Wednesday, September 8, 2010

short memories

I grew up hearing tales of great-grandparents who, having lived through the Great Depression, behaved in anachronistically austere behavior that during my parents' childhoods (the full-bellied Fifties) and my adolescence (the swinging Nineties) seemed bizarre -- scraping the wrapping paper on sticks of butter, etc -- but it seems the memory cycle has tightened considerably.

A case in point: why would anyone, anyone, who has lived through the past three years give this quote to a newspaper reporter:
“We have had enough artificial support and need to let the free market do its thing,” said the housing analyst Ivy Zelman.
Yup. "Experts" are saying that -- with unemployment at 10% and the economy turning towards a double-dip recession -- the problem with housing prices is that the government is simply doing too much.

Having just survived a failed attempt to be a homeowner myself, these articles fill me with terror; if, as it seems many argue, the Obama Administration has run out of tools in its toolbox to prop up house prices, that doesn't necessarily mean that some laissez-faire hegemony returns by default, does it? We've been here before. But, oops, I guess that was too long ago to remember in the internet age:
As the economy again sputters and potential buyers flee — July housing sales sank 26 percent from July 2009 — there is a growing sense of exhaustion with government intervention. Some economists and analysts are now urging a dose of shock therapy that would greatly shift the benefits to future homeowners: Let the housing market crash.
Guys. Seriously. You're not even changing the terminology?

While I support (most of) President Obama's policies, it has become clear that he has continued many of President Bush's initiatives in everything but name -- especially the conduct of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the human rights abuses perpetuated in our name in extra-legal detention centers around the world. But while he has abandoned the eye-rolling terminology of George W. Bush's ownership society, the Obama Administration's efforts to prevent mortgage defaults at all costs is the same desperate attempt to prop up unsustainable levels of consumption.

Which begs the question -- which bothered me the entire time I was failing spectacularly to purchase property -- if home ownership is the hallmark of stability that everyone seems to think it is, why would messing around with tax credits of $6,000 to $8,000 (a fraction of a home's purchase price) create such earthquakes? Could it be that it's a concept based on a fallacy? Like the ownership society? Like capitalism?

(Seriously, just read Naomi Klein.)

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