The Government-Subsidized Loss of Community

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Robert Heinlein
was a popular science fiction author in the golden age of sci-fi.
His book, The
Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
, is a classic.

He was a humanist
and a libertarian. He once wrote a 640-word essay for a radio series
organized by leftist journalist Edward R. Murrow. The series was
called This I Believe. The essays have been republished by
National Public Radio, half a century later.

In his essay,

am not going to talk about religious beliefs but about matters so
obvious that it has gone out of style to mention them. I believe
in my neighbors. I know their faults, and I know that their virtues
far outweigh their faults.

Take Father
Michael down our road a piece. I’m not of his creed, but I know
that his goodness and charity and loving kindness shine in his
daily actions. I believe in Father Mike. If I’m in trouble, I’ll
go to him. My next-door neighbor’s a veterinary doctor. Doc will
get out of bed after a hard day to help a stray cat — no
fee, no prospect of a fee. I believe in Doc.

I believe
in my townspeople. You can knock on any door in our town, say,
“I’m hungry,” and you’ll be fed. Our town is no exception. I’ve
found the same ready charity everywhere. For the one who says,
“The heck with you, I’ve got mine,” there are a hundred, a thousand,
who will say, “Sure, pal, sit down.” I know that despite all warnings
against hitchhikers, I can step to the highway, thumb for a ride,
and in a few minutes a car or a truck will stop and someone will
say, “Climb in, Mack. How far you going?”

Where is that
world today? Where do people know their neighbors down the block
— their foibles, their strengths? Where is there a community
where people even know the names of their “neighbors” two doors
down or across the street?

In half a century,
that world has disappeared in the United States. In a crisis comparable
to the Great Depression, where would we gain strength?

In 1953, Robert
Nisbet wrote a book, The
Quest for Community
. It remained a low-selling book until
1962, when the publisher re-titled it for a paperback: Community
and Power
. Then, in 1965, the publisher changed the title
back. The counter-culture was beginning. A new quest for community
by young adults was leading to wild experiments. Those experiments
had all visibly failed by 1972.

Nothing has
restored what we had in 1950. That does not bode well for our society
in the crises to come.

What ever happened
to the social phenomenon known as “neighbor”? It moved out of the
neighborhood sometime around 1960.

I were to blame a single factor, it would be government-subsidized
mortgages. When the Federal government created insurance for depositors
in savings & loans, it subsidized the destruction of community.
When people could afford to move up, for 20% down, they did. They
moved out in order to move up.

The ultimate
carry trade — borrowed short and lent long — has undermined
modern society. The subprime mortgage crisis is the latest installment
of the housing market’s carry trade. The undermining of community
is still going on.

28, 2007

North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money
. Visit
He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible

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