When I was growing up in the 1970s, the dream of American suburbia seemed to be a new single family home. Young families were expected to buy a small place, then upgrade, and continue to "flip" homes until they wound up in the home of their dreams. But this was before the era of McMansions. At what point is enough enough? If you already own a 4000 sq ft home, do you really need to upgrade to one with 6000 sq ft?
In these days of financial crisis, what is status of the American dream? As the newspaperman Richard O'Mara wrote in The Evolution of the American Dream recently published by the Christian Science Monitor things have changed over the past few decades. What started out as lofty ideals of hard work and freedom have been reduced to a big house and a fast car. (Have you seen the pictures of the new Camaro by the way...wow!!)
I recently had a discussion with my super-intelligent sister, who works in the real estate business, about the root of our current financial mess. We agreed that like most problems, there is no one single person or group solely accountable for the crisis, but greed on the part of many individuals is a common thread. From home buyers in search of something bigger and better, even if it might be unaffordable, to investors using fraudulent means to drive up neighborhood prices before selling out and moving on, to bankers lending to increasingly less qualified customers, to financiers packaging these dubious loans as securities, to investors making increasingly riskier moves to maximize profits, greed has led us to the brink of disaster.
Listen, I'm no communist. Capitalism works, better than any other system out there, but things can get a little overheated at times. I'm not an economist, not a banker, hopefully some of the experts will be able to mediate the effects of this current crisis, but as individuals, I believe we all need to curb our greedy tendencies.
Full disclosure. I don't own a home, and since a sixth grade math project calculating principle and interest payments over the life of a 30 year loan, I've never really been a big fan of homeownership. I do have three motorcycles though. I hear you asking, "why would anyone need three motorcycles, when you can only ride one at a time? " And even though in my mind I have a perfect explanation as to why they're all necessary, I think I'd have a hard time convincing you. I obviously have some room to cut back as well.
So maybe we could all cut back just a little. When it comes to homes, perhaps we can get by with 3000 sq ft instead of 6000, or 2000 instead of 3500. Just two motorcycles or maybe even (gulp!) only one. Hopefully this crisis won't lead to a depression where these cutbacks will be forced upon us by outside conditions, and in the coming months we'll be able to make our own decisions and curb our own appetites that in aggregate have led us to this current predicament.
Let's start now and take the very (un)American step of downsizing.