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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

When did we become so unforgiving of people who make mistakes?
Posted by Jill | 5:56 AM
I was reading some of the comments in response to this account in Salon of someone who is losing her house, and I began to ask myself: When did we become so completely unforgiving of people who lose their jobs or lose their homes?

It's one thing for Republicans to demonize the unemployed. We expect that of them. We expect John Kyl to live in a magic world where tax cuts don't contribute to the deficit but unemployment compensation that people will spend NOW does. We expect a bunch of anti-government Republicans who don't hate government enough to get out of it to tell us that after thirty-eight years of paying into Social Security, we will now have to work until we're seventy and STILL get nothing. But our side of the divide is often no better.

If you read the Salon piece, you'll see things that make it difficult to sympathize with the author -- the idea that giving up lattes is something you even have to think about, or that sending your kid to public school instead of shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for private ought to be one of the FIRST things you consider if you find your income dropping. But really....how many of us live in this utopian world of cynical reality that we seem to demand of others?

Starting in my thirties, I wanted a house the way most women want babies. Even after seeing a friend sell at a loss barely a step ahead of foreclosure after the 1987 housing crash, I still wanted a house. I wanted one because I didn't want to have to beg someone, like a four-year-old child, "Please, Mr. Landlord, please can I have a kitty? I promise I'll take care of it!" ever again. I may find it hard to sympathize those who fell into the trap of thinking that a Cape Cod wasn't good enough, they needed a McMansion with an atrium hallway, bridal staircase, and more bathrooms than bedrooms. Fourteen years after moving in, with my friend's mother's comment "You are going to be working on this house until the day you die" still ringing in my ears and two bathrooms in desperate need of remodeling, waiting for enough ready cash to be saved to do it, it's hard to sympathize with those who succumbed to the siren song of equity loans. After all, when you've spent fourteen years contact-cementing the ugly yellow laminate back onto the countertop edge instead of taking a $50,000 equity loan for a dream kitchen, it would be easy to feel a frisson of schadenfreude for those who looked down their noses at you back in those crazy days of easy credit.

But what would be the point? OK, so I don't do remodeling till I have the cash. Mr. Brilliant and I are both working and we have health insurance. But that doesn't make us immune to corporate downsizing, or being jettisoned because we may cost more to insure as we get older. In the long run, am I any better off than these people, if he or I get sick and neither of us can work because the well one is taking care of the sick one and "80% of usual and customary" still means hundreds of thousands in medical bills? Am I any better off if it becomes necessary to try to sell and we can't because starting next year we will have 600 airplanes a day flying 2000 feet over our heads because the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey decided that all the flight paths into Newark Airport should be rerouted right over residential areas of Bergen County?

I know people who have never "sold out" and continue to work temp jobs, living from paycheck to paycheck into their forties with no health insurance. I know people who carry equity loans. I know people who bought houses when prices were high and are now underwater. I know people who don't know how they're going to pay for their kids' college because the investment accounts they opened for that purpose lost half their value. Are we going to judge all of them because every last one of them is in serious danger of financial collapse? Would judging them somehow insulate the rest of us from financial ruin? Hate is not a talisman, and yet sometimes we seem to treat it as one. Who among us has never made a bad decision? Are we becoming so depleted as a society that ALL of us think that the wages of -- what? Sin? Inability to predict the future? -- are homelessness and death?

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Blogger Nan said...
I blame Reagan. It was under his administration that our society took that turn into self-centered, self-righteous, I've got mine, screw everyone else fullblown greed -- coupled with the notion that whatever bad thing happened to other people, those people deserved it.

Blogger New York Crank said...
We are a heartless society because a bunch of greedy bastards spend a hunk of dough teaching us to think that way.

It's the Nazi Big Lie theory: Repeat it enough and people believe it. The Supreme Court now says there is no limit on how much money can be spent repeating it. We used to believe that the truth shall make you free. But if you have no money, the truth gets drowned out by irrational, hateful, opposition advertising. Right now, the truth is drowning on a waterboard.

So we believe that if we cut off unemployment payments, people will somehow get jobs where there are no jobs. We believe that a balanced budget will fix the economy. (Although an unbalanced budget didn't matter when George Bush was simultaneously invading Iraq and cutting taxes.) We believe that it doesn't matter if we kill off schools and hospitals.

You are witnessing a society in decline. Rapid decline. Thank Ronald Reagan, George Bush, the activist Supreme Court majority, and Glenn Beck, who has proved you can so shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater and get away with it.

Yours very crankily
The New York Crank

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Just loaned a young married couple a couple of hundred dollars to make the rent.

Both college educated, both working two fast food jobs that are short just enough hours that they don't have health insurance coverage.

I don't mind bailing them out, but this time I told them to be prepared to put everything they want to keep in storage and I will pay for Greyhound bus tickets to one of their families.

Eeking it out working 70 hour weeks for minimum wage is not going to make it.

Anonymous Charlie O said...
Nan, I remember telling my boss in Bethesda, MD while working as a typesetting many, many years that this country would be reeling from the effects of Ronald Reagan for at least twenty years after he was gone. With comments like yours, I feel enormously vindicated.