Monday, January 28, 2008

"Neighbors Who Disappear In The Night"

Since the housing bubble burst, one of the themes I've focused on has been how fiscal and monetary policies that result in large-scale bankruptcies, widespread home loss, and a generation of experience-hardened cynics should be anathema to conservatism. Unfortunately, there are still too many self-avowed conservatives -- usually the lapel flag pin types, champions of optimism and upward mobility, ironically -- willing to defend policies that result in this madness:
The streets are empty. Trash rustles down the road past rusted barbecues, abandoned furniture, sagging homes and gardens turned to weed.

This is Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland and a town ravaged by the subprime mortgage crisis roiling the United States.

Faded "for sale" signs sit in front of deserted houses. The residents are gone, either in search of new jobs after the factories shut down, or in shame after being evicted for missing their mortgage payments.

A red, white and blue American flag flies over windows and doors which have been boarded up to keep the drug dealers away.

Thieves have stripped many homes of the plumbing, the doors, the windows, the aluminum siding.

The police station parking lot is full. The officers, who have seen their numbers triple since 2006, are coming back from their rounds. They speak of installing alarms in some of the homes claimed by squatters.

At 9422 Chagrin Street, a hand-scrawled sign attached to a window indicates someone lives there: "Please Used."

After three rings of the bell, Sarah Evans, 60, opens the door with a mixture of curiosity and alarm.

She says she is one of the last people left on the street. And she is on the verge of losing this two-bedroom house in which she has lived for more than 30 years because she simply cannot afford her monthly payments....

Laura Johnston, 50, says that her street -- about 10 minutes away by car -- was alive two years ago. Today, half the houses are abandoned.

"Folks could not afford their payments. They were asked to pay loans which doubled. They could not afford it, some lost their job. Lenders were greedy. They threw them out of their homes," she told AFP.

"I'm very upset. I missed my friend Helen. She disappeared overnight. She did not even say goodbye."

There are plenty of cases like Helen. They are called the neighbors who disappear in the night.
This is the heartland -- not Vegas, Los Angeles, or the west coast of Florida. And it's happening all over the country, from places like Shaker Heights to the leafy suburbs of Atlanta, Boston, and New York. No doubt some titular conservatives can write it all off with some ad hoc variation of faux-Schumpeterian creative destruction. But since home loss strikes at the heart of what many consider the American dream (with obvious longer-term implications for families, kids, and the bonds that hold society together at the local level) this seems less the result of bad monetary policy than some sort of radical social experiment gone horribly awry.

Conservatives have a bitter pill to swallow. You can spin this stuff a million ways (Clinton was reined in by Congress/he inherited Reagan's peace dividend/the economy was already stalling out by 2000, etc) and Heritage can churn out all the policy papers it wants. But if a Democrat wins in November and can take credit for fixing the current mess after one or two terms in office, an apparent pattern of Republicans leaving the economy in shambles and Democrats cleaning things up will have developed over the course of a quarter-century. And it'll take a lot more than lapel flag pins to change that perception.

16 Comments:

Anonymous goldhorder said...

Bush has been a complete disaster. There hasn't been a president this bad since Lyndon Johnson. Nixon made some bad decisions but he was placed in a position to make bad decisions by Johnson. Carter made the decisions that helped get things turned around...at least in the short term. I mean...the Carter Doctrine is still government policy obviously.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carter_Doctrine

I don't know if I agree with you TCR. The whole democrats as saviors thing is all a bit too neat. A kind of good cop...bad cop dynamic. I think the federal goverment is a shamelessly corrupt institution and every now and then our political elite has to back off a bit to keep the people's support. The Democrats will govern better because if they don't they will probably hang. If the Democrats don't establish some credibility with the rest of the world things are going to get very bad here.

1/28/2008 9:17 AM  
Anonymous JackofAllTirades said...

Let's assume that a Democrat gets into office - what kind of monetary policy will they pursue and what kind of long-term impact will that have on our economy?

I think we're like a consumer with maxed out credit cards - we're left with a handful of options - and none of them pleasant. I'm an Obama supporter, but even I don't see what he'll do to address our long-term structural deficits.

1/28/2008 10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My concern is that things are so bad that no one can fix them without considerable pain. But at least the Dems acknowledge the mess. I wish them well.

Assuming we can get through the next 12 months of Bush without even more problems, i.e. attack Iran.

1/28/2008 11:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"radical social experiment gone horribly awry" -- well put, CR.

Whammer

1/28/2008 12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And she is on the verge of losing this two-bedroom house in which she has lived for more than 30 years because she simply cannot afford her monthly payments..."

The question is WHY is this so? She has lived in the house for MORE THAN 30 YEARS! Her mortgage should be paid off - zero - nada. The only reason it would not be paid off is if she chose to refinance and take money out to spend on other items. She obviously made a very, poor decision. The question is how do you propose to prevent people from making poor decisions or, alternatively, how do you propose to protect them from the consequenses of those poor decisions.

I presume that whatever answer there is will somehow involve me paying more in taxes.

These things have happened before - my wifes parents lost their house in the early 80s when the economy when south and they couldn't afford the payments on the place (after they had taken out a second mortage because they were told it was such a great idea). They learned their lesson and now have another house, without the second mortgage.

Our country made it through those times, we will make it through these too.

But the Piper must be paid.

1/28/2008 12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if I agree with you TCR. The whole democrats as saviors thing is all a bit too neat. A kind of good cop...bad cop dynamic. I think the federal goverment is a shamelessly corrupt institution and every now and then our political elite has to back off a bit to keep the people's support. The Democrats will govern better because if they don't they will probably hang. If the Democrats don't establish some credibility with the rest of the world things are going to get very bad here.

I'm a Dem who's going to scrap his party affiliation after one last primary ballot, because "my" party has utterly failed to rein in an administration that is a crime syndicate. The national-level Dems stand for nothing, believe in nothing, beyond gaining office.

So having established those credentials, I gotta say that if there's one thing the Dems DO have, and have offered for about 15 years now, it's mundane technocratic competence. They don't go breaking things just because they can, or because some think-tank loons have come up with a "clever" argument about why they should. One might disagree with what they're managing -- most old-style "honest" conservatives do, as far as I can tell. But in general, Howard Dean is correct when he says that you can't trust Republicans to manage your tax dollars, or much of anything.

Sober, practical management used to be the singular virtue of the Republican Party. Without that, I don't know what the hell they think they're going to do, now that they've probably discredited themselves for a generation.

By the way, among the things that Dems didn't gratuitously smash were our overseas relationships. A thought occurred to me a few weeks ago, and I can't shake it: Since Hitler or maybe Stalin, has there ever been a prominent "leader" whose departure was so eagerly anticipated by the entire world as the Idiot Prince?
-- sglover

1/28/2008 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Gus said...

As others have pointed out, though, making our way out of this mess will be painful. So Republicans will hope to associate Democrats with the bitter pills that we'll need to swallow to fix the mess.

1/28/2008 2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gus, there was a comment on another thread here recently about how this administration is chiefly trying to foist all the problems onto the next administration.

If, as likely, a Dem wins the presidency in the fall (if for no other reason than the current Repub candidates can't bear to criticize the Idiot Prince), there will be a heck of a mess on their hands, and the day after inauguration the right-wing noise machine will be blaming everything on the new Pres.

Whammer

1/28/2008 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

Clearly, the money ought to bear the legend Caveat Emptor rather than Novus Ordo Seclorum or In God We Trust

1/28/2008 4:42 PM  
Anonymous Cheryl said...

The question is WHY is this so? She has lived in the house for MORE THAN 30 YEARS! Her mortgage should be paid off - zero - nada. The only reason it would not be paid off is if she chose to refinance and take money out to spend on other items. She obviously made a very, poor decision.

What if that item she refinanced to buy was a new roof, or a furnace? Or perhaps an operation she would never have been able to afford otherwise.

I really do get what you're saying--I have a friend who re-financed his house last year in order to buy season tickets to a baseball team that came in 4th or 5th in its division. *That* was a dumb move. We just don't know if this person is in fact that kind of idiot.

1/28/2008 6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So now the Europeans (AFP) are sending non-English speaking reporters to chronicle our downfall. An "interesting" experience. I grew up in Cleveland's suburbs, several of them (Shaker Heights among them). According to these AFP "reporters," Shaker Heights is "a town ravaged by the subprime mortgage crisis...". Huh?!?!?! Last time I looked, the average price of a home in Shaker Heights was in the high six-figure territory. I rather wonder what suburb they were actually visiting. 9422 Chagrin Street? Nope. Chagrin Boulevard, yes, and some of it runs through Shaker, but I'm not sure there is a Chagrin Street, or, if there is, what suburb it might be in. I'm sure what they are reporting on in the article is quite real, but because they are not from the area, they have got their basics a bit twisted.

1/28/2008 7:56 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

I agree with you sglover.
Remember the Pulp Fiction movie? Democrats are the Cleaners...Republicans are the hitman.

1/29/2008 2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Apparent pattern"??? I guess you are coming at this from a Republican perspective so I am impressed, as usual, by your thoughtfulness and openmindedness. It's not that I think the Dems are saints or anything, but, unlike the commenter above who claims to be a Dem about to abandon the party, I'm committed to the Dems because I don't see any other option if you want a responsible government. The Dems are stuck at the moment in a situation where they don't have enough votes in the House to override a veto, and they don't have enough votes in the Senate to overcome the obstructionism of the Republicans, and they have to deal with Bush for the next year. I wish Reid had a sense of theatrics/symbolism (and I wish he'd stop putting up with Lieberman's foolishness), but I don't think there's all that much he can do on a practical level.

Anyway. It's a rough road ahead, no matter what. Thanks, Repubs!

1/30/2008 11:21 AM  
Anonymous donna said...

Link is gone. Guess that article was Too Scary.

1/31/2008 6:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The link is gone because the story was botched. The reporter mistook Shaker Heights for some another suburb:

http://www.cleveland.com/news/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/cuyahoga/1201685834303840.xml&coll=2

I ran around with some Shaker kids in college, and so knew it's reputation as an affluent area. The part about factory closures contributing to the problem tipped me off.

1/31/2008 6:53 PM  
Anonymous viagra online said...

ahhaha nice this sounds like a nightmare story, something like resident evil or worse haha anyway nice story.
Thanks for sharing.

1/18/2011 10:26 AM  

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