Author Archive

Going to San Antonio for JMM

Hey, so this is cool. The Alternative Banking group just came out with a second Huffington Post essay, this time on how the bailout isn’t over, how it didn’t work, and how we’re already preparing for the next one. I think it came out really well. You can read it here.

Also, I’ll be giving a talk at the Joint Math Meetings again this year, this time as an invited MAA speaker. My title is Making the Case for Data Journalism, and you can see the abstract here. I guess I’m speaking on Monday afternoon at 4pm in a place called the Lila Cockrell Theatre.

So, a few things. If you’re a math nerd planning to be in San Antonio this weekend, please don’t leave Sunday, because there are still talks on Monday! Also, if you want to hang out, leave a comment or send me email and I’ll try to figure out a way to meet up with you. I honestly feel like I don’t know too many mathematicians anymore, so it would be nice to see or meet a friendly face. I’m getting to San Antonio Friday.

Categories: Uncategorized

Creepy big data health models

There’s an excellent Wall Street Journal article by Joseph Walker, entitled Can a Smartphone Tell if You’re Depressed?that describes a lot of creepy new big data projects going on now in healthcare, in partnership with hospitals and insurance companies.

Some of the models come in the form of apps, created and managed by private, third-party companies that try to predict depression in, for example, postpartum women. They don’t disclose what they are doing to many of the women, or the extent of what they’re doing, according to the article. They own the data they’ve collected at the end of the day and, presumably, can sell it to anyone interested in whether a woman is depressed. For example, future employers. To be clear, this data is generally not covered by HIPAA.

Perhaps the creepiest example is a voice analysis model:

Nurses employed by Aetna have used voice-analysis software since 2012 to detect signs of depression during calls with customers who receive short-term disability benefits because of injury or illness. The software looks for patterns in the pace and tone of voices that can predict “whether the person is engaged with activities like physical therapy or taking the right kinds of medications,” Michael Palmer, Aetna’s chief innovation and digital officer, says.

Patients aren’t informed that their voices are being analyzed, Tammy Arnold, an Aetna spokeswoman, says. The company tells patients the calls are being “recorded for quality,” she says.

“There is concern that with more detailed notification, a member may alter his or her responses or tone (intentionally or unintentionally) in an effort to influence the tool or just in anticipation of the tool,” Ms. Arnold said in an email.

In other words, in the name of “fear of gaming the model,” we are not disclosing the creepy methods we are using. Also, considering that the targets of this model are receiving disability benefits, I’m wondering if the real goal is to catch someone off their meds and disqualify them for further benefits or something along those lines. Since they don’t know they are being modeled, they will never know.

Conclusion: we need more regulation around big data in healthcare.

Categories: data journalism, modeling, rant

Big data and class

About a month ago there was an interesting article in the New York Times entitled Blowing Off Class? We Know. It discusses the “big data” movement in colleges around the country. For example, at Ball State, they track which students go to parties at the student center. Presumably to help them study for tests, or maybe to figure out which ones to hit up for alumni gifts later on.

There’s a lot to discuss in this article, but I want to focus today on one piece:

Big data has a lot of influential and moneyed advocates behind it, and I’ve asked some of them whether their enthusiasm might also be tinged with a little paternalism. After all, you don’t see elite institutions regularly tracking their students’ comings and goings this way. Big data advocates don’t dispute that, but they also note that elite institutions can ensure that their students succeed simply by being very selective in the first place.

The rest “get the students they get,” said William F. L. Moses, the managing director of education programs at the Kresge Foundation, which has given grants to the innovation alliance and to bolster data-analytics efforts at other colleges. “They have a moral obligation to help them succeed.”

This is a sentiment I’ve noticed a lot, although it’s not usually this obvious. Namely, the elite don’t need to be monitored, but the rabble does. The rich and powerful get to be quirky philosophers but the rest of the population need to be ranked and filed. And, by the way, we are spying on them for their own good.

In other words, never mind how big data creates and expands classism; classism already helps decide who is put into the realm of big data in the first place.

It feeds into the larger question of who is entitled to privacy. If you want to be strict about your definition of pricacy, you might say “nobody.” But if you recognize that privacy is a spectrum, where we have a variable amount of information being collected on people, and also a variable amount of control over people whose information we have collected, then upon study, you will conclude that privacy, or at least relative privacy, is for the rich and powerful. And it starts early.

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Didja miss Aunt Pythia? Because Auntie P sure as heck missed you all, over there in Utrecht, Holland, where all the food was fried and all the time was family time.

But! But! Aunt Pythia did not fritter away opportunities to do ground-breaking sex columnist research for your benefit. Oh no, absolutely not. In fact, Aunt Pythia has three – count them, three! – important things to share with you.

First, a book. It’s called How To Build A Girl, and everyone reading this should stop what they’re doing and go buy it and read it right now. Honestly, it’s one of the funniest coming of age stories I’ve ever read, and it’s about a girl! So exciting! Aunt Pythia lovers in particular will love it, because there’s lots of masturbation in it. Not enough, in my personal opinion, but a fabulous start. Hopefully the new trend in feminist autobiographies.

Second, this list of things that turn women on. Summary: almost everything except flaccid penises and Axe Body Spray. It’s not really a good list, but I get turned on by lists of things that turn people on, so I just threw it in anyway.

Third and finally, the most amazing technological invention ever, especially considering my addiction to Candy Crush! Namely, a combination kegel exercise machine, vibrator, and video game controller:

Ladies, it's time to do your kegels. OK you can stop now. No, really.

Ladies, it’s time to do your kegels. OK you can stop now. No, really.

Not really sure how this wasn’t invented as soon as people understood batteries, but whatevs, we’ve got it now.

OK, so are you ready for some amazing advice? Aunt Pythia is prepared to give legendary advice today, so buckle up tight. And don’t forget to

ask Aunt Pythia a question at the bottom of the page!

By the way, if you don’t know what the hell Aunt Pythia is talking about, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia.


Dear Aunt Pythia,

So I’ve been reading a math blog online, and like every other math blog I read, it provides fun descriptions of cool math, targeted at math people, without needless symbols or jargon. This is awesome.

Anyway, the author of this blog posted a picture of herself in one of the posts; it turns out, the author was an African-American female. When I saw the picture, I was pretty surprised. After I realized I was surprised, I was immediately ashamed. Why should it be a surprise that an African-American female runs a math blog post? By being surprised, I felt that I was contributing to the implicit white-male bias in math. (By the way, I’m society’s image of “normal”: a cisgender hetero white male.)

But that’s the thing; I’m *not* prejudiced, and I’ve thought about this. Having attended Mathpath, HCSSiM (2011), and Canada/USA Mathcamp, I’m totally used to there being extremely competent and smart women and members of racial minorities in mathematics. (I’m writing a letter to one such person!) In my undergraduate experience, the women in my classes have been just as competent as men. I have thought about how I behave, and I don’t talk down to female professors or nonwhite students. Partly nature, but also partly because of my high school experience.

I understand that there’s a problem with a lack of mathematicians who are not white males, and I understand that I probably assumed that the author of this blog (from above) was a white male simply because statistically, there’s an extremely high probability that being a math person, they were a white male. In my head, this makes that feeling of surprise seem like a symptom of the problem, rather than a part of its cause.

But I still keep thinking to myself that maybe I’m secretly prejudiced and I’m contributing to the problem. I can’t really shake that feeling, despite knowing in my head what’s really the case, as described above. And I’m kinda scared about that. What should I do?

Anxious Math Junior

Dear AMJ,

Yes, you are prejudiced! We all are! I am too! It’s an important part of growing up, admitting such things. We are flawed, and we are contributing to the problems of our culture. Fact.

Now, as to what you should do, I’m thinking the first step is admitting that you’re prejudiced. You’ve come almost all the way on this one, but it’s clearly difficult for you to step firmly up to the plate. Go for it! And keep in mind that you’re joining a whole bunch of well-meaning people once you do.

Next, make sure that other people join you on that plate. Talk about this experience you’ve had, and how it made you acknowledge a part of you you’d rather not exist, but out of sheer decency and self-reflection you have to admit does. Get other young men and women in STEM to talk about all the fine and competent people in math and how great math – or indeed, any intellectual endeavor – could be if people were just taken as they are, people learning and arguing and exchanging ideas and making discoveries.

Finally, be on the lookout for behavior or practices that expose, continue, or expand stupid prejudices. Call people on such behavior. Be outspoken and cool. Send your young friends to HCSSiM and other places that you think are good places to learn how to be thoughtful about this stuff.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia.

A while back, you wrote about how you say and/or feel that you have crush on someone very often, and how this is something fun and playful for you. So maybe you can help me.

My problem is that I fall in love with practically every man that I like and that seems to like me back. For this reason, I have zero male friends. When I start to like a guy, notice that I get a long well with him, I always also have a reaction of weak knees/getting nervous around them etc., which at some point I also realize they notice, at least on a subliminal level, which leads to some kind of “flirting” behaviour (I put it in quotation marks because I am really not flirting on purpose, I just behave a bit awkwardly and sometimes guys behave back in the same kind of awkward way and so the situation feels charged. It is hard to describe but maybe you know what I mean).

I am in a long-term relationship that I enjoy and that I do not want to give up, so it is not that I am actually looking for a new love. I would however really like to have male friends because I would sometimes like to hear a male viewpoint regarding things I think about which is not my boyfriend’s or father’s.

But the only options I seem to have is either (i) avoid the guy and thus (again) contribute to the sad fact that I have zero male friends or (ii) get to know him better and risk some form of emotional chaos that scares me, like developing a more serious crush.

Of course, I would never choose option (i) if the guy is single and seems interested as I do not want to lead somebody on. But if the guy is also in a relationship, and has not expressed romantic interest in me, but just general interest (maybe in a friendship with me — but maybe also for something else, hard to say often), what do I do then? Is there a chance to develop a crush into a friendship? How do you do that?

It feels morally ambiguous to me to try to seek this guy’s company in those cases, like sitting next to him when I have the option, and so I don’t do it and the potential friendship cannot develop. 

I feel like you might know how to deal with this problem, so that is why I am asking you, and unfortunately I cannot discuss this problem with my female friends (I have tried once or twice but nobody seems to have any idea what the hell I am talking about, since they claim to fall in love so rarely that it happens once or twice in their life.)

Of course, another idea would also be that maybe my boyfriend and I have a serious problem, otherwise those crushes wouldn’t happen to me, but I don’t think so.

Thoughts? How can I break this pattern?

Many thanks! (Sorry for the bad acronym and the long text! :))

Cannot Remain Unemotional — So Hide?


First thing’s first, great sign-off. I do NOT mind a bit of tortured punctuation in the name of appropriate acronyms! Nobody would ever accuse me of that!!

OK, now on to your fantastic question. I love it, and I honestly have an immediate crush on you for being so honest about it. I do have a bunch of advice for you as well.

First, listen to emo music. Seriously, there is sanctuary in emotional music. My favorite band for such purposes is Bright Eyes, Fevers and Mirrors (obv), as many of my closest friends will attest to. I listened to it non-stop for an entire year when I first discovered Bright Eyes, and this was in 2002, when I was pregnant with my second kid. So don’t think this stuff ever goes away, either, you will need coping mechanisms your entire life, so get started!

And if Bright Eyes doesn’t suit you – which would be weird – then go ahead and find something else. But definitely have a place to retreat to when things get super emotional.

OK, next piece of advice, which I think you’re anticipating: go ahead and have the crush. It won’t kill you. In fact it will (eventually) make you stronger, even if it takes a few months of pining and incredibly amounts of emo music to deal with.

Because here’s the thing, you’ve got to be brave. You’ve got to live your life fully, and engage in the things that attract you, and trust yourself not to lose it entirely. You’ve really got no other options. Otherwise you’re retreating away from the only thing you really have, which is this one life. Fuck that! Go ahead and take some risks, and sit next to that man or woman who might temporarily throw you for an emotional loop with their perfect wit and amazing smile.

And no, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just wired differently from other people (but not me, I’m just like you). You fall in love with everyone, all the time, and that means you experience more. It’s cool! We’re lucky! And eventually you will of course become friends with people who you originally crushed out on, and sometimes you won’t, but it’s worth a try.

Here’s a little secret that a very good friend told me: almost nobody gets sexier when you get to know them better. People are at their very sexiest when you know about 10 minutes about them, scattered over a few weeks or months. They put on the charm, they seem to listen and laugh at your jokes. It’s after 10 years of real conversations that you get to know people really well, well enough to see into their inner zits.

Which is to say, by getting to know these people more, by sitting next to that yummy guy when you have the chance, the problems you are dealing with will generally fade, not increase. And for those very rare few who actually become sexier when you get to know them better, well they deserve your crush so it’s all good.

Ha! I made it sounds pretty good, right? Remember, when you’re an emo, it’s all about enjoying the pain. I’m not called the Queen of Yearning for nothing.

As for your relationship, I don’t think you’re more likely to fuck it up by letting these crushes happen than by trying to suppress them. Suppression does weird things. I also don’t think you’re more likely to fuck up your relationship than people who only fall in love rarely. Personally I re-fall in love with my husband pretty much weekly, which might bore him but it’s absolutely awesome for me.

Good luck!!

Auntie P

p.s. May I suggest that you just go ahead and actively, deliberately flirt? First of all because it’s fun to flirt, and secondly because it might give you a sense of control of the situation, which you don’t currently have?

p.p.s. Also, here’s a suggestion for how you can do everything I’ve suggested all at once: you sit down next to that yummy guy and you say, “How’s about we flirt for a while, to acknowledge the sexual tension between us, and then after a memorably conversation, we lay down the foundations of a lasting friendship? I’ll start. You look amazing in that sweater.” I have found that being incredibly honest about my intentions sometimes helps. Also sometimes backfires, but whatevs! It’s a crazy mixed-up world!!


Dear Aunt Pythia,

Has anyone accused you of being a sex tourist for visiting Haiti? I’m just curious because as a single male there is practically nowhere that I could go by myself or with a buddy without accusations of sex tourism, especially Hispaniola. Nobody seems to care when women go to Haiti or Jamaica despite those places being well known for catering to ALL of a woman’s needs. This double standard reeks of cartel tactics. I personally believe that prostitution should be legal but regulated.


Dear Globetrotter,

Nobody has. Most white women in Haiti are there for charity or on religious missions. I’m sure there is sex tourism there but it’s not on a huge scale.

Question for you: who accuses you of being a sex tourist? How does that come up?

Also, in terms of legalized prostitution, I don’t agree. I like that Dutch prostitutes have a union, but in places like Haiti I think legalized prostitution is one step away from paying people for their body parts. It’s not really a “chosen profession” if you are forced by dire need to do it. My two cents.

Aunt Pythia


Dear AP,

Should women compete in men’s sports? I’m thinking of games that are highly skill and determination driven (so there doesn’t seem an inherent bias for taller or stronger players) but where top female players are at a lower standard to the top male players.

Is it better or worse for women to have segregated leagues and competitions in these sports?

Always Separate but Equal?

Dear ASbE,

What sports are we talking about exactly? Most sports I know about have huge biases for strength. Even darts, which I watched copious amounts of in Utrecht (2014 World Darts Championship! Fuck yeah Michael van Gerwen!!), seems to favor huge men, maybe not for their strength per se but for their balance and inertia. Or maybe it’s all that time spent in pubs drinking beer.

I also watched an amazing round of the Dutch version of WipeOut, which was brilliantly combined with a blind date TV show, and I was amazed by how much easier it seems to be to jump from one floating disc to another if you’re a tall Dutch man than if you’re a tall Dutch woman. The winning couple was a charming pair named “Hippy” and “Hoppy”. They won because Hippy was willing to use his body as a prop to help out his partner. All the other couples had the men springing ahead and leaving their female partners behind. Let that be a lesson to all you non-hippies out there. Be more of a Hippy.

Not sure I’m answering your question, ASbE, but let me throw in one more unrelated opinion because I’m on a roll. Namely, American football is quickly becoming a sport to which poor minority men sacrifice their bodies. Richer and more educated parents don’t let their kids play the sport, and as we now know it’s incredibly traumatic for the players. We might as well just admit it’s a modern day Gladiator Contest, used to maintain a culture of violence for a people convinced they must be warriors, or at least that others should be. Instead of letting women play football, let’s just stop anyone at all from playing it, at least as it is currently being played.


Aunt Pythia


Well, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied! If you could, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy.

Click here for a form or just do it now:

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Male nerd privilege

I recently read this essay by Laurie Penny (hat tip Jordan Ellenberg) about male nerd privilege. Her essay stemmed from comment 171 of Scott Aaronson’s blogpost about whether MIT professor Walter Lewin, who was found to be harassing women, should also have had his OpenCourseWare physics course taken down. Aaronson says no.

Personally, I think it should, because if I’m a woman who was harassed by that dude, I don’t want to see physics represented by my harasser up on MIT’s website; it would not make me feel welcome to the MIT community. Physics is a social community activity, after all, just like mathematics, and it is important to feel safe doing physics in that community. Plus the courses will be available on YouTube and other places, it’s not like the physics represented in the course has been lost to humanity.

Anyhoo, I did really want to talk about white male nerd privilege. Penny makes a bunch of good points in her essay, but I think she misses a big opportunity as well.

Quick summary. Aaronson talks about how he spent his youth and formative years terrified, since he was a shy nerd boy. Penny talks about how she did too, but then on top of it had to deal with structural sexism. Good point, and entirely true in my experience. Her best line:

At the same time, I want you to understand that that very real suffering does not cancel out male privilege, or make it somehow alright. Privilege doesn’t mean you don’t suffer, which, I know, totally blows.

So, I had two responses to her piece.

First was, she was complaining about her childhood, but she wasn’t even fat! I mean, GAWD. She was complaining about being too skinny, of all things. Plus it’s not clear whether or not she came from an abusive home. So I’ve got like, at least two complaints up on her. She thinks she’s had it bad?!

My point being, we can’t actually win when we count up all the ways we were miserable. Because the truth is, most people were actually miserable in their childhood, or soon after it, or at some time. And by comparing that stuff we just get stuck in a cycle of feeling competitively sorry for ourselves and pointing fingers. We need to sympathize, not only with our former selves, but with other people.

And although she does end the essay with the idea that we have to transcend all of our personal bruises and wrongs, and call each other human, and forget our resentments, it doesn’t seem like she’s giving us a path towards that.

Because, and here’s my second point, she doesn’t do the big thing of naming all of her privileges. Like, that nerds get good jobs. And that white people get loads of resources and attention and benefit of the doubt just for being white. At the end of the day, we are privileged to be sitting around talking about privilege. We are not worried about dying of hunger or exposure.

When Aaronson complained that naming male privilege is shaming, I’m prone to agree, at least if it’s done like this. What I’d propose is to figure out a way to talk about these structural problems in an aspirational way. How can we help make things fairer? How can we move this problem to the next level? Scott, you’re wicked smart, want to be on a taskforce with me?

Would it help if we gave it another name? Basic human rights, perhaps? Because that’s what we’re talking about, at the end of the day. The right to be free, to not get shot by the police, the right to hold a good job and care for your family, stuff like that.

Of course, there are plenty of people who are unwilling to move to the next level because they don’t acknowledge the structural racism, sexism, and other stuff at all. They don’t see the current situation as problematic. But on the other hand, there are loads of people who do, and Aaronson is clearly one of them.

As for problems for women in STEM, we’ve already studied this and we all know that both men and women are sexist, so it’s obviously not a blame game here. Instead, it’s a real cultural conundrum which we would like to approach thoughtfully and we’d like to make progress on as a team.

Vacation in Utrecht

Please ignore this post if you are at all squeamish or otherwise appropriate. I fully intend to offend people like you.

OK, so here’s the thing about family vacations, at least for me. They make you lose your genitals.

Seriously, I’ve misplaced my vagina, and for the life of me I can’t find it, or even remember when I last had it. I can barely remember anything at all about it.

This has happened to me before, on numerous occasions. It’s nothing new. It happened a couple of days after I landed in Orlando with the family for spring break a few years ago, and it happened within seconds of entering Great Wolf Lodge about a year ago.

Have you been there? It’s an indoor waterpark, and something about the chlorinated air and hundreds of dripping wet and screaming children made me instantaneously lose contact with my genitals. I know I’m not the only one, I polled the other grownups there and I got serious resonance with this sentiment.

In fact, I walked around for a day and a half (in order to get the most out of my one expensive overnight room) asking people if they’d seen my vagina anywhere. The reactions were mixed and were not always good. In fact once or twice the stares I got were so weird and intense that I was forced to blurt out, “Oh, here it is! In my purse! Just where I left it.” True story.

Conclusion: family vacations are the ultimate birth control.

Honestly, there should be a law that anyone who is thinking of getting pregnant should spend a couple of days at Great Wolf Lodge. If they are still horny after that experience then they deserve whatever they get.

Why, oh why, did we decide to have so many kids? And how can it be so incredibly expensive to pay for them to complain about every moment of the day that doesn’t contain wifi?

Here’s another reason there’s no physical joy in family vacations. The food. The disgusting food you end up eating when with your entire family prevents you from feeling sexy. Never mind sexy, it makes you borderline suicidal.

Yesterday we had pannekoeken for lunch, poffertjes as a snack, and sausage wall frikandels, loompjes, and french fries for dinner. Just in case you are wondering if anything I just listed isn’t fried, the answer is no.

Seriously, it was hugely disgusting, although temporarily delicious. I now know exactly why people declare diets for New Years, it’s because of the food situation in the week beforehand. It’s not that you want to lose weight, it’s that you never want to eat again.

And yes, I know that you can technically eat better food here in Utrecht, but not, as it turns out, if you’re traveling with a 6-year-old. In that case, you have a tiny little hunger striker on your hands, and the longer the strike goes on, the more crying and whining you’ve got, which, since you’re sharing a small hotel room, is a huge hassle. It’s a cost benefit analysis, and the costs always outweigh the benefits. In other words, you decide to forgo actual food for one more day and give in to warmed up waffles with smeared nutella. Breakfast this morning, thankyouverymuch. Kill me now.

Dear readers, please do not judge me. Or at least, if you judge me, then be compassionate. Or at least, if you’re not feeling compassionate, keep an eye out for my vagina, I know it’s around here somewhere.

Categories: musing

Mortgage tax deductions and gentrification

Yesterday we had a tax expert come talk to us at the Alternative Banking group. We mostly focused on the mortgage tax deduction, whereby people don’t have to pay taxes on their mortgage. It’s the single biggest tax deduction in America for individuals.

At first blush, this doesn’t seem all that interesting, even if it’s strange. Whether people are benefitting directly from this, or through their rent being lower because their landlord benefits, it’s a fact of life for Americans. Whoopdedoo.

Generally speaking other countries don’t have a mortgage tax deduction, so we can judge whether it leads to overall more homeownership, which was presumably what it was intended for, and the data seems to suggest the answer there is no.

We can also imagine removing the mortgage tax deduction, and we quickly realize that such a move would seriously impair lots of people’s financial planning, so we’d have to do it very slowly if at all.

But before we imagine removing it, is it even a problem?

Well, yes, actually. Let’s think about it a little bit more, and for the sake of this discussion we will model the tax system very simply as progressive: the more income you collect yearly, the more taxes you pay. Also, there is a $1.1 million (or so) cap on the mortgage tax deduction, so it doesn’t apply to uber wealthy borrowers with huge houses. But for the rest of us it does apply.

OK now let’s think a little harder about what happens in the housing market when the government offers a tax deduction. Namely, the prices go up to compensate. It’s kind of like a rebate: this house is $100K with no deduction, but with a $20K deduction I can charge $120K for it.

But it’s a little more complicated than that, since people’s different income levels correspond to different deductions. So a lower middle class neighborhood’s houses will be inflated by less than an upper middle class neighborhood’s houses.

At first blush, this seems ok too: so richer people’s houses are inflated slightly more. It means it’s slightly harder for them to get in on the home ownership game, but it also means that, come time to sell, their house is worth more. For them, a $400K house is inflated not by 20% but by 35%, or whatever their tax bracket is.

So far so good? Now let’s add one more layer of complexity, namely that, actually, neighborhoods are not statically “upper middle class” or “lower middle class.” As a group neighborhoods, and their associated classes, represent a dynamical system, where certain kinds of neighborhoods expand or contract. Colloquially we refer to this as gentrification or going to hell, depending on which direction it is. Let’s explore the effect of the mortgage tax deduction on how that dynamical system operates.

Imagine a house which is exactly on the border between a middle class neighborhood and an upper-middle class neighborhood. If we imagine that it’s a middle class home, the price of it has only been inflated by a middle-class income tax bracket, so 20% for the sake of argument. But if we instead imagine it is in the upper-middle class neighborhood, it should really be inflated by 35%.

In other words, it’s under-priced from the perspective of the richer neighborhood. They will have an easier time affording it. The overall effect is that it is easier for someone from the richer neighborhood to snatch up that house, thereby extending their neighborhood a bit. Gentrification modeled.

Put it another way, the same house at the same price is more expensive for a poorer person because the mortgage tax deduction doesn’t affect everyone equally.

Another related point: if I’m a home builder, I will want to build homes with a maximal mark-up, a maximal inflation level. That will be for the richest people who haven’t actually exceeded the $1.1 million cap.

Conclusion: the mortgage tax deduction has an overall negative effect, encouraging gentrification, unfair competition, and too many homes for the wealthy. We should phase it out slowly, and also slowly lower the cap. At the very very least we should not let the cap rise, which will mean it effectively goes down over time as inflation does its thing.

If this has been tested or observed with data, please send me references.

Categories: #OWS, economics, modeling

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