It’s not often that Kansans make the national news. But one did so a few days ago in The New York Times.
His name is Ray Rucker, and he lives in Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City. Rucker is 62 years old. He wants to work another 10 years, but he’s been laid off. And no one wants to hire him.
For 32 years I have lived just a few miles from Overland Park. So I think I can describe the mindset of a typical Kansan:
They are polite to a fault. If they have something unkind to say, they keep silent. They go to church. They vote Republican. They work hard. They hoard more than they spend. The cliche of the salt-of-the-earth Midwesterner is not far off the mark.
So why are people still blaming the victim? Check out the comment section on almost any financial Web site. To hear these pundits tell it, our country is populated by slackers, scam artists and thieves.
Among the refrains: People live beyond their means.
Let’s just say it’s true – people have been living beyond their means. With Madison Avenue pulling you and Congress and its lobbyists pushing you to spend, not save, most people can’t resist. It’s human nature.
There was a time when usury laws had some teeth to them. Usury is just fine now as long as you call it a credit card or student loan. Our grandparents saved for a rainy day, but back then you could actually pay your medical bills with savings, even if it took you a long time.
The interest that savers earn today is a joke. It doesn’t begin to keep up with inflation. And even the paltry amount the bank gives you is taxed as income.
Memo to Washington: Reward behaviors you wish repeated. Tax or penalize behaviors you wish to discourage. You want people to save money? Pay them the inflation rate plus two percent, and don’t tax the interest.
Another complaint I’ve read on financial sites: People bought more house than they could afford.
Where were the warnings about a real estate bubble? In 2005, when the information could have helped a few homebuyers avoid the mistake of a lifetime, there were just a few lonely voices, the loudest one being a volunteer blogger.
Kind of hard to bite the hand that feeds you. The real estate industry is a top advertiser. Or was. No one is advertising much these days, and media companies are failing.
Where were the laws safeguarding homeowners from toxic mortgages? In Kansas and Missouri, mortgage prepayment penalties (fines for paying mortgages off early) are illegal. Imagine that – a law to protect consumers.
So why wasn’t there a law against “creative” mortgages? Let’s do a little digging on opensecrets.org. Ah, here we go. In the 2008 election, real estate and mortgage PACs donated over $9 million to political candidates. Almost half of that amount was from the National Association of Realtors.
As for Ray Rucker, the 62-year-old Kansas man who found himself filing for Social Security, he’s no parasite. He wants to work. In hard times like these, wouldn’t it be better for Rucker to be paying into the Treasury instead of taking money out?
Mr. President, we need jobs, and we need them right now. Not trickling down in dribs and drabs when banks decide to lend again in a few years. Now.
[originally published by Politics Daily in 2009]