When I was on Amtrak’s Empire Builder train heading east to Glacier last fall, I met a friendly mortgage broker in the lounge car as we clackety-clacked through the Gorge. We chatted (a longtime habit of mine).
“My industry made loans to people who were in no way ready to buy a house,” she said. “It’s not ethical. You should form a relationship with people who can’t yet afford it, and help them make a plan to buy later. It’s not all about getting a house right now, or getting rich overnight.”
I wish more people had had mortgage brokers like her in the past few years.
The collapse of Bear Stearns due to the sub-prime mortgage frenzy does not surprise me. It reminds me of Enron’s implosion earlier in the decade. In both cases, people got drunk on greed. What do people do when they’re drunk? Ill-advised things they regret later, things they wouldn’t do when sober. And it wasn’t just the mortgage and investment industries that were money drunk; it was also the home-buyers who weren’t willing to wait and save for down payments, or bought far more house than they could afford.
I have been money drunk too, though not in the context of buying homes. It feels so much better being sober, believe me. Ethics and common sense both dictate that we only buy what we can truly afford. The earth’s resources hold up better that way, too.
The friendly, ethical mortgage broker I met on the Empire Builder helped me understand all this. If we’re drunk with greed, we need to get sober before we buy or sell things. And if an empire is unsustainable, it is better left unbuilt.