• 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 http://www.garynorth.com.
    He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An
    Economic Commentary on the Bible

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