How Do You Solve A Freely Chosen Problem?
‘Mortgage moms’ may star in midterm vote
With wages stagnant and debt growing, Democrats see an opportunity
It’s not the stagnating wages that cause most of the problems in the story, but people’s staggering debts and the softening of the housing market:
BURLINGTON, Ky. - Life is cramped at the Condit household. Dale and Sharon Condit and their two young sons need more room but can't seem to sell their current home — on the market now for three months.Okay, so they want to sell their house and buy a bigger one, but can’t find a buyer. Being stuck in a cramped house sounds more like an inconvenience than a crisis, though it must be frustrating to feel you’re standing still rather than making advances. But it’s even worse to feel you’re going backward:
In a year when politics is being roiled by angry debates over the Iraq war and immigration, it might seem odd to imagine the midterm elections being waged over square footage and closet space. But these are parts of a lifestyle that Sharon Condit, a deputy clerk of court, describes as dogged by a sense of limits: "We have dreams of this future, but we can't get it right now."
At first glance, the economy's role in this year's midterm elections is a puzzle. Economic growth and unemployment are at levels that in past years would have been a clear political asset for the party in power.
But one layer down in the statistics, the answer is more clear. Flat wages and rising debt nationally have converged to leave millions of middle-class households feeling acutely vulnerable to bumps in their financial planning. The most visible of these are rising energy prices and a softening housing market.
A less obvious but powerful variable is the interest paid by people carrying credit card debt or mortgages whose monthly payments vary with interest rates. People buffeted by these trends have given rise to a new and volatile voting block.
It’s hard to feel sympathy for people who got themselves in debt for things they didn’t need and couldn’t afford. And getting an adjustable-rate mortgage when interest rates are at their lowest point in history is pure dumbassery. If there were only one or two people in this predicament we could shrug them off as fools about to learn some hard lessons about the dangers of debt. But it’s not just a couple of people — it’s enough to become a national problem rather than a collection of personal ones.
So here’s a question for free-market libertarians: is there a solution, when so many individuals make uncoerced bad choices that the sum total of those choices begins to cause national repercussions? I’m not arguing for a government fix, but what’s the free-market one?