A Nation of Owners? Renters? Both?

This is a post from Richard Taylor.  The last time I stepped in as the
blogmasters' avatar I was posting from Italy, just south of Switzerland.
 That seems like a good enough segue to muse for a moment on a great
by the economist  Robert Shiller in the Sunday
New York Times. (You have to read the article to find the connection.)
Noting the myriad federal subsidies to the housing industry, Shiller
asks "what is the long-term justification for putting taxpayers on the
line to subsidize home ownership?"


His answer is a complicated
one.  I won't try to summarize it here; there is enough nuance and food
for thought that it deserves its own reading.  I will say that I
appreciated having an economist acknowledge that our decisions cannot be
reduced to simple economic efficiency.  He talks about the role of
values (and not the kind showcased on "The Price is Right"). In addition
to finding policies that make economic sense, those policies need to
take account of some fundamental values that run much more deeply in our
national psyche than simple economic efficiency.  His point is a bold
one because his critics could argue that the values he describes are
contrary to the change in policy direction he seems to be proposing.  He
seems more committed to recognizing, naming, the values than in winning a
technical argument (and willing to insist that we look deeply at the
values before jumping to policy conclusions).  The piece feels like an
invitation to conversation rather than a prescription for legislation.

may differ with his take on our values as a nation.  That could be an
essay in itself.  To me, the first step is to acknowledge that values
have a place in the discussion.  Now we can talk.

One thought on “A Nation of Owners? Renters? Both?

  1. Richard- It seems to me that we have been a country that favored home owners – or, more accurately, land owners – since our founding. I know that a large portion of the Founding Fathers favored giving the vote only to land owners and I am pretty sure all the Fathers were land owners themselves.
    I am not saying that I agree with this position – in fact my preference is that we either eliminate the tax break for home ownership or give the same tax break to renters – but I am saying that it is an old American value. Shiller says “Historically, homeownership has been associated with freedom, while renting — often in tenements or mill villages — has been linked to the oppression of a landlord.” I think that the opposite is really true.
    Home owners are less free, they are more tied down, they have responsibilities, they are less likely to move to find a better job. They are less likely to riot and burn down the neighborhood. They are more likely to keep the people in power in power. And, in as much as one very powerful American value is keeping those in power in power, home ownership is a very American value. And maybe, and I shutter to think this, owning two homes is an even greater American value.

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