Highlights from American Dreams: David J. Morris

Post date: Apr 29, 2017 10:4:50 PM

David J. Morris, author of The Evil Hours, views the American Dream as the Great American Real Estate Swindle - American Dreams: The Festival, by the Black Mountain Institute and The Believer Magazine.

What do we talk about when we talk about real estate? Do we talk about families, children in front yards, and dinners in backyards? No, what we talk about is wealth, assets, empire building. The American Dream, that fantasy of being on the winning side of the Great American Real Estate Swindle is alive and well. I'd like to suggest a small yet crucial amendment to Hunter S. Thompson’s words: "This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it—that we are really just a nation of 220 million condo clippers and real estate brokers with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable." (originally from Fear and Loathing: on the Campaign Trail '72)

ARMS, equity access products, ninja loans, AAA-rated tranches, and synthetic CDOs—make no mistake, the creative use of language here is not done out of some technical need for more efficient understanding. It's designed to obscure the indefensible, to confuse the people who could potentially put the brakes on these deals and call us into some sort of fantasy, namely consumers and regulators.

For generations, mortgages were a plain vanilla business. People took out loans to buy homes at fixed rates. In the 70s, we had a minor tradition of the mortgage burning party where people would torch their paperwork after they made the final payment. During the Reagan years, Wall Street set out to change all this, remaking the mortgage industry to the point where in 2006 you have lifelong financial professionals like Steve Eisman, summa cum laude from Harvard Law, saying that after spending months trying to understand the mortgage market, he couldn't "understand a word of the fucking underlying mortgage documents."

The thing we Gringos do better than anybody else is the real estate swindle. Our very nation is built upon the real estate swindle. The subprime scam, the mortgage backed security scandal of 2008, is merely an updated and carbureted version of that bogus bait and switch land deal that the US government started engaging in with the Indian tribes in the early 18th century. Of course, dirt and drywall and cinderblock ownership, home ownership, has been a central component of middle class American identity since the end of Word War II.

Citizenship and property go hand in hand, and has both a romantic history (think Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Payne) and a dirty, more nefarious history (think slavery, poll taxes Native Americans, etc.). Indeed, the very dirt and concrete that we sit upon right now [Las Vegas] was itself stolen from Mexico, who, let's not forget, stole it from Spain, who stole it from the Indians, who probably stole it from other Indians before them.