable from the prosperity of the world, also presided over the erection of a deadly run of border barriers, be they called fences or walls, that would come to separate the United States from Mexico.
1945: The first significant physical barrier, a chain-link fence about five miles long and 10 feet high, went up along the Mexican border near Calexico, California. Its posts and wire mesh were recycled from California’s Crystal City Internment Camp, which had been used during World War II to hold Japanese-Americans.
1968: Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” famously played to the resentments of white southern Democrats who opposed civil rights. As it turned out, though, the president had another southern strategy in mind as well, a “border strategy.” As historian Patrick Timmons has written, running for president in 1968, Nixon promised to get tough on illegal drugs from Mexico—the “marijuana problem,” he called it. Shortly after winning the White House, he launched “Operation Intercept,” a brief but prophetic military-style, highly theatrical crackdown along the border. That operation created three weeks of chaos, described by National Security Archive analyst Kate Doyle as an “unprecedented slow-down of all plane, truck, car and foot traffic—legitimate or not—flowing from Mexico into the southern United States.” That it would be run by two right-wing figures, G. Gordon Liddy and Joe Arpaio, should be a reminder of the continuities between the Nixon era and the kind of demagoguery that now rules the country. Arpaio would become the racist sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who gratuitously imposed humiliating, brutal, and often deadly conditions on his overwhelmingly Latino prisoners. He would also become an early supporter of Donald Trump and would receive the first pardon of Trump’s presidency after a judge found him in criminal contempt in a racial-profiling case. Liddy, of course, went on to run Nixon’s “Plumbers,” the burglars who infamously broke into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, precipitating the president’s downfall. In his 1996 memoir, Liddy said Operation Intercept primarily wasn’t about stopping the flow of pot. Instead, its “true purpose” was “an exercise in international extortion, pure, simple, and effective, designed to bend Mexico to our will”—to force that country to be more cooperative on a range of policies.
1973-1977: The United States had just lost a war in Vietnam largely because it proved impossible to control a border dividing the two parts of that country. In fact, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, desperate to keep North Vietnamese forces from infiltrating South Vietnam, had spent more than $500 million on 200,000 spools of barbed wire and five million fence posts, intending to build a “barrier”—dubbed the “McNamara Line”—running from the South China Sea to Laos. That line failed dismally. The first bulldozed six-mile strip quickly became overgrown with jungle, while its wooden watch towers were, the New York Times reported, “promptly burned down.” It was as that war ended that, for the first time, right wing activists began to call for a “wall” to be built along the US-Mexico border.
Biologist Garrett Hardin, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was typical. In “Population and Immigration: Compassion or Responsibility?,” an essay in the Ecologist, he wrote: “We might build a wall, literally.” Hardin was an early exponent of what today is called “race realism,” which holds that, in a world of limited resources and declining white birth rates, borders must be “hardened.”
During these years, southern border conflicts were especially acute in California, where Ronald Reagan was then governor. As San Diego’s sprawl began to push against agricultural fields where migrant workers from Mexico toiled, racist attacks on them increased. Vigilantes drove around the back roads of the greater San Diego area shooting at Mexicans from the flatbeds of their pickup trucks. Dozens of bodies were found in shallow graves.
Such anti-migrant violence was fueled, in part, by angry Vietnam veterans who began to carry out what they called “beaner raids” to break up migrant camps. Snipers also took aim at Mexicans crossing the border. Led by the 27-year-old David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan set up a “border watch” in 1977 at the San Ysidro point of entry and received significant support from local Border Patrol agents. Other KKK groups soon set up similar patrols in south Texas, placing leaflets stamped with skulls and crossbones on the doorsteps of Latino residents. Around this time, in the swampy Tijuana estuary, an area that border vigilantes began calling “Little ‘Nam,” US border agents reported finding pitfall traps modeled on the punji traps the Vietnamese had set for American soldiers.
1979: President Jimmy Carter’s administration offered a plan to build a fence along heavily trafficked stretches of the border, but scuttled the idea as the 1980 presidential election approached.
1980-1984: “You don’t build a nine-foot fence along the border between two friendly nations,” Ronald Reagan said on a presidential campaign swing through Texas in September 1980. By taking a swipe at the Carter administration’s plans, he was making a play for that state’s Latino vote, 87 percent of which had gone to Carter four years earlier. “You document the undocumented workers and let them come in here with a visa,” Reagan said, and let them stay “for whatever length of time they want to stay.”
Then, four years later, President Reagan shifted gears. “Our borders are out of control,” he insisted in October 1984. As he ran for reelection, his administration started pushing the idea that the border could indeed be “sealed” and that the deployment of “high tech” equipment—infrared scopes, spotter planes, night-vision goggles—might provide just such effective control. “New stuff,” claimed a Border Patrol official, though some of the ground sensors being set out along that border were leftovers from Vietnam. In his second term, Reagan did get an immigration reform bill passed that helped more than two million undocumented residents obtain citizenship. But his administration, looking to appease a growing caucus of nativists in the Republican Party, also launched Operation Jobs, sending federal agents into workplaces to round up and deport undocumented workers. In 1984, the Border Patrol saw the largest staff increase in its 60-year history.
1989: In March 1989, a few months before the Berlin Wall fell, the new administration of President George H. W. Bush proposed building a 14-foot-wide, 5-foot-deep border trench south of San Diego. Some likened it to a “moat,” since it would be filled with run-off rainwater. “The only thing they haven’t tried is mining the area,” quipped Robert Martinez, the director of San Diego’s American Friends Service Committee. Opponents called it an “inverted Berlin Wall,” while the White House claimed that the trench would solve both drainage and immigration problems. The idea was shelved.
1992: Richard Nixon’s former speechwriter Patrick Buchanan provided an unexpectedly strong challenge to a sitting president for the Republican nomination, calling, among other things, for a wall or a ditch—a “Buchanan trench,” as he put it—along the US-Mexico border and for the Constitution to be amended so that migrant children born in the country couldn’t claim citizenship. Bush won the nomination, but Buchanan managed to insert a pledge in the Republican platform to build a “structure” on the border. It proved an embarrassment at a moment when there was an emerging post-Cold War consensus among Republican and Democratic Party leaders that a free trade agreement with Mexico had to be encouraged and the border left open, at least for corporations and capital. Bush’s campaign tried to fudge the issue by claiming that a “structure” didn’t necessarily mean a wall, but Buchanan’s people promptly shot back. “They don’t put lighthouses on the border,” his sister and spokesperson Bay Buchanan said.
1993: Having passed the North American Free Trade Agreement in Congress, President Bill Clinton immediately started to militarize the border, once again significantly increasing the budget and staff of the Border Patrol and supplying it with ever more technologically advanced equipment: infrared night scopes, thermal-imaging devices, motion detectors, in-ground sensors, and software that allowed biometric scanning of all apprehended migrants. Stadium lights went up, shining into Tijuana. Hundreds of miles of what the Clinton White House refused to call a “wall” went up as well. “We call it a fence,” said one government official. “‘Wall’ has kind of a negative connotation.”
The objective was to close off relatively safe urban border crossings and force migrants to use more treacherous places in their attempts to reach the United States, either the creosote flat lands of South Texas or the gulches and plateaus of the Arizona desert. Trips that used to take days now took weeks on arid sands and under a scorching sun. Clinton’s Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner, Doris Meissner, claimed “geography” as an “ally”—meaning that desert torments would work wonders as a deterrent.
The Clinton White House was so eager to put up a set of barriers that it barely paid attention to the actual borderline, at one point mistakenly running a section of the structure into Mexico, prompting a protest from that country’s government.
Another stretch, spanning 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean, would be built using Vietnam War–era steel helicopter landing pads stood on end. Their edges were so sharp that migrants trying to climb over them often severed their fingers. As one observer noted, the use of the pads raised “the chilling possibility” that the United States might be able to “wall off the country” with leftover war materiel.
2006: The Secure Fence Act, passed by President George W. Bush’s administration with considerable Democratic support, appropriated billions of dollars to pay for drones, a “virtual wall,” aerostat blimps, radar, helicopters, watchtowers, surveillance balloons, razor ribbon, landfill to block canyons, border berms, adjustable barriers to compensate for shifting dunes, and a lab (located at Texas A&M and run in partnership with Boeing) to test fence prototypes. The number of border agents doubled yet again and the length of border fencing quadrupled. Operation Streamline detained, prosecuted, and tried migrants en masse and then expedited their deportation (mostly using an immigration reform law Clinton had signed in 1996). Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (created after 9/11) seized children off school buses and tracked undocumented residents deep into liberal states, including in the exclusive Hamptons on New York’s Long Island and in New Bedford, Massachusetts. All told, in his eight years in office, Bush deported two million people, at a rate roughly matched by his successor, Barack Obama.
2013: The Democratic-controlled Senate passed a bill in June 2013 that—in exchange for the promise of a one-time amnesty and a long-shot chance at citizenship for some of the millions of undocumented residents in the country—offered more billions of dollars for policing, fencing, and deportations. According to The New York Times, with a winding down in Iraq and Afghanistan (however brief it would prove to be), defense contractors like Lockheed Martin were betting on a “military-style buildup at the border zone,” hoping to supply even more helicopters, heat-seeking cameras, radiation detectors, virtual fences, watchtowers, ships, Predator drones, and military-grade radar. The bill failed in the House, killed by nativists. But the Democratic Party would continue to fund “tough-as-nails” (in the phrase of New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer) border security programs that amounted to years of up-armoring the border in what was then referred to as a “border surge.”
No one really knows how many people have died trying to get into the United States since Washington began to make the border tough as nails. Most die of dehydration, hyperthermia, or hypothermia. Others drown in the Rio Grande. Since about 1998, the Border Patrol has reported nearly 7,000 deaths, with groups like the Tucson-based Coalición de Derechos Humanos estimating that the remains of at least 6,000 immigrants have been recovered. These numbers are, however, undoubtedly just a fraction of the actual toll.
June 16, 2015: Donald J. Trump descends an escalator in Trump Tower to the tune of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” to announce his presidential campaign and denounce “Mexican rapists.”
“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border,” he tells Americans. “And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”
Show Me a 50-Foot Wall…
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” poet Robert Frost once wrote.
Borders, not to mention walls, represent domination and exploitation. But they also symbolize the absurdity of political leaders taking the world as it is and trying to make it as they think it ought to be. However much people might curse border fortifications, they also enjoy subverting them—even if the subversion only lasts a moment, as when citizens of Naco, Sonora, and Naco, Arizona, play an annual volleyball game over the border fence; or when an artist decides to paint “the world’s longest mural” on border fencing; or when families come together to gossip, tell jokes, and pass tamales and sweets between the posts; or when couples get married through the spaces separating the slats. As long as the United States keeps coming up with new ways to fortify the border, people will keep coming up with new ways to beat the border, including tunnels, ramps, catapults and homemade cannons (to launch bales of marijuana to the other side), and GoFundMe campaigns to pay for ladders.
As Janet Napolitano, former governor of Arizona and former director of Homeland Security, once said, “Show me a fifty-foot wall, and I’ll show you a fifty-one-foot ladder.”
Greg Grandin teaches history at New York University and is the author, most recently, of Kissinger’s Shadow. His new book, The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall, will be published in March 2019.
Tiny houses look marvellous but have a dark side: three things they don’t tell you on marketing blurb
January 10, 2019
Author: Megan Carras, Doctoral Researcher, Geography and Sustainable Development, University of St Andrews
Disclosure statement: Megan Carras does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Tiny houses are everywhere. They’ve received heavy coverage in the media and there are millions of followers on dozens of pages on social media. While there is no census for these homes, they have seen a surge in popularity in the decade since the Great Recession – witness the prolific growth of tiny house manufacturers, for instance. Originating in the US, tiny homes have also been popping up across Canada, Australia and the UK.
Tiny houses are promoted as an answer to the affordable housing crisis; a desirable alternative to traditional homes and mortgages. Yet there are many complexities and contradictions that surround these tiny spaces, as I discovered when I began investigating them.
I have toured homes, attended tiny house festivals, stayed in a tiny house community and interviewed several dozen people who live inside them. My research took me throughout the US, from a converted accessory unit squeezed between two average size homes on Staten Island to a community in Florida full of cute and brightly coloured tiny structures – appropriately located just down the road from Disney World. Here are three things I unexpectedly discovered along the way.
1. Tiny homes and the housing ladder
Millenials have a complicated relationship with home ownership. They often still want to own a home but are simply not able to do it in the same way as their parents, and are known as “Generation Rent” as a result.
All the tiny-houser millenials that I interviewed wanted to own bigger houses in future; they saw tiny living as a means of owning something now and being able to save at the same time. Several young couples planned to upgrade once they had children, selling their tiny homes or even keeping them as guesthouses.
But if they saw these homes as a temporary option they would abandon as their lives progressed, it’s not always so straightforward in practice. Apart from the obvious challenge of saving enough to afford a bigger place, it’s not easy to sell tiny homes since they usually depreciate in value. And because they are not attached to land, there is often a question mark about their long-term viability as well.
Tiny homes tend to be on wheels as a way of getting around government regulations on minimum habitable dwelling size. This often makes their inhabitants feel unsettled. In my own experience staying in a tiny home, I recall feeling a general awareness of the wheels underneath and a slight swaying as I jumped from the ladder that accessed the lofted bed.
As one interviewee who lives with his partner and small child on private land in rural Washington State told me:
It doesn’t feel that grounded; it feels like we are detached from the earth because there are wheels underneath us… It’s a constant reminder… you are in this fragile state of housing.
The majority of dwellers that I talked to were eager to live on a solid foundation in future. I met one millennial who used her college fund to build a beautifully crafted and customised tiny home, but felt so groundless after only a year of living on wheels that she was trying to sell.
This suggests that building codes will need to be relaxed to allow more tiny housers to live on foundations. Some places have taken the lead on this already – one example is Spur, Texas, which has changed its relevant housing laws with the express intention of attracting tiny housers in response to a declining population. Spur is pitching itself as the first tiny house friendly town in America.
More broadly, however, the legalities around tiny homes remain complicated. They continue to restrict the potential for this lifestyle both in the US and elsewhere. In the UK, for instance, there can be issues with planning laws that require all new dwellings to have more than one bed space. In southwest England, Bristol City Council recently overruled such rules to allow several tiny homes to be built in the back garden of a terraced house in the suburbs, reckoning that it was necessary to help alleviate a local housing crisis.
3. Tiny homes ≠ tiny consumption
Tiny houses are often put forward as a more sustainable housing option. They are certainly a potential check on the continued pursuit of bigger houses and greater consumption of energy, building materials and so forth. Yet reducing your environmental impact by going tiny is not as simple as some have claimed.
I came across several tiny households that were using external storage spaces for items that wouldn’t fit in the home, for example. Referred to as a “dirty secret” by one interviewee, another explained her desire to keep items from her previous home in case she changed her mind about tiny living.
Over half of my interviewees had a “one in, one out” mentality, where they would throw away or donate one item to make space for something new. As one dweller in her late 30s, who lives in a state-of-the-art home in a caravan park in rural New Hampshire, said, “I have a TK Maxx addiction. I still go out every couple months and buy a bunch of stuff then come home and decide which things to get rid of.”
Regardless of how tiny living is marketed by the enthusiasts, sustainability was not a major driver for most of the participants in my study. Instead it was almost an afterthought. It seemingly takes more than changing the size of a home to change the mentality of the people who live inside.