What? Have you tried to hire a tradesman? Any kind of tradesman?

I live in New Hampshire. Here the average age of licensed electricians is over 50 years.

Seems to me there's a TON of work for non-college males in skilled trades - everyone in that business I know is hiring desperately and has no idea where the next generation of tradesman is going to come from. All the competent people seem to be going to college and then don't want to work in trades. (Then they graduate with lots of debt and get a job stocking shelves at Target.)

Yet most trades already pay better than the median wage for college graduates, and it seems will soon pay far better.

I have a friend who's an aircraft mechanic - he runs his own shop at the local airport, servicing small private planes. His customers are all tradesman, all owners of local trade businesses. They fly for fun, because they can afford it. He's got zero white-collar customers.

The culture has a lingering idea that people who don't graduate from college are somehow losers and poor candidates as mates. Despite higher wages and no vast college debt.

That needs to change, and it will change as wages go higher.

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I have honestly never experienced this idea that tradesmen are "losers". Maybe it does somewhere but I'd like to see evidence.

We need to have an honest conversation about laziness amongst these "forgotten" communities. In addition to brain drain in places like WV, I truly believe there is also a work ethic drain. If you're ambitious, you will upskill yourself and find a way out. If youre not ambitious, you stay and come up with excuses for why your life sucks (immigrants, globalism, transgender swimmers, etc). We have a shortage in construction, migrant farm work, mfg, warehousing, landscaping, and hospitality. Plenty of these careers are out there. It seems it's easier to blame immigrants than to take the job. So I don't really know how we solve the work ethic problem.

Which is my next point, to make this work, we need a lot more immigrants. NBER has done studies in landscaping, seasonal work, and hospitality that shows more work visas also increase domestic employment.

I will also add that something like 71% of student loan debt is held by people who make over $100k. The "stocking shelves at Target" is a trope that's really not true.

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I know a house painter, a (former) welder, a solar panel installer, and a tradesmen in construction. I also know the situation with my Dad's old trucking job.

1) They all make more than Target, but not that much more. Less than anyone in a good white collar job would make, and probably about the same as a mediocre accountant. At the lower end of those the earnings are pretty pathetic.

2) It destroys their bodies

3) The hours in some cases are bad

I'm not sure we should romanticize the trades. My Dad told me flat out not to end up working with my hands, and for good reason. There are some very successful tradesmen out there, but whenever I examine the "average earnings" for the trade categories its never particularly impressive.


The average construction worker makes $38k a year. The 75th percentile make 50k.

That's pathetic. I know you know a guy doing better then that somewhere, but its not the norm.

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I did say *skilled* trades. Electricians, plumbers, and aircraft mechanics are paid a lot better than house painters or construction helpers.

Re destroying their bodies, I know an 80 yo retired truck driver who's in fantastic shape. My plumber friend passed away at 65 from cancer, but his body was in great shape otherwise (he had a degree from Tufts in mechanical engineering, but went into his father's plumbing business-made lots of money). I don't think there's anything about the trades that inherently destroys bodies - it's just that some people take care of themselves better than others.

The original post was about "meaningful work for non-college males".

A bright kid can either go to college and get a good-paying job, or go into the trades and get a good-paying job. (Given the coming shortage of tradesmen, soon a better-paying job than he'd get after college.)

The dull kids can go to college and get a job at Target, or go into the trades and get a job that pays $38k/year.

My point is just that college vs. non-college isn't the issue. There is is plenty of high-paid work for non-college people in the trades. (But not for all of them - only the brighter ones. But this has always been true, and is equally true with or without college.)

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Ever seen "Dirty Dancing"? Very popular movie. A romance between the daughter of a doctor and a dancing teacher. At the end of the movie the dancing teacher reveals why they can never be together.

Him: My dad calls me today. "Good news," he says. "Uncle Paul can finally get you in the union."

Her: What union?

Him: The House Painters and Plasterers Local at your service.

No further explanation needed. A plasterer cannot marry a doctor's daughter.

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The 1987 classic? I wasn't even born yet. I grew up in the Midwest, it came across as a persecution complex and frankly I heard my blue collar community dump on "book smart but not street smart" "liberal indoctrinated" college kids than anything.

I mean just look at Fox News and how often the right demonizes universities with tropes (stocking target, purple haired gender studies degrees) etc which don't match with reality.

Unless you have a data point that's not a movie 2 years older than me, I just don't believe it.

Question though since you seem close to the trades, could we use the military to train people? Military appeals to people who don't like school and I assume we have tons of shit that needs to be built/fixed.

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I am obviously much older than you, but I don't think the culture has changed that much since 1987.

I grew up in Massachusetts and still live in New England. I suspect that has more to do with our different perceptions of the culture than our ages.

My background is science and software; I'm not a blue collar guy - just have lots of friends that are (as a generality I like them better than white collar people). I suppose the military would be a good place for some people to learn trades; I don't think I know more about that you do (I never served). Most people I know learned trades from family members as some kind of formal or informal apprentice.

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I can see regional differences being the cause if our perception.

I work in software consulting but still never hear it. I may be missing it, but I rarely hear media dumping on the trades. Especially not as much as they do "worthless degrees".

If there is dumping on blue collar people, I hear it more related to their culture war obsession.

It's tough because immigrants would help with the trades (and the NBER found it also increases domestic employment), but the anti immigration sentiment (the culture war) will prevent it.

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I overall agree that cultural stigma is a big reason people don’t go into the trades. Unfortunately there is an artificial dichotomy between college and the trades. Certainly hard to address the stigma issue, but no reason we can’t modify our systems to encourage liberal arts trained trades people. One of the large inherent barriers is the political landscape, another is education on the type of work.

Lots of younger folks looking to making career decisions also don’t get a great impression from older generation. My dad was a contractor as his body declined picked up handyman work. The work can very much destroy your body and young people very much don’t want to deal with those long term consequences (ironic because they would also be more mindful of preventative maintenance for personal health).

There is also a major culturally barrier from tradespeople: young people don’t want to be yelled at in the work place. I work in sales in electrical distribution and have my fair share of interaction with both contractors and engineers. You do have your socially inept engineer here and there, for the most part expect a respectful tone and interaction. I can count on one hand the tradespeople I’ve worked with in previous roles (was ops manager so oversaw a lot of projects requiring contractors) and current roles that I’d say where kind people. Most tradespeople have serious anger problems and really have a “I had it shitty so I’m gonna shit on others” mentality. No one wants to deal with that and frankly it’s an dynamic in the trades that needs to change because the perception also prevents a lot of otherwise hard working people to join. Better to stock shelves at Target because you can goto HR if you’re being degraded and treated poorly.

You’re not a “snowflake” for wanting to be treated with respect. The work is already hard enough, the hours you put in to make a decent wage already long enough, for there to be the expectation of a caustic work environment. It doesn’t help that many firms are small mom and pop shops that run on tight margins.

On top of all the social stigma, we have the reasonable folks looking at the situation and rightly saying they just don’t want to subject themselves to that lifestyle both physically and mentally.

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I'm not sure what a national conservative is, but I don't think they would be against housing construction.

What libertarians could do is focus more on the causes of NIMBYism. Its disingenuous to claim it's about incumbents wanting to raise home prices, as this seems to be little of the issue.

In my town the NIMBYs have firm control and the main issues seem to be traffic and school crowding. I.E. nobody wants more housing until the government installs the highway bypasses and school construction to accommodate more housing. So its intimately tied up in government.

In a nearby city the issue is where they are going to locate a trailer park because nobody wants to be near the trailer park. Again, seems like the kind of demographic related crime/school issues that drive so much of zoning.

For YIMBY to be a true success, it will need to get buy-in from residents. It seems unlikely to me that top down imposition can be sustainable. Addressing issues with schools, crime, and transport would do more for the YIMBY movement then more race/class guilt tripping.

Finally, I think we should be pretty honest about what more housing is likely to look like. It probably won't look like new skyscrapers in SF. It's a lot more likely to look like even more Ryan Homes developments in the suburbs/exurbs. One thing libertarians could do is try to make work at home more friendly as this vastly increases the value of the virgin land that most people want to build on these days, rather then fight usually fruitless battles in the inner city.

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> “Just imagine all the honest toil required to demolish those silly two-story homes in San Francisco and replace them with skyscrapers.”

Well that’s easy to imagine, and awful!

First off, I was a construction worker for ten years as a plumber (sometimes on skyscrapers, which I hated), and before that masonry and roofing with my Dad, and the problem with that work is that it is crippling, dangerous, and miserable!

A better world would provide other jobs in air conditioned environments with women around, Lord almighty I hated construction work!

Second, where there’s two story housing in San Francisco is nice, but where there’s skyscrapers the sidewalks have beggars and hypodermic needles on them!

A way for more men to earn a living is nice, but that it’s a miserable and quality of life destroying way isn’t.

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I live in the Pacific Northwest- an area I’m sure you would agree has repressive restrictions on housing construction. There are not out of work laborers. Quite the opposite. It is nearly impossible to find someone who can do construction. I’m having repairs done now and i had to wait months for the project to start only to have it drag out painfully because my general contractor is constantly struggling to get workers.

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I agree with everything that Bryan says but add that we should also have manual arts education. Boys and girls not interested in college could learn trades like carpentry, plumbing, electrical, etc. The best way to provide this is to have privatized K through 12 education. Education entrepreneurs would create specialized trade schools to meet the demand. This would be financed with vouchers, educational saving accounts or tax credit scholarships.

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I don't know if this would be enough by itself. We also need to drastically increase the amount of work visas/immigrants

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Too many have an incentive to keep the housing supply restricted and housing prices high. All home-owners who tend to be older and more likely to vote. The banking industry who makes more money on larger mortgages with ridiculous 30 year terms. Real estate agents. And the cities that make money on property taxes based on the value of the houses. Renters and construction workers don’t have the political power the rest do.

Meanwhile protectionism has specific business owners who benefit and they can count the jobs to brag about.

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Skyscraper housing is not cheap, even if ridiculous entitlement process is streamlined. Construction costs will still be at least 2X per foot compared to wood-framed single family houses in suburban and exurban areas.

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What's your plan for addressing the public choice problem of people who own existing housing in a region being the ones voting for that region's policies?

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I have no further comment. Statements made by DW seem to come from someone not living in Realville

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interesting: gonna take these points to debates in sweden, to promote deregulation of housing and promote more building to get more jobs

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Since residential covenants are frowned upon because of their past misuse and zoning is to be so modified, what protections will individual homeowners have to safeguard their investment in their homes and neighborhoods?

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Jan 3, 2023·edited Jan 3, 2023

None. "Safeguarding" property values is how we got here; by definition if average property values outpace the growth of the market as a whole, that means every year people are priced out of housing.

But a house need not be a financial investment. A house is something you live in (Or rent out. Nothing against honest landlords from me.) and derive value from the use of.

Your car (probably) depreciates every year, but you don't mind because you understand that every year you're deriving value from it via the use thereof. There are financial structures (such as leasing) that allow you to pay for purely the usage value of the car if you don't want to outlay the cash on a depreciating asset.

Don't get me wrong, even with massive construction most real estate will hold value well and grow at about the same rate as the economy (and fall at about the same rate when the economy falls). And just as collectible cars actually appreciate quite well, there will probably be an even higher portion of highly desirable real estate that does the same (coastal villas etc.). But "protecting property values" is anti-growth dead end thinking of existing real estate owners constantly pulling up the ladders behind them.

To be clear I personally own real estate in currently (IMO) overheated markets. My parents do too. But it's in our interest even as real estate owners for American economic centers to continue to grow and thrive, more so than my theoretical net worth to keep climbing because the house I own is insanely valued.

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Your kidding? Have a house with a mortgage and see its value go underwater because someone think we should have more growth? Or be oblivious to what developers would do an area once they realize homeowners have no protection? Sounds like you have no skin in the game?

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I own 2 rentals. It's about growing the pie vs protecting my piece. More development might mean the increase in your home value isn't as steep, but how does that hurt you?

Sell your home to gain the cash, then you have to buy a house at a higher price. Property taxes are higher, commercial costs increasing puts strain on business, inequality leads to homelessness and crime, etc etc. I want the pie itself to grow.

I'm also morally against telling others what to do with land I do not own.

We should also tax land for its potential value. Someone who owns an empty lot near a middle class apt complex and retail center is free loading (and likely hurting the other 2 owners investment). Tax the vacant lot as much as the other 2 in order to incentivize development.

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Jan 3, 2023·edited Jan 3, 2023

1) My real estate property value rising does absolutely zero for me practically speaking. My theoretical net worth being higher does not improve my quality of life at all; indeed by strangling growth and making it more costly for me to move around the country (real estate transaction costs keep spiraling higher alongside the market) the current state of affairs *hurts* my quality of life. And this is speaking just from a very narrow view of my self-interest. A broader view of my self-interest would encompass an enlightened understanding of how economic growth in my neighborhood/state/country improves my own career prospects, my other investments, and those of my friends and family.

2) Having a mortgage that somehow ends up underwater no more hurts me than having a car loan that's technically underwater. I can afford the payment, and I'm getting value from the house/car every month, so it's worth it. To be clear, I think the likelihood of this happening is extraordinarily small in any plausible pro-growth environment. My expectation is that my real estate value will correct a bit and stagnant in such an environment, but I would be OK if the worst is realized because of all the advantages to me in point (1).

3) Whatever the developers will do "once they realize homeowners have no protection" is probably much less than I want them to do: build build build. Working people need places to live near the economic engines of this country. There are people in my immediate local economy that lose 3-5 hours of their time per day just to commuting because they get priced further and further out. Insanity. Think of all the human flourishing (IE productivity/consumption/leisure/self-education/etc) lost to how massively inefficient this country has become in housing people near where they are most productive.

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I think they mean frowned upon by economists.

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Wow -- pretty horrible during W's administration. Yikes!

I think you should team up with Matt Yglesias on this. My understanding is the main problem is NIMBYism.

I'm all for not trying to rebuilt the rust belt. I couldn't get out fast enough and I'd never go back.


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