Thoughts and Lessons From the Head Tax Brouhaha

Well, that came and went, didn’t it?

The news that the Seattle City Council was backing down from its earlier decision to impose a head tax on local businesses marked the end (?) of a brief but contentious chapter in the Emerald City’s ongoing effort to find some kind of resolution to two separate issues – one painfully immediate and practical, the other a bit more abstract but vital nonetheless.

The first issue – the painfully immediate one – is homelessness. And there’s absolutely no getting around it: The fact that so many of our neighbors are living on the streets, under our bridges, and in our parks is a civic shame on me, on you, and on all of us who call this proudly progressive and prosperous region home. (And, yes, I’m using the word “neighbors” in its broadest sense here.)

The second issue – the more abstract one – is how to reconcile Seattle’s longstanding self-image as a big-hearted, thoughtful, pro-labor, somewhat isolated, essentially middle-class town with its very sudden emergence as a global corporate center and shiny magnet for elites from across the nation and around the world.

Something has to give here, and the noise over the head tax was the sound of tectonic plates uneasily shifting. Just on the face of it, it always seemed kind of nuts (to me, anyway) to try to address a homelessness crisis by taxing businesses for … giving people jobs. I mean, am I missing something?

That “something,” I’m willing to guess, is a deep-seated anxiety in many quarters about how Seattle will define itself in these formative years to come.

Large-scale homelessness is a vivid, can’t-look-away signal that something very basic is not working here, even as construction cranes continue to dot our ever-transforming skyline. The head tax, meanwhile, is a not-wholly-rational response to this disjuncture between extreme poverty and extreme prosperity.

I’m not going to pretend to have brilliant policy solutions to any of this. But I will say that it behooves all of us to look beyond simplistic, strangle-the-golden-goose “solutions” to the humanitarian crisis in our midst.

The men, women, and children who are living that crisis deserve better than such theatrics, and so do we all. But the only way better is going to happen is if we start coming up with genuine solutions – fast.

PS From PSP

And on a totally different topic … let’s talk about the World Cup. My musings on the world’s biggest sporting event can be tidily summarized as follows:

• Bummer that the US didn’t even qualify – I’m not sure how that even happened, given our sheer size, wealth, sports obsession, and increasing national fascination with the Beautiful Game , but never mind;

• Hooray that the US – along with Mexico and Canada – will host the World Cup in 2026. I’ll be genuinely shocked and puzzled if Seattle isn’t named one of the tournament’s venue cities, given the quality of our stadium and the level of soccer fandom here;

• So … many … tattoos. I thought living in the Pacific Northwest had long ago acculturated me to the sight of profuse body ink. But seriously, some of these games looked like break time at a body-art convention. Not complaining! Just saying, it’s pretty remarkable how thoroughly tats have ingrained themselves into worldwide culture just in the last decade or so.

Which makes me think of a question for all of you: Has anyone out there encountered any problems at a job interview because of a visible tattoo? Just curious – let me know.

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