Over at the Haven, Daphne dropped the following little gem attributed to her husband at the end of a comment thread regarding the dawning realization on all of us that our modern lifestyles, increasingly dependent on government largess, have become unaffordable.
“Without any justification at all or the necessary financial means, too many ordinary people expect to live extraordinary lives.”
Growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I and most of my friends were raised in modest homes by modest people. Employed in construction, manufacturing, factory work, even the few like my father who had managed to obtain a college degree through the GI bill or by working days and going to school at night tended to gravitate toward more “practical” professions such as engineering, and were but a single generation removed from less genteel work. They viewed themselves as nothing special. Just regular guys and gals putting in forty hour weeks who saw the American dream as going to work and raising a family in a simple home, paying off that home in thirty years, and after hopefully saving and making a few wise investments over those years they settled into a comfortable if not particularly luxurious retirement. They were living the American dream. It was a modest dream, but in comparison to their parents and extended families who had struggled through the Great Depression, a good dream.
Fast forward a generation to the entitled children of those modest households and we see quite a different picture. They know deep down that like their parents they are nothing special, but rather than embrace this with a sense of pride they wear it as a badge of shame. Things once deemed unnecessary suddenly become vital. That brand new leased Euro-SUV is a must have. A used mini-van would probably be fine but there is no down and the monthly payment is low. Damn…I’d look good in that thing too. Lack of a college degree for the single boutique child is as equally out of the question as a mini-van. Doesn’t matter that perhaps they are showing no aptitude or interest in scholarly work past the high school level and are maybe better suited for more specific technical schooling or work in the trades. Sure we’ll have to hock the house to pay the tuition and in this economy our graduate will be lucky to score a part time job at Target, but if you want to be special you go to college. End of story. Houses become not homes so much as speculative objects. Commodities to be traded up, the old one abandoned with little regard to the continuity or comfort that they provide their own children, who like all kids view their rooms as…theirs. Instead of working to pay off the bank and participating in that quaint, anachronistic custom of a mortgage burning celebration as you were winding down your working years and looking forward to retirement, re-leveraging became the new norm. Refinancing every few years to drop that interest rate and pull a bit of equity forward to use for that trip to Europe that a previous generation might have deferred until the kids were on their own, and the bill could be paid from their own savings. Just think of the stories we can regale our friends with. Won’t they be impressed. Now fifty or sixty years old with the equity in their homes exhausted and looking at another twenty years of work to service their bloated mortgages, they look to the government for a bailout. Because they are special, and have a right to maintain the extraordinary lives that they haven’t earned.
When this kind of thinking finally implodes the economy and we are forced to scale back our standard of living, will it really be that bad? The home I grew up in was considered classically middle class at the time but would be looked at today as borderline destitution. 1,600 sq.ft. 3 bedrooms, one and a half baths. A single black and white television. One dial-up phone on the kitchen wall. Kids had to walk to school. My father looked upon this lifestyle as his great success.
What makes me so special?