From Harper’s: Paul Reyes on
cleaning up after the mortgage crisis
From “Bleak Houses: Digging through the ruins of the mortgage crisis” in the October 2008 Harper’s
Foreclosures are our family business. My father moved us to Florida in 1984, when I was thirteen, and after starting a small construction company, and losing it, and, after a relatively diplomatic divorce from my mother and a brief midlife crisis, marrying again, to a real estate agent this time, he began dabbling in houses—repairing them, restoring the historic ones, flipping most for a modest profit, redeeming his misery behind a desk by building things. His second wife, Mena, had been working with foreclosures for a while, and with my father now close at hand, when it came time to clean a place out, she knew who could do the job. The houses kept coming, but for every home lost, odds were that a buyer could be found: real estate in Florida was at least somewhat predictable. Even during the boom of the early 2000s, foreclosures were common but eventually became solvent properties within a matter of weeks.
By the time I flew home this spring, however, buyers had long since disappeared, and houses by the thousands—both new and old—now sat empty, beginning their slow corrosion. The crowds that once camped outside subdivision gates, hoping to snatch a prime lot, had evaporated, and the subdivisions were devouring their own value: homes built in 2006 were being repossessed within a year and by spring 2008 sold for half as much as the surrounding homes, finished just a few months earlier. Some homeowners, in a brave tactic, were simply walking away from their debt, mailing the keys to the bank. While the Federal Reserve weighed its billion-dollar pledges to the institutions that had puppeteered the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression, the statistical damage on the ground was giving that comparison some weight: between the time Florida’s housing market began to cool off in 2005 and my arrival this past spring, the rate of homes being lost had quadrupled, to more than 35,000 per month, 4,700 of which were in cities within my father’s working radius—Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater. The collapse was surreal in its proportion, biblical in its egalitarian reach, like an economic cleansing fire.
And yes, this spring, my father’s crew and I were flush with work.
From the Web
Carol Ann Duffy, appointed this month to replace Andrew Motion, told pupils at a Manchester school that she had already started work on a poem about recent events. “What did we do with the trust of your vote? Hired a flunky to flush out the moat,” recited the Glasgow-born poet. —“Laureate debuts with ode to votes and moats,” David Heath, The Independent
U.S. book production rose and fell in 2008, according to preliminary statistics released this morning by Bowker. The number of new and revised titles produced by traditional production methods fell 3% in 2008, to 275,232, but the number of on-demand and short run titles soared 132%, to 285,394. The on-demand and short run segment is the method typically used by self-publishers as well as online publishers. With the decline in the number of traditional books released last year and the jump in on-demand, the number of on-demand titles topped those of traditional books for the first time. Taken together, total output rose 38%, to 560,626 titles. —“Number of On-demand Titles Topped Traditional Books in 2008,” Jim Milliot, Publisher’s Weekly
Why Germany missed the housing bubble; Dean Baker: Banks that return TARP money still count on government help; the math of cities; the cost of fat; National Review interviews Quaker Aeneid translator Sarah Ruden; Belgian bodybuilders run from drug tests; business cards made by shooting lasers at jerky; special needs boy left in “isolation cubicle” for over two hours, other abuses
To comprehend journalistic value creation, we need to focus on the benefits it provides. Journalism creates functional, emotional, and self-expressive benefits for consumers. Functional benefits include providing useful information and ideas. Emotional benefits include a sense of belonging and community, reassurance and security, and escape. Self-expressive benefits are provided when individuals identify with the publication’s perspectives or opinions, or when they’re empowered to express their own ideas. These benefits used to produce significant economic value. Not today. That’s because producers and providers have less control over the communication space than ever before. In the past, the difficulty and cost of operation, publication, and distribution severely limited the number of content suppliers. This scarcity raised the economic value of content. That additional value is gone today because a far wider range of sources of news and information exist. The primary value that is created today comes from the basic underlying value of the labor of journalists. Unfortunately, that value is now near zero. —“Why journalists deserve low pay,” Robert G. Picard, The Christian Science Monitor