Grant Lester '23
It's 11:55pm on Thursday, April 28. For the last two hours, I have been rigorously preparing for an in-class Spanish essay. I set my alarm for 7:15 a.m and go to bed, but for some reason, I just can't fall asleep. Five minutes go by. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. I still can't fall asleep. Something's bothering me, but I don't know what.
And then I finally realize. Future is dropping tonight! "Listening to this album right now would be so stupid. Go to sleep," I think. But I just can't. Not with this adrenaline pumping. "Just listen to a few songs and then go to bed," I think. I grab my headphones and see the "Mo's Powerbeats Pros" icon come up on my phone. I click connect, open Spotify, click on 712PM (the first song of the album), and prepare for what I think is going to be a pretty good album.
I was wrong.
"Good" is not the right word to describe Future’s I NEVER LIKED YOU. "Great" doesn't come close to portraying this piece of art. "I only have to pay $9.99 for Spotify? That can't be right,” I'm thinking by the time I get to the second song.
A Gunna, Kanye, and Young Thug feature in the first four songs of an album should be illegal. It's just overwhelming. The human body does not have the capabilities to absorb the music from four of rap's greatest artists in the span of 6 minutes and 54 seconds. It's just not possible.
My immense joy becomes immenser when I listen to the fifth song of the album: PUFFIN ON ZOOTIEZ is the song of the year. No other song comes close.
It's 12:30 a.m. At this point, I should probably just go to bed. But I can't. I NEVER LIKED YOU is too good.
The next few songs are pretty average for Future — 9 out of 10s or 9.5s. That's until I get to "I'M ON ONE." Wow. Just wow. I take back what I said before. "I'M ON ONE" is the song of the year.
It's 1:00 am now and I'm tired. Very tired. Half asleep. I feel that none of these songs have truly resonated with me. They are all amazing songs, but I still haven't been able to relate to any of them on a personal level. That is, until "WORST DAY." The opening line, "Valentine's is the worst day," hits the spot. Future, I could not agree more. For so many reasons. So, so many reasons.
After a mediocre final song, I plug my phone in to charge and I go to bed. At school the next day, during the Spanish essay, I jokingly ask Ms. Rivera, "Can we listen to music with headphones?" To my surprise, she says, "Yes." I immediately get my headphones out of my bag, see the "Mo's Solo 3's" come up on my phone, and turn on "PUFFIN ON ZOOTIEZ." I wrote the best essay of my life in that class. I received a 97%, bringing my Spanish grade up to a 71.25%. Thank you, Future. You saved my grade.
Future truly is the future of this world. I simply do not know what I'd do without him. Would I have crashed my car if “CHICKENS” wasn’t blasting? What would I have received on that Spanish essay without "PUFFIN ON ZOOTIEZ" on full volume? Would I have failed my final rep of bench press if "KEEP IT BURNIN" wasn't playing in the weight room? Thanks to Future, I will never know the answers to these questions.
Future, you saved my life and my Spanish grade. Keep doing God's work.
Sascha Hume '23
May 9th, which usually passes without much excitement in the United States, carries immense importance in Russia. It is Victory Day, the holiday which marks the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. This year, it has a special meaning: Vladimir Putin, who has a flair for the symbolic, is expected to make an announcement regarding Russia’s war in Ukraine. It is quite likely that Putin will attempt to claim some sort of victory on the holiday, which would be consistent with the Russian narrative of linking the “special military operation” with the Soviet Union’s struggle during World War II. Russia has not been as successful in Ukraine as they had hoped, but the war is still ongoing, and no one can say for sure what will happen next. Thus, it is important to consider many different possibilities for a conclusion to this war. There are an infinite number of possible endings to the war, but most of them can be safely grouped under either “Ukrainian Victory” or “Russian Victory”. These groups can be further subdivided into “Partial” or “Total” victories.
A partial Ukrainian Victory would mostly entail a restoration of the status quo antebellum (or at least, ante 2022). Ukraine would reverse all or almost all of Russia’s gains since February, but would be unable to retake the Eastern Donbass given the heavy trenches and fortifications built up at the borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics since 2015. At that point, the conflict might either settle into a stalemate or be settled by a ceasefire. Without much ability to keep pushing, Ukraine would probably be quite amicable to a ceasefire which de facto restored the pre-2022 borders (by requiring Russia to retreat to behind them) but allowed it to continue claiming Crimea and the Eastern Donbass, thus relieving the burden of war without having to admit defeat. Russia would be quite unfriendly to such a ceasefire proposal because it would look like a loss, but the Kremlin propaganda machine could justify it to the Russian public by demanding symbolic concessions from Ukraine as part of an armistice agreement. Above all, Ukraine would preserve its independence, and Russia would be diplomatically, economically, and militarily weakened for years to come.
A total Ukrainian Victory would essentially be the same as the Partial Ukrainian Victory, but, instead of stopping at the pre-2022 battle lines, Ukraine would successfully push Russia out the whole of the Donbass, and maybe even take back Crimea. While it is unlikely, Ukraine definitely could regain these territories with the use of the immense Western equipment shipments they have been receiving. Ukraine would then possess all of its claimed territories and would press to an official end to the war. would have nothing more to gain from Russia besides an end to bomb and missile attacks against them. However, this outcome would be a disaster for Russia, and, without any way to justify it back home, they would be extremely unwilling to end the war. Russia might just retreat with their tail between their legs, but more likely would be the beginning of a general war mobilization, which, while thoroughly embarrassing, damaging to the economy, and bound to incite tensions among the citizenry, would bolster their military power for a second invasion of Ukraine. At that point, it is hard to say who would win.
A partial Russian Victory would probably occur in one of two scenarios: either Russia’s current offensive in the Donbass succeedes and Russia captures the entire Donbass, or the Donbass offensive fails but Russia advances further in the south, into Zaporizhia, Mykolaiv, and Odessa oblasts. In either of these cases, Russia would have captured enough territory to fulfill their secondary war aim of seizing the area (their first war aim being the failed toppling of the Ukrainian government). Russia might then announce the formation of Novorossiya (“New Russia”), which was a plan for a confederation of southern and eastern Ukraine. The Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics had announced the confederation in 2014, anticipating that, amidst the ongoing pro-Russian separatist protests across southern and eastern Ukraine, the territories would be ripe for the taking. The project was put on hold in 2015, as the Donbass War dragged on into a stalemate, but Putin could revive it to claim that Russia had gotten what they wanted and was ready to consider peace. Russia could also claim to have successfully “denazified” Ukraine through the destruction of most of the Ukrainian far-right Azov Regiment in Mariupol. This outcome is not the worst of all worlds, but it is certainly subpar. Millions of Ukrainians would be subject to Russian occupation, and the Russian government would score a victory over the West. At least Ukraine would live to fight another day.
A total Russian Victory is probably the least likely out of all four scenarios because Russia already tried and failed to make it happen. In order to turn the war completely around, Russia would have to conduct a very successful advance in the Donbass and continue pushing forward in the south. If the Russian army does both of these while encircling and destroying significant Ukrainian troop formations, they could move against Kyiv again and forcefully remove the elected Ukrainian government. Obviously, this outcome would be a great triumph for Russia, and a great defeat for the West. Russia would be able to move on to other targets like Georgia. Western countries might begin to remove sanctions against Moscow, with a general pessimistic fatalism replacing the optimism and hope inspired by Ukraine’s defiance. China would feel more comfortable associating itself with Russia, and the two nations would focus on building a global alliance together.
All in all, we just have to wait and see what happens. Hopefully Ukraine blows up the Crimean bridge like they are promising they will.
Anna Groninger '24
You know what cyborgs are, right? Beings made of both organic and cybernetic parts, capable of doing superhuman things. You may have seen them in your favorite American TV shows and comics: Darth Vader, Victor Stone, and Iron Man. They are advanced thanks to their cybernetic parts. However, their cybernetic parts aren’t merely attachments to their bodies, they are a part of their identities. Cyborgs wouldn’t be cyborgs without their artificial body parts. You see these characters and you might think, “it would be cool to be able to do what they can do!” Yet deep inside, you know you would probably never take the step to become one with a machine. It's impossible! Or so you think, until a group of technologically enhanced artists entered the picture in 2013.
I was lucky to watch a live interview at the Smithsonian Arts + Industries Museum during the FUTURES exhibition, with members of the talent agency, Cyborg Arts Foundation led by cyborgs Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas. Cyborg Arts offers “key notes, online talks, performances, workshops and commissioned artwork,” to spread their very own cyborg movement, promoting and supporting those who aspire to become cyborgs. It sounded exaggerated, if not unreal. The audience and I were bewildered when seeing the cyborgs at first. Who on earth would voluntarily merge their human body with technology? What purpose does doing so have? But bear with me for a little longer, let me tell you more about what these artists do:
Neil Harbisson is the world’s first government-recognized cyborg. Born with achromatopsia, Neil’s vision was like a black and white movie. He made the seemingly impossible decision to have an antenna implanted within his skull that allows him to perceive color in a unique way: he can hear colors, both visible and invisible (infrared and ultraviolet light) to the human eye. The antenna sends signals to his brain by picking up vibrations from color waves; in his own special way Neil can see color. As a contemporary artist, Neil shares his super-human sense in many creative ways. For instance, he creates sound portraits of people’s faces so they can discover what their faces sound like. When Neil attained this new sense, his mind began to merge with the technology, and he was soon able to associate sounds with colors. He began to create paintings of music as well as people’s voices. A notable piece by Neil Harbisson is a couple of paintings placed adjacent to one another - one is of Hitler’s voice, and the other of Martin Luther King’s.
Moon Ribas is another important member of the Cyborg Arts Foundation. She is best known for her powerful “seismic sense” which enables her to feel seismic activity in the Earth. Implanted within her feet, these seismographs create a feeling of having two heartbeats—“my heartbeat and the earth-beat”— as well as a much stronger connection to the planet. But that’s not all, she is able to perceive moonquakes: seismic activity on the moon. A dancer in college, Moon was inspired to become a cyborg after an instructor assigned her to choreograph a performance incorporating technology. For her performance, she danced only when the earth vibrated. Still to this day, Moon uses her “seismic sense” in art, and has received much attention for her dance and percussion performances.
Many more members of the Cyborg Art Foundation have been able to creatively extend their senses in ways that we could never imagine. Although developing a new sense can be a very uncomfortable transition, once the human body fully embraces the technology, it could create something spectacular. So now I’ll ask you, would you ever join the Cyborg Arts Foundation and become a superhuman?
Cyborg Arts Foundation: a group of self-identified cyborgs who have cybernetic body parts; see https://www.cyborgarts.com
Neil Harbison Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygRNoieAnzI
Moon Ribas Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXONLxaTLFU
Upper School students attend weekly seminar classes aimed at enriching their knowledge about and developing skills in service and leadership. Yet, students spend the bulk of their time sitting in the classroom passively listening to TED Talks or watching PowerPoints. It is important to learn the most effective and conscious way to serve others. But, it begs the question, why don’t we actually do service during that time?
This month, NCS 10th grade students will embark on a 2-3 session online research project. None of these hours are currently allotted to completing hands-on service. The solution isn’t necessarily to completely ditch the current learning module. Instead of each student researching a different topic (i.e., foster care), the class could research a facet of foster care including age, race, and gender demographics and present it to classmates. The next two classes could be spent actively serving based on the knowledge we acquired. For example, time could be spent making care packages for children in the foster care system. Simply put, could the time allotted to strictly research actually be used to impact the issue itself?
One of the biggest arguments for not continuing foreign service trips was that they were performative and didn’t aid the targeted community. The system that is taught in CELS Seminar is hypocritical as we have a target community, the fourth-grade students at Excel Academy. Yet, NCS students spend less than an hour with their buddies and are urged to submit photos they’ve taken to be posted on NCS social media. That is virtually the only experience 10th grade students have with service throughout the school year. While this is not inherently unethical, if students were able to engage in additional school-sponsored service, then posting photos could come across as more genuine, instead of hypocritical.
Students have time built into their schedules in which they could engage in hands-on service, yet, programming rarely allows them to. So, if dedicating a semester to only CELS is too hard for staff to manage while also balancing other community service activities and fellowships, students could engage in other active, and just as meaningful, activities during their seminar time. NCS has an abundance of resources on campus that could transform these alternative sessions to aid students in their life beyond NCS. For example, a member of the faculty could teach students how to write a cover-letter to apply to a job, or how to create an annual budget given a yearly salary, even how to change a tire. Having weekly seminar blocks cut out specifically in the schedule must be further maximized past being passive in the classroom.
Students should feel purpose to attend and engage in CELS class. They should be able to do service during their seminar block instead of strictly learning about the concepts. There is an effective way to find a happy medium between the two, but right now we’re not there. Simply put: it doesn’t make sense to have dedicated time to improving leadership in service for students and, yet, never serve.
Note: The author of this article elected to stay anonymous because they did not feel comfortable expressing their critiques about the National Cathedral School with their name attached. At The Exchanged, we strive to promote free discourse and discourage anonymity when possible. Yet, anonymity is better than no discourse at all, so writers have the choice to stay anonymous.
Katie Jordan '24
With summer right around the corner, you might be planning some fun activities around the city with your friends. Say you want to go to a restaurant; how will you get there? Maybe you can’t drive by yourself, or maybe you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint, but regardless of the reason, public transit is a great option for getting around. I will inform you of the plans to expand the silver line on the Metro, as well as the redesign of K street. Hopefully, this will encourage you to take advantage of DC’s public transit this summer, and beyond.
This summer the silver line expansion is expected to open. While this new extension to the line reaches further into Virginia, it will hopefully help people who live further from the city have access to all the city has to offer without having to jump in their car and brave the highway traffic. Without delays, the newest portion of the line is expected to open in July and will extend from the Wiehle-Reston station to a new station out in Ashburn. This extension will also have a stop at Dulles airport, so if you’re traveling this summer, you can take the metro there. Overall, this extension should help to cut travel times in and out of the city, as well as between neighboring suburban areas.
Not opening this summer but opening late next year are new bus and bike lanes on K Street. K Street has a wide variety of dining options and a few beautiful public parks, and is also a major commuting road. If you’ve ever driven on this street, you’ll know that the traffic is absolutely horrible. From confusing service lanes to perplexing turn signs that only allow for turns at certain times of the day, this road can be frustrating. The city will be redesigning the road in an attempt to make traffic move faster, as well as shortening travel times for bus riders, and making the road safer for cyclists. DC plans to remove the service lanes and create a dedicated two-way bus lane in the center of the road. The bus lanes will be flanked on both sides by a protected bike lane, and the outer four lanes of the road will be for car traffic. This redesign will be on a one-mile stretch from 12th to 21st street and will be DC’s first dedicated transitway.
These two new plans to expand public transit are only a snapshot of the amazing transit options in DC. From buses to the metro, to the increasing number of protected bike lanes, there are so many options for traveling around the city outside of a car. This summer I hope you get out of your car and make use of the public transit the city has to offer.
Lazo, Luz. "K Street makeover will bring dedicated bus lanes, remove service lanes." The Washington Post, 7 Apr. 2022, www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2022/04/07/dc-k-street-transitway/. Accessed 6 May 2022.
Waseem, Fatimah. "Silver Line extension opening date pushed once again to summer 2022." Fairfax County Local News, 2 Mar. 2022, www.ffxnow.com/2022/03/02/silver-line-extension-opening-date-pushed-once-again-to-summer-2022/. Accessed 7 May 2022.
Taylor Guzman '24
My five-year-old self sits awestruck in front of the TV as the credits roll on Back to the Future Part II. It is 2010 and I am amazed by the vision of the future with which I have just been presented. Back to the Future Part II depicts 2015 with flying cars, hoverboards, and most significantly, self-lacing shoes. I imagine what our world will look like in only five short years, and I desperately hope that Marty McFly is right. Unfortunately, 2015 comes and goes without flying taxis, but several technological and social advances do occur like the use of unmanned flying drones for data collection, bionic ears, and the Tesla Model X (which is strikingly similar to Doc’s DeLorean).
Reflecting on this experience leads naturally to some questions. What did we expect from 2022? Which of those predictions were right and which were wrong?
Emerging from two years of isolation, people had high hopes for 2022. On a personal level, we were all searching for increased connection, more social interaction, and a return to normalcy. On a national and global level, our country wished to continue economic growth and strengthen international relationships.
Interestingly, one of Forbes Magazine’s top ten predictions for 2022 was the rise of energy prices in the United States. Entering the year, the price of oil was higher than $100 per barrel. Forbes predicted that this price would continue to rise and would prompt consumers to consider alternative forms of energy. They linked this trend to a boom in the sale of electric and hybrid vehicles as drivers seek to defray rising gasoline bills.
While the Forbes prediction about increasing energy prices has proven accurate, many unforeseen causes have contributed to this price elevation, one being the war in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has worsened disruptions in the global energy marketplace because suppliers are already struggling to meet demand increases as countries recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. As attacks have intensified, traders, shippers, and financiers have been boycotting Russian oil. President Biden even signed an Executive Order prohibiting new shipments of Russian oil, certain petroleum products, liquefied natural gas, and coal. The U.S. only receives about 3.5% of its oil from Russia, but the ban still has a significant impact. Add to this the increased demand on a more limited supply and the national average gasoline price that has skyrocketed to a new all-time high of over $4.30 per gallon.
In an era of increasing globalization, divining future events proves difficult. The actions of every nation have intended and unintended consequences that influence every sector of daily life. Instead of relating to Marty’s fantastical optimism, I find myself eyeing the future with apprehension. The desire to plan for upcoming events with certainty can often do more harm than good by creating unrealistic expectations and diverting valuable attention away from pressing issues. Rather than attempting to illuminate uncertainty, we should focus on preparing ourselves for the unexpected. Perhaps a better question to ask when we enter a new year is, “How can we practice flexibility and adjust to unanticipated challenges?”
Alex Acosta '25
Clean, efficient, and sustainable Power, (Unlimited power!) is a possibility for this generation.
I was watching Revenge of the Sith recently (for about the 100th time), and for some reason, Palpatine’s “Unlimited Power” scene struck me. Star Wars admittedly requires some suspension of disbelief, but hear me out. This wrinkly old Sith Lord just defeated the champion of the Jedi Order in close quarter combat by blasting plasma from his hands. What?
Anyways, you know I’ve watched this movie too much because this time, the thought that came to my mind was “Could Palpatine just store the energy from his lighting in a battery, and legitimately have near unlimited (electric) power?” I was being somewhat rhetorical, but lightning is 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun and is made of plasma – a conglomeration of ionized matter and electrons where electric currents run everywhere. In other words, lightning is a phenomenal source for heat and electrical energy (just too unreliable to be used effectively, unless you’re Palpatine). If the Emperor lived today, I bet America would appropriate that man for government testing faster than you can say “Somehow, Palpatine returned.”
Somewhat unfortunately, Darth Sidious canonically died a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and I have to look toward the future. In this future, finding a reliable energy source is a global concern. Every energy source is flawed. Fossil fuels will be depleted if they don’t kill us first, solar panels have a sleep schedule, geothermal plants cause Zillo beast-waking earthquakes, fish are less likely to die playing Russian roulette than passing through a hydroelectric dam, and my Chernobyl-born friend can list 8 things wrong with nuclear fission on one hand. We need an energy source that can sustainably sustain our growing consumption as a population, preferably in a way that doesn't send D.C. underwater.
Well, as promised, there is such an energy source: nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion would hypothetically be able to power the country with just a few atoms of hydrogen. Unlike its inferior younger brother nuclear fission, nuclear fusion produces nearly no radiation, and it has no negative impacts on the environment. Essentially, in a fusion reactor, hydrogen atoms collide really fast, then BOOM! – energy. To be more scientific, nuclear fusion just refers to the merging of the two nuclei, though the energy we care about subsequently gets released. This is what makes stars burn, as extreme temperatures and gravitational pull catalyze fusion reactions between hydrogen atoms in space. Despite the immense size and power of stars, they only really have the energy to fuse the lightest atom hydrogen into helium, and stars only start to fuse helium atoms if they begin to turn from red to blue giants. Here on Earth, a small hydrogen reaction is the best we measly humans can recreate. Hydrogen isotopes tritium (2 neutrons, 1 proton) and deuterium (1 neutron, 1 proton) are accelerated to crash into each other in reactors, creating a helium atom with 2 neutrons and 2 protons (one neutron is released). This process creates energy as the attraction between protons swings when the protons stop repelling each other by Coulomb force, and actually attract.
Now you’re probably asking yourself “Acosta, why are we not using nuclear fusion as a power source?” or “What did I just read?” To both of those questions, sorry, fusion’s complicated. Scientists and engineers have been working on this since the 1930s. Still, stars and other fusers have an advantage over us, since they have an insane gravitational pull that collides atoms for them. On earth, we have to use unparalleled temperatures to even attempt a sustained reaction. As of right now, recent technology broke the 100 million degree Celsius barrier (!!!) required for fusion reactions using plasma heating. Still, fusion using this heat remains inefficient, as we don’t yet have the technology to get protons moving fast enough to collide and fuse without wasting energy in overcoming their repulsion. The current “meta” in fusion design is using magnetic fields (instead of gravitational ones) hundred of thousands times stronger than the earth’s, but it still doesn’t get those atoms speedy enough. Advancements in this technology develop constantly, and working reactors are expected to come about in a generation. With luck, you may be a future pioneer.
As much as I wish lightsabers were real, there is a not-science-fiction science in the near future that could power and save our world. I am energized (pun intended) watching the birth of what I believe to be the future of energy, and I think you should be too (Preferably making breakthroughs on the subject, or donating millions like Bezos, but hey, seeing the value is a start). Nuclear fusion matters. If your future has a laser-charged flying car powered by nuclear fusion, then efficient energy matters. If your future has all the fossil fuels gone except for in Russia, then available, sustainable power matters. If your future world is 2°C hotter, then clean energy matters. Nuclear fusion solves and aids our future. But most importantly, when Palpatine comes back in his Death Star, you may not be a Jedi, but what you will have is power: unlimited power.
I was scrolling through Instagram today, swiping through the glut of stories complaining about the possible overturn of Roe vs. Wade by the Supreme Court when I noticed a conservative St. Albans student’s post celebrating the leaks. These sorts of conservative stories are not only out of the ordinary, but nearly non-existent. Why? Because the moment he submitted his story, this student received a flood of messages from people that barely knew him that labeled him as a sexist and angrily sought to change his views. One furious commenter replied, “You’re being sarcastic, right?” to the story, demonstrating the failure of many liberals to realize that not everybody agrees with them. Another commenter who doesn’t even know this student somehow thought that this young conservative “has no say” because he is white, male, and therefore “does not understand what struggling is.” Being shamed by liberal social media users for their views is something that all conservatives experience at some point—a right of passage of sorts.
After this point, most conservatives resort to concealing their views from the public for fear of retribution in the form of public shaming, blacklisting (i.e. coordinated social isolation of one with conservative views), or cancellation. For these reasons, there is clear social bias against conservatives on the close (and often discrimination from some teachers), such that conservatives have resorted to concealing their beliefs, learning to be very careful about sharing their views. Just recently, I witnessed my friend be verbally accosted by a liberal teacher that did not agree with my friend’s conservative views. Another time, a teacher told a student that they thought a different student was nice, but they just couldn’t deal with or accept the fact that the other student was conservative, and for this reason they did not like the other student. It’s not difficult to understand why conservatives at St. Albans are afraid to share their real views.
However, for too many conservatives, political ideology is a major part of their identity, and it’s neither easy nor fair for them to conceal their views and opinions. I, for one, fondly remember watching the 2016 conservative primaries and debates with my parents while learning about the views of the different candidates. Additionally, many vocal conservatives have been involved with their own activism around issues like the rights of the unborn and cancel culture. Despite this, rather than being celebrated as an aspect of diversity, the conservative identity is under attack by the very same people who claim to promote said diversity and tolerance. Therefore, vocal conservatives face discrimination and oppression just as other marginalized groups do. Although conservative social and academic oppression takes a different form than America’s systemic racism against minorities (if you believe in that), the silencing of conservative voices means that they need a safe space to express their opinions and discuss their struggle with intolerance and cancel culture.
Therefore, like other marginalized groups, conservatives seek a group of our own—an affinity group, a club, etc.—protect them from the intolerance of Washington, D.C. liberals. St. Albans was once a place that respected and even praised all opinions, but it has started down a dark path of silencing the views of thoughtful and involved students. Teachers and administrators have promised to protect reasonable free speech on campus, and it is time that these people in positions of power follow through on this promise.
*If it weren’t for the social and academic consequences that accompany expressing conservative opinions, I would publish this article under my name. However, I must remain anonymous for my own protection. Conservatives only “hide in the shadows” of The Exchanged for fear of retribution.
Henry Brown '23
Read any headline, and it will seem as though the world is headed towards imminent disaster. Climate change threatens to displace billions throughout the next century. Power-hungry authoritarian regimes threaten peace and the democratic will. Poverty is skyrocketing, Americans are getting sick, and long-term economic prosperity is uncertain.
And yet, there is one solution that can solve these problems. It can restore our nation’s economic prowess, placing the free world in a unique position to stop the spread of autocratic regimes. It can boost our public health, safety, and wellbeing. It can allow us to redirect our political focus away from the petty battles of cancel culture and towards art, science, and galactic exploration. It doesn’t require a multi-trillion dollar bill. In fact, it costs the government nothing. And it is so simple and easy to execute: build more houses.
Over the past few decades, home prices in the United States have skyrocketed, especially in cities and their suburbs. After the Recession of 1981, Americans began to see housing as not a commodity, but as an investment. Homeowners now prioritize maintaining or increasing home prices by stopping new developments (they are called NIMBYs, which stands for “Not In My Backyard”). As the country’s population inevitably rises, so does demand for housing. The lack of new supply may be great for homeowners’ portfolios, it is not great for the rest of America.
In 2015, around forty percent of all American renters were “rent burdened” (i.e. they pay more than thirty percent of income on rent), and this figure increased by nearly ten percent from 2001. Without access to cheap housing, these individuals increasingly cannot spend their money in other areas of our consumer-centered economy—the income simply ends up in the pockets of landlords. Other data suggest that poverty could be reduced by twenty-five percent—and child poverty by fifty percent—if housing was simply cheaper. However, before 1980, poverty was virtually unaffected by house prices, largely because homes were so widely available. During the thirty years after World War II—often dubbed the Golden Age of capitalism—over thirty percent more houses were constructed each year in the US compared to today. With such high supply, prices were low enough that a father making the median salary could comfortably raise a family of five in a middle-class home. Today, two parents making median income can barely raise one child, if any, in these homes (e.g. Californians making less than $140,000/year qualify for government assistance to pay for rent or mortgage).
In the European Union, only one nation has decreasing homeless rates: Finland. Why? Because they permanently house homeless people. Finland still provides all of the resources to these individuals that other nations do, but with homes to ground themselves economically, these people do not need them as extensively. As such, the government has been able to save money with this approach (for example, there is only one homeless shelter in Helsinki, the capital city). If this approach was used nationwide in the United States, taxpayers would see up to a sixty-two dollar tax cut.
This strategy does not only work in the socialist utopia that is Finland. Mississippi, the nation’s most impoverished state, has adopted this strategy as well and boasts the nation’s lowest homelessness rate, at just 3.7 individuals per ten thousand. California’s, for example, is over thirteen times higher than Mississippi’s. Even the next lowest, Alabama, has about two times the number of individuals, despite similar economies.
Building more homes is better for the environment, too, especially when they are high-density and transit oriented. Today, American suburbs are terribly detrimental to the environment. Per household, they pollute up to eighty percent more carbon than cities and use vastly more water. Suburbanites often spend over half an hour commuting and their large homes and lawns require much more electricity and water. Compare that to city dwellers, who walk or take the subway to work. Plus, they can use city parks without the burden of mowing their grass.
Of course, white-picket-fence suburbs are uniquely American—they’re the American Dream, right?—so they should by no means “disappear” for environmental reasons. Yet, the problem with housing in America is that Americans often have no choice but to embrace this lifestyle. In California—the entire state is one big suburb—residents are all but forced to reside in a single-family home because… that is the only option (just 17% of CA housing has more than nine units). New York City, on the other hand, does provide a variety of urban options—condominiums, apartments, townhouses—but they are astronomically expensive. This again forces people out of the city into the suburbs, far away from their workplaces.
This lack of choice has negative repercussions on America’s health. In the Netherlands, a study found that living in mixed-use development (i.e. apartments above shops) reduced obesity by 8.3%. Another study found that living near parks cut it by 8.4%. Plus, exercise and nature tend to help one’s mental health and reduce feelings of isolation. Yet, most American suburbs end up with the opposite result. A car is a necessity to travel anywhere (those with a long commute are 33% more likely to be depressed and 21% more likely to be obese) and the only green space is often one’s front lawn. Europeans may eat smaller portion sizes than Americans, but they also walk it off. No wonder Europe is beating us in that metric.
There are still more reasons to build more houses. It is estimated that the American economy would be seventy-six percent larger if this housing crisis had never happened. That's a GDP of thirty-six trillion dollars. Other economists predicted that if just New York, San Jose, and San Francisco permitted the construction of many more homes, the median US salary would rise by at least $8,700, even for those outside of those cities, because landlords would cease negating the productivity of American workers (sources below). By blocking Americans from living and working in cities, the housing crisis stops the economy from peak performance. It inhibits innovation, it halts creativity, and it slows down our nation’s growth.
Moreover, the housing crisis has also contributed to the rise of anti-status-quo extremism in Western society. Young people, unable to afford the quality of life that their parents and grandparents could at their age, turn to progressive candidates further left than most Democrats (or nation's respective liberal party) and protest often for a slew of economic and social reforms. Meanwhile, older voters, comfortable in their expensive, suburban homes, cannot sympathize with the young and often believe them to be “radical” and “entitled.” They become reactionary and swing to the right, more right than traditional conservative politics. Just look at France, a nation also plagued with a housing crisis: in their most recent election, the second and third most popular candidates were not from the established liberal and conservative parties, but Marine Le Pen, who wants to stop all immigration, and Jean-Luc Mélénchon, who supports a 100% income tax on those making over €360,000. Even Sinn Féin—Northern Ireland’s separatist party in a territory designed to prevent their victory—won the most recent election in large part due to youth outrage over high home prices.
There are still more reasons to build more houses. In the United Kingdom, the average fertility rate (i.e. average number of births per woman) decreases five percent with every ten percent increase in rent. While much of the developing world reckons with overpopulation, in developed nations like the United States, the replacement rate is less than two. This could wreak havoc thirty years down the road (as it is today in Japan), because we may not have enough people to support the elderly in the economy.
So, how can the United States build more homes? The answer is not a multi-trillion dollar Works Progress Administration 2.0 or a massive expansion of federal power. It is deregulation. Yes, that’s right, deregulation. As with most problems in the United States, single-family housing is so widespread because of a Supreme Court decision: Village of Euclid v. Ambler. In the 1920s, the city of Euclid, a suburb of the rapidly expanding Cleveland, wanted to keep African American workers out of the town, so they mandated that developers could only construct single-family housing—the most expensive type. The Ambler Realty Co. argued that this law violated its Fourteenth Amendment rights to the property it owned, but the Supreme Court upheld Euclid’s jurisdiction. This ruling triggered countless municipalities to enact laws to only build high-priced single-family homes, thus preventing minorities from moving in and cementing the white influence in the area.
Today, most zoning laws still remain and make it illegal to build cheap, multi-family housing in certain areas. Developers are desperate to compete with one another to build cheap housing for Americans—this is what capitalism is designed to do. Some companies may even be willing to go as far as the Supreme Court, just like Ambler. Yet, city and state governments stand in the way of the free market for the sake of the NIMBY.
Take Houston, TX. The city eliminated most of its zoning requirements, and as such, its housing prices are twenty percent cheaper than average. Of course, the city is an urban planner’s worst nightmare, but it remains one of the United States’s most powerful economic centers. If Americans are serious about tackling the housing crisis, zoning requirements must be reduced, or at least reformed in a way that promotes more development. Cities concerned about environmental impact can require new developments to follow green standards. Those worried about a building not fitting in architecturally can regulate the design or put several designs up for a neighborhood vote. And if private investment slows down, the government can enter the game, either funding subsidies or building its own houses to further lower prices. We just need to build more houses.
Right now, it seems everything is at stake. Our planet is at stake, our health is at stake, and our economic prosperity is at stake. Yet, we have a solution that is so mind-bogglingly simple, so all-encompassing that it is shocking we have not implemented it. Our nation has potential—sixteen trillion dollars worth—held back due to burdensome regulations. We can once again achieve a golden age of capitalism—one more inclusive for all Americans. We can be the “city on a hill” in terms of health, happiness, and environmental safety. We can focus not on petty infighting, but on art, science, and exploration. It will be a tough fight, but a worthy fight. Our nation has potential. So let’s liberate it.