‘More Than Shelter’: House, Home Not Interchangeable, Journalist Says

Megan McArdle, a Washington Post journalist, is pictured speaking at the Chautauqua Institution. Photos by Sean Smith/The Chautauquan Daily

CHAUTAUQUA — For Washington Post journalist, Megan McArdle, a house does not equal a home.

The journalist said the two words are not interchangeable where one can mean the other.

As part of the theme of “More than Shelter: Redefining the American Home,” she told an Amphitheater audience that there is a housing crisis, but there is a homing opportunity, and technology is opening new doors for Americans to live.

“We talk about housing, the abstract, but homes in this specific you go house hunting, but you find a home because a home is where the people stopped being stick figures, and they start being individuals who are living. So I think often our most important questions about housing are actually questions about homing and they’re not just about shelter, but they’re about building places where people can flourish,” the journalist said.

She asked audience members to reflect on what they think the differences between a house and a home are.

Megan McArdle, a Washington Post journalist, is pictured speaking at the Chautauqua Institution. Photos by Sean Smith/The Chautauquan Daily

To McArdle, thinking about a home meant thinking about family — people that made that house safe and warm, and at peace.

With a house, she noted, people think about technical problems including how many bedrooms?; how the electrical wiring should look? And how tall should it be built?

“Everyone needs some place to keep the rain off of their heads. And we need to figure out how to give it to them. But we need to do so much more than that. Because in the end we need a house. But we are still all of us wanting something that’s so much more important,” she said.

She said the reason America has the richest economy is because people from all over the world come to the United States. Cities became the main attraction because everything was centered in those places. But then cities got too big and expensive to live in. She gave an example of a teacher in Mississippi being enticed or recruited to work in California. A teacher with $42,000 per year salary in Mississippi is better than a teacher salary of $80,000 in California.

The reason is the cost of living.

“And a lot of your other expenses would go up. Your taxes would go up, (and) groceries cost more. Everything costs more when you live in a city,” she added.

The only time it makes sense, she said, to live in a big city like San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C. is when a person could not work anywhere because their specific job is in a big city.

Between July 2020 and July 2021, the city of San Francisco lost 6.3 percent of its population. New York City lost 3.5 percent of its population while Washington and Boston both lost 2.9 percent of their populations.

Years ago, she added, people started moving to the suburbs, and commuting at least one hour to the cities. Technology, she said, has changed that. With remote work, people can change the commute and live longer distances from their places of employment.

McArdle added, that she thinks businesses will adopt a hybrid model where the Marchetti Constraint will be less. The Marchetti Constraint was developed by Italian Physicist Cesare Marchetti which says a principle that says workers will average an hour of commute time daily (half an hour each way), according to coadvantage.com. The website further stated that, according to this principle, if a worker takes a new job or the circumstances of an existing job change to extend the necessary commute, workers will generally then make personal life adjustments until they are once again spending about an hour commuting each day.

“Let’s not think about it on a daily basis. Let’s think about it as on a weekly basis. If I was commuting an hour a day, five days a week, (now) maybe I’m willing to commute two hours a day two days a week,” she said.

So that scenario, she said, enables people to go further and enables them to congest the roads less, and it enables other people to go farther and both, speeds up commutes and it allows people more distance.

According to assembly.chq.org, McArdle is a journalist, columnist and blogger who currently writes for The Washington Post on economics, finance and government policy. In a career that spans 20 years and several outlets, McArdle has written extensively on the economy and housing — from real estate booms and busts to housing shortages and crises, from market trends to the very question of “Why Buy a House?” McArdle began her career writing the blog “Live From The WTC” in November 2001, which arose from her employment with a construction firm involved in the cleanup at the World Trade Center site following 9/11. In 2022 she renamed the site “Asymmetrical Information.” In 2003, McArdle was hired by The Economist, where in 2006 she started the outlet’s “Free Exchange” blog. She became a full-time blogger at The Atlantic in 2007 with her blog “Asymmetrical Information,” and became the magazine’s business and economics editor in 2010. After leaving The Atlantic in 2012, she worked for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and then Bloomberg View, where she worked until joining the opinion staff at The Washington Post in 2018. The author of The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success, McArdle has also served as a Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow at New America. McArdle earned her B.A. in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania, and her MBA from University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

“Our home’s location also determines a bunch of other stuff — where our kids will go to school, where we vote or attend church, even who our friends will be. It’s where we shop and how we get to work. It’s the last thing we look at before we go to sleep at night. I don’t want to say that housing is everything, but boy it is the linchpin of almost everything that matters.”


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