Saturday, December 31, 2011

Entitlement and the Victimization Syndrome

Two of the most common problems facing our society in the United States, are the twin concepts of entitlement and the victimization syndrome. Overwhelmingly people believe that they are "entitled." Whatever it is they want, they are entitled to it. For example, this year one of the big issues with the U.S. Congress was the extension of unemployment benefits payments. With over 5 million workers unemployed for over a year or more, the length of time that unemployment benefits payments were to continue became a political football. Unemployment insurance is a federal-state program jointly financed through federal and state employer payroll taxes. This type of payment originated in 1932 in Wisconsin. See Wikipedia:Unemployment benefits. The maximum period for most states is 26 weeks. But lately, this time period has been extended throught Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) program which provides extra weeks of federally-funded unemployment benefits to unemployed workers throughout the country who have received all regular unemployment benefits available to them. See United States Department of Labor. This is essentially a social welfare program. Because of the last minute dealing in Congress, the benefits now extend from 34 to 53 weeks. See Unemployment Extension in

Through the concept of entitlement, a program that was supposed to be temporary assistance to the unemployed has now become a long-term social welfare program to which a segment of the population has become entitled. The program does provide welfare relieve in the nature of a dole, but does nothing to improve skills, provide jobs or re-train the unemployed for the jobs that are available.

We have people who are really suffering from a lack to work opportunities. But at the same time, our country and the world at large is in the midst of a dramatic revolution in the way people work. We are quickly becoming a technology based society.

Even though I have a job, I am technically self-employed. The minute I stop working, I stop making money. There is no one paying me to look for work because technically I cannot lose my job since I work for myself. It would not matter how desperate my plight, I would not qualify for unemployment. But if I fire one of my employees, they are likely eligible for unemployment insurance payments.  In addition, the unemployed are treated as victims. It is not their "fault" that they cannot find work. It is the fault of our economy or society or whatever. Because they are unemployed, they are entitled to a job and therefore as victims they must be compensated even if they do no work. Anyone who opposed the extension of benefits was heartless and blind to the suffering of the unemployed.

It is interesting that one of the areas of unemployment that continues to trend down is state and local governments. See Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, News Release December 2, 2011. In other words, the government is taking money out one pocket and putting it in another. The loss of Federal jobs was lead by the U.S. Postal Service, which is not surprising given the competition. If you read the statistics and the explanation carefully, you will see that if I am self-employed and have no work, I am counted as part of the unemployed but I cannot get unemployment benefits. But because of the idea of entitlement, of course there are other government programs that I can use to get the welfare I am entitled to.

What ever happened to self-reliance and personal responsibility?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Knowing how the world works

As an attorney with now 37 years of court trial experience, one of the most remarkable things I have observed over the years is how few people know how the world works. Especially when confronted with overwhelming problems, commonly people react in totally inappropriate ways. Their reaction is based on a lack of awareness of how to deal with threatening situations. But, you might say, that is the reason we have attorneys and such. Did I say my observation was limited to non-attorneys? Many attorneys have no more of a clue how the world works than any average non-lawyer.

I fully realize that three years in law school and years of experience working in the court system may help, but I have come to the conclusion that it is more of an attitude than simply a matter of experience or education. I have identified that the root of the problem is, what I call, the victim syndrome. In almost every threatening situation, from divorce to bankruptcy, the individual caught up with the problem views himself or herself as a victim. The victim is always put upon and the results, win or lose, are always unsatisfactory.

One good example of the victim syndrome, recently we had an acquaintance who had a number of problems. I will not mention any names and the problems have been changed so that the person cannot be identified. This person was otherwise a capable professional with years of work experience and in relatively good health. This person's spouse had severe problems and had left the home. As a result, the person was unable to pay the mortgage and the house went into foreclosure. Although the person had a great deal of experience in real estate transactions, the person did nothing about the foreclosure and when the sale went through had done nothing to obtain an alternate place to live and had made no effort to move any of the house's contents. Rather than take charge of the circumstances and make arrangements to move, the person was found sitting and staring at the wall on the day possession of the house was supposed to change. This person had become (or may have been for some time) a victim.

In another similar situation, another person I knew, had the same problem with a mortgage payment. The couple had struggled for years to keep the house, but finally the person's spouse became seriously ill. As a result, the house payments got behind and the house went into foreclosure. While the house was in foreclosure, the spouse died. The person calmly faced the situation, found a place to live the person could afford by making a sharing arrangement with a friend, carefully reviewed the financial situation and moved to the new home before the foreclosure and was well situated when the bank took possession of the property. This person was not a victim even though the two situations were strikingly similar. In fact, this second person did have work experience but not in real estate.

The main difference between these two scenarios was the attitude of the person. The challenges and circumstances were similar but the reaction of the person to those circumstances was extremely different. One problem faced both people, they had lived in the homes for many, many years and had not taken control of their lives and paid off the mortgages. But the reaction to the lack of ability to pay the mortgage was entirely different.

Stay tuned for more about how the world works.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Is there a difference between education and learning?

What if every student in the entire United States ended up in a college or university? I was reading an article recently that repeated the commonly held belief that "every high school student should be prepared to go on to college." The article went on to claim that the failure of our school system to pass all of the high school students on to our college and university system was an indication of the failure of education. Even if that goal were achievable, would it be desirable? About the same time I was reading the article about sending the entire student population of the U.S. to college, there was another article about nurses in the California Penal system making over $200,000 a year. Is there a difference between education and training? Is there a difference between education and learning?

In support of the stated goal to have every student go to a college or a university, was the statement that if you wanted a high paying job, a "high school" education was worthless. I guess all the financially successful friends I have who have no college training didn't know that when they went to work.

So you get a college degree in say humanities or English, why are you then more qualified for a job than a high school graduate? Maybe we should start thinking in terms of jobs and training rather than "education." Maybe we need to improve the quality of our school system so that a high school diploma means something.

It is extremely difficult in today's politicized world to talk about the need for "education" when it is a given, that "no child be left behind." What that translates to in reality is that a certain percentage of students will be able to pass a test. It does not mean that the students will learn anything, especially that they will have the skills necessary to compete in a college or university environment. Even of those students graduating from high school with a high standardized test score, how many of them are poorly prepared for the academic rigor necessary to succeed in a four-year university? Some of the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2010 only 68.1 percent of high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities.  

Why do we have a goal to prepare all students for a college education when such a high percentage do not go on to higher education? How many high school students graduate with an employable skill? Bear in mind that overall in the U.S. only about half of the students graduate from high school. So of 100 students who start school, only about 50 graduate from high school. Then of those who graduate, only about 34 go on to college and then only 55% go on to graduate or about or 18 or 19 students out of 100! 

Why do we gear our entire school system to less than 20% of the students? Shouldn't the school systems be concentrating on teaching working skills rather than standardized tests that do not prepare students for anything in particular? If the goal of our educational system is to prepare all of the students for a college or university experience then we are failing about 80% of the students. Aren't we also short changing the vast majority of workers in the United States who do very well at jobs that don't require a college or university degree? What about all the college graduates who cannot find work? Isn't it about time our students learn some basic skills to compete in a global market, rather than emphasizing a uniform testing system that neither prepares them for higher education nor gives them a marketable skill when they finish high school?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Friday, December 23, 2011

Two Days Until Christmas -- The rest of my gift

Here is the rest of the story about my Great-great-great Grandfather, John Tanner. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Three Days Until Christmas -- What can I give?

This is the story of my Great-great-great Grandfather. This is part of my gift to you this Christmas

Part 2 tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Four Days until Christmas -- What are you going to give?

We wish you a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Five Days until Christmas -- What will you give?

Matthew 2:1-12
1 Now when Jesus was aborn in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, aWhere is he that is born bKing of the Jews? for we have seen his cstar in the east, and are come to dworship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he ademanded of them bwhere Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou aBethlehem, in the land of bJuda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a cGovernor, that shall drule my people Israel. 7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. 9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11 ¶And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and afrankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a adream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Six Day until Christmas -- What are you going to give?

Luke 1:26 - 35 26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

Seven Days until Christmas -- What are you going to give?

Luke 2:1-5 1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Nine Days Until Christmas -- What are you going to give?

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:37–40.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ten Days Until Christmas -- What are you going to give?

If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation. Doctrine and Covenants 6:13

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Eleven Days until Christmas -- What are you going to give?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Twelve Days Until Christmas -- What are you going to give?

It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35)

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Collapse of Civilization

Quoting Ezra Taft Benson,
At least twenty great civilizations have disappeared. The pattern is shockingly similar. All, before their collapse, showed a decline in spiritual values, in moral stamina, and in the freedom and responsibility of their citizens. They showed such symptoms as excessive taxation, bloated bureaucracy, government paternalism, and generally a rather elaborate set of supports, controls, and regulations, affecting prices, wages, production, and consumption.
No where in our society is the paternalism and bloated bureaucracy more evident than in our school systems. In our local schools, strapped for cash with a declining enrollment, rather than cut administrative functions, the school board is trying to close two schools. Instead of congratulating the school board on their attempts to balance the budget and the attendance, the protests from the parents and students verge on violence. I can sum up the situation with one work, entitlement. We live in an entitlement society.

Almost everyone from children through to their parents and their parents in turn have an over-riding sense that the government owes them everything and that they own nothing. When faced with foreclosure the entitlement generation look to the government for a bailout. This works all the way up the line, instead of failing because of an inability to compete big businesses continue to pay their officers huge salaries and then look to the government for a bailout.

Even on a personal level, instead of paying off debt, families buy yet another large screen TV and a home theater system and then feel misused when they lose their home to foreclosure. In one recent news article, it was claimed that young smartphone users would rather give up their sense of smell rather than give up texting.

So what is the solution? Look into your own heart and mind. Do you feel that the world owes you a living or anything else? Let me put it short and sweet, the world owes you nothing. As it says in Genesis 3:19, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." That doesn't sound like entitlement to me. Looking back at Ezra Taft Benson's quote, it is partially the decline in the responsibility of the citizens that contributed to the collapse of their civilizations and it is entitlement, or lack of personal responsibility that will contribute to our downfall also.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

When you go to school do you get an education?

People used to say that they were "going to school to get an education." I fear that what you get today when you go through elementary and high school is the ability to take a multiple choice test but somewhere the education part of the process got lost. I can't claim to have made a formal study of the subject, but it seems to me that more and more young people have lost some of the basics of education. They know how to read, but can't think. They can type on a computer and play games, but they cannot write. Their knowledge of history is abysmal. They learn all about being a conservationist and not polluting but can't explain even the simplest geographical principles.

According to the National Assessment Governing Board, 12th grade student performance declined from 1994 to 2010. Only about 1/3 of the 8th grade students could answer the following question correctly:
Do you know eighth-grade geography?
Which of the following is an accurate statement about the American Southwest?
  1. Alternating areas of dense shrubbery and sand dunes often make travel difficult.
  2. Arid conditions make access to water an important public issue.
  3. Generally fair weather means that most people rely on solar energy in their homes and businesses.
  4. Easy access to Mexico has led to a strong manufacturing sector.
Interestingly, apparently even those students living in the Southwest did no better than the national average.

So what does it mean to be educated? The ideal of uniform testing has spread to an unusually high degree across our land, but as the report in the National Report Card from the National Assessment Governing Board shows, the implementation of uniform or standardized testing has had little or no effect in the overall learning of our high school graduates. Does it mean you are "educated" if you can pass the Ames test? Doesn't standardized testing just test standardized information? Didn't the whole school system just get dumbed down because teachers have no time left to teach?

As I said, my observations are just that, observations, but I haven't met too many teenagers who could carry on a coherent conversation about any subject other than TV or computer games and in some cases sporting events. It amazes me also, that their parents, who are losing their jobs have still not gotten the message that education is the key. Very, very few of the people I know who are struggling economically see a connection between their lack of education and their ability to get work in an ever increasingly technical world. It is generally a given today that a student graduating with an average high school education is unemployable except in the most basic of minimum wage jobs.

I have to be careful not to base my opinions on those few students I know who are way above average. But after teaching college for five years, I hadn't seen more than a small handful of such students.

But do you have to rely on the schools to get an education? Fortunately no. One of the advantages of the technological age is the availability of education to anyone willing to spend the time to learn. Two of the most successful computer professionals I know personally, never got degrees in computer science. It is true that a school experience, a highly focused and technical school, rather than a public high school, is still necessary. It is still necessary to go to medical school to become a doctor, but many employment opportunities rely more on what you know rather than where you learned it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Access to the Internet and other Electronics as a Social Force

A true classless society has likely never existed. However, historically, social divisions have been based on external accumulations of wealth. In the past there has been another division, often overlooked or linked with wealth, that is the availability of education as a social divider. I believe that the social divisions of the near term will still be based, superficially, on wealth but that the real social divisions will start to evolve along the lines of electronic usage.

When people lived in small socially closed groups, isolated by the time it took to travel to the next town, almost all social contacts were obviously concentrated in the immediate family and neighbors. There has been a lot of analysis of the impact transportation had and continues to have on the nuclear family, but now the Internet has become a predominate force in establishing societal relationships.

This is a recognizable trend going back to before the Internet became as prevalent as it is today. Here are some of the books and articles about the subject.
  • Loader, Brian. Cyberspace Divide Equality, Agency, and Policy in the Information Society. London: Routledge, 1998. 
  • Wyatt, Sally. Technology and in/Equality Questioning the Information Society. New York: Routledge, 2000. 
  • Wresch, William. Disconnected: Haves and Have-Nots in the Information Age. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1996. 
  • Bargh, John A. and Katelyn Y. A. McKenna, The Internet and Social Life, Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 55: 573-590 (Volume publication date February 2004) 
You might notice that most of these articles are now outdated. The issue of the impact of technology in the form of electronic communication has become so complicated that there are not so many universal assessments. 

Many people either ignore the Internet or use it only for very limited purposes. But the real use of the Internet is to acquire and use information. In a social context, the Internet (and by extension, all use of electronic communications) has become the dominant force in creating social division. Associations are no longer limited either by physical distance or even time.

A significant segment of our society has become addicted to online activities such as real-time online gaming, gambling, pornography, and alter-egos such as Second Life. Any one of these has ability to create a dysfunctional or marginalized member of our society as completely as drugs or alcohol did in the past. They also have the potential of creating a subgroups of violent secret societies that are undermining the fabric of our entire society.

What is apparent is that society in general will no longer be structured along any kind of traditional lines but along lines described in hyperspace, a true network society. The real losers in the future will not be those who do not have access to technology but those who don't choose to participate. Skills such as keyboarding will be come more and more important. Even a professional who lacks adequate computer skills will eventually lose all ability to function.

Education, in the traditional sense, is losing out to online activities. I can learn more about any subject online than I would ever have the time or resources to acquire through traditional, attend the classroom, education.

Current economic losses have been concentrated in the non-information areas of our society. For example, during the present economic downturn real estate values have collapsed while at the same time technology has continued to evolve at an every increasing rate. New types of electronic devices such as smartphones and tablet computers have sold millions upon millions of units while the rest of the economies have languished.

I will continue to explore the impact technology has on individuals and families in the near future.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Should you pay your debt or invest for retirement?

The answer to this question in today's market is extremely simple, pay your debt. No matter what the current rate of interest you are paying on your debt, it would be extraordinary if you were getting even a small percentage of that rate on any of your investments. There are always those who will try to lure you into further debt by promising high rates of return in a market where banks are paying, at most, 1% or so in interest, if that. Here is a quote from the BYU's Human Resource Services that is very sound advice:
People often ask the question, "Should I pay off all of my debt before I start saving for retirement?" At first glance, this may seem like a very difficult question. However, by considering a few simple concepts, you can make the right decision for your situation.
As a general rule, whether debt is a mortgage, car loan, student loan, credit card or medical bills, all debt should be retired as soon as possible! The feeling of living debt free for life is certainly worth the sacrifice required to reach that goal. Everyone should be debt free before retirement. However, the question remains, should a person commit all available funds towards paying off debt at the expense of saving for retirement? Understanding the two types of debt will make your decision easier.
On one end of the debt spectrum is high-interest, nonproductive debt such as credit card debt that originates from credit cards and department store charge accounts.
Nonproductive debt is financially destructive and should be avoided. If this type of debt is necessary for short periods of time, the debt should be paid off as quickly as possible. The other type of debt is productive debt such as a mortgage and reasonable debt for education, transportation or the cost of doing business. Productive debt is an investment and the interest paid is often tax-deductible. Productive debt can be paid off over time as long as the interest rate is reasonable and the debt is paid off before retirement. (emphasis in the original)
The only thing I would change in the above is that paying of your mortgage should be a priority from the day you purchase a house. In today's falling real estate market, moving is not usually a good option, whether you have a mortgage or not. In an unstable economy, if you own your home without a mortgage you will at least have a place to live. 

As Brigham Young said, “Pay your debts, … do not run into debt any more. … Be prompt in everything, and especially to pay your debts.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, comp. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 303.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Is Bankruptcy Immoral?

In our legal system in the U.S. we have provided for way for debtors who cannot pay their debts to go to court and obtain a discharge from certain types of debts. That means essentially that the bankrupt person does not ever have to pay those debts and the creditors can do nothing to collect the discharged debts. Historically, people who could not pay their debts were sent to prison. Our system is somewhat more humane but is it moral?

I am using the term moral to refer to decisions made by people that are counter to the teachings of the Bible and are concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character. Ben Franklin, wrote: Think what you do when you run into debt; you give to another power over your liberty.

In more recent times, bankruptcy was considered both a financial and moral failure whatever the cause of the bankruptcy. In a talk given in 1957, Ezra Taft Benson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, outlined the dramatic increase in the influence of the U.S. Federal Government. More than fifty years later his words appear even more prophetic than they did at the time especially in light of the huge federal deficit (debt). At the time the debt owed by the government was a mere $277 billion.

About the increased influence of the Federal Government, he said, "Many forces work together toward the concentration of power at the federal level. Our people have come to look to the federal government as the provider, at no cost to them, of whatever is needful. If this trend continues, the states may be left hollow shells, operating primarily as the field districts of federal departments and depending upon the federal treasury for their support."

Ezra Taft Benson went on to say, "History teaches that when individuals have given up looking after their own economic needs and transferred a large share of that responsibility to the government, both they and the government have failed."

 Here in this talk by Ezra Taft Benson is the key to understanding the morality of bankruptcy, "Another reason for the increase in debt, I believe, is deeper-and causes greater concern. This is the rise of materialism as contrasted with spiritual values. Many a family, in order to make a “proper showing,” will commit itself for a larger and more expensive house than is needed, in an expensive neighborhood. Again almost everyone would, it seems, like to keep up with the Joneses. With the increasing standard of living, that temptation increases with each new gadget that comes on the market. The subtle and carefully planned techniques of modern advertising are aimed at the weakest points of consumer resistance. And there is a growing feeling, unfortunately, that material things should be had now, without waiting, without saving, without self-denial."

It is not that bankruptcy itself, necessary in some situations, is immoral, it is the behavior of those who use bankruptcy to excuse their immoral behavior. Continuing on with quotes from Ezra Taft Benson, "All of us as individuals-and above all, as members of families-have an obligation in conscience not to mismanage our resources...Truly, man does not live by bread alone. A good name is still to be preferred to great riches. Especially is it to be preferred to the appearance of riches, acquired with nothing down and nothing to pay for two months... Stewardship, not conspicuous consumption, is the proper relationship of man to material wealth."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The morality of losing your home

A very high percentage of all homeowners owe more to the finance company than their homes are worth on the market and have what are called upside down mortgages. Homes in my own neighborhood have lost over half their value recorded at the height of the housing bubble. Let me give you several different scenarios concerning the situation facing homeowners. Unfortunately, very little of the news coverage of this situation talks about the moral issues involved.

Scenario #1: Home purchased 10 or more years ago for $250,000. As the value of the home increased, on paper, the homeowners borrowed more against the "equity" of their home until they had borrowed over $300,000 dollars. They used the money for living expenses and to take several vacation trips. They were going to sell the home, but before they realized what was happening the market dropped. Their home is now likely worth less than $250,000. Are they now justified in taking a strategic foreclosure?

Analysis: Who took the risk that the market would fall? When the homeowners purchased the home did they expect home prices to fall? Was that a realistic assessment? If I buy a new car and finance the entire purchase price can I realistically expect to sell the car for what I paid? But you say, real estate is not like a car. Wrong. Real estate is exactly like a car. For too many years real estate agents have been saying the same inaccurate statement, "They aren't making any more real estate, values can only go up." The answer is they may not be making more real estate but they are making more houses. The housing market is just like any other market, it can get over built and over sold. But didn't the finance company take the risk that the value of the house might fall? Yes, but if you borrow money are you saying you have no moral obligation to repay the loan? Isn't that the moral equivalent of stealing? Couldn't both the homeowner and the finance company come to an agreement? Is the motive for moving a consideration of the morality of walking away from the obligation? Is there a moral obligation to repay a loan? Do I have to ask that question?

Scenario #2: Homeowners were living in a home that escalated in price during the boom. They sold their existing home at a considerable profit and used the money to make a down payment on a much more expensive home. Their mortgage was much higher than they could afford but they counted on the market to continue to rise and were expecting to flip the new home at a profit. Now, they have a home worth much less than the high equity to value mortgage they obtained. Are they now justified in dumping the home?

Analysis: How is this example different than the first one? Does the morality of allowing the home to be foreclosed change because these homeowners "can't afford"  the encumbrance? Does the morality of the situation change because the homeowners were involved in speculation? Who took the risk that the home would go down in value? Is the financing company morally wrong for loaning so much money against the property?

Scenario #3: Homeowner has lived in the home for several years and was employed at a well-paying job. The home was subject to an 80% mortgage and the homeowner had never missed a payment. Homeowner lost his job and is now finds it difficult to make a mortgage payment. The house has dipped in value and is likely worth somewhat less than the mortgage. He has had the home on the market for over a year. Is he now justified in walking away from the home?

Analysis: There is no moral issue with losing your property due to sickness, loss of work or other external cause. If you made payments on the home in good faith, both you and the finance company took the risk that the mortgage might not get paid. The finance company extended the loan based on its perceived value of the home. Should the homeowner continue to pay on the mortgage if he is able to do so when he could buy the same house for less money?  Is he justified in allowing the finance company to take the home?

All of these examples point out the moral dilemma of the housing downturn. At what point is a homeowner morally justified in walking away from an obligation to purchase a home? Is there a moral obligation to pay one's debts even if the original purpose for the debt no longer applies? Is this an issue that even raises to the level of morality? Is it immoral to steal? Is it immoral to cheat your neighbor? What about "Thou shalt not steal?" Exodus 20:15. 

In a Church News Editorial dated September 20, 2003, the commentator said, "When a widow lamented that a creditor would take her sons as bondsmen because she could not pay a debt, Elisha asked what she had in her house. The inquiry, it appears, was to determine what resources she had at hand to pay the debt. When she replied that she had nothing but a pot of oil, Elisha gave specific instructions; as she followed them, the oil was multiplied. Elisha then told her, "Go, sell the oil and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest." (See 2 Kings 4:1-7.)

The Editorial goes on to say, "Elisha gave simple, practical counsel to the widow. There is no all-encompassing answer to the question regarding what people might do to pay off their debts today since circumstances vary. The moral of the biblical account, however, is universal: individuals are responsible for and should pay their debts. Elisha did not take upon himself the widow's debt, nor did he transfer to another the obligation to pay it. The debt was hers to pay."

Doesn't Elisha's council apply today to the homeowner?

Is poverty a lack of income?

I was on a major university campus recently and saw an "occupy" site with hand lettered sign proclaim a protest against the inequality of the economic system in the U.S. I thought, Hmmm too bad we didn't think of this back in the 60s. Protesting the economic system is very convenient, you can choose the time and place you want to protest with no fear that your cause will evaporate like protesting a war. What do you do when the war is over? Move on to the economic system and then you can have a readily available protest any time.

This got me thinking about poverty again. When I lived in Panama City, Panama, there was a section of the city called the Marañón. The average occupancy of the dwellings averaged 50 people per room. Yes, you read that right, per room. People would take turns sleeping and using the other facilities. One of my friends lived with his family in a small two room apartment with the parents, one grandparent, seven children and a few cousins. Even a small increase in income by any member of the family immediately became an advantage to the entire family. There wasn't an expectation that the family members would contribute to the welfare of the entire family, there was a social, cultural and strongly emotional reason why every member of the family contributed to the overall economic well being of the family. 

Ok, now let's contrast this with a recent report I read of a family. The husband was a professional. The wife was an accountant. They had two children. They lived in suburban house with the usual accouterments. The husband lost his job and then the wife lost her job. Voila. Instant poverty. They were immediately looking to the soup kitchens and food banks for support. They became a statistic in the U.S. Department of Health and Welfare's definition of poverty. Yes, they were poor. Very poor. In fact, they were poorer than my friend in Panama. Why? Because they lacked the support of a loving, extended family. Poverty is not where or how you live, it is the inability to maintain your family connections to the point that you can rely on your family in the case of a family crisis. Maybe the professionals had no family? What is more likely, they had a family but by cultural, social or other circumstances had let their family relationships lapse to the point where they did not have the support of an extended family. 

Poverty is not so much a matter of income. It is a matter of family. One of the largest parts of the national income in some developing nations is the money sent to family members from those working abroad. The crisis in welfare in the U.S. is not so much a crisis in income as it is a crisis in families. Attacks against the family in our society are destructive of the social fabric as well as the economic well being of the nation.