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I’m not dancing on his grave, either, but expect no tears from me. Paul Allen was extremely rich, and seemed to have more fun with his wealth than most of his peers. He bought NBA and NFL teams, and a big yacht, and Jimi Hendrix’s guitars. That all seems fun.

I am profoundly ambivalent about Paul Allen. He was very private but paradoxically very splashy and very involved in Seattle’s civic life. There is a feudal quality to that paradox. That’s why I do not feel anything but uneasy about his death: Paul Allen exercised tremendous power and shaped Seattle into the city of his vision. Much of that work was through philanthropy, but much of it was done by killing income taxes and other typically shady billionaire stuff.

He was unaccountable to anyone. He could do whatever he wanted and have no worry about any of the consequences. Another paradox: he tried to create the Seattle Commons, but when that failed, he went ahead and helped turn South Lake Union into Amazonland because. As with everything, Paul Allen just felt like doing something and so he did it.

So, yeah, the Cinerama is nice, the Seahawks are well-run, and KEXP and MOHAI are set up. But at the time of Paul Allen’s death, Seattle is a city that matches his interests and observable ideology. It is beautiful, with some notable cultural institutions, and interesting attractions, particularly if you are geeky and have money. But it’s expensive. Our tax system and housing are all very favorable to people with wealth, and unfair to everyone else, especially to anyone who has to get anywhere in a timely manner for a shift job or child care.

It’s a city for billionaires, and we’ve got plenty of ’em left.

Originally published at how’s your morale?.

Written by

Graham Isaac and Peter Johnson

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