Evicted from the ownership society
In the Vanity Fair article about Fannie Mae’s Last Stand, the slang term “housers” was used to describe the Fannie people who believed that better housing is the cure to all of society’s ills.
Most housers were likely supportors of the ownership society; a model encouraged by George W. Bush that values personal responsibility, economic liberty, and the owning of property. Some would argue this was purely a political strategy. For example, see this article in The Nation:
Well before the ownership society had a neat label, its creation was central to the success of the right-wing economic revolution around the world. The idea was simple: if working-class people owned a small piece of the market–a home mortgage, a stock portfolio, a private pension–they would cease to identify as workers and start to see themselves as owners, with the same interests as their bosses. That meant they could vote for politicians promising to improve stock performance rather than job conditions. Class consciousness would be a relic.
While others (this article at Cato.org), define an ownership society in economic terms:
People have known for a long time that individuals take better care of things they own. Aristotle wrote, “What belongs in common to the most people is accorded the least care: they take thought for their own things above all, and less about things common, or only so much as falls to each individually.” And we all observe that homeowners take better care of their houses than renters do. That’s not because renters are bad people; it’s just that you’re more attentive to details when you stand to profit from your house’s rising value or to suffer if it deteriorates.
Just as homeownership creates responsible homeowners, widespread ownership of other assets creates responsible citizens. People who are owners feel more dignity, more pride, and more confidence. They have a stronger stake, not just in their own property, but in their community and their society. Geoff Mulgan, a top aide to British prime minister Tony Blair, explains, “The left always tended to underestimate the importance of ownership, and how hard it is for a democracy that does not have widespread ownership of assets to be truly democratic. …To escape from poverty you need assets—assets which you can put to work. There is a good deal of historical evidence…as well as abundant contemporary evidence, that ownership tends to encourage self-esteem and healthy habits of behaviour, such as acting more for the long term, or taking education more seriously.”
Unfortunately, the mortgage crisis was spurred on when Bush issued America’s Homeownership Challenge and encouraged the real estate and mortgage industries to help close the gap that exists between the homeownership rates of minorities and non-minorities. We all know how that played out.
I never was a Bush supporter, but at my core, I’m a houser and understand the benefits of home ownership. Paying off my mortgage will have a long term impact on my bottom line.
Does wealth through home ownership cure all of society ills? Probably not. But I think a lot of good comes through owning your own home. Do you agree? Or was it just some artificial notion that prompted the housing bubble?
Photo credit: stock.xchng.