Stock Suburban Family

Devon, PA.  Thomas J. Sugrue’s new article in the Wall Street Journal proves considerably more nuanced and insightful than its headline and summary suggest.  Sugrue, an University of Pennsylvania historian, sketches in brief his history of home ownership and the government administration, promotion, and subsidy thereof in America.  Based on its contents, and drawing on some recent essays printed in FPR by Allen Carlson and John Médaille, we might offer these points for consideration, rather than indulging the sensation of scandal the WSJ might prefer us to feel at the prospect of renting becoming the “new American Dream.”

1.  Sugrue pointedly distinguishes between traditional rates of home ownership in the United States, in France and Germany, and in Spain and Italy thus:

Some countries—such as Spain and Italy—have higher rates of home ownership than the U.S., but there, homes are often purchased with the support of extended families and are places to settle for the long term, not to flip to eager buyers or trade up for a McMansion. In France, Germany, and Switzerland, renting is more common than purchasing. There, most people invest their earnings in the stock market or squirrel it away in savings accounts. In those countries, whether you are a renter or an owner, houses have use value, not exchange value.

This is not a new distinction, but it certainly is a vital one.  Tocqueville observed in Democracy in America that the American restlessness, the constant pursuit of money because of the insecurity and evanescence of family fortunes in an intensely liquid capitalist, industrial society, saturated Americans’ practices of farming and property ownership.  To a lesser extent — rather than a greater — than older and more traditional societies, Americans cherished the stability, autarky, and intergenerational continuity of property ownership.  In an age when most agriculture was still subsistence agriculture, Tocqueville saw that Americans had managed to huckster farming into a short-term investment scheme; the American farmer might buy a patch of land, cultivate it for a few years, and, once the rocks had all been removed from the fields and the land turned to good account for a few seasons, that farmer was likely to sell it off and move away.

Let us not, therefore, pretend that there is a deeply rooted ethos of ownership in America; the main tradition in our culture was conceived on wealth, not on property, and on “booming” not on “sticking” (to give Wendell Berry his two cents).  Tocqueville rightly found the sight vertiginous, a threat rather than an achievement in the first modern nation.  He correctly predicted it would aid in the creation of an elite plutocracy and the barbarization of the great masses.  Our culture seems even now to have a weak conception of what ownership and property really mean, and indeed this misconception contributed substantially to our present depressed economic condition.  The belief that housing was a financial investment, rather than an investment in a family’s long term stability and rootedness, led to a conception of property as measurable in terms of wealth.  But homes cannot be measured in terms of wealth primarily because, first, they cannot consistently and perpetually accrue in monetary value and, second, they are by peculiarly illiquid assets — which suggests they should not be thought of as assets in any case.

2. What if we had viewed — what if we did now view — ownership after the Italian and Spanish way?  What if we saw, in other words, home ownership as an instrumental good, but as an instrumental good whose ultimate bonum honestum was the founding, cultivation, and preservation of a household across generations, rather than the cash that the liquidation of the property will bring us?  Only a society that confuses wealth with property could even need to ask such a question, since by its very essence money cannot be a bonum honestum; it becomes meaningless as soon as it becomes its own end, and the sensation of avarice is not merely a vice but a sort of psychosis, in which the soul becomes self-enclosed upon its own appetite, and the cure for which is to realize, again, that wealth is not property.  In itself, viewing home ownership thus would transform the entire structure of our society, because it would reduce the conception of economy as the vast network of capital-mediated exchange, and restore the concept of economy as the care of the oikia (a classical conception Mark Shiffman and Patrick Deneen have ellaborated).  It would recognize that life in this world is fragile and finite, but that, because of our intellects and souls, it is naturally oriented toward the immortality of historical memory and the eternity of God.  The home gains rather than loses importance when we remember we have souls.

3. Architecture and the domestic geography would be the most obvious signifiers of this reconception.  What kinds of homes would be built if owners, architects, and lenders alike presumed the purpose of home ownership was to provide, well, a house owned by its occupants and owned for a lifetime or more?  Something they would not “trade up,” but which they could sustain and retain, reversing thereby the three-centuries-long trend toward the expropriation of most human beings?  We might call this the Jimmy Stewart theory of home finance; as he put it in It’s a Wonderful Life, all the members of his savings and loan wanted was “a coupla lousy rooms” all their own.  Had lenders been building twins and terrace or row houses with good front porches and sizable backyards in urban areas; had they been building small detached homes with room for good gardens and in walking distance to the places necessary for commerce and society; had they built with an aesthetic and material eye to durability and long tenure; had they been building, in other words, significantly more modest, sturdier homes with an over all greater density of population per block, and a greater attention to the other things necessary to a domestic economy, our newspapers would be having a different conversation right now.

It is perhaps hard for someone in New York or other major metropolitan areas to understand this, but in the vast majority of rural, small town, and semi-urban areas, the difference between the monthly payment on a mortgage on a three bedroom house (attached or detached) and the monthly rent on a three bedroom apartment is not all that great.  If fewer families’ home purchases had been distorted by bad lending practices and the assumption that a home has to come, as it were, ready for re-sale, many more would be sitting comfortably (if cozily) in their living rooms right now.  Ownership must be formed on modesty and frugality rather than a wild leap on the bet of limitless financial horizons. (As someone who used always to ask for the “student discount” at my local diner, in order to save $0.11 on my order of rice pudding, I feel all things, even dessert, should be informed by frugality).

4. Although the full details of the real estate and subprime crisis are messy and not conducive to summary prescriptions, we know already that it was not primarily the number of persons to whom mortgages were granted, but the above-noted home-investment culture and its lending structure itself that begat an age of foreclosure.  Too much was loaned to too many for houses that were too large and too optimistically assessed: homes built cheaply and, consequently, over hastily; homes built to be be sold, sold, sold, and demolished.  The subprime loans were exploitive, since lenders relied on the incompetence of their clients; I would not want to make a blanket defense of ownership for all persons, but surely there was a broad category of borrowers who were capable of making sound financial decisions, but did not simply because they were given dubious information — information they interpreted within the matrix of a widely shared and destructive conception of what home ownership means.  The chopping up and marketing of mortgages as securities was also exploitive, (at the very least) insofar as it was founded not on the idea of diffusing and thereby minimizing investor risk, but in simply passing it down the line so that it became less rather than more likely that an investor would understand the nature of the risks he was assuming.

5. Realtors are fond of insisting that “every market is different,” and that prices vary from area to area, but it is clear the “placelessness” such a statement implies is a double source of the real estate evils of our day.  One thinks so “globally” only when homes are primarily conceived of as investments; one thus thinks in this manner when it is the fungibility rather than the stability of the home one regards as essential.  Further, one can think in these terms only when mobility — above all, job or career mobility — is thought unproblematic.  As Sugrue hints, one facet of the housing crisis per se, as well as the long crisis that is life in a deracinated capitalist system, is the perpetual mobility of Americans in pursuit of their next dollar.  Home ownership can and should only be desirable to those who understand it as at once the cumulative and foundational symbol of a commitment of a particular community.  If career and financial opportunities become the true end Americans chase, they can have little hope of putting down the kinds of roots that relatively illiquid home ownership entails.

Only if we are willing to conceive of the place we are born, or at least the place we now live, as something to which we belong and to which we owe a certain fidelity, could we reasonably think home ownership a cultural good rather than a systemic inefficiency.  (Home ownership is the blocked artery of global capital).  And to think that way, frankly, you have to be capable of saying, “I would rather change jobs than change locales.  I would rather do what my local economy and culture allow than join the fluid and homeless stream.” (If you are a cultural fallout of the ‘Seventies, try saying, as a self-esteem exercise in the mirror every morning, “I shall not envy the deracinated meritocrats!” and “I shall not fawn over visitors from Boston, because they come from a ‘real place’ unlike Celina, Ohio!”).  Such a statement is incomprehensible to econometrics, but there is no person who does not sense in his soul the decisiveness of this crossroads of economics, anthropology, and theology.  Again, I insist, all of us feel it, and many of us set it aside just as our ancestors in the Nineteenth Century set faith and theology aside as a matter of “sentiment” and “fancy.”

6.  I underscore with a separate point the pith of the previous: commitment to a home as property is tied to a commitment to domestic and local economy.  Home ownership is superfluous, even dangerous, if not conceived as the necessary neighbor of one’s work and place of work.  This means communities should be more selective in how they solicit investments and the attraction of business and industry, working to ensure that those investments are coupled with long-term commitments.  The illiquid nature of home property thus impinges necessarily on assumed liquidity of business, just as, at present, the obscene mobility of business capital impinges upon the power of families to establish stable households.  Myriad implications spiral out of this: the reassertion of local control over commerically zoned property, the creation of entrance and exit costs of businesses, the proper treatment of business mobility as a liability for everyone but the most distant investors.

7. Let us eliminate the large lenders whose size and organizational complexity turns a home loan into a matter ajudicated in Washington, D.C., and bartered in New York City; let us consider doing to ourselves what our better spirits do in the third world: reconfiguring lending in general on a local, even micro-finance, scale.  As I have argued elsewhere, in the short term, this will probably reduce the total number of home owners but will strengthen their security and longevity and will, in turn, serve as a foundation for the cultivation of lasting and richer communities across the country.  The experience of Spain and Italy suggest that, long term, we may actually expect a higher percentage of home ownership increased by the gain in stability.

The brevity of Sugrue’s article makes it hard to conceive of any alternative besides either a country of renters or a country of tenuous home owners whose mortgages are legislated and secured by “Uncle Sam.”  But how about, at the least, reducing the scale of the lending industry to the size of states (or to an even lower level), where risks and benefits can be gaged more responsibly?  We might, further, work home ownership into local and state tax structures; as Jeremy Beer has suggested, it may be in a community’s best interest to structure property taxation on a schedule that rewarded long tenure, as it may also be in the interest of communities to tax in a way favorable to those who live and work within the borders of a given locality.  Such ideas are fanciful only because the great bulk of our tax burden flows to the Federal government, which then redistributes it across the country as a whole.  A placeless policy of taxation for a placeless people — which would be fine if only human beings did not have to live and die somewhere instead of anywhere or nowhere.

Free enterprise and a free market are wonderful things so long as they are no less tied to the concrete circumstances of place and community than human beings, when they are flourishing human beings, are.  I almost agree with Sarah Palin that state lines are “artificial”; they circumscribe far too vast a territory for the eye to survey.  So let us set our sights a bit lower, upon the natural boundaries of our communities, and treat them as the foundations of good limited government.

8. All this will lead to a certain state-to-state inequity, of course, because God and Nature alike make choices of love and fortune.  The sooner we suffer such inequities gladly, the sooner we shall each get back to understanding what local self-government means and why its burden is a leaven.  My suggestions also apply much more naturally to suburban and rural parts of our country; but I do not want to suggest prudential solutions for all people in all places, only to make it possible for local communities to practice the virtue of prudence once more.  Barney Frank is incapable of serving as the conscience of a country.

8. Smaller houses financed by smaller lending structures regulated by localized administrations shepherding naturally limited commual areas: such a program would impose, insofar as such things can be imposed, the conditions, the “necessity,” that encourage the virtue of long-tenure property ownership whose loves are for family stability and commitment to local community.

This would seem very un-American; it would appear rather Italian, even a little bit Spanish.  Happily, it is not the least bit French, as Sugrue verifies.  And it would be the first act of repentance for the real Original Sin of the American founding, where our forefathers sought to triumph over the determination of soul to body, of man to family, of family to home, of home to community, and of community to place.

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James Matthew Wilson is Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University. An award-winning scholar of philosophical-theology and literature, he has authored dozens of essays, articles, and reviews on subjects ranging from art, ethics, and politics, to meter and poetic form, from the importance of local culture to the nature of truth, goodness, and beauty. Wilson is also a poet and critic of contemporary poetry, whose work appears regularly in such magazines and journals as First Things, Modern Age, The New Criterion, Dappled Things, Measure, The Weekly Standard, Front Porch Republic, The Raintown Review, and The American Conservative. He has published five books, including most recently, a collection of poems, Some Permanent Things and a monograph, The Catholic Imagination in Modern American Poetry (both Wiseblood Books, 2014). Raised in the Great Lakes State, baptised in the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas, seasoned by summers on Lake Wawasee (Indiana), and educated under the Golden Dome, Wilson is scion of a family of Hoosiers dating back to the early nineteenth century, and an offspring of Southside Chicago Poles whose tavern kept the city wet through the Depression (and prohibition) years.  He now lives under the same sentence of reluctant exile as many another native son of the Midwest, but has dug himself in for good on the margins of the Main Line in Pennsylvania with his beautiful wife, dangerous daughter, and saintly sons. For information on Wilson's scholarship and a selection of his published work, click here. See books written and recommended by James Matthew Wilson.

20 COMMENTS

  1. While impossible to quantify, it seems to me that the architectural effects of the Anglo-Saxon model of property speculation are at least as damaging as the social and environmental effects.

    In Spain and France, is it quite normal for a family, when deciding to buy a house, to buy the land and then get a company of architects to build it to their own specifications. I know this sounds absurd, but houses in much of continental Europe are built by and for those who will live in them. As a result, they reflect the personality, tastes and requirements of the owner/builder. In the Anglo-Saxon model (in both the USA and the UK), houses are built by developers, who build them to be inoffensive so they will sell, and identically to keep costs down. These homes do not reflect the needs or personalities of their owners (except, perhaps, in superficial decor); instead, they reflect the profit-and-loss calculation of the development company.

    Once again, big business drives out the soul of human difference, trying to force us (both literally and metaphorically) into identical boxes. A change in the planning and zoning laws (making it easier to build your own home from scratch and harder to build 100 boxes) and a change in the finance laws (making it easier to get mortgages on a self-built property) would both help. However, what laws cannot provide – at least, not with a much more profound change to our economic structure – is the stability of place, community and connections which makes pouring love and labour into building one’s own home worthwhile. At the moment, people are expected to “go where the work is”, and to subordinate home, family and community to the needs of the market. Real improvement will come only when a more localised and self-sufficient economy enables us to put down roots in a given place for decades and generations, not just for as long as this fixed-term contract lasts.

  2. An excellent observation — one to which I tried to gesture in this spiraling commentary.

    However, I should not be surprised if a New Urbanist architect could indeed provide us with some kind of estimate on how stability transforms domestic architecture. They have been so impressive at calculating everything from the necessary dimensions of a front porch if residents are to use it to the scale of density for a proper urban neighborhood — so impressive that I fully expect that, challenge issued, we’ll get some kind of response.

  3. This was a very powerful discussion of the topic.

    A historical point of note. We did have a model that looked something like what you describe in terms of local lending and the like. The first leg of it collapsed during the Great Depression and the second leg collapsed in the midst of the S&L crisis (actually another leg had been hit hard during the real estate bust of the mid-70s as well). So after 1990 or so, we were left with the big multi-state federally backed mortgage and real estate market. Cincinnati was certainly built piece by piece using hyper-local building and loan companies and the like.

    One way I’ve found that one can sense whether a neighborhood has transitioned from being a part of the active market to a settled place of homes is to see whether the houses have been transformed through additions and the like. In the boom/bust, it seems that people focused more on the interior spaces, but when a place is ‘home’ then people make the investment to get the space they need out of the place they own instead of buying new.

  4. It occurs to me that the issue is not one of banks and thier supposed nastiness but rather a discussion about a public policy failure. The thought that homeownership is something that creditors have pushed on the masses is simply bunk. There have been a host of characters, well intentioned, along the way. From bankers, to developers, to enviornmentalist, to democrates, and republicans alike, all wanting to improve the lot of us all.

    In the United States, we are blessed with the foundation of private property as a basis of a free and open society. This decentralization of property rights away from the government is essential in understanding why when we organize our economies in the form of local government there is no one single way to do it. These facts are undergirded by Tocqueville and Friedman. Our mobility and choices give us a distinct advantage. But this mobility has come at a great price and our current situation is proof of it. Both articles, Mr. Wilsons as well as Dr. Sugrue have opened up a conversation about where we individually stand and where the pathway for us all is, in the aggregate.

    But the model in which we have come to deal with is best explained by a beautiful passgae fron “Better Places, Better Lives,” the biography of James Rouse. It is an excellent read about the greatest economic growth this country has ever seen. It presents the man (James Rouse) as both parts of the suburban problem but also as part of the good things that were intended. Kind of a “law of unintended consequences review of this error, its players, its intent, and the good and bad of it all. This particular passage talks of the role his wife, the atypical 50’s housewife, had to say about the suburban world they lived in and which Mr. Rouse was part of building.

    In their successful suburban life, his wife lamented about the isolation and fragmentation of suburbia: “The problem, she thought, was with the underlying structure of her supposedly ideal environment. Because the suburbs grew in a piecemeal fashion, everything was isolated from everything else. “I was deeply lonely,” she said. “I had to drive the children everywhere they went: to school, to doctors, to dancing class, to their friends’ houses, to shop, to a movie, to everything. The Children had no autonomy or independence, and I had no free time to do the creative things I wanted to do.”” (Olsen, 2003)

    James Rouse, the creator of Columbia MD, the Baltimore Plan, and Reston, lamented that “…as mortgage bankers and developers, we have financed for others or built for our own account most of the components of a city—but they have been splattered over the countryside n the unrelated bits and pieces that mark the accidental, fractured growth of our cities.” (Olsen, 2003)

  5. James,

    What of embracing the German model of less home ownership? Can one, in an existential sense, be a traditionalist renter? While a home can often be a means to self expression and fulfillment should we recognize that perhaps not everyone is Bob Vila? What of those who find home maintenance a frustrating burden and not an outlet? Is it better to own your home and contact out the maintenance and improvements or rent and spend the time that would have been spent on maintenance and improvement on pursuits that you were actually accomplished at or enjoyed more?

    Lots of food for thought here. I am a happy renter who would rather place my money in investments that have better growth potential and my time in projects I find more rewarding.

  6. Oh shame on you , you heartless Wilson…….”all this will lead to a certain State to State inequity”….I can hear the screams now about how some poor States will suffer at the hands of their local politicians and chose to not embrace the various much more better schemes of the Leveling Technocrat. How self-destructive that the suffering residents of State A might vote for a policy that does not pay proper respect to the holier aspirations of State B even though State B might be so deep in hock they think paying their public employees in IOU scrip is anything but a sadistic joke. Democracy is not democracy unless the enlightened deem it so.

    Unfortunately, while there are many architects giving form to ideas of stability..Krier, Christopher Alexander…etc etc….the architect cannot provide any meaningful contribution concerning the development of stable and sustainable economies. This must come from the socio-economic and political spheres and as we all know, the current intelligentsia continues to grab the gunwales of the boat as it sinks below the waves. Think about a yahooing Slim Pickens riding the un-stuck A-Bomb down to perdition , waving his cowboy hat and then replace Slim’s head with the head of any current “leader” and you will be provided with a glimpse of our checkered denouement. This is why the various New Urbanist Schemes remain beautiful and evocative but of no real significance in addressing the deeply rooted dysfunctions of our centralizing and technocratic mongrelization as a nation. As at Prince Charle’s Poundbury and the many wonderful Duany, Plater -Zyberk & Company New Urbanist communities, they are well-designed but at basis, they remain simulacra whose chief success is providing a firm visual contrast to the oozing crud of much of our built landscape. But they are incapable of fostering stability or sustainability or even an equitable community because they remain captured by the velvety ghetto of the luxury market….a thing that is itself not quite luxury no more. Looking at the Bylaws of some of these communities, one is often confronted with a labyrinthian polemic seeming to enforce a Stalinist Super Community designed by Decorators…..or maybe a resort of the effete in a Thousand Year Reich run by Oscar Wilde…..not that this wouldn’t be highly entertaining in and of itself.

    Actually, some of the more interesting development in home design is coming from a new generation of thinkers informed by the current economic collapse and using modernist forms, a revived attention to craft and an enforced economy to create new housing form that might not be traditional but are alluring places to live economically and with new concepts of sustainability. There should be room for both traditional and modern form but it requires a sea shift in mainstream thinking and right now, its all just a big stomping about in a mud puddle.

    It really is a Tale of Two Cities…the best of times and the worst of times because all the seeds of a major transformation surround us . I would be more sanguine about the best finally overcoming the worst if those we call our leadership showed even a rudimentary awareness of how much bloom is off the rose. The rose aint all thats gone, even the thorns are falling off. But with stimulus, perhaps we’ll have a Cash for Spent Blossoms program or maybe a Plastic Flowers For all 50 States Law so Massachusetts can look as sprightly when viewed from 50 yards off as Mississippi does.

  7. Things may start to change when those who make the profits are the same as those who suffer the lack of utility and sustainability in house and community design.

  8. There are a few nits I will pick.
    1) In your typical community, the property tax will be the greatest tax. Perhaps in Westchester, NY, this will be different, but in most places, the property tax far surpasses federal taxes collected in a community.
    2) People tend to blame taxes for far too many ills. Healthy societies are not typically marked by low taxes. The Georgists recognize that greater societal organization results in higher rents. Taxes are claimed from those rents and very often are a cause of those rents being higher.
    3) Tenure is over-rated. The longer one owns a mine, the less valuable it is. A poorly run fun will go barren the longer it is run. Even houses become progressively less valuable the longer they are owned unless thousands of dollars are spent regularly on maintenance. What is to be valued is stewardship. Proper stewardship will increase the value of things, except the mine.

  9. Thanks to everyone for their comments.

    David helpfully reminds us that, even if the American psyche has been morally deficient in terms of its understanding of property and home ownership, its vehicles of financing were better, as it were, than the people they served. Here again is the lesson of Jimmy Stewart in “It’s A Wonderful Life” (a subject to which I’ll return in a post soon). Let us pause for just a moment and contemplate the possibility that in some few instances bankers might have better princples than other people. We might then exhale and move on, recognizing that some bankers also ruined that system. Thanks, Keating!

    Scott sums up the foundational problem that most FPR posts circle about; must liberty be in tension with virtue and community? Only in the liberal worldview with its saturation of binaries.

    Dan interjects in the typical oppositional mode, and my inevitable reaction suggests that I am on track to become much like Fr. Andrew Greeley insofar as I may soon have no unpublished thoughts. As I wrote in “The Need for Awtarchy” here and in “Empire of Addiction, Part II,” the “investment choices” Dan proposes (and that the German and French models exemplify) are rooted in a confusion of wealth and property — a confusion that has great and often dreadful consequences. But the driving assessment this essay makes, and that other FPR essays typically make, is not simply that conceiving of property as wealth, of home as an investment vehicle as easily disposed of as a three-month Certificate of Deposit, but that private property rightly understood is a necessary condition for living in community rightly understood. My contention, on which I’ll follow up as soon as I can think of an intelligent way to say it, is that the “choice” between renting and owning, of “investing” in property or investing in other sorts of vehicles and assets is a moral or ethical choice; its ends are those of the proper order and form of a good human life rather than of profit maximization. Good ownership is part of good stewardship, it is a condition of living responsibily and thinking rightly in community. Again, I’ll return to this.

    Let me conclude with noting duly M.Z.’s nits. He is right that property taxes are already a sizeable portion of the tax burden; I’m not sure anything I wrote in this essay I would right differently bearing that in mind. I’m not sure where I blamed high taxes for anyting in this essay; all I said was that taxation more fully restricted to the local level would give local officials the opportunity to design taxation policies that stress the goals of local stability and continuity of tenure. No sooner have I insisted I said nothing to which he ought to object than I find that I object to his Georgist comment. I am not sure what he means by “healthy societies,” and since one of the great evils of the liberal age has been the creation of great, removed bureaucracies officiating over the lives of vast populations, I would suggest that taxes tend to be higher when such deracinated bureaucracies are needed to administer to the consumers who once were citizens. And therefore, I would say that high taxes are likely signs not of “healthy societies” but of great masses of aggregated individuals who no longer live in a society but subsist under the management of a state power they have come to conceive of as either a benificent or tyrannical other. Of this, more anon.
    As to his final point, I can scarcely think of a less apt analogy than that of a mine to a house. However, if one does not understand the renewable nature of things like home properties, especially home properties that are farmed, one might not immediately see the absurdity. Going back to my response to Dan’s point, I will try to write more systematically in a future essay precisely why ownership is a condition of proper stewardship; one does not need to own something to steward that thing, but one does need the kind of entrenchment and fidelity that a true “ownership society” makes possible in order to steward not simply one’s own things but the res publica as well. I have claimed elsewhere that ownership was a public good; I should have said that ownership makes possible the kinds of stewardship that are a public good. But, again, I’ll return to this another time. In the meantime, don’t sell your house.

  10. James,

    Thanks for the kind response. I appreciate the distinction you’ve making here between wealth and property but feel the ones that grasp it least are, in fact, property owners. Homes are not bought and sold for abstract principles of Stewardship and Ownership. They are bought for their use value and for their value as investments. Now I understand you’d like to change that, have a different vision of home ownership, etc.,as “property rightly understood is a necessary condition for living in community rightly understood.”

    There’s a problem though. Throughout millennium of human experience their has never been this type of widespread ownership (Particularly of homes). Their is a strong tradition in many societies for customary ownership of land (Established by use), but this property is ultimately held in common and would revert back to community ownership if no longer used. There is nothing traditional about home ownership.

    “My contention, on which I’ll follow up as soon as I can think of an intelligent way to say it, is that the “choice” between renting and owning, of “investing” in property or investing in other sorts of vehicles and assets is a moral or ethical choice; its ends are those of the proper order and form of a good human life rather than of profit maximization. Good ownership is part of good stewardship, it is a condition of living responsibly and thinking rightly in community.”

    I think you’re absolutely correct that the decision to rent vs. buy contains a fundamentally moral core (Although other things factor in as well of course). It’s an ideological question of how you view a house and the property it rests on. Does it have value from its use (i.e. a place to live, invite friends over, etc.) or does it have a value beyond its use. Does a title, a survey, etc., infuse the house and the property with a special humanizing quality that fulfills the owner as a person? That’s the question. I look forward to the future essay.

    P.S. I hope my oppositional mode doesn’t come across as mere flippancy. I think that there are a lot of good questions raised here that are thoughtfully considered and I respect that immensely. The rub is the answers. As an opposition I hope to be a convivial one.

  11. Dan brings up some very valid points. To me however, the issue of rent v. own is simple. Is homeownership really the good investment we are led to believe that it is? I believe one could argue, at the cost of money to buy a home, the creditor over your shoulder, and the amount one has to put into the game (the opportunitty cost of investing that downpayment in other ways)that home ownership is not all its cracked up to be. Given the fact that the government has always stepped into the game to give homeowners protection from creditors (can anyone outthere remember Fed Q?) because homeowners don’t really know the score on investing, then there is even further reason to question the homeownership game.

    Thanks for a great article and for all of the comments. I continue to learn much from all!
    Scott

  12. Very interesting article. Couldn’t of written any better. Reading this post reminds me of my old chum. He constantly kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him. Am sure he will have a good chuckle. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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