It’s official. President Obama’s stimulus package is law and, come March 4th, some of that money ($75 Billion but likely much more) will theoretically begin to flow to struggling home owners facing foreclosure. If you are a homeowner (like my wife and I) and you aren’t facing foreclosure (like my wife and I) because you’ve been keeping up with payments (like my wife and I), you probably thought: “Hey, what about us?” Like my wife and I.
After all, Human Nature is pretty competitive, and it relies on a sort of ethereal Universal Justice to act as referee. And while we like to think that the Universe is minding the store and responsibly meting out this Justice where applicable, the fact is that the Universe is huge (bigger than Texas, even) and our cries of: “It’s not fair!” have light years to travel. But this is a matter of Government, as universally insignificant as each of us individually, so maybe it’s fair to expect a little more justice.
So, let’s put this in perspective: It’s really all about perspective; specifically the perspective of what constitutes a “level playing field.” If, like many, you’re situated on the middle of a ladder, chances are, you’re always looking up and wondering how those people got there. “How can we level the playing field?” Maybe a tax break for us folks in the middle would do it.
Well, guess what; those same people are looking up at the people above them and are thinking the exact same thing, except for them, the answer is zero taxes on Capital Gains.
As another result of our limited perspective, no matter where a given person is on the ladder, since they know that they’re not at the top, they’ll always feel like they’re in the middle.
The notion that if we can just get to that next level that everything will be okay has been proven false at every stage in our lives, but our competitive Human Nature provides some convenient memory loss. When I was a young man, I thought that if I could just do comedy and make a living at it (a living being Rent and Mac ‘n’ Cheese) that I would never want anything else, and, for a time, I had exactly that. Perhaps you had a time in your life like that, too. How did it work out? Did you have a peer/boss that made more than you? That lived in a bigger house? Had insurance? Suddenly, your perspective changed and your sense of satisfaction was shattered. In a moment, your previous declaration seemed so naive.
My point is that we always seem to feel slighted when looking up (that’s where we want to be, after all), but we never seem to feel fortunate when looking down and acknowledge that, in many respects, we’re lucky to be where we are. Complacency makes lousy fuel to propel us up the ladder.
We yearn for a level playing field, but our perspective is so skewed towards a “me-centric” world view that we wouldn’t recognize “level” if we saw it. And the field is only allowed to be leveled in one direction; by either lifting us, or cutting off at the knees the ones above us.
Yes, some people took out some questionable mortgages, but it wasn’t entirely their fault. Alan Greenspan admitted that lowering interest rates when he did was a major mistake, and many of the people selling these mortgages were predatory lenders. “Sure you can afford this home with no money down. How do I know? My commission is always right.” I remember a time in my life when I could have been pretty easily taken.
And what do you think a neighborhood of foreclosed, bank-owned homes does to your property value? Unfortunately, in terms of your home’s value, there are no points for good behavior if a Sheriff’s Deputy is gluing a Notice to your neighbor’s storm door. Perhaps a rising tide does indeed raise all ships.
So we have a choice: We can scream: “It’s not fair! Don’t bail out the Suckers! Don’t bail out the Deadbeats!” or we can say: “There but for the grace of God go I.”