Response to economic crisis: Irish government cutting support of homeownership

A conference on housing in Ireland suggests the Irish government is reversing course and will no longer be supporting homeownership:

STATE SUPPORT for the principle of home ownership is at an end after almost 100 years, a national housing conference has heard.

Encouraging people to buy their homes had been seen by the State as a social good, as well as an economic one, but there was now a definite shift in policy, UCD sociology professor Tony Fahey said.

Tenant purchase schemes were dying out and local authorities were no longer offering loans to private buyers. The policy now is households need to be assisted by the State if they can’t afford to rent, not if they can’t afford to buy.

“It had been an article of faith for almost 100 years that home ownership was a social good and should be supported by the State . . . The historic roll the State played in putting up capital for housing won’t be repeated.”

Americans tend to think we are a nation of homeowners but there are several countries that have higher rates of homeownership. Ireland is one such country:

The highest home ownership is in Romania (96pc), followed by Lithuania (91pc), Hungary (89pc), Slovakia (89pc), Estonia (87pc), Latvia (87pc), Bulgaria (87pc), Norway (85pc), Iceland (84pc), Spain (83pc), Slovenia (81pc), Malta (79pc), Czech Republic (77pc) and Greece (76pc).

Ireland comes in at 73.7pc, while 70pc of people in the UK own their own homes.

Irish home ownership levels have dropped from a high of 79pc in the 1990s to just short of 74pc at the start of this century, according to a new book on the economy, ‘Sins Of The Father’ by Conor McCabe.

Ireland is now facing the consequences of a burst housing bubble in the last few years.

While Ireland is facing their own issues, I wonder if the US government might make a similar shift or at least pull back from supporting homeownership through public policy and government rhetoric. Thus far, it doesn’t look like this has happened much. But, if the mortgage interest deduction disappears and/or younger Americans continued to avoid buying homes, perhaps things could change quite a bit here as well.

However, even if the policies changed, this doesn’t necessarily mean the cultural value of homeownership will change quickly.

Sociologists join the Census Bureau Scientific Advisory Committee

While sociologists may not be terribly influential on the whole within the American government, there is at least one area where they are quite involved: the Census Bureau (see an earlier story here).

U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves has named 10 new members and a chairwoman to the Census Bureau’s Scientific Advisory Committee, which provides advice on the design and implementation of Census Bureau programs.

In addition to the director being a sociologist, of the 11 new members (out of 20 total), 5 are sociologists, 3 are statisticians, and the other three have different backgrounds.

When the Bureau director has not been a sociologist, does this mean the Census Bureau and this particular committee had fewer sociologists involved?

Are there any other posts within the government that sociologists hold and then also have the ability to appoint other sociologists to certain positions?

Facebook as “the most appalling spying machine ever invented”

The Drudge Report has a link to a story that details what Wikileak’s Julian Assange thinks about government monitoring of Facebook:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called Facebook “the most appalling spying machine ever invented” in an interview with Russia Today, pointing to the popular social networking site as one of the top tools for the U.S. to spy on its citizens.

“Here we have the world’s most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations, their communications with each other and their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to US Intelligence,” he said. “Facebook, Google, Yahoo, all these major U.S. organizations have built-in infaces for US intelligence.

“Everyone should understand that when they add their friends to Facebook they are doing free work for the United States intelligence agencies,” he added.

The comments were a bit strange, coming from the founder of a website best known for pushing spilling secret information.

In an email to the Daily News, a Facebook spokesman denied the company was doing anything that they weren’t legally obligated to do, saying that “the legal standards for compelling a company to turn over data are determined by the laws of the country, and we respect that standard.”

This article suggests Assange’s idea is a bit daft. And while I’m just guessing at the reason for Drudge’s link, this headline could be a sobering thought for many a Facebook user and is also evidence for conspiracy theorists who think the government is out to get them. So what should we make of such comments?

On one hand, I am skeptical that the government has to-the-minute access to everything that these websites offer. On the other hand, why shouldn’t the government be monitoring online activity? If employers routinely check Facebook in order to learn more about applicants or their own workers, why shouldn’t or can’t the government? In fact, in today’s world, wouldn’t the average Internet user expect that the government is looking at websites in order to monitor and investigate certain threats that are harmful to society? Privacy (account numbers, passwords, etc.) is one thing but if people are conducting illegal activity online, don’t we want the government to check it out?

Perhaps these comments should serve as a reminder for all Internet users: what is posted to the Internet can be found by all sorts of people, your friends and your enemies.

From backstage to frontstage, US diplomacy edition

One of Erving Goffman’s insights into human interaction was his analysis of the frontstage and backstage. These insights about what happens when in trusted company (backstage) versus the public presentation of self (frontstage) is very applicable to the latest Wikileaks news story where about 250,000 United States diplomatic cables have been made public. The leaking of this amount of information about the United States’ true views is remarkable:

Never before in history has a superpower lost control of such vast amounts of such sensitive information — data that can help paint a picture of the foundation upon which US foreign policy is built. Never before has the trust America’s partners have in the country been as badly shaken. Now, their own personal views and policy recommendations have been made public — as have America’s true views of them.

All governments put on a very public face and try to control the amount of information released to the public. Particularly when dealing with allies or foes, the public rhetoric is crafted very carefully in order to send the right public messages. But this latest leak reveals what happens behind the scenes and offers insights into the backstage world of the United States government. On one hand, this should be no surprise: we should assume that those in government discuss and debate ideas and stances before putting together a public message. On the other hand, it is rare for the average citizen or even journalists to have an opportunity to hear about what happens behind the scenes.

If we keep using Goffman’s analytical devices, what we can see now is the US government attempting to “save face,” to both condemn the leaking of this backstage information but also to try to patch up relationships that might be troubled by hearing what the US government “really thinks.”

Free apps from the US government

Parade provides a list of smartphone applications that are free for download from the United States government. From the Parade list and the online list at USA.gov, two of the useful and interesting options:

Recalls.gov Enter any food, medicine, or product to learn whether it has been the subject of a safety recall. [I’ve wondered how consumers are supposed to know whether an item is recalled or not. An app like this could be very useful.]

My Food-a-Pedia Type in any food to see how many calories it has and which food-pyramid requirements it fulfills. [Sounds like good basic nutrition information.]

I can’t imagine this app will get too much use:

Alternative Fuel Locator Looking for a tankful of bio-diesel? This app will show you the way to the nearest station. [Perhaps not enough bio-diesel users out there.]

And I’m not sure what users will think of these two:

FBI’s Most Wanted Browse a list of the country’s most dangerous fugitives and submit a tip from your phone if you spot one of the criminals. [Could be a way to kill time – or confirm one’s suspicions about the shifty guy on the subway.]

NASA App [Could be really cool – or a bunch of bureaucratic stuff.]

Not owning a smartphone, I haven’t spent any time browsing the application stores to see what is available. But if the government has jumped into the game, it sounds like we are well on our way to having many more apps…