I don't think Paul Krugman has been at his best lately.  Perhaps, as someone here suggested, the problem is that he's strayed too far from economics, his home base.  Well today he writes about economics, home ownership, and he seems to mess it up.  Unlike many of the people we talk about here, Krugman has shown that he's better than this.  So it's sad to see him write:

But here’s a question rarely asked, at least in Washington: Why should ever-increasing homeownership be a policy goal? How many people should own homes, anyway?

Listening to politicians, you’d think that every family should own its home — in fact, that you’re not a real American unless you’re a homeowner. “If you own something,” Mr. Bush once declared, “you have a vital stake in the future of our country.” Presumably, then, citizens who live in rented housing, and therefore lack that “vital stake,” can’t be properly patriotic. Bring back property qualifications for voting!

Even Democrats seem to share the sense that Americans who don’t own houses are second-class citizens. Early last year, just as the mortgage meltdown was beginning, Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist who is one of Barack Obama’s top advisers, warned against a crackdown on subprime lending. “For be it ever so humble,” he wrote, “there really is no place like home, even if it does come with a balloon payment mortgage.”

The first question, however jarring, seems to be a legitimate one.  But it ought to be directed at our intuitions about home ownership (that it gives you more of a stake in your neighborhood, etc.).  Instead, Krugman aims this one first at what is clearly a caricature of the advocates of home ownership–one that barely even satisfies its own ridiculousness.

This is really a shame.  It's nice to have one's intuitions challenged.  Krugman could have done this well, had it not been for his George Will style "presumably" argument.

6 thoughts on “Homepwnership”

  1. So, he raises a question that he answers with a straw man, whose hypothetical views on homeownership become subject to a hasty generalization about the worthlessness of those who don’t own homes. Is that fair? Or how would you explicitly break down the “presumably” turn in terms of logical fallacies?

  2. I meant ignoratio elenchi, not hasty generalization, I think. I must have been tempted by how much easier it is to use “hasty generalization” in a sentence, heh.

  3. The second might a good way to put it.   Krugman’s interpretation doesn’t really follow in the least.  Promoting home ownership doesn’t entail denigrating non owners.  If it does, he’ll have to do a lot better than “presumably.”

  4. I’m sorry, but I don’t understand the critique.  When Bush says, “If you own something…you have a vital stake in the future of our country,” I infer that he means to distinguish owners from non-owners by way of a property held by the former:  an interest in promoting the health and well-being of American and its citizens.  After all, if owners have a vital stake, but non-owners also have just as vital a stake, then what would be the point of Bush’s statement?  It would be a non-sequitur.  If that is what Bush meant, and if we then adopt the proposition that people who favor America insofar as they engage themselves in promoting its health are “patriotic”, while people who do not (because they are not invested in it) are “unpatriotic”, AND if patriotism is a virtue, then it follows that Bush has denigrated non-owners.


  5. You’re probably right about the implication of Bush’s words.  He might mean, however, to distinguish someone with stake and someone with a vital stake.  But he probably means that people who own homes have an investment in the success of that investment.  That has an air of triviality about it.  In the end, charity would suggest that he probably doesn’t mean to denigrate non-owners.  Bush and company have said a lot worse things (in ways that leave no doubt about their meaning).  Perhaps Krugman could focus on those.  This one I think is strained. 

  6. That’s a good point, about charity.  I forgot about that.  Krugman would do well to apply a little to Bush.  In my opinion, Bush says enough terrible things that you don’t need to put your thumb on the scale.

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