Think Economically


Maximum understanding, minimum average total cost.

Home is … somewhere, right?

There was an interesting sermon this week–one I didn’t expect to like–about real estate and home, and how a life is woven in there somehow. It is complicated, the intermingling between the rapidly shifting economic forces that have untethered us and our traditions; the difficulties in negotiating, or even understanding, how we should live differently with constraints lifted, how to take Polonius’s advice to “neither a borrower nor a lender be” when it seems to make so little sense to miss out on record-low interest rates.

I was reminded of Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, which is a beautiful story.

And it doesn’t make sense. The advice of past generations is not useful, sometimes. And sometimes it is. And picking apart the difference is actually super-difficult.
Our real-estate shenanigans don’t fit the pattern laid down for us. I never would have laid out a plan that involved us living as landlords of one property and lenders of another, but that is where we find ourselves, and all the decisions that led there have made total sense.
This is what got me into economics, ultimately. In my adolescence, I developed an overpowering urge to be good, to do good in the world, but for some reason no one would tell me what that was. I turned to literature and got some answers, but mostly I found solace and confirmation that I was not alone–that the impossible task of doing good without guidance was central to the human condition. Ralph Ellison and David Foster Wallace and Kurt Vonnegut and Plath and Eliot and Dickinson came along and my task got complicated, but simpler–I realized that people don’t even know how to be, let alone how to be good.
We’ve learned more about what we are, and how what we do changes the world around us, and with everything we learn, the task of simply being becomes complicated by the weight of responsibility: if you know the consequences of your actions, you bear moral responsibility for those actions.
One way of looking at the divide that splits us as a nation is contained herein: conservatives think, “Don’t mess with what works,” and liberals think, “We should know better by now.”
I’ve got my own conclusions for me, and a lot of that involves keeping my own counsel. For other people, though, I try to keep my mind on the incomprehensibility of these vast forces that have upended our people, and thrust some of them into the light, and thrown all of us into confusion. I try to consider the dreams that people have, of houses they will live in, of lives they will give their children: of hopes regarding which how can you blame anybody? A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, and when people fall short of that, fall short of their own hopes, all it says is: they were human. They were trying to figure out how to be, and some of it that worked out, and other parts not so much, and hopefully on balance they loved more than they didn’t. Because we do know better, but we don’t know as much as we’d like, and we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but maybe you should change horses in midstream sometimes: who knows? Not me. I’m close to knowing how to be, and I’m slowly gaining on how to be good, but when nothing can be taken for granted anymore–when interest rates are negative and a college degree doesn’t mean a job and when liberation is at hand–we find ourselves making it up as we go along. This is freedom and it is really super hard to deal with, so take it easy, people. Maybe just give somebody a hug and say, “I know, right?”

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August 2012
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