|Reviewing Obama's "Blueprint for Change"||Bill Buckley's Conservative Family|
by Christopher Chantrill
March 02, 2008 at 2:59 pm
LET US SUPPOSE that the mortgage meltdown has about finished melting and that some sort of recovery will shortly begin. The Federal Reserve Board has aggressively reduced interest rates from the 5.25 to 3.0 percent. And the seized-up interbank loan market appears to have eased, with the LIBOR 3-month interbank rate now close to the fed funds rate.
That means that the real-estate problem is solved, and that we can all relax, right?
Maybe thats our liberal friends, authors of the current mortgage subsidy edifice, can relax. But not conservatives.
The problem with the real-estate market is that it forces ordinary people to use far too much leverage. Americans are mostly pretty conservative about their finances. But for many Americans the only way that they can afford a home is by accepting a very risky proposition, borrowing 80 percent or more of the purchase price of their home.
It was not always thus. Before the Great Depression Americans seldom borrowed more than 50 percent of the purchase price on a home and mortgages were seldom written for a term longer than ten years. But the housing meltdown of the 1930s encouraged the federal government to introduce a range of subsidies for home ownership including the Federal Home Loan Bank and the federally insured Savings and Loan Associations with their 30 year fixed mortgages. In 1938 the Feds created the Federal National Mortgage Association, Fannie Mae. And of course mortgage interest is deductible from US income tax.
With the government underwriting home mortgages lenders could afford to offer homeowners higher and higher leverage.
This sort of high-stakes homeownership is wrong, and it is wrong for politicians to encourage it. Highly leveraged investing is all very well for hedge funds and their rich customers. But it is wrong to lure ordinary American homeowners into such a risky scheme.
As a young thirtysomething friend said to me: I didnt know. She bought a home in the final up-leg in 2005 of the late great real-estate boom. People told her that real-estate was a good investment, and the banks and real-estate agents were happy to sell her a mortgage. But she didnt know that all booms end in tears. Now shes moved out of town and the house is under water.
High leverage is for the finance professionals, not for young professional couples with a young child and another on the way.
If highly leveraged homeownership is wrong, then what should replace it?
The answer is pretty obvious, and Im rather disappointed that nobody has suggested it. We need less debt and more equity in the real-estate business. But how do you use get more equity when you dont have the cash to put down? You take on an equity partner to lower your risk. Let us call it home equity partnership. Here is how it would work.
You buy a house and you get a 50 percent mortgage on a $200,000 purchase price. But, of course, you are a thirtysomething and you dont have a 50 percent down payment. So your realtor sets you up with a home equity partnership offered by retail financial institutions and on the web. You put down 20 percent of the purchase price, or $40,000 and a partner kicks in 30 percent.
This means that the equity in the home is shared between you and the partner. If you sell the house in five years for a $100,000 profit then you get $40,000 and the partner gets $60,000. Thats not the sort of thing you can boast about at parties.
But look at what happens on the downside. Suppose there were a mortgage meltdown and your homes value went down 20 percent. If you had taken out an 80 percent mortgage you would be out your entire $40,000 down payment. But you didnt. You only had a 50 percent mortgage, and the rest was financed with a home equity partnership. So the $40,000 loss is shared with your equity partner. You are out 40 percent of $40,000, or $16,000 and your partner is out $24,000. The house would have to lose 50 percent of its value for your investment to get wiped out.
Heres the $64,000 question. What would an equity partnership like this be worth? Would the homeowner pay a premium to the partner? Would the partner pay a premium to the homeowner for the opportunity to participate in the real-estate venture? Would it be a wash? As the homeowner pays down the balance on the mortgage would the equity shares be adjusted? On what terms could the homeowner buy out the equity partner?
Here are some more questions. Would this plan reduce the payments the homeowner paid on a mortgage? Would the homeowner gradually buy out the partners share? Supposing the equity partner wanted out?
Then there are the technical questions. Would a real-estate equity partnership be practical? Would there be opportunities for fraud that would kill the whole concept? Would homeowners accept the idea of a partner getting a share of their home equity?
Nobody knows the answers to any of this.
But we do know that the current system of enticing young families into the risky scheme of highly leveraged real-estate speculation is wrong and there ought to be a law.
And politically, whats not to like? Conservatives are desperate to encourage the American people to buy into the notion of ownership and equity and to earn themselves independence and self-respect. Our liberal friends are desperate to bury everybody in a rising tide of debt and subsidy that makes them more and more dependent on government and liberal programs when things go south. We are right and they are wrong.
Let the new home equity partnership be the first step towards a new Conservative Equity Society.
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050
Civil Societya complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churchesbuilds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust
[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008
As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable...
[1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006
No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.
Lord Salisbury, Letter to Lord Lytton
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, The Scientist as Rebel