Mortgages - Are We Irresponsible?


“People who got mortgages they can’t afford to pay back were greedy and foolish and should suffer the consequences…They signed a free contract, they’re adults and they have to take responsibility for their actions”. This is the kind of thing that gets thrown around a lot in recessions. It conveniently ignores a few things.The idea that getting a mortgage is voluntary comes from the same people who brought you privatisation and the financial markets. They like to call it a free and voluntary exchange. You exchange much of the work you will do for the next 30 years or so of your life for a home in which to live and one day own.

Your second option is to exchange much of that work for a home which you rent and will never own. Your third option is to live on the street. What you don’t have is the freedom to put a roof over your head without making any exchange at all. And they expect us to be thankful for that ‘freedom’?

We had no say in deciding that those should be the choices we get in life. We don’t have the capital the banks have and we don’t have the properties the landlord has. The only thing we have to exchange for a roof over our heads is our labour. It’s easy for the banks and the landlords to preach to us about how sacred ‘freedom of contract’ is. They’re the ones with the power to decide what your choices are going to be. It’s a completely unequal bargaining position.

They will tell you that this is a coincidence. Or that those who own money and property got it through hard work and cleverness. We’ve now seen how the property developers and the bankers got their money and it had nothing to do with their own hard work and less to do with brains.

They got it from people like us who wanted a home to live in. The top 10% of Americans own 90% of the wealth. Ireland’s not far behind. In other words, they own the houses we need to rent and the money we need to buy them. If you’re in the 90%, the only choices you have are those the 10% choose to give you. That’s no coincidence.

Real freedom means having a say in the decisions that affect your life. You have no real say in whether or not you’ll have a job tomorrow. You have no real say in how you get somewhere to live. If you lose your job because of an economy that you can’t control then you have no control over whether or not you also lose your home.

The ones who do have control of your choices were the ones who were cheerleading the property bubble up in the first place. Now they’re blaming the workers who followed their advice. The wealthy are playing an old game but we don’t need to fall for their distraction tactics. The only way we will get control of our lives back is if we refuse to take the bait by turning on each other.

This article is from Workers Solidarity 108 published in March 2009

The rest of WS108 can be read online or downloaded as a PDF file

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