NYC is an interesting place in that it somehow manages to combine both the opulent wealth and grandeur of billionaire wealth, yet has more homelessness and blatant poverty than a third world country.
Walking to a $150k/yr office job in midtown Manhattan wading through camps of homeless people and dodging mentally ill people shouting obscenities at no one in particular almost requires one to completely lack a moral conscious.
As humans our natural instinct is to call an ambulance when we see a pedestrian get hit by a car, or to jump in the water if we see a kid drowning, yet we’re conditioned to ignore the homeless as if they’re invisible and don’t exist. It’s a very unnatural instinct to ignore the plight of humans sleeping on cardboard boxes wallowing around in their own filth all day, perhaps even begging for food or a job. But in NYC it’s so common that one quickly becomes desensitized to it, with the running joke that no matter how absurd of a scene that occurs in NYC (eg. man running around naked shouting voodoo spells), New Yorkers will just ignore it and keep walking.
But what’s the alternative? Since individually you probably can’t really do anything about them unless you’re billionaire-level rich, you’ll just feel like sh*t if you think about it. Most people don’t want to feel like sh*t all day, so they just ignore them and keep walking, focusing their thoughts instead on where they’re going to grab lunch later today. At least that they can control and not have to feel guilty about it.
It’s always shocked me how little attention homelessness gets in NYC. Don’t get me wrong, people will make passing references to it. “Doesn’t it feel like the homeless population has grown?” But nobody is really doing anything about it. Politicians never talk about it. Nobody really cares.
Imagine what we could accomplish if we spent 1/10th the amount of time we spend thinking about, say, trying to beat the stock market, and instead spent that time trying to end homelessness. We could end it tomorrow.
I had a call today with a very successful Harvard-educated entrepreneur living in NYC. I spoke about the need to address the implications of technological advancement on our labor market, Universal Basic Income, and Andrew Yang, and he told me he thought it was cool that I was thinking about these things because most people aren’t. The first thought that came to my mind was “how could you live in NYC and not think about poverty when it’s so blatantly open and abundant?”
Maybe I’m just cut from a different cloth from most people. This isn’t some kind of humble bragging virtue signaling, I haven’t actually done anything for homeless people other than complain that there are too many, interview some, and tell people we need a UBI. I’d be way more successful if I didn’t give a sh*t about homeless people. I might’ve never left NYC if I didn’t give a sh*t about homeless people.
I just always found it difficult walking to that $150k/yr job and devoting the bulk of my time and energy to that job, when there were f***ing homeless people everywhere. I like tech, artificial intelligence, and string theory, but if there are goddamn homeless people at my doorstep, well suddenly pondering string theory doesn’t seem like the most pressing thing. To continue to ponder string theory while homeless people struggle to find a place to sleep feels immoral, like ignoring the drowning child in the river.
But what can I do as an individual right? I guess I need to become a billionaire first before I can end homelessness. Or at least wealthy enough to where I can build an army of social media followers and build a movement similar to what Andrew Yang has done. At the end of the day, Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend would certainly do more to end homelessness than any policy of any other politician currently running.
Why is homelessness not seen as a national emergency?
Anyways I need to get back to my day job now because I have student loan debt to pay off.