The other day, I allowed a comment from someone named “Rawling” on Renting V. Owning. I had misgivings about Rawling from the start because his comment began:
“Didnt know you had it that bad in LA. I live in Vancouver, Canada, which has been rated the most unfordable city in the world Ė in terms of real estate prices in relation to incomes.”
Right. It’s pretty common knowledge that L.A. is historically and consistently one of the most unaffordable cities in which to live. This meant either the commenter was less informed than I’d expect of someone opting into a discussion of the cost of living in particular cities, was trying to get in a subtle inflammatory dig, or had chosen very bad phrasing [preceding two sentences edited after discussion in comments with Palaver]. I doubted the first, but the third was a possibility, hence my response asking for clarification. The clarification I received suggested ignorance and privilege. Some highlights:
Maybe you need more education to land a better job, maybe LA is not the city for you (why not to move to Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, or Atlanta, where you can still get a nice suburban house for $100k).
In the middle of a recession, you cannot just move to a new town with no connections and expect to get a job based on what you know. People with connections and qualifications aren’t finding jobs. When you’re choosing between a job that doesn’t pay enough for you to own a house or no job at all, the choice is simple. Additionally, a lot of jobs, such as graphic arts, anything to do with the entertainment industry, and secretarial/admin work pay much better in L.A. than just about anywhere. Because this is an entertainment industry town whereas, you know, how many Atlanta employers are competing to hire good animators? (I suspect admin/secretarial pays so much better in L.A. because, here, men do that work, too, so it’s not thought of as mere “women’s work.”)
Rawling has class privilege to the hilt. But it gets worse. I originally let the second comment through, then responded with a tongue-lashing. Then I rethought it and deleted the exchange.
So Rawling emailed me to explain a few things. He asserted that if I would just cut out the “latte a day habit”, I could easily afford a community college education in California, which would help me get a better job. (I know, right?)
First, the people I’m talking about already have more education than that. Like I said, they’re well-employed, but it’s just not enough. Wages in L.A. are relatively high – only a few careers transfer from L.A. to a city like Atlanta without a significant wage drop that puts you about as far behind on that mortgage pursuit as you were. Second, I don’t have a latte a day habit and probably know more about frugality than this person knows about anything. And this site have some readers who are in true poverty. As I said in my response to the email, this is exactly the sort of insensitive, condescending assumption that caused me to delete Rawling’s second comment.
In my original response to the second comment, I mentioned that some jobs pay better/are only available in L.A., but didn’t name them. Rawling’s response in email was a demand that I provide examples (as I did above in this post). It’s noteworthy that he cited CPA earnings in L.A. versus some of the other cities to prove me wrong. For anyone who doesn’t know, a CPA involves a masters degree. Combined with the remark about community college, Rawlings seems to be suggesting anyone has the spare change to earn a community college degree, then move somewhere with a failing job market and no contacts and easily find a secure job with the same earnings as you’d get in a big, expensive city. But the example he gives of this phenomenon requires a masters degree – and a trade that’s chased after everywhere currency exists. He’d have been smarter to suggest some sort of I.T. position – sometimes you can get the needed certification for those cheaply, and find jobs at $60k in areas where that’s enough to buy a house. But careers like this are scarce – and I don’t know of any that aren’t in “math and science”, which isn’t where everyone’s abilities shine.
The idea that we should go to community college and become CPAs so we can move to cheap places and make a good living is so disingenuous it doesn’t bear response. But I listed a few careers that bear out my point, just for the rest of you.
Additionally, Rawlings explained that, in an attempt to give something back to community, he gives free financial advice over the internet. This is the scariest part of all: someone who thinks the only reason people don’t have plenty of money is they’ve made stupid choices involving latte is giving people financial advice. Rawling is so class-privileged that I picture him gazing out at a world in which he’s been told poor folks exist. He sees the middle class – the homeless being invisible to him – and figures they must be the poor he’s heard about. (After all, plenty of middle classers like to wail about how “poor” they are if they can’t afford the new iPhone the day it comes out.) He examines their habits, finds that, yep, they have “latte a day” habits but complain about being in debt, and thinks, “What foolishness.”
He’d be right if he weren’t completely failing to note the big picture. Middle classers use these remarks as a brag about their wealth. When middle classers whine about their finances, what they are really telling you is, “I can afford that iPhone next month. I can afford to be in massive debt. I don’t have to worry about the landlord turning me out or even foreclosure – I bought six houses while the mortgages were all batshit, so the bank likes me and won’t foreclose even though I stopped paying five of those mortgages because they’re worth less than I paid. I won’t get laid off – I manage to put my kids in the same private school as my boss puts hers, so she’d feel like she was firing family.”
Actual poor people have to worry about all these things: not because they make silly choices about latte, but because we don’t all get the same start in life, nor the same opportunities. Oh, I’m not saying poor people never make silly choices. But rich people make ridiculous choices all the time, and that doesn’t even prevent them becoming president. If everything were a matter of merit and not privilege, rich people would suffer as much for their stupid choices as the poor suffer for theirs, and the poor would benefit from their smart choices as much as rich people benefit from theirs.
My experience with people who preach Rawling’s message tells me he will go right on believing he knows better and it’s the rest of us who are stupid. So I banned him.
I apologize to all of you for letting the first comment through. I don’t think it did any harm, but a person that rolling in unexamined privilege should never have a voice on a site about privilege, even for a moment.
*Here’s the survey he’s referencing – note the problems with the survey’s methodology there and also here. Another survey which includes a more exhaustive collection of factors puts L.A. at #55 worldwide, and Vancouver at #75.