Is anyone else tired of the “we’re all to blame for this mess” meme that has been deployed by the people principally responsible for the ongoing financial meltdown? Here’s an especially cutesy version of it by Joel Stein–don’t blame the immediate past President of the U.S., don’t blame the bankers, blame people who bought “tasting menus and backyard bouncy castles”–that is, Jane and Joe Q. Middle-Class Public.
It’s terribly fashionable these days to ridicule people for being “upside-down” in mortgages for houses that can’t be sold at any price these days. I know that my flabber was regularly gasted by stories of people who make about what I do getting mortgages for $300,00 and $400,000 homes. But we hear very little about why residential real estate went up so much in the 2000s, and why homes that could be had in the $150,000-$200,000 range in some neighborhoods nearly doubled in price in less than a decade (and make that “nearly tripled” in some places in California.)
The key here is that it was only some neighborhoods that went through the roof, and my guess is that much of the speculation was driven by the parental frenzy to live in a “good” school district. I think this analysis of Connecticut real estate prices and school test scores is a tale that can be told about a lot of American cities, towns, and neighborhoods in the 2000s. I’ve always thought that the “No Child Left Behind” was a huge racket and a right-wing twofer of privatization and attacks on unions (unions that disproportionately serve women workers, too, so make that a threefer): NCLB funneled public money to private testing companies in return for clubs with which to beat teachers and the teacher’s unions. Now it appears that it may also have contributed to the absurd runup in real estate prices that have buried the middle class. Great idea! It all makes so much sense if you want to turn public schools into tools designed to destabilize people’s faith in government, rather than to, you know, educate children. If public education were adequately funded everywhere, instead of in just some school districts, then maybe we’d not only have better schools for everyone, the cost of housing wouldn’t drive working- and middle-class people into a ditch.
Now, to return to those “tasting menus and backyard bouncy castles:” does Stein really think that that’s where most American consumer debt is? Because everything I’ve read recently–and if you’re a sentient being who’s been in a retail establishment lately–says that buying stuff is not the problem for most of us. Consumer goods are embarrassingly inexpensive these days, because most of them are made in developing countries by workers who may not even be free, let alone paid a decent wage to work in a safe environment. Medical debt is a large part of the problem in the U.S., where access to health care is not a civil right People who are uninsured or badly or unscrupulously insured have to pay those bills somehow, and hospitals loves them the Visa and the old MC. (By the way, everythink I learned about this–not much, I admit–I learned at the knee of Elizabeth Warren. Check her out.)
There are some things government doesn’t do well–like, for example, waging bullcrap wars on “drugs” and on “terror.” (Can we have a War on Euphemism next, please?) There are other things that make sense to do collectively and democratically, like health care and K-12 education. We’ve tried privatization and “accountability” for third-grade teachers making $35,000 a year but not for Wall Street bankers making $35 million, and more–tell me again: how’s that working out for us?